It’s as close as a visit to the Central Library downtown
Taking a walk on the wild side these days might not mean anything more than visiting the Dallas Public Library.
I took a week’s vacation recently to work in my yard, but the incessant rains dampened those plans.
So instead, I headed for the seventh floor of the Central Library in downtown Dallas, which holds the local history collection.
My research trip revealed far more to me than I had planned on learning.
To put things in perspective, I grew up in a smallish town in North Texas where the librarian could silence you with just a glare over her glasses. The library was a quiet place for reading, study and reflection. I haven’t been in that library in at least 25 years so I don’t know if that’s the way it still is or not.
But what I do know is that the library of my memories is not what I found in downtown Dallas recently.
I seldom go to the downtown library, but I regularly visit the Oak Lawn Branch. It is a busy but relatively quite facility. If someone wants to use the restroom, they must request the key from a librarian. That’s more consistent with how I remember the library from my youth.
I guess that’s why I was so startled to go downtown and witness and overhear the things I did recently. I hadn’t been to the downtown library in several years. Obviously a lot can change in a relatively short time..
The librarians on the seventh floor were gracious, knowledgeable and provided me with everything I needed for my research.
I wanted to learn everything I could about my Oak Cliff home and the people who had it built in 1946 and lived there for the next three decades. I accomplished that plus a lot more thanks to a librarian who informed me that The Dallas Morning News’ archives can be accessed online. It can even be done from home all you need is a library card.
It was fascinating to read 50-year-old newspaper stories about the neighborhood where I now live.
I also learned that these days the librarians apparently have no control over the behavior of the people who visit the facility. I overheard a man waiting for an elevator arguing over a cell phone loud enough that everyone on the 7th floor heard every word of his conversation.
As the man shouted that he had already done his “time” and he wasn’t going back for more, I was astonished to see two librarians lower their heads and more intently scrutinize what they were reading.
What made the situation even more bizarre was that a security guard was on the floor, and he was ignoring the disturbance. Other people standing around also were ignoring the situation.
I apparently was the only one paying any attention to it. I realized this must be the norm, not the exception.
Before I went home I decided to go down to the first floor of the library and look through the current collection of fiction. Then I went to a computer terminal that was open next to what appeared to be a nicely-dressed young man. I assumed him to be a young college student doing research.
We worked quietly side-by-side until someone stopped by and started talking to him. They started talking about gang fights and plans for an attack on someone. The guy I was sitting next to said that he was prepared to seriously injure someone who had been annoying him.
Again, this conversation was being conducted rather loudly, with a librarian sitting at a desk just a few feet away. I saw the same response from her that I witnessed on the seventh floor from the librarians. I can only assume they felt powerless to address the situations.
I’ve been around Dallas for a long time so I’m familiar with the homeless situation downtown and know that they frequent the library. I expect to see them using the bathrooms and to be hanging out reading. I’m aware that bothers some people. I accept it as a facet of our lives today that can’t be avoided. What I can’t understand is how the overall atmosphere of the library has changed so that the type of conversations I overheard are obviously considered acceptable behavior. I know it has not always been that way.
As I checked out a book before heading to my car in the library’s garage. I encountered a friendly woman behind the desk who I recognized from visits to the library years ago. She acknowledged that things had changed a lot during her decades of work there.
I guess I’ve become a fuddy duddy, but I’d like to go back to the days when a trip to the library is a little more ordinary and less dramatic. If I want to take a walk on the wild side, I’d rather it be in a different venue.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007