Story for the Day: A Closed Library

Every time a Sunday or a public holiday rolls round, I lament that the library is closed. With all my sighs and letters of deep discontent, I can never stress enough the importance and the necessity of the library being open on days when those who might not otherwise get the chance to visit the library might otherwise go. It is a perpetual problem I face, and my local library brooks all my lamentations with placating nods and commiserations of, "I know, I know, but it's a budget issue." I'd run the front desk for free if it meant that the library could remain open on Sundays, and though I have recommended my services, all my aspirations of the library being open seven days a week have been horridly dashed.  Bartleby's complaints are my own:

My local library

Once they were got a little farther along the lane, the plaza outlining the Grand Marridon Library was in view: the great and ancient construction, with its carved plinths and elaborate sconces, its alabaster columns and delicate engravings, loomed over the marble court, obscuring the central pattern with its long shadows passing heavily over the adjoining gallery, the hues of gloaming dancing across the stone in violent glee, dashing against the stile leading to the small pond, where sat the lotus skimming the water and the Marridonian pimpernels drifting down from their lofty arbor boughs, nestling against the surface of the clear pool. The shade provided a coolness, a relief from the warmth of the afternoon, and the party inhaled, the sweet succour of the gales browsing the water, their dulcet tones sweeping over the place, the boughs of the white chestnut waving in glorious exhilaration of the ensuing night, the serenity of the whole affording an ease and a blithesomeness that allowed Bartleby to launch himself into his next parade of aggrandized jobations.
                “This building here,” he began, motioning to the building ahead of them, “this great wide thing which nobody can be bothered to visit anymore if they want to know anything, is the Grand Marridon Library, and the building beside, just there, is the National Gallery, another great place which students would rather die than visit and wither scholars only dare venture if their grades depend on it.  Many students, though determined to pretend to know everything while remaining perfectly ignorant,  either use the library at the Academy or no library at all to do their research and studies. This enormous and multiscious place scarcely sees anybody the whole course of a day.”
                “You sound rather like a mother lamenting over her children never being to visit,” said the captain.
                He and Rannig exchanged sagacious smiles, and Rannig soon added, “or Bartleby being the Da.”
                “True, my giant, true. Vathyn must be the mother here, as she is the head librarian, though there is something so atrociously maternal in Bartleby’s lamentations.”
                “There is nothing at all maternal about me,” the old man insisted, “nothing at all. Vathyn might be a mother-midnight of the page, but I am no mizzled maiden, however over-scrupulous of the place you believe me to be.”
                Rannig would have asserted that Bartleby’s secret croonings made to his books in the murk of a quiet evening betrayed him as something of a genetrix, despite all his protestations, but he checked himself and only smiled and twiddled his thumbs.
                “Someone should care for the volumes nestled between those walls anyway,” Bartleby continued. “And if I am partial to this place, which I am—as any librarian and aristophrenist should be-- better I should look after that which records our culture and displays our nations ideals when all the rest of the kingdom is off flibbertygibbeting about the shoppes in town, thinking of how they might best waste their fortunes next when all the amusement in the world is in a phrontisery--“ He suddenly stopped, realizing he was falling into another one of his harangues about the wrongdoings and wastefulness of Marridonian soceity, and therefore struggled and reconciled himself to heavy sighs. He winced, pinched the bridge of his nose, and appeared grossly pained. “What I mean to say is,” in a tone of deep displeasure, “there is nothing wrong with being partial to knowledge. In fact, there is everything right with it, and that this astonishing place is left unaparisoned every week whilst the ports are full of flocking parishioners is as astounding as it is appalling. I’m right: Vathyn will tell you. Here, my dear, tell them how ill-used the library is.”
                “We do see many older scholars in the evenings,” said Vathyn, with a hesitant look, “and we do receive many visitors from neighbouring countries who would like a tour of the old collections, but—“ and she blushed as she said it, “there is a want of younger scholars oftentimes during the days—“
                “Aha! There. You see?” Bartleby cried, stabbing his finger at the sky in triumph. “The head librarian herself owns to it. It is unpardonable how the young people of Marridon allow such a monument of knowledge to stand vacant while a Frewyn church-- a fallacy of an institution that promises intelligence, redemption, and the moon is allowed to be erected—a Frewyn church, mind you, has more visitors on a weekend than a library does. Unpardonable. Absolutely unpardonable.”  
“It is also unpardonable,” said Danaco, raising a brow, “to interrupt a lady, as you have just done, when she has been asked her opinion.”
Danaco gave the old man a threatening look, and Bartleby snurled and humphed and folded his arms.
“I’m sure she forgives me,” was Bartleby’s halfhearted apology, “from one librarian to another.”
“She might do, as she is a lady, but I shall not forgive you so easily. You must be very good, inpala, act as though you can forgive my old friend,” said Danaco, with a low bow. “I give him far more clemency than is his due: he has been neglected too long, like your great library here, and is wont to forget how gentlemen behave.”
“I do not know that librarians can be called gentlemen,” said Vathyn, curling into herself, her complexion crimsoning behind a raised hand.
“True, inpala. One who spends the chief of his day poring over books and croosling to himself can hardly be mistaken for a civilized man.”
Bartleby gaped, all his pride as a gentleman offend. “I never croosle,” he demanded, and then relenting, he carelessly added, “…unless I am sleeping, and then I cannot be held accountable for anything I might say. But I know you are only saying such nonsense to plague me, captain, and I won’t be plagued. Librarians are amongst the most civilized persons in the kingdom.” He paused, his gaze turning toward the issuing cobblestones leading to the marble centerpiece of the plaza, and then quietly added, “…next to the street cleaners and the ice cream vendors.”
“Street cleaners and ice cream vendors, sir?” said Damson, still marveling at the granduer of the buildings, remarking their pediments and triglyphs, with lips parted and eyes wide.
“Of course, sir knight. They both provide a sense of serenity—well, serenity for me anyway. Whenever I had been used to visit the Grand Marridon Library, I was sure to see either street cleaner coming round with his poke-staff and his satchel, whistling merrily as he beautified and buffed the place, or the ice cream vendor, with his trolley of various flavours and accoutrements, giving instantly enjoyment to anyone who had a few coppers in their pocket to exchange.” He tapered his gaze and glanced round the plaza. “I wonder where he is today. This is his usual time. He always used to make two rounds, one just before noon and one about now.”
“He must be hiding from you,” said Danaco, laughing, “A faithful customer you were, I have no doubt of, but leaping after the call of his bell and biting at his heels, he must be tired of being ravaged by a small and rabid beast.”
“I was not rabid, captain. I do not ‘rabid’ anything.”
“You do rabidly read books, I think.”
Bartleby would not agree to this, and only concealed a smile and went on. “I spent my summers here during my young life, and very pleasant summers they were. While everyone else was run home for the season, determined to forget about everything they had learned during the school term by spoiling themselves on holidays they did not deserve, I was improving my mind by opening a new book every day in this place,” eyeing the library with a dignified air. “It is the properest place for a summer to be spent, with books and ice cream and all the pieces from the gallery to admire and furnish intellectual stimulation.”
“Did you not return home to visit your parents, sir, during the summer months?” asked Damson, but this, though heard by everyone, was ignored by Bartleby, who walked a little ahead of the party to turn and esteem the surrounding trees.
“This broad chestnut casts a delicious shade over the pool in the afternoons, completely obscuring the sun and catching the breeze, and sitting there with a good pile of books before me, with the carps swimming round the lilies and my hands garnished with a dressed cone and a pen, the summers were never pleasanter-- excepting the summers I have been spending at sea, of course-- but only when the weather can behave as it should.”
“We need not fear a summer storm when you are aboard, my friend,” said Danaco. “If the sky threaten rain, you should tell it that it has no business raining on a ship.”
“Well—“ Bartleby miffled, and once he had grumbled to himself that the rain did have no business lumming on a ship when there was plenty of other place for it to descend, he said, “A summer at sea has its ills: a cramped hold, a crew that refuses to wash itself or clean its bedclothes, trying to teach the boy not to sweat over the book.”
“It’s humid at sea, Bartleby,” said Rannig. “I gotta sweat if I want my body to stay cool when it’s so hot outside.”
“And with such company and another collection of volumes you inherited, giving away from the library’s outdated collections,” said Danaco, with a sly look at Vathyn, “you can never be displeased aboard my ship.”
“Books are never out of date, captain,” the old man heatedly contended. “Nor are they out of fashion. Merely because a book is no longer widely read does not mean it is worthless. It has many uses, all of them good, whether it be to edify, to instruct, to remind, or to condemn. And the most recent collection I’ve inherited, before you should ask because I know Rannig meaning to, are a series of old adventure books printed nearly sixty years ago. I used to read them when I was a boy. They gave me great comfrort at a time when books were truly my only enjoyment in life. They were better company than the students I was made to share class with. Classmates are a ghastly species, leaning over your shoulder and copying answers from you, throwing things at your hair, disturbing you at luncheon, never learning from repeated stimuli, and never running off to the Sahadin to die as often as they should.”
Vathyn could not but smile at this, and succumb to a sheepish simper, ashamed to laugh at what she knew was an unjust reflection of the students at the academy, though she did know a few whom she would have liked to see lose themselves in the Sahadin. “There must have been one,” said she, “whom you befriended, sir?”  
 “Never for very long,” was Bartleby’s indifferent answer. “Asking one of them if they would join me at the library with me for the summer when I could not go home was the most impossible thing in the world. No one wanted to spend a day in front of a book, and even worse: the library is closed every seventh day during the summer. Every seventh day! Highly contempable practice. How can a library willingly be closed, I ask you?”
“How?” said Rannig.
“Exactly, my boy. By my hat, for once you got it right.”
Rannig smiled, proud of himself, though he still had no idea how a library could be closed.
“But, sir,” Damson interposed, “why were you compelled to remain at the library for the summer? Did not your parents wish you home, sir? I, too, attended classes at the Academy, as did Lady Vathyn, and I was requested home by my father, as I am sure, sir, Lady Vathyn was requested home by her parents. Lord Abrei has told us, sir, that he and his sister spent a very pleasant time indeed together on their parents’ estate, enjoying the grounds and delighting in the library. Did not you wish to go home, sir?”
A moment of silience succeded here. Damson looked inquiringly at the old man, who was turned away, his brow contracted, the corners of his wrined mouth tucked in a pursing frown. Bartleby stepped toward the centre of the plaza, seeming grim and saying nothing, his mind rapt in a wordless agony, his features expressing what his conscience would not disclose.
“And why should I have wished to go home?” the old man grumbled to himself. He gave a derisive huff. “It isn’t as though anyone wanted me there.”
Though this was not meant to travel far, Damson heard the latter part of it and was about to inquire further, when the captain declared, “Indeed, my friend. Why should you want to go home, to be away from your greatest friends? All your companions are here,” gesturing toward the library, “and why should you want to be anywhere else?”
A conscious look was exchanged here, on one side all joyous affection, and on the other all indebted consiliation.   
“And to answer your question, my boy,” said Bartleby, recollecting himself and turning to the giant, “rather to answer my own quest which you would repeat, how anyone can conceive of closing a library is unfathomable. The library is a public office. It is used by the public, it is paid for by the public. Taxes are allocated for its staff ana maintenance, collections are continually donated and stored, and everyone—everyone deserving and worthy of its treasures—should have access to it whenever needed—and it is always needed. Why a library should have opening and closing hours in general is unconscionable. The library is a general meeting place: mothers meet and bring their children to spread their philanderous gossip and share general news, the eldery use it as an object when taking their daily walk,  and at the very least the library provides shelter from unpleasant weather. By closing the library at anytime, you are hurting society. You are discouraging those who would otherwise not be able to come to the library from coming at all. It is a waste of taxes to keep taxpayers away from the institutions their hard work funds, and therefore it should be open on public holidays and weekends. You cannot close knowledge! It is uncivilized to bar persons who would otherwise glean an education from no where else from the only place whence they might get it. Being a librarian myself, I understand the importance of keeping a constant and fluid stock—even on a frigate, where I have only one renter—and my stores are never closed. Never! Not on weekends nor on holidays! Rannig, do I ever forbid you from lending a book?”
Rannig blinked. “No.”
“There is it. And nobody graces my palms with taxes to keep my institution open, because I understand that a library, regardless of how small and somewhat aquatic, should never be closed! It is a crime, a hideous injustice to deny those who pay for it the right to edifying materials. Fortunate are those who might have a library at home, but I never did, you see. I had to contend with all the closings and conditions of the Academy library and the Grand Marridon Library, making my labourious pilgrimage across the capital when one institution was closed and the other open. I always preferred the Grand Marridon to the Academy: the Academy library sports a decent collection, but here,” marveling at the chiseled fa├žade of the gallery, “is where all of Marridon’s history is kept and catalogued. Everything from the Adiethian’s first voyage to the creation of the Chambers. These buildings were originally built as an archive for all the scholars who came from the east. Before the Marridonians established themselves almost a millennia and a half ago—“

He stopped, a sudden sensation seized him: he started and crouched, his frame stiffened, and he grew silent and attentive.