Calling the holds is a mindless task, joyful in its simplicity. Each of the books in the stack at my elbow holds a printed receipt that says, “Hold (this item) for (this patron) until (three days from now). Call them at (this number).” I casually cradle the phone with one hand and browse the New York Times bestsellers with the other, checking the online list against the library’s collection and submitting the occasional purchase request to our cataloger.
I can get through two, sometimes three titles as the phone rings on and on before triggering the patron’s voicemail. At the sound of the beep, I intone, “Good morning. This is Tori at the Library. I’m calling for (patron’s name). I wanted to let you know an item you requested is available and we can hold it for you until (three days from now). Thank you and have a great day.”
Then I hang up, check the name on the next receipt, dial the number listed, and browse some more. So simple. So beautiful. This repetitive motion elicits a state of zen, a mental lull similar to what one might achieve through yoga or tai chi. I am but a cog in this efficient machine, comforting in its regularity.
Beep: “Good morning. This is Tori at the Library. I’m calling for (patron’s name). I wanted to let you know an item you requested is available and we can hold it for you until (three days from now). Thank you and have a great day,” all in one breath, without pause. Hang up. Check name. Dial number. Browse. Beep: “Good morning. This is Tori at the Library. I’m calling for (patron’s name). I wanted to let you know an item you requested is available and we can hold it for you until (three days from now). Thank you and have a great day.” Hang up. Check name. Dial—
Check the name again.
Oh, crap: It’s her.
Panic! Why is it always her? Frak!
Stay calm! Maybe she won’t pick up? Yeah, that’s it. Maybe she won’t pick up.
Dial the number. It’s ringing. Still ringing. Please don’t pick up. Please don’t pick up…
It Beeped! Oh, thank you, baby Jesus! Quickly now! “GoodMorning. ThisIsToriAtTheLibrary. I’mCallingForMumbleMumble. IWantedToLetYouKnow—”
Muffled static followed by, “Hello?”
No! No! I was so close! Why, God?
But I speak with calm composure and professional courtesy. Just get through the speech, Tori. “Good morning. This is Tori at the Library. I’m calling for (patron’s name)…”
She interrupts me, “This is (patron’s name) speaking.”
I sigh, and continue. “I wanted to let you know an item you requested is available and we…”
“It must be the one for (older child)! Can you tell me the name of the book?”
I look. “It’s (extremely popular middle school book). We can hold it for you until…”
“Is that the one from (that series all the kids are reading)?”
“No, ma’am. It’s the one from (the required reading list at the schools).”
“Are you sure? I don’t remember requesting that one.”
“Let me just ask (older child) if he requested that one.” I hear her hand muffling the phone as she yells across the house. I don’t even bother to browse books while I wait: the rhythm is gone. “(Older child) says he didn’t request that book. Can you double check my account and tell me if we’re still in line for (that series all the kids are reading)? We placed it on hold (after they announced the impending movie) and that was weeks ago and we haven’t heard from you guys yet.”
I push the stack of holds aside as I pull up her account: I won’t be getting back to those anytime soon. “I’m showing that you’re still in line for that book. It’s just not available yet.”
“Really? But that was weeks ago!”
“Yes, ma’am, but now there are only two people ahead of you. There were probably more before.”
“Great!” she says, and I brace my soul against the coming onslaught that I sense on the other end of the line. “Now can you tell me what else I have out and when it’s due? I lost the due date receipt and I think it was on a Thursday but I’m not sure. I’d like to renew those, if possible.”
“Yes, ma’am, there are five books and…”
“They were late, weren’t they? Can you tell me what my fine is?”
“Actually they were…”
“Can you also look up (older child)’s account and tell me how many books he has and how much his fine is going to be and does he have any items on hold and where is he on the list for (other extremely popular middle school book)?”
“Okay, it looks like he’s…”
“Would you tell me which phone number you have on file for him? In fact, let’s check the accounts for my other children while I have you on the phone. I don’t have their cards handy so you’ll have to look them up. They have a different last name than me. It’s ‘M’ as in ‘Mary’, ‘A’ as in ‘Adam’, C-Z-E-P-(other letters that all sound alike over the phone).”
“Could you repeat the…”
“Actually, I’m glad you called. I’ve just remembered: can I get on the list for (book that came out yesterday)?”
“How about (book that comes out next week)?”
“You don’t have that yet? Can you tell me if you’ll be getting it?”
“How about (book that comes out six months from now)?”
“Can you tell me if you have (book that’s out of print)? Can I make an Inter-Library Loan request for it? Do you know how long that will take?”
I wait. It’s a long pause.
“I remember now! That book you called about? It’s not for (older child) after all! It’s for (woman, I don’t know your children and don’t care who it’s for)! How long did you say you could hold that for me?”
I hesitate, waiting for the next question, but there isn’t one. “Three days from now,” I say.
“Wonderful! You’ve been super helpful. Thanks a bunch!” she says.
“ThankYouAndHaveAGreatDay!” I say, then I quickly hang up and leave the desk in case she calls back.