Dec 17, 2001

I’ve often considered a career as a reference librarian. Since I was a child, the library has always been a refuge to me, a place my parents treated special, like the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. Reference books — dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, indices and the like — still hold worlds of information for me, and over the years I’ve grown close to a few specific volumes. A few years ago, my friend Richard Gildenmeister (see the post from 12/09/01) gave me the two-volume The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which I use constantly to broaden my vocabulary. Another constant companion is the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our World. The Dictionary of Global Culture is another gem. But my favorites are two others.

Often during Saturday mornings on Paama (the island where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer), when the village was quiet because everyone had hiked up to the gardens, I swayed in my hammock and read through the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual. My interest was both personal and professional: I read through the manual to acquaint myself with the world’s infectious diseases, but also to know how to protect myself. Still, Erin contracted first Dengue fever and then malaria during out two years there.

When I wasn’t nursing Erin, I was paging through The Statesman’s Yearbook. This is an annual British publication with political and economic information for each of the world’s 180-odd countries, and to an amateur geographer, it is a gold mine. Richard sent me a copy when I was on Paama, but I left that one with the Peace Corps library when I left Vanuatu, and in the last two years — as the price for the yearbook has skyrocketed to $140 — I’ve searched high and low, in used bookstores and library book sales and on the Internet, for a used copy of the recent addition. Oh, there have been times when I reached for a phantom copy, wanting to look up information about Afghanistan or India or North Carolina, and oh, did I gripe to Erin about being without the yearbook. “Hang on,” she’d say. “Christmas is coming.” But this Christmas is tight for us, with us counting our pennies. I woke up this morning with thoughts of surrender, thinking I’d just have to go without the book for awhile longer, and maybe make more trips to the local library’s reference section. But around lunchtime, I wandered over to get the mail, and in the box was a package from a friend and former coworker. Sean Socha is now, get this, a librarian in southern Ohio, and he’d remembered me mentioning the title once. “Merry Christmas!” he wrote. “Enjoy!” He’d commandeered his library’s 2001 edition just as the 2002 edition went onto the shelf, and he’d sent it to me. This gift made my year, and I’m about to curl up on the sofa with a cup of Earl Grey tea and spend a few hours learning about the natural resources of Pakistan and the political system of Trinidad & Tobago. For tonight, I’m a reference librarian.

Anton Zuiker

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