Treasure Island

Hans Ostrom

(1954 / California)

For Librarians


Imagine you can consider all ideas
And images represented by all words
And numbers in all libraries worldwide.
Open the book of this consideration.
Touch the paper. See the illustration
Of you, reading, when you were ten
In your local library. Turn
Several pages. Now read how you
And that other person ignited romance
In, of all places, the stacks, third floor,
In quite a different library. Snowflakes
Brushed against dark glass as you two
Stood between PQ and PR.

Now go to the index. Find “possibility.”
Look up from the book. The librarian
Who looks away was watching you.
She knows how to phrase the question
You want answered.

Librarians know where wisdom’s stored.
They catalogue the countless forms
Of silence and tell people what they
Didn’t know they wanted to know.
They treat the mentally fractured
As if they’re whole, the dull as if they’re
Sharp, Winter as if it’s Summer.

A band of sunlight angles through high
Windows, brightens shoes of a librarian,
Who knows the patron in the gray enormous
Coat will steal a book about sex or wiccans.
She knows some Christians will steal books
Deemed Satanic, ignoring a commandment
And the homeless person sleeping in a chair.
She knows some atheists treat Library as
Church, so when she moves into shadows,
She does so quietly. She worries for books.

For the librarian knows books are easily burned,
Recycled, or digitized, reduced to oxygen, carbon,
Silicon, and such basic elements as hate and
Budgetary cuts. She wishes presidents of
The United States would consult librarians
Before going to war. It would save so much time,
So many lives. She knows exactly which references
Know how badly any war will go and how soon
Citizens come to loathe their leaders. She knows
How to find stories about all the libraries
Wiped out by war. She knows patrons who’ve
Been harmed by war. Sometimes they set off alarms.
Someone asks her, “Can you help me find out
If I’m related to Napoleon? ” Yes, ” she answers,
“Come with me, please.”

All libraries may now gather inside invisible
Electrons. After closing time, books in Sweden
Send emails to maps in Chile. A librarian in Topeka
Posts a reply to one in Tokyo, adding to a blue thread
Wrapped around the globe.

As sincerely as librarians worry for books, for shelves,
For catalogues, buildings, and best practices,
So should we worry for librarians, for images and ideas.

At a table in a library, a circle of light
Lies on a book. The hand not writing turns
The page, and something important happens.

Hans Ostrom

Submitted: Monday, February 18, 2008
Edited: Saturday, February 08, 2014

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  • Tom J. Mariani (2/24/2008 6:39:00 PM)

    This poem is loaded with understatement. It takes me back to the crowded stacks of the library in Arcata, CA where I would stop on my way home from elementary school. The librarian there showed me how to go through those cards that were locked in alphbetical order in those long narrow drawers. I then could go find Sherlock Holmes, or Alfred Hitchcock stories by myself. Then, either too anxious to find a table I'd sit on the floor by where I found the book, or back at a table in a 'circle of light'... 'something important' happened. Great poem. Every librarian should have a copy. (Report) Reply

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