fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

After COVID, bring back 'Cal's Bookmarks'

When we remove nostalgic and personal touches from public institutions, we remove the very soul of them that attracts people there in the first place and continues to keep them engaged as the years go on.

At the Medford Public Library in downtown Medford, Cal is the only librarian I know by name. Not because he’d otherwise stand out in any descript way; he is a soft-spoken, kind-eyed man of average height and build, and while he exudes friendliness, he does not demand your attention. It is not any physical or personal attribute that makes me know Cal, nay, it is only due to the little mug with a homemade sign (presumably Cal’s handwriting) that said “Cal’s Bookmarks” and was taped to it. The mug housed a veritable treasure trove of bookmarks that had been found in returned library books. Patrons were allowed to take one as they liked. It was a charming and practical thing that brought a smile.

Months or perhaps years later, the homemade sign was removed and replaced with a printed “Free Bookmarks” label. Management was trying to streamline the front desk, maybe make it look more professional with all the same fonts. Cal still worked there, but the mug showed no sign of him anymore. I thought to say something, but months went by and then the COVID-19 crisis struck. Of course, the mug and bookmarks were removed (no need for a super-spreader hub in the library in the form of an unassuming bookmark mug) and I didn’t think of it for a little while.

When I went to pick up my holds from the library the other day, I saw Cal. This time, he was wearing a mask and black latex gloves to protect himself at work, but his kind eyes were the same. I thought about “Cal’s Bookmarks,” the original mug I’d delighted in at each visit. The personal touch I yearned for without ever knowing it. It brought tears to my eyes in longing for how things were, and in a deep desire for things to be even better when they are back to ‘normal’.

In the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith, the young protagonist Francie (who grows up wildly impoverished in a tenement district) visits the public library each week. There, she notices a little brown jug on the front desk that always contains a flower, a bit of greenery something to mark the changing of the seasons. One day, Francie musters the courage to ask about the arrangement, only to find out that it was the janitor, not the librarian, who was responsible for this seasonal marker. My point in telling the story is: Sometimes a trip to the library is not simply transactional. It can be just as much the unexpected, personal touches of a caring human that ensure our weekly return.

So herein lies my request: Medford Public Library, I respectfully ask: When things are safe, when the library is open in full capacity, when we receive vaccines and can once again lower our masks and smile with more than our eyes, can you please return “Cal’s Bookmarks,” with the handwritten sign, back to the front desk once more? The world desperately needs to feel more familiar again.

Stacey Van Blom Thorpe lives in Central Point.