After applying all over the South Shore of MA, RR walked into his town's library and enquired if he could put his application in. Right place at right time, a rarity in his life: someone was leaving, and he was in. RR, newly minted "Junior Library Assistant", is answering the phone.
"Good morning, Tufts Library, how may I help you?"
Two beats of silence.
"Oh, a man!"
"How may I direct your call?"
I knew this would pop up; just a matter of when . Small town libraries were traditionally staffed by local women; men were custodians, box movers or couriers. I got used to it. Colleagues groused about their husbands at break time, relating droll domestic anecdotes. SOP: keep 23 year old mouth shut, finish the smoke and get back upstairs.
Flash forward twenty + years. RR is now "Young Adult Services Coordinator'; ie, admin. He has a nice office on coordinator's row at the headquarters of a largish regional library system in another commonwealth.It is earning a rep as one of the best and most progressive libraries in the country. He is happy to be there. His colleague next door, headquarters branch librarian, has the sweet spot, a corner office. RR's door is open. He is rabbiting away on policy,developing training, or most fun, buying books.
"Scott? What's distaff?"
"I beg your pardon, M---?"
"What is distaff?"
Rather than screeching back and forth like fishwives, RR gets up and walks the several paces to his colleague's office.
"You are, M---. It is an old word sometimes used to refer to women. It could be hand held or mounted on a spinning wheel,if memory serves; traditionally used by women.Wherever did you come across that word?"
Survey forms had comment/question areas, and patrons (now customers) would use them to suggest titles, etc.
"Someone on this comment sheet said 'The mysteries are taking a turn to the distaff side'."
"Ah. Forward that comment to A--.The commenter feels we are buying too many mysteries either by women or featuring women sleuths."
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