Does your public library have an embalming room? As fate would have it, after more than fifty years of moving from one rented spot to another in our small county seat in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge foothills, our under-funded public library undertook a move into a building that had been a funeral home for many years. Of course, money was not available right away to decontaminate its embalming room (Actually, it took three years. A fact that did not mortify local officials.)
Our library’s reference collection sits exactly where the earthly remains of hundreds of our friends and neighbors were displayed for the last time. Local folks now pass the by the reference shelves as quickly as they used to pass by the remains – too many sad facts of life in print as was the case in caskets, I guess.
The lighting in the building is better today, and the chapel pews have been replaced by bookshelves. A large mural of the “Holy Land” still overlooks the main room. On some days, I am sure that our librarian wishes that she could be in another land – and the holier the better.
Working in a building with such a profound past, I have speculated about what our polite librarian might say to some of the card-carrying patrons who find the library’s modest rules to be too much of a burden to bear and to officials who think that libraries are “dead weight,” so to speak.
“Well, teenage Harry, one website that you visited during your internet session yesterday was not appropriate. By the way, have you seen the old anatomical charts in our library’s ‘embalming room’?”
“Mrs. Varney, you checked out four of our Jan Karon novels three months ago. The waiting list for these overdue items is three computer screens long. ‘embalming room’ and displayed in front of the ‘Holy Land’ several years ago? She liked to read Jan Karon, too; didn’t she?”
“Yogi, I have reminded you again and again that you are not supposed to stick both arms, or even one hand, into the book drop box. Just slide the books over the lip and let go. You know, Yogi, we have some boxes in our ‘embalming room’ that your entire body could fit into.”
“Sammy, chewing gum is not allowed in the library. When I asked you to dispose of it, I did not want it placed over the outlet on the water fountain. By the way, did I show you the putty that we have in our ‘embalming room’? If you spread that stuff over a fresh stab wound, nothing will spray out.”
“Susan and Nancy, please leave your hair brushes and lipstick at home tomorrow. Teenage Harry sat on the sofa that you usually use; when he got home last night, his mother called me and wanted to know what he did at the library that would cover his clothes with long brown hairs and red lipstick. Girls, maybe I should mention that, in our ‘embalming room,’ we have several used wigs and some face powder that might interest you.”
“Yes, Mayor Davis, I reviewed the library’s new budget. I’ll wait until next year to have the brake fluid checked in my Ford Fiesta. Mayor, would you look in our ‘embalming room’ to see if the stuff in the bottles on the shelves can be used as a substitute for brake fluid, and you know that you are not allowed to park your Cadillac Escalade in the three spaces the hearse used to sit.”
“Thank you very much, teenage Harry, for donating brand new anatomical charts to the library. But, where did you get….? You bought them online at Barnes & Noble, and Nancy and Susan thought that they were very educational, and you appreciate my expert reference help.”
“Teenage Harry, I am going to take a break. If someone needs me at the desk, tell them that I am laid out in a long box with my mouth puttied shut, wearing a used wig and face powder – in our library’s ‘embalming room.’ Make sure that the lever on the emergency brake in my Fiesta is pulled up, won’t you?”