The Other Columbus: Letter to a child crying in the library in 2021

An unexpected sign of hope more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic

Scott Woods
A newly welcome sound for this librarian

Dear Crying Baby,

Let me be the first to welcome you back to your local public library after a year of quarantine and absence. It's been a while since we've had more than a handful of people in the building at the same time, and most of them haven’t been children. Based on the volume of your crying, it’s clear that maybe you’re having a bad day, and I, for one, am sorry for that. But I have to be honest with you: Your crying is like sweet music to my pandemic ears. 

During those brief periods where customers were allowed in libraries during the pandemic, some of the adults would remark at how quiet the library was, and how it actually felt like a library did when they were your age. No one asked me, but I would tell them that I would give up the diseased silence for a building brimming with crying babies. 

Businesses and gathering places are beginning to open up once again. This may not mean much to you, seeing as how you never have any money, but it’s a big deal to everyone taller than you. I don’t know where you fall on that development, Crying Baby, but it hardly matters.  You are like the first child born in a new year to my ears. I would tear up this stack of blank fax cover sheets and toss them over you like confetti if I weren't also the person responsible for cleaning up such messes. 

That's another thing we haven’t had for a year: a proper mess. No picture books randomly cast about on the shelves or floor. No scribbled coloring pages left behind at empty tables. Any other time when the world is not a morass of disease and suspicion, we would sigh in exasperation over the remnants of our tiny poltergeists. Not now, Crying Baby. We rebrand all our little ghosts Casper now, and welcome your invisible antics.

You may not know this, but about 2200 years ago one of the greatest libraries in history burned to the ground in Alexandria, Egypt. They didn’t allow crying babies in their so-called hallowed halls of learning, but we do. And no one’s burned us to the ground. I’d say you were a harbinger of great things to come, Crying Baby. So who’s really great: Apollonius of Rhodes?

We librarians have not read to you face-to-face for a year. We have not listened to your nonsensical stories or tried to distract you for 10 minutes during a storytime in an attempt to give your grown-up some peace. We have not made a wedding cake display of recommended titles in a year with the same gusto we would have knowing you might see it. We have been making struggle displays for a year, our exhibits untouched, as if we were an art museum. I don’t know if your grown-up has ever taken you to one of those, but they’re a downright snoozefest compared to what we have going on.

So wail, Crying Baby! Express your discontent until your grown-up goes flush with embarrassment as we, the scions of Alexandria and Sesame Street alike, console both them and you, neither out of pity nor to quiet you. There is time enough for the old ways later, when we can cast off our face masks and remove the PPE line from our budgets. For now, we hear the ringing of your tears bouncing off our walls and rejoice in the Spring of your presence. If you are here and we are here, then we have a library. And where there is a library with you in it, there is hope for this world.   

Sincerely,

Mr. Scott

Your local librarian