The last librarian sat behind the information desk and wondered aloud, “Now what?” with no idea where to begin. She wasn’t frightened, though, or even very angry. Mostly, she was just tired of waiting.
All her professional decisions in the past had been matters of momentary importance. Where’s this? What’s that? The why and the how of reference questions. It had been a job based on happenstance, with little romance. Yet now that no one came to the desk to ask for her informed opinion, she felt jilted – like someone left standing (or, in her case, sitting) alone at the altar.
For a while she watched a white moth flitting about down the history aisle. In the light sifting through the high windows it danced its hypnotic dance past shelf after shelf, eventually landing somewhere near the end of the aisle. Seeing this as a sign, the last librarian wandered over to the area where she thought the moth had alighted. The moth was nowhere to be found, but taking a guess as to which book it may have last settled on, she chose a thick volume from the top shelf. It happened to be a book about Mesopotamia. She opened it to a page at random: a photograph of a clay tablet with dense cuneiform writing. The caption read: “Sacred tablets like the one seen in this photo were kept in a special room, with each tablet bearing a classification symbol along its edge, much like the catalog numbers librarians now place on book spines.”
She closed the book, closed her eyes, and visualized a wide room within a temple. From every direction light streamed in through high, narrow windows. In the center of the room stood a slim, erect man (or was it a woman?) delicately running an index finger over a stack of tablets, leaving a long smooth trail in the dust which lay upon the surface.
When the last librarian in the world opened her eyes again, she was jolted by surprise to see where she was standing: not in a Mesopotamian temple but in the same dim aisle of the same dim library she had worked in for years. And the looming shelves all around, filled to capacity with books barely touched, let alone read, sent a shiver not unlike terror through her limbs. At one time she had looked upon this space as a kind of temple, awed by the thoughts and ideas these books contained. All that intellectual striving! All that roving curiosity! But now as her eyes fell upon the faded, brittle spines, some of whose titles and call numbers she could barely make out, she had a visceral understanding of something she had long known. These books, however cherished, were simply vessels. And like all vessels throughout time, they were destined to be replaced by something less cumbersome.
As were their keepers.
At this thought, the last librarian couldn’t help but smile. Finally, she knew exactly where to begin. It was now her time to walk away but not without leaving a personal statement. Her statement, however, would be different from her predecessor’s. It would be an homage of sorts, an homage, one might say, in reverse. It would hearken back to the dawn of time, when knowledge was new, when only light and darkness reigned and the forces of creation and destruction battled for supremacy. And as she closed the old building for the night – a building so cathedral-like in its majesty – at the end of a long, sinuous aisle, she would be wielding the torch.