Trial by Fire (Part 1)

Or, “The Slightly Very Dramatized Dramatization of My Beginnings at the Library.”

It all started with an off-hand comment to my in-laws during Sunday dinner: “I work with the Navy SEALs of the library.” It was true. When I first started at my branch, no one warned me that we were, among many other things, the busiest branch out of the forty branches in the system. No one warned me that the Cincinnati Public Library was one of the busiest metropolitan library systems in the country with a rich history to back it up. I didn’t know I’d be conceptualizing and executing displays and programs in addition to helping people find books.

I also didn’t know that I’d be working with a team of individuals who were not only very good at their jobs, but passionate about it, too. They’re truly the best of the best. This past March, I was given the task of working on a display that would go in the lobby area. The display would illustrate just how many materials go out our doors in a year and a plethora of other stats that would make patrons boggle. One portion of the infographic was dubbed “No Easy Day,” a nod to the book written by retired Navy SEAL Mark Owen. That part showed our busiest day from the past year with the circulation number well over 2400— and that was with a team who was shorthanded by two people.

Now that the library was recently awarded the IMLS Medal for Library Services, I felt like this was a good time to publish the story that’s been on the backburner for so long. This is the first half of “Trial by Fire.”



“Well, what about Tori? She’s a good candidate.”

” Graduated top of her class at Peter J. Shields Academy. First freshman in history to be inducted to the Reserves Department. Achieved the highest rank and was training new cadets by her second year. Made squad leader in her fourth year. Impressive, but academic libraries are a whole different animal from a metropolitan library system. And she hasn’t used Dewey Decimal in over six years. I don’t know if she can hack it.”

“Her Dewey Competence Test scores were very high. She also trained under the strictest of customer service masterchiefs for two summers straight out of high school in a highly diverse environment in both cultural and economic demographics.”

“Who was her CO?”

“Shawn Keller, owner of Bill’s Yogurt, Ice Cream, and Coffee. Shortest, toughest son-of-a-gun on the West Coast.”

“Any incidents on record?”

“Only two of any relevance. Both were instigated by people on the other side of the counter, and completely out of her control. Officials said she handled herself professionally and impeccably. Not to mention she’s a veteran of four years’ worth of midterms and finals with her own studies to worry about.”

“Sounds like the type of person we need, then.”

“I’ll make the call.”

The message was concise, efficient, and courteous. “We have been reviewing your application and would like to interview you for the spot with STR. Please report to PLCH HQ at 1300 hours…”

Tori stared at her terminal for a while, letting the information sink in. Admittedly, she was still a newcomer to the region and had only used the local public library a handful of times. She feared her lack of knowledge of the system and the city altogether would be held against her. The fear, however, was only fleeting. This wouldn’t be the first time the odds were stacked against her. Her lips curved into a set, determined smile. She’d just have to show them she was the best person to have behind the desk and manning a laser scanner.

The heels of her dress uniform rapped out a fast, steady rhythm against the sidewalk as Tori made her way from the parking garage to PLCH Headquarters. As she stepped into the administrative building, the security guard on duty looked at her warily and nodded at her.

“Where are you headed, miss?” the guard said.

“I have an interview with PLCH brass at thirteen-hundred, sir,” she replied crisply.

The guard raised his eyebrows. “So you’re the one they’re interviewing for the spot in STR? Best of luck to you. They’re the toughest branch of PLCH; they only take in the best, and for good reason.”

“Why do you say that?”

“A few weeks in the field, and you’ll see. Don’t let the pretty building and nice neighborhood fool you. It’s not an easy assignment.” The guard looked at Tori again and nodded. “But I think you’ll do fine. You look like you can handle it. Just take the elevator up to the fourth floor and cross the skywalk.  I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”

Tori said a quick thanks and hurried onward. In the halls beyond the lobby, she could see patrons walking through the shelves, looking for books and audio-visual materials, or a good place to sit and study. Some were chatting in quiet, genial voices. It was a drastic change from the scene she was used to at the Shields Library back at the university. Chatting and idle conversation were rare. There was always one more exam to take, one more paper to write, one more source needed for research. People didn’t come to the library as a gathering place. It was just a means to an end. The public library was going to be a different environment, indeed.

She pushed out the extraneous thoughts from her mind as the elevator opened to the top floor. Here it was, the administrative offices: the pulsing, breathing, living heart of the public library. Tori looked around but found no one. The reception desk was empty, save for a few pamphlets, magazines, and the IP phone. A printed note by the phone explained which extension to dial for what department under these circumstances. Finding the right extension, she picked up the receiver and dialed. It rang once, twice, then another person picked up to Tori’s surprise; she’d expected an automated menu at most.

“PLCH Recruitment, how may I help you?”

“Erm, hello,” Tori said. “I’m here for my interview with STR at thirteen-hundred. ”

“Oh good,” another voice said from behind her. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Tori put the receiver back in its cradle and turned around slowly. Two women in fresh attire stood before her, their expressions carefully neutral but not unfriendly. She finally remembered her wits and saluted smartly, standing at attention. They returned the salute, the older of the two gesturing for Tori to stand at ease.

“I’m Rear Admiral Ellis,” the older woman said, holding her hand out to shake Tori’s. “This is Captain Tara, CO of STR.”

“A pleasure to finally meet you, Tori,” the captain said, shaking Tori’s hand in turn. “Shall we get on with the briefing?”

Rear Admiral Ellis nodded and opened the door to the secure offices. “Of course. We don’t have time to waste. Please follow me.”


About Toriah the Mom

Mom, quasi-librarian, gamer, writer
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