Agent 001.9

For National Library Week, with gratitude.

I could read when I was 2, and some of my earliest memories are scenes from the mid-century Anaheim Central Library. Mom would cut me loose in the juvenile literature room, and I’d happily research bionics or whatever, though I was aware there was a greater store of knowledge in the rest of the building. The yellow juvenile card was my own, but all it afforded me was a chance to splash around in the shallow end of things.

So for my 7th birthday, my parents gave me the keys to the kingdom: an adult library card. This being the mid-Seventies, I was allowed to ride my BMX bike (helmetless) to downtown Anaheim (by myself) and wander the maze of shelves and floors (without ever once encountering a homeless person or furtive pedophile trolling the stacks).

Almost immediately, I found what became my first job and my second home: Section 001.9. The Dewey Decimal neighborhood where UFOs, Bigfoot, Nessie, and other unexplained phenomena lived. Not the inoffensive little green men like in the kids’ section, either–but this visitor from Flatwoods and many of my later nightmares:

God, the surge of interest in UFOs made it a wonderful time to be a kid. Living in suburban Anaheim, I understood the only way I’d ever meet Bigfoot was if he learned to use the bus system. But UFOs could land anywhere. You couldn’t fully let your guard down. The lights overhead might be aircraft most nights, but there was room for doubt. And all the kids on my block agreed that the yellow discoloration of decorative stones on a neighbor’s lawn could indeed have been caused by radiation from unknown craft bent on unknown missions. We each pocketed a sample. For science.

We had to prepare. I visited the library with a new purpose, not for myself alone but for all my second grade class. Well, the budding geeks in my second grade class. For the remainder of the 1976-77 school year, we spent the long lunch recess in the classroom while the uninitiated played endless kickball outside. I’d pull armloads of books from 001.9 out of my pack, we’d find the best pictures, and we’d make contingency plans:

OK, Bill, if you saw that at the window of the classroom over there, what would you do? WHAT WOULD YOU DO, BILL?!

Bill Marble answered that he’d run out the other way and call Miz Abbott or the principal to help. Wrong move, Bill:

At least the rest of us would escape. Thanks, Bill. RIP.

None of these noon terrors and chills would’ve been possible without my access to an adult library card. 30+ years later, my library card remains one of my prized possessions, well-worn and occupying prime position in my wallet. So to libraries and librarians everywhere, a deeply felt thank you.


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