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There were two of them approaching the desk. My great-aunt Catherine, may she rest in peace, might have called them “hoodlums.” Or “wild boys.” Truly, they did stand out a little amid my rather yuppie patron base. I am in a small midwestern city. The sign at the entrance to the city limits has a notice that a member of the winning women’s Olympic soccer team is from here, and the soccer mom is the dominant species in the library biosphere. These were not soccer moms. One had vibrant blue hair, tattoos, combat boots, and a T-shirt with a very angry saying. The other had a blue-black Mohawk and many piercings and chains. I was wearing a demure long skirt, and, yes, a cardigan. I think my hair might have been in a bun that day. I stepped forward.
“Hi there.” Welcoming smile. “How may I help you?”
“Where are your GED books?”
My heart sank a little. If you work in public libraries, you know. The GED books are—it seems perpetually, but I will go with “often”—checked out or stolen, and I was looking at needing two of them. As I checked inventory in the computer, they started looking around.
Mr. Blue: “I have not been in a public library since I was five.”
Mr. Chains: “I do not think I have ever been in a public library.”
These are the kind of comments that raise the stakes of the conversation in my brain and make the adrenalin flow. This could be a make-or-break library interaction.
I gestured for them to accompany me, and on the way to the test prep section, I said—proactively—“Do either or both of you have computers at home? You spend time on the Internet?”
They looked at each other with a (forgivable) “DUH” look and then turned to me, and both nodded. We had reached the shelf, and I scanned through everything, turning up only one book.
“Well, it looks like most of the copies are checked out. Let’s go back to the desk and I can put some others on hold. In the meantime, if you have a minute, I would like to show you an online prep course for the GED that the library has and is already paid for. You can go through a class and take practice tests online so you are more comfortable when you are doing the actual test. Any practice can help, and this way you do not have to wait for the other books. We want to give you tools to do as best as you can.”
We had arrived at the desk. “Come around the desk so you can see this, you two. What we have here is a database called Learning Express. The Library of Michigan gets this for the whole state. Click on it. From home, it will ask for your library card. Then you get in, and you have to make an account like an e-mail account or World of Warcraft or anything.”
At this point I sort of obfuscated the truth. You can make these accounts from home, but I was not convinced that would happen once they were out of my hands. “It works better if you set up your account originally from inside the library.” Better, because it gets made. “So let’s set the two of you up.”
And so we did. I then clicked through the courses and the individual tests.
“You can start by taking the test. Now, if it turns out that you do way better on one or the other, you can go through the courses, and down here in the corner is where you find online books to practice either vocab or math or whatever. Then you can make another account and take the test again and compare and see how you improved.” At the time that I worked with these two, the option of erasing previous test results and taking the test again was not there. Since then the option has been added.
“Now I am going to write this down for you. Library website>online resources>test preparation>learning express>GED.” And I gave each a scrap of paper with this information. “If you run into snags, call the library right when you are in front of your computer. We will also e-mail you when those other books come in. Meanwhile, good luck on the test.”
They looked at each other.
Mr. Blue: “This f****** rocks!”
Mr. Chains, to me: “Your library kicks butt, ma’am.”
“Why thank you! And again, good luck. Call if you run into snags.”
They left, and I had a warm, fuzzy feeling. However, I wish I had gotten them to fill out comment cards.
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