Tuesday, December 2, 2008


The hand that shelves the books rules the world. They decided the breath of knowledge available. It is true whether you are in the carpeted room of a library with these pages and colored volumes at attention on a shelf or you are in your room, with pictures of familiar faces smiling back at you nearby, a lap top on your laptop, and knowledge tempting you on a screen to unleash it from its cage.

The hand should routinely walk across the aisles escorted by its companion the eye to peruse the volumes. Darwinism forces those books that are tattered, irrelevant, misunderstood, under-appreciated, diseased, damaged, yellowed, old, weak, and/or just plain ugly to leave the community of knowledge. Order must be restored at the library. Knowledge is simply not acknowledged if it doesn’t exists in the best utopia of its format. Knowledge must be tasted and admired from afar in this Eden.

That eye, like the middle class, has two masters. The hand is out in the public but the mind is in the shadows. It tells the eye what it is looking for. It tells the eye what it is seeing. It tells the eye to talk to the hand but every once and a while the hand surprises the mind. A reform today, a revolution tomorrow.

Someone has brought an item to the library. It came out of the box but it doesn’t easily fit into a box, does it? The mind knows what it is but the words escape him. The tongue can not make out the words into a semblance of a sentence. What is it good for except for eating? The eye merely darts back and forth impatiently. The nose may even inhale but it is a human nose, a whiff does not tell it what a hound’s nose would. My kingdom for a canine nose! The hand holds the object. It feels. It is not a book or is it? Maybe it can’t be held but it must be touched somehow and the hand knows the surrogates that can lead him to it. That happens from time to time. Remember? There it is that magical computer that can lead me to the database. I think it was a database. It is so expensive. It must be more than a database. At somepoint, the hand makes a decision. A pen is grasped. A scanner is caught. A key is reached. A card becomes a commandment. The mind must go along because the hand has done this before and there is so many other things to worry about.

Eventually, the mind looks at what the hand has found and done and laughs. It has won again. You can not touch that database it tells the hand. The hand agrees but it can touch many a book the brain can’t. Anything the brain wants it must keep inside of it because the moment it lets it out, it is up to the hand to inspect it. That clever hand who can choose to pass the item once a thought in the brain, now a book on a subject, a picture taken, a drawing jotted down, a realia made, or even a digital bull hidden in the labyrinth of technology, off to another hand with a mind of its own and even a collective mind of its own. That bull in the labyrinth now becomes another part of a larger labyrinth of catalogs, schemes, structures, organizations, discourses, disciplines, categories and other spells that spell doom for the mind that wanted things on its own terms. Mind, there is a whole world beyond you that the hand knows all too well. You where warned to keep that hand busy, it is the devil’s work shop. You let that hand think.

The hand that rules the world can do it one key stroke at a time. The wrong search term can lead to a dead end alley. A misplaced letter can be your downfall. The jealous ear that whispers your words to your hand can misconstrue your intentions. It can send the hand and you on a red herring but that hand once bitten by the ear can choose to ignore it when it wants to. It can even cover it over. The ear begs to be scratch and tugged but the hand ignores it for the longest time and does what it must.

The hand waves to the patrons. The smart patrons wave back. The hand may even shake another hand. The hand has its own magic. It can even flip open a book and it can open to the right page.

The book on the shelf is grateful to the hand. The hand stops and opens it. It guides the eye through every word. It is time for the book to speak. It must sing. Then the hand stops.

There it is that sign of affection. The hand dog ears its pages. It places it back on the shelf. The hand has made a promise to return.

No. There it is that sign of hopelessness. The hand snaps the book shut. Was it the loose page? Was it the twisted spine? Was it the old song it sung? The book falls into a box. The box is closed. It is never to be seen again.

Then another hand appears. There is a new beginning. Somewhere else.

That hand that rules the world remains at the library though. It can hold a card to the light. It can place a slip into your item. It can extend out for money. It can wave a no at you. It can reach to its lips and hush you into silence. It does things at the library when the patrons are away. The patrons never know. This added to that could have led to this but now the chain is broken. A dream is lost before it is started. A piece of research never reaches a student. Poetry is never heard. Images are never seen. History is not offered to History for prosperity. History is lost to history forever. Gates are closed. The patron never knows. Sadly, even the poor librarian doesn’t know what the hand has done.

The hand eventually ends the pursuit of sensation. It is no longer startled by the feel of things. It knows fire. It knows coldness. It knows what to seek and what to avoid. That hand once greasy and slippery from packed lunch, potato chips, and pastries, once revealing its innermost secrets to that distant, uncaring scanner, once soiled by that leaky pen, once tapping on a desk to its own drummer, doing its tango across a mouse pad, once admiring its own fingernails, enjoying the sound of its crunched knuckles, seeks a new purpose.

That hand gestures for your attention. That hand scrolls through booklists. That hand joins with another or many others to lift boxes. That hand seeks to extends itself beyond its reach and grasp to a kind of justice. It begs to do more than just shelve books.

Bad smells from the homeless patrons are merely waved away for the sake of showing them a self help book. A door is opened for someone who can not open it for themselves. The hand does not meet the foreign tongues of lost patrons with a stop sign anymore but that ubiquitous okay sign everyone seems to know. It learns what to do in the United States and anywhere else around the world. It puts on a glove to hold precious history. It high fives a young reader even though it is not necessary. The hand even learns sign language.

The hand learns to work with its community. It coaxes the brain by rubbing its temple. It cups itself around the ear so that it may hear better. It rubs the eye so that it may stay awake and alert. It rubs the other hand in a show of solidarity. Soon it seems as if everything is working together.

Then there are those dark days. The nervous hand offers its fingernails as a sacrifice to the hungry teeth of the mouth. The hand seeks to hide itself in a pocket. The hand is trapped in a sneeze attack instinctively meeting it like a soldier falling on a grenade. It seeks to ball itself up in a fist after a terrible day of bureaucracy. It seeks to flip off this cruel world for the last time. The hand seeks to check out its last book. It seeks to turn its last page. The hand seeks to wash itself of all sins. Then the hand rubs the neck or does the neck rub the hand? It says come now. It is not so bad.

Then there are voices. Some one mentions a book they read. Maybe it was another item they checked out. A burst of knowledge. It is familiar knowledge this hand knows. It let it enter the gates of the library once. That hand held that book once. It described that item. It check it out. The voice continues. There is the testimony of a change life. The ear begins to mumble. Now the mind joins in. Others add to the chorus. Their message is clear. The life transformed is that of the hand too. Familiar images flashed before the hand. Words come to mind. Stories are retold. The hand has done more than shelved books. The hand, yes, that hand that shelved the books realizes that it rules the world.

It counts the people it helped. The books pointed to. The research found. The paintings printed. It counts the fingers and toes and eventually falls into abstract math beyond them. The careers that were started. The goals that were reached. The people that were served.

It is now more dangerous than ever.

Soon the hand is back at work again.

Eddie Hernandez

1 comment:

Librarian said...

I posted notice at LIS News of this thoughtful blog: