Shush First, Answer Questions Later

by Kristen Bealer

o O o

She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. The books were in alphabetical order, the complimentary coffee was brewing, the public-use computers were all (miraculously) functioning, and Daria Morgendorffer was prepared to start her first day as a librarian at the Alfred Joyce Kilmer Public Library.

Reference questions, genealogy research, homework problems, reader's advisory, directions to the bathroom...hit me with whatever you've got, she thought as she unlocked the front doors.

She returned to the counter and waited. A few people wandered in over the next few minutes, most of them heading straight for the newspapers, the coffee, or the unfinished jigsaw puzzles spread out on tables. Not one of them approached the counter to ask her the complex, challenging questions she'd been hoping for.

In fact, no one approached the counter at all until an hour into her shift, when Sandi dropped a stack of magazines in front of her along with her library card. Stacy trailed behind her, looking around the library with a mixture of confusion and curiosity.

"Oh, it's that girl who lived with Quinn," Sandi muttered to Stacy. Turning her attention back to Daria, she demanded, "What are you doing here?"

"I work here," Daria replied, trying-unsuccessfully-to keep the irritation out of her voice.

Sandi sniffed dismissively and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "So you, like, get to shush people all day?"

"Only when they say phenomenally stupid things." She ignored Sandi's outraged look and began scanning the magazines.

"I don't get it," Stacy said.

"I'm not surprised." Daria slid the magazines back across the counter to Sandi.

"No, I mean...do people still even go to the library anymore?" Seeing Sandi glare at her, she cowered and quickly added, "I mean, aside from checking things out, of course. But looking stuff up and research? Isn't that what Google's for?"

"As long as you're okay with wading through information that's wildly inaccurate, potentially biased, completely irrelevant, decades out-of-date, and just plain goofy, then sure."

"Oh, cool!"

"Don't pay any attention to her," Sandi told Stacy, finally finding her voice. "She's just jealous of us-"

"-Shhhh." Daria put a finger to her lips and stared at them until they gave up and left.

Rough start, she thought as she leaned against the counter. Next one's bound to be better. It'd have to be, right?

o O o

"Oh, hello, Daria!" Daria looked up from her computer screen to see the cheerful face of Ted DeWitt-Clinton peering at her. "You work here?"

She nodded, feeling more optimistic about her day already. "I just started today, in fact."

"Congratulations!" Ted looked around the library and his expression grew sad. "It's too bad it'll be a short-lived career."

"I-what?" A tiny warning bell began to go off in Daria's head, and her rising optimism came to a screeching halt.

"Well, I just found out about ebooks, online newspapers, and other electronic resources. I suppose now that print is dead, you'll have to find a new job soon."

Daria stared at him in shocked silence for a few moments. Then she made a point of looking at the many shelves full of books, newspapers, magazines, and more before turning back to Ted. "Yes, the entire medium of putting ink on paper has completely vanished, because the world is utterly incapable of sustaining more than one method of conveying information."

"Exactly!" Ted exclaimed.

"Ted?"

"Yes?"

"That was sarcasm."

"Oh. Oh? Oh!" He blinked a few times and tilted his head. "I see. Well, good luck with your career, even though I'm pretty sure it's doomed."

o O o

"Daria? Is that you?"

She looked up into the wide, friendly eyes of Mr. O'Neill. "Unfortunately," she said.

"You work here at the library?"

Daria looked at her position behind the counter and her prominently-displayed name tag but decided to hold back the snarky comeback. "Yes, I do."

He clapped his hands with delight. "How wonderful! It must be great to be able to read all day long!"

This time the sarcasm would not be restrained. "Only when I can tear myself away from my rigorous duties of shushing people."

"Shushing? Oh, dear!" Mr. O'Neill lowered his voice to a faint whisper. "Is that better?" "I can still hear you speaking, so...no."

o O o

"You're new here, right?"

Daria looked at the slim, light-haired man standing in front of her and realized she didn't recognize him. Not a former classmate. Not a former teacher. It was possible-just possible-that for once she wasn't about to face a total idiot.

"I am." She gathered up the shattered remains of her optimism and added, "Welcome to the Alfred Joyce Kilmer Public Library. Is there anything I can help you with today?"

"Actually, I think I can help you." He handed her a business card and adjusted his tinted glasses. "What do you think the future is for libraries? I have a theory. See, libraries as they currently exist are out of the loop. What you people need to do is proactively transition to a knowledge economy while thinking outside the box. I can empower you to push the envelope and create holistic synergy within your core business. If you strategically interface for a result-driven game plan, you'll be on the big picture fast track before you know it!"

Daria blinked at him wearily. "Edgy."

This knocked the smug grin off his face. "What?"

She sighed and closed her eyes. "Look, do you actually have any real experience with the library field, or know anything about information science beyond a handful of buzzwords?"

"I...well...um..."

"Uh huh." She finally looked at the business card. "Noah Barkman? From ?"

He perked up instantly. "That's right!"

"The same that went bankrupt during its first year in business?"

His smile wavered, but didn't leave his face. "That's the one. Hey, can I get on a computer? I need to check the job search sites, but my laptop's been repossessed."

Daria rolled her eyes and waved him toward the computer lab. "Gee, I think now I have a theory about your future."

o O o

She was looking down at some paperwork when she heard a familiar "Rrrrr" way too close to her ear. Bracing for the worst, she looked up.

Just as she feared. Upchuck.

"Why, it's the divine Ms. Morgendorffer!" Upchuck crooned with delight. "I see you're now a librarian?" He grinned.

"Upchuck, don't."

"That's-"

"-I mean it. If you value your life, you'll walk away right now."

"-so-"

"-I'm begging you. Stop."

"-hot!"

Daria glared at him. "Upchuck, you will die alone, unmourned, and unloved."

"Fiest-"

"-Shhhh."

o O o

As she rubbed her temples, Daria began to think that the day had gotten as bad as it could possibly get.

"Look, Kevvy! It's Daria!"

Thanks, Murphy's Law. "Hello, Brittany. Hello, Kevin." The duo had broken up ("For good this time!") not long after Brittany graduated from high school, but the two had been coming back to each other over and over again for years. Like an especially stupid moth to an even stupider flame.

"Hey, Daria!" Kevin set a large stack of DVDs on the counter. "So, are you like, a volunteer?"

"Yes," Daria replied dully as she began scanning the movies. "In the sense that I am choosing, of my own free will, to subject myself to the idiots of this town by voluntarily entering a service-based career."

"You mean this is your job? You get paid to do this?" Brittany's eyes lit up. "Hey, maybe I'll be a liberrian, too! It'd be pretty easy to just shelve books all day."

"Don't forget all the time you'll have to spend shushing people and reading," Daria muttered. Louder, she said, "But first you'll need to have a Masters degree." Daria silently added, And a firm grasp of what order the alphabet goes in.

"What? You need to have a Masters degree for this?" Brittany's eyes widened in shock.

"Not really," Daria deadpanned. "I just thought it would be fun to spend all that time learning advanced research skills, cataloguing, controlled vocabularies, information-seeking behavior, bibliographic access, copyright law, evaluating sources, privacy ethics, intellectual freedom, databases, collection development, information systems-but your eyes glazed over a long time ago, so I'll just stop now."

"Ohhhh, so this is like a brain job?"

"Yes, having a brain is helpful. As is abundant patience with idiotic questions. Speaking of which, do you have any more for me?"

"Nope!" Kevin cheerfully replied, gathering up all of his movies and turning to leave. "Have fun with your volunteer brain stuff!"

Daria watched them leave with a mixture of relief and annoyance. As the door closed behind them, she glanced up at the clock and saw that her shift was almost over. Thank God, she thought. I don't think I can stand to listen to one more ridiculous question.

"Excuuuse meeeee."

Looking back from the clock, she saw Tiffany Blum-Deckler standing before her with a blank look on her face. Oh, dear God, no. Just no. As the girl opened her mouth again, Daria held up a hand and said, "I'd love you help you, but I'm...um...running behind on my shushing duties."

"Buuuut-"

"-Shhhhh. There. One down. Gotta go!"

Looking slightly disappointed, Tiffany watched Daria almost sprint towards the back room. "Noooow who's goiiiing to heeeelp me wiiith my dissertation reseeeeearch?"

o O o

Story partially inspired by the list of "7 Things Librarians Are Tired of Hearing." Credit for Daria's exchange with Upchuck goes to Charles RB, from a conversation that brought this idea back from the dead. Thank you to RLobinske for beta reading.