Snakes in the Stacks

Lee Burkhalter

Holding a snake isn’t what I’d imagined and though it was always a surprise when I spotted one, I was never afraid.  Catching snakes is a lot easier when they’re tired, just coming out of hibernation or about to go to sleep.

When I took the job at the library the smooth, cool sensation of snake scales beneath my fingers and wrapping around my wrist wasn’t what I was preparing to learn.  Catching snakes was not one of the skills I hoped to hone when I applied for a job working as a library assistant.  I was hoping to climb the ladder, become a librarian.

I felt for the snakes, so obviously out of place amongst the shelves and shelves of books.  Curled around the cords of computer stations, sometimes falling from light fixtures to land on shelving carts.

While some of us were uncomfortable with the idea of snakes in the building everyone chipped in to keeping track of each snake we escorted back to the wilderness.  We worked in a library so it followed that we named the snakes in alphabetical order and after our favorite authors or fictional characters.

The list could extend through the alphabet several times during the snakes peak season. Albus followed by Babbit then Chaucer and Dickens.  The fantastical with the Literary elite, children’s heroes followed by adults favorites. Names from books gave way to composers, artists, celebrities.

Our patrons had mixed feelings about the reptilian addition to their library experience. Some gave little notice, even as I retrieved errant creatures slithering beneath the very computer stations they worked at, others wouldn’t come in at all.

When a snake was discovered escaping the confines of a picture book bin it became a teaching moment as the children’s librarian showed the children how to discover the gender of the snake, whose name became Howie, for his resemblance to one child’s favorite character, who happened to be a dachshund.

Though I learned many skills and had many mentors, watching the interaction between a children’s librarian two children and a snake is one experience I’ll never forget, and one that reminds me that whatever happens, a positive experience can come out of it, when you see the world as something to discover and expect snakes in the strangest of places.

My days of snake wrangling are now over, but I hear that snakes never change their nesting ground.  One can only hope that our libraries and librarians will be as persistent.


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Snakes in the Stacks Copyright © 2018 by Lee Burkhalter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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