Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Most Important Asset of Any Library"

This poem is spillover from the July 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] librarygeek and an earlier comment. It also fills the "hurt/comfort" square in my 7-1-16 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been selected as the free epic for the August 2, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl meeting its $200 goal. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.


"The Most Important Asset of Any Library"


Aston knows libraries,
and he knows librarians.

He isn't as good with people as
the ones who work the front desks,
but that's all right: he has other skills.

Aston is an archivist.

Born in Britain, he travels
around the Middle East helping
people put their archives in order.
He catalogs collections, pores over
ancient texts to list them properly,
and offers advice on organization
or preservation as needed.

So Aston is there when Haboob
starts targeting libraries in Afghanistan,
claiming that they harbored infidel ideas.

(Well, he is half right.)

It's ironic that the name
of his terrorist organization,
the Kitab, means book.

Aston is there, and every time
another library gets hit, the librarians
in the one where he's working fall apart.

They're overloading.
They're melting down.

And they don't know that.

Aston isn't falling apart,
because he simply doesn't
pick up signals on that bandwidth;
what happens to other people
is largely abstract to him.

He doesn't like the narratives
or the news, but they don't hurt him
in the same way as they do the others.

So Aston is left to do
the emotional first aid for
the rest of the staff, because
he's the only one left who is
coherent enough to do so.

He listens to their panicky words
and says, "It sounds like you are
living in my head for a change."

They look at him for guidance,
blinking like deer in headlights.

He pulls them aside,
one by one, and tucks them
into the quiet rooms.

He parks people in the break room
and plies them with coffee or cookies.

He corrals them in little groups
and explains, "This is a meltdown.
Here is how to cope with meltdowns."

They don't know how, but he knows,
and fortunately, he also knows them
well enough to understand what things
are soothing to each of them.

Aston isn't a people person,
but he catalogs information.

There is laughter, a little hysterical,
but it releases some of the tension,
and they do respect his experience.

When they flounder for words
to describe why the attacks are
so upsetting even though elsewhere --
they who are usually the articulate ones --
it is Aston, who's used to struggling
for expression, who can explain.

"This hurts us. This hurts all of us,"
he says. "Libraries are supposed to be
safe places for everyone. When they get
attacked, or when people pick on those
who can't protect themselves, then it
impacts us because of the work we do.
Libraries are emotional harbors, because
we make them that way. It takes energy.
That's why this is hard. That's why it hurts."

They listen to him, even though
he's not adept at social things,
because this is a thing he knows.

He explains, and they listen, and it helps.

Once he has them out of the feedback loop
of news and emotions and panic, they
can calm down and think again.

Once they start asking the right questions,
they begin get themselves back on track.

They're librarians, after all, and
they understand enough about how
to work a reference desk to finish
their own reference interviews.

There is no fixing the problem of Haboob,
not from where they're standing;
but they can fix each other.

They can help the emotional casualties
who wander in from the streets,
dazed and aching.

They can begin to do their jobs again.

"This," says Forozan Karzai, "this is why
we need the diversity among the staff.
It's like planting different varieties of crops
in a field, so if there is a drought or a blight,
all is not lost. When we have diversity,
we don't all get hit at the same time.
Someone is able to carry on."

The corners of Aston's mouth
curl upward just a little bit.

This is why he was recruited
for the Order of Hypatia, too.

"The most important asset
of any library," he says,
"goes home at night."

* * *

Notes:

Aston Sutcliffe -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He speaks English fluently, plus enough Arabic and Farsi, and Turkish to get by. He also reads Egyptian hieroglyphs, Hebrew, and Sumerian cunieform. Aston travels around libraries in the Middle East, helping them organize archives. He has autism and sensory processing disorder. He's pretty comfortable with the former, but the latter still causes him problems. Fortunately most of his coworkers are sympathetic.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Librarian, Good (+2) Collector of Egyptian Memorabilia, Good (+2) Coping Skills, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Sensory Processing Disorder

Forozan Karzai -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short mahogany hair. She speaks Arabic, Chinese, Dari (Persian), English, Esperanto, Greek, Kyrgyz, Pashto, Spanish, Sumerian, and Urdu. She despises the anti-intellectual bent in Afghanistan and has a tendency to skewer any of them who cross her path. Usually with words. Usually. And there was that time she pushed an imam into a pile of burning books. But he deserved it. And no, that doesn't make her a supervillain. If she were a supervillain, you would know it.
Origin: While trying to translate an ancient tome, Forozan experienced a blinding headache and fell into a delirium for days. When she came out of it, she had superpowers. Her intellect and linguistic ability climbed sharply, although the latter hasn't broken out of the ordinary range yet.
Uniform: Forozan dresses conservatively in dark colors and clothes that cover most of her body. However, she likes accent colors in deep or muted tones.
Qualities: Master (+6) Librarian, Expert (+4) Feminist, Expert (+4) Languages, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Smuggler
Poor (-2) Detests Anti-Intellectuals
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect
Motivation: To preserve knowledge.

* * *

"The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff."
Timothy Healy

Neurodiversity is the premise that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and a wide variety of mindsets is normal for a species. This offers many benefits in the workplace. One is simply that different things bother different people, so a more diverse group is less likely to have everyone flattened by the same crisis. Consider the advantages of various traits, including autism.

Terrorism involves the use of fear to manipulate people. This causes traumatic stress on a private and collective scale. Even if you're not caught in the main attack, you may still feel shaken if it affects your town or affinity group. Know how to address traumatic stress for individuals or communities.

A meltdown happens when the sensory input or other stress exceeds the brain's capacity to cope. You can watch a video which shows what that feels like. Anyone can have a meltdown, and in fact, everyone has a threshold beyond which they overload. Some people's is just lower due to greater sensitivity and/or lesser processing capacity. People who experience meltdowns often are more alert to the symptoms and usually know how to respond; people who have them rarely may have no idea what is happening or how to deal with it. Recognize the signs of impending meltdown in order to avoid having one. Reducing sensory input and other methods can help you cope with your own meltdown or help somebody else through one.

Emotional First Aid addresses psychological injuries the same way that physical first aid handles bodily ones. Minor problems can be treated and left to heal naturally; major ones can be stabilized so they do not get worse while expert help is sought. Know how to do EFA for yourself or for others.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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