student info: Junk, the student assistant librarian
The library is an odd place, and the librarians are an odd bunch. There’s the research librarian who hunts monsters; there’s the one who smells like fig newtons and seems to live and breathe books and only books, as if bound somehow to the library itself; there’s the… some guy, you think, who helps with reshelving (and “some guy” is not at all an accurate description of… whoever or whatever he is, but you don’t dare risk any other description) and, of course, the head librarian. The head librarian is called Irons, and her name suits her. Mrs. Irons is rarely seen, but when she does show up, everything- everything- falls silent. They say Mrs. Irons once shushed the Wild Hunt. You almost believe it. They say she learned the true name of one of the Gentry, and put him to work in the library as an unpaid intern. You don’t know about that, but you don’t look up when you hear some guy shuffling a book cart around the shelves.
And then there’s the student assistant librarian.
The student assistant librarian is exhausted and stressed all the time. Usually she says her name is Junk, but sometimes she gets confused and introduces herself as something else instead- not ever her true name, no, just whatever she happens to blurt out. She’s used to false names. She wears boots with iron hobnails and sweaters inside out and cargo pants with a hundred things in their pockets; her hair is usually uncombed but always smells of witch hazel. She’s tall, but she has the sort of permanent stoop you get from keeping your eyes on the ground all your life. She’s personable, but she doesn’t do well when conversations go off script. She never makes eye contact, and her dark eyes move oddly when she looks around- as though there are things in the room she wants to avoid seeing. She lies as often as she tells the truth, seemingly without reason. Her lies are always either entirely inconsequential or unconvincing to the point of absurdity, but she always delivers them with the same impossibly straight face.
The job is minimum-wage work study; you’re not sure how many hours they’re even allowed to give a student each week, but it seems like Junk is always in the library. There’s a dingy old microwave behind the circulation desk and a pile of clothes from the lost and found that could conceivably be a bed, if you’re an exhausted college student who doesn’t want to risk the trek back across campus at three in the morning. (Any time but three in the morning, freshmen quickly learn- you can be a night owl all you like, but three in the morning is not our time.)
The student assistant librarian, whose name is usually Junk, is on the brink of flunking all her classes and always behind on reshelving. This is understandable. She is a student and an assistant librarian, but the real task of the student assistant librarian has little to do with either of those things. The library is an odd place and it is full of odd things, things odder even than the librarians. It is the task of the student assistant librarian to provide protection between the library and the students. She wanders the shelves with silver studs in her ears, washers on a chain around her neck, salt in her boots, a hand-crank flashlight in her pocket, and a crumpled guide to the Dewey Decimal system in her hand. She recites a poem as she walks, not because it keeps her safe but just because it’s her favorite stim: feeling the rhymes and rhythms on her own tongue, finding the patterns, finding the sense. It helps keep her calm- and she needs to be calm when she walks the shelves.
She finds the students who have wandered into danger; she finds the danger that has wandered into the library. She sorts things out. She chews her lips bloody inside every time she goes into the deep shelves, but she sorts things out. She knows exactly how to deal with the Gentry, and exactly how to avoid dealing with them. She is not all-powerful, nor does she think of herself as particularly heroic, but she is smart and she is stubborn and when you are in her library you will be safe.
There’s a rumor that Junk was born with the Sight. You’re not sure if that’s true- you’re not sure if that’s possible- but when you look at her, this strange gangling girl who strides into the deep shelves every night for minimum wage and strides back out again with lost students at her side, this girl who knows every rule for every interaction with the Gentry, this girl that lies as easily as breathing and once accidentally introduced herself as Captain Kirk, this girl that you once saw crying into a cup of E-Z Mac behind the circulation desk… when you look at her, you think that if anyone was ever born with the Sight, it was probably Junk.
You do not envy her that.
She has a cat, officially registered with the school as a support animal for her autism. It is grey, a bit chubby, incredibly loving, dumb as a box of rocks and about as energetic, and all in all one of the most aggressively mundane animals you’ve ever seen. Perhaps that’s why the Gentry have never messed with it- or maybe that’s because Junk has always ensured that the cat is as protected as it is possible for any animal to be: an iron-buckled collar of brass bells, fur washed with witch hazel water she’s left in the moonlight, salt packets sewn into its support animal vest, no name given, and always at her side. It does not chase mice in the library. It does not chase anything at all, nor has it ever attempted to drink or eat from the offerings that students leave out. Maybe, upon reflection, it isn’t actually that dumb.
On the occasions she actually manages to make it to class, she usually falls asleep on her tiny desk within ten minutes. Even in small classes, most of her classmates don’t want to wake her. Student assistant librarian is not an easy job, and it is only decency to allow her rest where she can find it. Her grades suffer, but she will return to the library for her shift, and when you are in her library, you will be safe.
Junk doesn’t have a major. Even after two years, she’s still muddling through her gen eds. She doesn’t often talk about her family- at least, she doesn’t often tell the truth about them- but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love them. Sometimes, at Elsewhere, it’s best to keep the things you love secret. Her family, whoever they are, wherever they are, are proud that their daughter made it to university. They do not know about her job, or the duty that comes along with it. They especially do not know about her grades.
Finals week is hard on everyone, but it also means that the number of students in the library increases tenfold- and so does the number of other things. Finals week is the most dangerous time of year, more dangerous even than the ravages of Spring Break, and it is the duty of the student assistant librarian to provide protection between the library and the students. She stays up all night herding the desperate studiers out of the unsafe places; she takes her exams as quickly as she can (too quickly) and then races back to the library to fetch those who have gone missing in her absence. It is not uncommon to see Junk full-on sprinting down the campus sidewalks during finals week, lanky limbs akimbo, hair wild, cat peeking out of her backpack. As hard as she runs, though, she never cuts a corner from the safe pathways.
Not a single student has been Taken* from the library since she started work- an unprecedented record. She’s proud of that, even and especially on days when she’s too exhausted to put three sentences together, let alone write a timed essay. It seems unfair to give a job like this to a full-time student, and it is- but there is something about it that’s vital that the student assistant librarian must be both student and librarian. They must be a go-between. They must walk both worlds. They must provide protection.
(*She found a philosophy student halfway to the Barony once, miles past the marble palace in the reference section. He was lost and glamour-dazed, but not yet Taken, not all the way. She gave him half the sandwich she had in her pocket (the other half went back into the pocket, just in case) and led him back to the circulation desk in time for the end of night shift- the journey had been several days, she was certain, but time passed differently in the library. Two weeks later, the same philosophy student went missing from a party, and never reappeared. Junk couldn’t do anything about that; he wasn’t in her library. But no one gets taken from her library.)
Junk never asks for anything in return from the students she rescues from the deep shelves- it is her duty, after all, and duty means a bargain bigger, more binding, and more sacred than any trade between students. Still, it might be a good idea to help her with her classwork. After all, if she flunks out, the school is unlikely to get another student assistant librarian like this one.
((Hope this is alright! Wasn’t sure how to submit this but… Junk and Mrs. Irons are original characters of mine, sliding into Elsewhere University AU-wise. Anyone who wants to can find out more about them and their other lives (and talk to Junk!) at my blog @deweydeadcimal.))