Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tales from the Library: Smells edition

After eight years of working with the public in a library setting, I'm continually surprised how aromatic it is and how those aromas vary in intensity but never in family. No, not woody or earthy or herbaceous. All the aromas belong to the...I want to say revolting family for lack of an official genus. (Note: Google whether or not aromas have genuses.) (Note's note: Google what the plural form of genus is)*

Take for example what I've smelled so far today:

  • vague french fry
  • a special combination of moldy bathroom tile, armpit sweat and moth ball
  • very cheap drugstore cologne that has been spilled onto a shirt and then kept enclosed in a vacuum safe container, thereby saturating completely and irrevocably the fabric of said shirt and the air immediately surrounding it
  • stale beer, cigar smoke and the shame of someone seriously  hung over
  • 80s hair gel (think dep hair product)
  • cigarette smoke that has been trapped inside the pages of a worn detective novel
That last one happened as I was going through damaged paperbacks to discard. This happens more often than is really believable in this day and age and each time it does a single image flashes in my mind, that of a scene from the 1985 film "Stephen King's Cat's Eye". You remember that film right? James Woods, Drew Barrymore and a little goblin that when thrown into a desk fan turns into ground beef? Anyway there is a scene when a cigarette deprived Woods is imagining everyone around him smoking cigarettes as he watches impotently and at one point someone leans their head back in order to release a steam engine's worth of cigarette smoke. That's what I think happens to the library books that come back smelling like that. Some weird 80s person lets out an unending stream of cigarette smoke directly on to pages of the paperback and doesn't stop until a cat is electrocuted. Either way, the entire process is unpleasant.

Another noteworthy aromatic event was that time, not too long ago when a library patron decided to have an entire fast food  meal at one of the study tables. The reference desk was busy so before I even realized it, a page came up and said "Um, there is a guy eating at the desk over there." I looked over and sure enough, homeboy had a burger, fries, soda AND an apple pie all laid out on the table and was wearing a toothy smile as I approached him to tell him that the library didn't play that. So for a good half hour that section of the library smelled like dinner.

I could go on with these stories and descriptions and opine that the library has come to mean a different (read: lesser/grosser) thing than it used to or that I sometimes have a brief glimpse of panic that all the library naysayers who say things like "omfg only losers go to the LIEberry still lol" may be taking over faster than I'd care to admit but the reality is that public libraries have always been bastions for the mixed nuts medley that is humanity and all its trappings, aromas included.

What's worth noting when discussing library aroma is the distinct lack of "book smell". I no longer smell the nostalgia inducing scent of books in any modern library and that is for any number of reasons, the biggest being that we throw out old books instead of keeping them. Oh and also all the other scents are strong enough to overpower whatever smell of "book" lingers. Whether or not this observation depresses you really does define a small part of you in my very judgemental eyes.

And with that I shall leave. I'm going to find a vat of patchouli oil to shove my face in.

(*Note's note's note: Google whether or not it is grammatically correct to end a parenthetical phrase with a preposition)

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