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July 27, 2011

On library romance

In the past two days, it has occurred to me that it’s not uncommon for women to imagine library jobs as gateways to romance. Julia did, and so did I, though neither of us got exactly what we were looking for. Particularly since what I’d been looking for exactly was Love Story‘s Oliver Barrett IV (who, incidentally, didn’t look like Ryan O’Neal, since I’d read the book before seeing the movie. He also didn’t look like Al Gore). I wanted the son of a millionaire, the Harvard jock with a sports car who’d see past my glasses and my Italian working class origins, even though I didn’t have either.

Needless to say, I didn’t meet him, though I did eventually get glasses, which I hoped would help, but they didn’t. Which was not to say that my career was not romantic– plenty of nights perched at the circulation desk, I’d await the arrival through the library’s revolving door of whoever it was I was happened to be in love with at the time. I remember many flirtatatious chats to the steady rhythm of the date-stamp. There really were two incidents during which I was kissing boys in the stacks when I should have been shelving, which is the nerdy girl’s erotic fantasy. And if none of this sounds particularly romantic to you, I assure you that it was, or at least it was romantic as my life ever got around the turn of the century.

You can forgive me for being deluded though. I understand the world through literature, and books tend to present libraries as most romantic places. In Love Story, it’s the Radcliffe Library where Jenny Cavilleri first encounters her unlikely future-husband Oliver Barrett IV (“I’m not talking legality, Preppie, I’m talking ethics. You guys have five million books. We have a few lousy thousand.”) and he invites her out for coffee, purportedly to get his book. In Martha Baillie’s The Incident Report, Miriam meets Janko Prijatelj in the park on her lunch break from the Allan Gardens Library, but it is through the language and structure of library bureaucracy that we become privy to the details of their romance.

And then there’s the erotic novel Overdue For Pleasure, about a simple librarian who discovers her wild side . What about Rose in Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? who is molested in the stacks during her library job, and saved by the man who will become her husband? (Though admittedly, this plot line is less than romantic.) AS Byatt’s Possession unfolds in a library, the English kind, which are the very best. And then there’s every Barbara Pym book ever written (except the ones that are tales of village life) in which dusty love is encountered across hushed study tables between individuals the rest of the world has forgotten.

Update: Amy Lavender Harris’ excellent blog post informs me about “Rosemary Aubert’s Harlequin romance Firebrand (1985) in which a City Hall librarian has a torrid affair with the City’s charismatic, handsome, left-leaning mayor. It need not be said, of course, that Aubert’s Mayor does not close any branches.”

3 thoughts on “On library romance”

  1. alexis says:

    What about the very hot library scene in the movie “Atonement”? I don’t even think Keira Knightley is super hot, but that scene was.

    Or there’s a little romp in “Threesome.”

    Oh libraries 🙂 An old ex and I took a picture of us kissing in from of the NYPL lions. It was a great picture.

  2. Britt Gullick says:

    When I used to work at the Vaughan Memorial Library at Acadia University, I used to flirt by allowing cute boys to leave their backpacks behind the circulation desk, which was prohibited. It just occurred to me now that it is weird that people didn’t want to take their backpacks in. But thank goodness they didn’t, because that sure led to some steamy conversation, such as the highly suggestive “yes, I will sneak your backpack under this desk, but don’t tell my boss”.

    1. Kerry says:

      See, I never broke the rules. People always wanted to leave their backpacks with me too, but I never let them. This is why I never got lucky. A cute boy wanted to borrow my stapler once, but I refused to go against policy, and told him straight: “If I loaned it to you, I would have to loan it to everybody.”

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