MCRDSD: A Portrait of a Military Library

When I was first hired on, I’m not sure what I was imagining a military base library to be, but I didn’t expect the interesting range of similarities and differences to public libraries that mine had. And between the fact that not everyone who reads this is going to have seen a military library, and the emphasis on library form being determined by library function that I put in my last post, I may as well show you what my Marine library looks like from a patron’s POV.

At first glimpse, you might mistake it for a small public library. There’s the circulation desk, up front, with its two reference computers; the internet room a ways to the right, the copier and the fax machine to the left; the single drop box is an internal wall slot rather than an external bin. Nonfiction fills the first room (weighted, of course, towards military history, which covers about half the normal shelves, as well as the ‘professional collection’ wall), DVDs the room behind it, and fiction and the juvenile and YA sections are in smaller rooms off to the side, all clearly labeled though not all labels visible from the door. In the main room, as well, there’s a magazine rack and a newspaper rack, three tables—one with at least one puzzle, probably more, one with a patron on a laptop, one with a pile of somebody’s gear—and a shelf each for travel and test prep. At any given time, you’ll likely see between two and four techs in the main room, one on Sundays; if you’re lucky, you might even see one of our two librarian/admins. And of course, there are brochures advertising programs, posted rules for the internet (and a corresponding sign-in sheet), and potted plants on top of every other bookshelf.

Then you notice the decorations. There’s a reproduction of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima painting just inside the door, similar paraphernalia at various places throughout the wall, a paired national and service branch miniature flag set on the end of one shelf, a bust of the anthropomorphic Marine bulldog mascot on the other. The bulletin boards are full of events on the base targeted primarily to Marines and secondarily to their families, except the one in the back half-covered with postings for jobs at Miramar. And then on the far wall there’s the crest, right below the banner that says “Commandant’s Reading List” (bet you didn’t know that Marines had homework!) and right above the shelf dominated by the big binder labeled “Marine Reading List”. (But wait near the desk for a little while; it’s almost a given that someone wearing desert camouflage will come in, probably as part of a group, almost invariably with two chevrons or fewer on his collar, and ask if we have the list and if so where it is.)

Speaking of that desert camouflage, you may not see it too often off-base but here (at least in summer) you’re unlikely not to see it. Some days they’re just a few tan spots in an already empty library, but more often they’re in small knots, swarming the tech lab or the copier, walking in pairs up to the Commandant’s List shelf to choose the subject for their book report or bemoan the fact that all the copies of the Art of War are checked out again, crowding into the TV room for a movie with explosions and shouting, bunching up behind the last shelf of the fiction room for a board game (yes, we provide those too). If the copier’s swarmed with camouflage and the tables are full of overflow from the computer room, the printers both working at top speed, it’s probably Tuesday, and Recruiter School has probably begun a new session. If instead they’re in a tidy mob between the reference desk and the tables, sprinkled with people in civvie garb and listening to one person lecture them about DVDs, internet programs and a coffee machine while another unobtrusively weaves through them distributing flyers, it’s Welcome Aboard and probably the first time any of that group has been through these doors.

Of our fiction, adult General Fiction comprises the largest portion of the holdings, with mysteries a little way behind and Westerns, mostly read by the retirees who pop in almost as often as the men and women in uniform do, narrowly edging out “Science Fiction” for third place. Then again, the audiobook collection is as large as the science fiction section. Children’s books get a room to themselves (along with children’s DVDs, seventy-five percent of which sport the strip of paper sticking out from under the back cover that signifies they’re checked out). Young adult (which seems to be entirely fiction and biographies) doesn’t; it’s four shelves around the outside of the TV room. It’s not clear if the Powers That Be understand what constitutes age ratings on a movie; instead, ‘Juvenile’ DVDs are all animated in some way, and the rest are all not.

Can you see how the patrons and the location have shaped the building?

Leave a Reply