The Library People

An idea for a short story, told as a sequence of diary entries as written by the first-person narrator. It’s called ‘The Library People’, or perhaps just ‘Periodicals’. Maybe it’s a screenplay. Maybe it’s been done already.

Circumstances force a man to work in the big local library for a significant period of weeks. He finds a nice quiet spot in the periodicals section, which becomes his usual place, despite the occasionally annoying presence of the marginally crazy who spend their days occupied with impenetrable busy-work, obsessive research through newspaper archives, and scribbling in elastic-bound notebooks. It’s like a halfway-house for obsessive compulsives, but, hey, they have to spend their days somewhere, so he’s tolerant, so long as they don’t smell too bad.

He works steadily as the days pass, but from time to time he just sits and watches the crazies around him, trying to figure out what their OCD tasks involve, what the rituals mean and what they’re writing. They see him most days, just as he sees them, so inevitably they talk a little, nod with recognition, but they’re reluctant to explain what their work is.

One man in particular guards his notebook fiercely and with apparent paranoia. He’s crazy, obviously, but our hero becomes more and more intrigued day by day. Becoming less interested in his own work, he spends most of his time looking for opportunities to eavesdrop on conversations around him, and to catch glimpses of what’s being written. It’s what he looks forward to each day. It’s eventually why he comes.

Bit by bit, as if becoming acquainted to the rhythms and cadences of a new language, the scraps of crazy babbling around him slide into focus, and he picks up conversation fragments. And he’s more amazed the more he picks up. This isn’t babbling at all. In its own way, the periodicals section is a hive of political intrigue. Names of major politicians, bankers, heads of government and state. Talk of plots, coups, assassinations. What are they up to? Who are these people?

One day, an altercation between the seeming head crazy man and a new security guard gives our hero his chance. He slips the man’s closely-guarded notebook into his bag and makes a quick exit, dashing home, scarcely even looking behind him. Safely home, he turns every lock, closes every curtain, disconnects every device, then opens the notebook and reads.

And whatever he’d imagined, the truth is so much bigger. The book is essentially the minutes — encoded, but he has the key now — of a secret, shadow world government, pulling the right strings to its own nefarious ends. The book contains irrefutable proof, plus details of its future plans. Within which is the biggest secret you can possibly imagine. A Dan Brown sort of secret, orchestrated by those hiding in plain sight in the periodicals sections of public libraries across the world, because they’re the very last people anyone would suspect, in the very last place.

Our hero is shaken to the core, but resolute. He takes what he has to the newspapers, but they laugh in his face. He takes it to the TV people, but they laugh even harder. By now his own work has been neglected, and he’s lost his job, but this is important enough that he can’t let go of it. What can he do? Perhaps he’s the only one who knows, so he must do something. He must get proof. He’ll make them believe him.

Obviously he can’t go back to the same library — they know him there now — so he hitches to Washington [or London, if this is set in the UK] and heads for the Library of Congress [or the British Library]. Whatever he needs, it’ll be here. He heads for the periodicals section, and sets up camp in a space he can make his own, with the few belongings he has left. He begins digging. Within days this is his home.

One morning, a few days later, a businessman, clearly new to the library, sits down at the next table, plugs in and opens his laptop. Their eyes meet, and the businessman’s look is one of disdain and pity.

Our hero has, of course, become one of the Library People.


  • A cautionary tale for us all.

    Whenever I work at the public library and see The Library People, I wonder where the line between PhD student and OCD insane is. I suspect the line is not a fine one.

  • When I was doing paid reserach in the Boston Public Library, there was a man who used to walk through the reading room with a Dunkin Donuts box on his head. He also used to crinkle a plastic bag. Pretty much everyone ignored him , tho the crinking sound was a little annoying.

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