Snow and the library

My first job in a library was in Los Angeles, where snow was never an issue.  It was a full-time summer job and the heat got to be an issue as the months passed–especially as half my time was spent hauling the art book collection from its first floor shelves to a different shelving area on the second floor.  this without aid of an elevator or a dumb waiter during most of the term.  (There was no elevator in the building and the dumb waiter was broken for much of the summer).

My second library job was in the hallowed halls of a Haw-vud library.  The Countway Library is the medical library serving not only Harvard, but also Boston University and Tufts Medical Schools.  In addition, it house the editorial offices of The New England Journal of Medicine (locally known as “nu-ingl-j-med”) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (known pretty generally as JAMA). I worked in the circulation department, where borrowing, reserves, and security for the building were all in the portfolio.  Even though that was a quarter century before 9/11, the only way to get into the building was if you could produce your “disaster pass,” essentially picture ID that was generally clipped to your collar.  We regularly received memos reminding those working the security desk at the entrance to let no one pass into the building unidentified, even if she was the wife of the chief editor of one of the journals.

In that era (and perhaps still), the Countway prided itself on never closing, except for the few hours each night between workdays.  Weather was much beside the point. In 1978, Boston suffered a horrendous February blizzard, one that washed about 10 houses out to sea as well as cloaking the metropolitan area with a blank about a full storey deep.  I was living in a second floor apartment and the snow literally reached my window sill.  Martial law kept the library closed that first day after the snow stopped, but the second day, we were expected to show for work, especially if we lived within “walking distance” (a New England term that doesn’t take into account anything related to standardization; walking distance is what YOU call walking distance).

I lived about three quarters of a mile from work, definitely my idea of a short walk in cleared-ground weather.  It took me about an hour that morning but I arrived and worked and there wasn’t much work to do because even the dedicated doctor and medical school student patrons didn’t dig themselves out for another couple days.

One of my coworkers, however, was among the people who had had their houses swallowed by the ocean.  He didn’t get to work that first clear (not cleared) day.  And he got reprimanded.

Sadly, this has coloured my ability to judge when to let the weather call off plans to go to work.  Devastating earthquakes?  No problem:  you don’t go to work when there’s no power anywhere and big chunks of building lying around, burst pipes and fires in the gas outlets.  Snow on the other hand…..Tramp through it?  Get taller boots?  Start an hour earlier?  Carry a complete change of clothes?

A big storm’s been predicted for today since about Thursday.  And, indeed, the flakes began shortly after 11.  Since it’s Sunday, the library day doesn’t start yet for another couple hours but I swallowed my knee jerk reaction and called it all off.  You can teach an old dog new tricks, make the nondriver appreciate the difficulty of driving in this stuff, take into consideration local commute patterns.  It hurts, but today the library is closed.


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