Library tour, the audio guide

This municipal library in my hometown was the first one I ever visited, when I was six.  My friend Scott and I were taken by his mom.  We went to the children's room and we each picked out some books to take home.  I waited while the staff behind a counter did something with Scott's books before we left.  I walked out with my books (there was no theft prevention measure in 1968) and asked Scott's mom how long I could keep them.  Eventually it came out that I needed to acquire and use a library card in order to legally borrow my armload of books.  The matter was soon rectified.  Some years later this was one of the rooms where I would work, earning minimum wage as a high school student.  

Moving on, this area of the first floor with the floor-to-ceiling glass looking out to the street used to be the browsing area with new books, paperbacks, magazines, and chairs occupied by men sleeping all day long.  One morning, my boss told me, a custodian vacuuming the carpet asked a man sleeping in a chair to lift his feet.  The man woke up, stood up, and threw his chair through the plate glass window.  

Up to the second floor, I worked most of my library years here.  Standing at the reference desk across from the elevator, we heard the drama of the elevator buttons every time a parent brought children.  If there were two or more kids, the drama was about which kid would get to push the button to summon the elevator and then, once inside, push a button for a floor.  Every day there were tears, foot-stomping, screaming, and from the parents, hissing and shushing.  As the family stood inside the elevator the doors would close, gradually reducing the sound of grief like a turning volume knob.

One of our duties behind the counter was to hand out keys to conference rooms.  One summer, a teacher used a room to meet with adult students twice a week; his was a familiar face.  A year later and many miles away from the library, we saw each other on a crowded sidewalk in Chicago's loop.  We walked toward and then past each other, our momentum carrying us, but his surprised expression matched my own.

On the second floor I was shelving fiction one afternoon and heard the sound of tearing paper.  I followed the sound to a desk where a man sat, his back to me, carefully tearing selected pages out of a book on interior decorating.  It was one of the men who spent their entire day at the library.  I called for Security but was disappointed to find that the first and only responder was the chairman of the library, a nice man whose expertise did not include the issue at hand.  The chairman was most interested in avoiding conflict, so the book-ripper, when I accused him, denied the charge, the chairman asked him to please leave the building (without his selected pages) and that was the end of it.  

Going up to the third (top) floor, my friend Eric and I, as fourth-grade students, went to the east-facing windows to see how far we could see.  A middle-aged woman seated at a desk six feet away turned around and accused us of peeping over her shoulder.  We hadn't noticed her until then, but I saw she was writing a letter.  We backed away, she raised her voice and kept scolding us, we turned and walked away at a measured pace, arms stiffly down at our sides for some reason, and we heard her voice rasping away until we reached the stairwell and exited. 

The building itself, built in 1965, has an exterior that would look clean, simple, and modern if you could ignore the design elements glued on in the 1990s.  Those elements include a logo and signage crafted to appeal to preschool children.  From certain angles they make this once-dignified building look like a giant toy box.