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A Tornado Struck the Library

A Kind Reader alerted me to this excellent fodder for a television movie of the week about a librarian in Round Lake, NY.

Like many compelling narratives, the movie of the week could begin in medias res, with an angry group of protesters gathered at a library board meeting shouting about something. The camera fades in to discover angry faces, hostile arm gestures and muttering in the background, etc.

I don’t know if there were really shouts or hostile arm gestures, but it would play much better that way on television. A board meeting is tedious, so we need some action.

The storms of protest fade to a flashback of actual storms, with dark, aggressively moving clouds and tornadoes touching down. Perhaps we go back and forth a few times to develop atmosphere.

Then we cut to a library, where an anxious librarian is scanning the sky and the weather radio reports. She was probably just looking at a computer screen, but again, we need movement and drama. “Tornado warnings…” we hear in the background as the librarian looks out the window at the darkening clouds, worry and fear on her face.

Anxious staff members congregate near her, clearly frightened at the possibility of a tornado striking their little library. There’s a crackle of thunder and one staff member screams in fright.

Perhaps cut to a protester at the board meeting screaming, “No!”, then back to the staff member looking scared and the librarian resigning herself, probably with a heavy sigh and another long look at the window.

“We’re closing,” she says quietly.

“But,” one of the staff members replies, “we still have forty minutes to the official closing.” She can play this either irritatingly officious or in awe of the bravery of the librarian for making the call. Either way works.

“There’s no one here but us, and we should be home with our families.” She’s made the decision now, and it’s clear there’s no turning back.

Yes, it’s true. The library will close forty minutes early today. [Dramatic music plays.]

Cut to a tornado touching down at the next town over, the librarian at home still looking through a window when she should be hiding in the tornado shelter. The problem is this is New York state, not Oklahoma, so there are no shelters. Plus looking out the window at the rumbling clouds is more dramatic.

“We should refinance our mortgage and build a tornado shelter with the money we’ll get from [mortgage company sponsoring the show’s advertisements],” she says to her husband, who’s busy reading the sports pages and drinking a light beer.

In the next scene, the sky is clear and blue, birds are chirping because it’s spring and all, and the librarian strolls into the library beaming happiness upon all.

The camera stops and threatening music begins to play. The library director is standing, arms crossed, waiting for the librarian. Huddled staff members mutter and shuffle in the background.

“In my office NOW,” the director says to the librarian. The librarian stares blankly, so the director points furiously to the office.

Then we see into the office through a window, looking through the eyes of a frightened staff member as the director yells and gesticulates wildly. The librarian’s face grows more bewildered.

Cut to the librarian leaving the library, head hung in disgrace, her few personal belongings sticking out of a Baker & Taylor box. [Insert personal items that would have a librarian feel.]

Then a montage, as the librarian slowly sinks into lethargy. Staring blankly at an empty coffee cup in her kitchen, looking at a clock that says 9am, then back to the cup, then back to the clock that now says 5pm. That’s a traditional workday now spent staring at a cup. Since this is a television movie of the week audience, she hammers the point home by saying, “Another traditional workday spent staring at this cup.”

There are also a few shots of her walking slowly and aimlessly through downtown as community members point to her and whisper sadly.

If we really want some drama, her house or car could be repossessed. She lies weeping in the yard as the repo man drives away in her tan-colored minivan.

Then another montage. Angry phone calls, threatening emails, as board member by board member feels the wrath of the wronged community, and also some people on Reddit who are just mad at the world.

And now, back to the board meeting, with protesters complaining that the library director fired the librarian unfairly. That everyone was in danger. That it was just a forty minute closing. And that the town only has 627 residents, so how likely was it that any of them were going to be heading to the library during a tornado warning?

One shouts, “I mean, really, does a town this small even need a library?!” then looks sheepish as the other protesters scowl at him. He’s the comic relief.

The exchanges go back and forth for a while. The library board says, “what do you want us to do, resign?” One chuckles a little at the absurdity of the situation.

The crowd shouts in unison, “YES!”

So the entire board resigns and walks out, leaving the library director facing the angry mob, who are now for some reason armed with plastic Halloween costume pitchforks. Her imagination has colored the scene.

She backs out of the room, looking at the the crowd warily, and the next day you see her calling in her resignation from within a locked room with a dresser in front of the door to barricade herself in.

Happy Day! Same meeting room, brand new board. The librarian strolls proudly in, her head held high.

“Come on back, Theresa,” [says] Bill Ryan as sustained applause from the audience filled Village Hall.

[Freeze frame of the librarian's smiling face as the credits roll.]

A slow deep voice intones: “A tornado struck the library. A tornado of justice.”

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Comments

  1. Pastry Four says:

    You forgot the bit where the other staff are spat at, threatened and bullied. There’s no head held high, just traumatized assistants doing their best to provide professional, courteous service in the face of small-town shrapnel that left some innocent bystanders in tears.

  2. “terminated for shutting down the library 40 minutes early on May 29 because of a tornado warning.”

    Unbelievable.

    She should get an award for using her head instead of slavishly following government rules.

    Unbelievable.

  3. Pedro says:

    Unfortunately someone got so carried away with the narrative that I’m not clear on which part is fact and which is fiction. No idea if librarian remains fired or not.

  4. Librarian in Texas says:

    Curious. Why wasn’t the director at work also? How many hours is a library that small open?

  5. lafred says:

    The director was part-time; all the staff is part-time. And this had nothing to do with government rules. This is not a public library, it’s an association library. It’s owned and operated by the Womens Round Lake Improvement Society (WRLIS), not a government entity. No staff was threatened, spat at or bullied, but the Library Board of Trustees was scorned and yelled at and resigned en masse. A new Board was elected immediately and, as their
    first piece of business, rehired the fired librarian with back pay.

  6. kd says:

    1. The person fired was a library clerk not a librarian.
    2. The tornado warning was for the next ten minutes. I would not have left the building myself nor would I have made other people go out and get into cars, a more dangerous place to be than any building.
    3. Because it was a personnel issue, we will and should never know the truth about how many warnings had been issued or what else was going on, but we can be sure there was something because:
    4. The library director was a Public Library Association Past President so it’s pretty safe to assume that she knew she was justified, especially since the president of the trustees was with her when the clerk was fired.
    5. How long does it take to make a phone call? If she couldn’t reach the director, she could have tried the president of the board of trustees.
    Would I fire someone with 24 years of experience for something like that? Probably not, so I can assume there was something else going on.