Freshman year in college, a friend “willed” me her work-study job in a library. Located in a beautiful white marble building, the library was a simple room with glass-front barrister bookcases, glossy wood tables, and clerestory windows.
In the afternoons, the sun would shine from above, illuminating the director of the library and giving him an angelic glow.
He was a tall, stooped gent — a kindly man — who tended to quietly sit in his office with the door closed.
My supervisor, Sister Hilda, reported to the director. Wearing a tailored blue habit, Sister Hilda sported a conical white bun and a crisp, no-nonsense attitude.
Sister Hilda had shown us how to care for the Hopwood Room. We were to be extra gentle with the precious books and bound manuscripts. We dusted the deep wainscoting, and polished the reading tables. I was proud of the library, even though people seldom used it.
Or so it seemed.
On this day I was looking forward to my first weekly tea, an intimate gathering for the director, visiting writers, and friends of the library.
I imagined pontificating about great works of literature with scholars, authors and professors — pinky finger at full staff — while sipping Earl Grey tea.
My reverie was interrupted when another work-study student opened the door. She dragged over a long pedestal table and deftly set it with platters of cookies, sliced fresh lemons, hot water and tea bags, china cups and saucers, and a pitcher of sparkling ice water.
When she was done, she backed up against the wall next to the door.
“You’d better get out of the way,” she warned.
Just then, the three o’clock bell rang.
Open the door!” commanded Sister Hilda.
A thundering sound.
People of all ages, many who had the look of genteel poverty, poured into the room. They shouted as they greeted each other. Tea cups rattled. Feathery puffs of dust lifted into the air, backlit by those high windows.
The room was packed. It was mayhem.
“Close the door,” bellowed Sister Hilda. I pushed against the sea of people still trying to get in.
“I’m sorry,” I called through the crack as I leaned against the door. “I’m so sorry. We’re full.”
Disappointed groans. A rattle of the doorknob. A muted hub bub as people finally got the message and drifted away.
The girl by the serving table, only a few feet from me, was still pressed against the wall for support, but there was a hot mess of humanity between us.
I felt lightheaded, big and out of place, like Alice in Wonderland.
What an odd, raucous event for a respectable reading room.
“Ladies and gentlemen!”
Sister Hilda’s crackled above the din. The room quieted immediately.
The office door opened and the director stepped out. He smiled his happy, gentle smile as the dust particles reflected the sunlight. Everyone cheered and laughed and eagerly greeted him.
I leaned back against the door, ready for any vigorous attempt at entry.
After a time, the student beckoned me over to help her clean up. The cookies and tea were gone. Cups with tea residue and lemon rinds were all that remained,.
“Always leave them wanting more,” she said cheerfully. “That’s what Sister Hilda says.”
I could hear a voice over the crowd.
“Thank you, everyone,” boomed Sister Hilda. “And now it is time to depart. Please join us again next week.”
She waved and I opened the door. People flowed out, and a few moments later the room was clear. We wiped the tables, and closed the glass front shelves.
The director already was headed back to his office.
Her gaze followed him fondly.
He turned and smiled his shy smile. Dust swirled in the light.
“Thank you, ladies.”
What a lesson! If you make it intimate and exclusive and always a bit out of reach, people will knock down the door to be included.
When school started again in the fall, the me who wanted to be an airline pilot or maybe a forest ranger declared myself interested in English as a major.
Was it because of books and libraries and people who love words? Did the Hopwood Room influence me?
Sister Hilda was right. Always leave them wanting more. It works!
Sandy Hubbard has been author and contributor at Print Media Centr since 2011. A Marketing Strategist and Business Consultant who serves the print, publishing and media industries, Sandy helps clients build their businesses using proven techniques and a systematic approach. Sandy hails from a long line of printers, publishers, authors, and newspaper owners. For over two decades, she published a magazine for the printing trade. To this day, her readers — printers and manufacturers of all sizes and types — value Sandy as a trusted friend and confidant.
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