HED:It's all about customer service, says 25-year library worker

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Most would assume that people who work in libraries love to read books. Oddly, that's not always the case.

May Alice Booker with the Marshall County Library in Holly Springs recently confessed her lack of passion for the written word.

That may be because of a freak book incident that took place about 12 years ago.

"I was going too fast in the library and I guess I didn't look where I was going," she said. "I stumbled over a book of all things."

The incident resulted in a broken hip, which took her out of action and into a recliner for a while. There she discovered the problem-filled world of soap operas. She was immediately hooked

"I have to watch 'Guiding Light," she said. "I get off at 1 p.m., have lunch, get in the recliner and see part of 'Another World' and see all of 'Guiding Light.' You just feel as though you know the characters."

At 83 years of age, Booker has earned the right to take it easy in front of the TV now and then. But the television has yet to lull her away from the library, where she has served faithfully for 25 years.

"I would love to retire, but when I tell people that, they ask 'What would you do if you decided to retire?'" Booker said. "Of course, they're already retired."

But the truth is, Booker hasn't been able to answer that question quite to her own satisfaction.

"I don't know what I would do if I retired except sit on that recliner," Booker said. "I'm not ready for that yet."

Before the "downfall" that broke her hip, Booker worked in circulation, where she used some of the same skills she learned while working in a dress shop.

"When we had new dresses come in, I'd call people who I thought would like it. It's the same way with books," she said. "You have to know what your patrons like. Some like romance. Some like mystery and there are others who like biographies."

There are also patrons who don't want anyone else to know what they like.

"Sometimes they want to take their name off a book they've checked out," she said. "They're ashamed they had it out and don't want anyone else to know."

It's a symptom of the age, Booker said. It seems that almost every popular fiction writer includes sex and foul language these days, she said.

"We have to have them. They'll be on the best seller lists. I think the people who want to read that stuff are adults," she said. "The young people are offended."

She is genuinely impressed by the children who use the library's computers. For her part, Booker steers clear of the machines.

"These little children come in, you know, and they know all about the computer," she said, moving her fingers in the air across an imaginary keyboard. "I'm not of the computer age."

Much of her work these days involves tracking down past due books. She occasionally encounters rude people while trying to return the library's property to its shelves, but most people are pleasant about it.

"You can't imagine how many we have out that we don't get back. There are hundreds out there," she said.

Booker is also responsible for finding speakers for the library's "Brown Bag" series. It brings her in contact with interesting people throughout the state, which she thoroughly enjoys.

Of course, at 83, the word "retirement" is going to come up every so often, but Booker has a hard time imagining life without the library and the many friends she's made there.

"They're all pretty nice to me and I'm glad I'm still around," she said.

Besides, with a name like Booker, she belongs in a library.

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