At the 100,000-volume Bowie branch library, staffers have been asked to find an English translation of Hamlet and a biography of the unknown soldier.
Fielding such requests are all in a day's work for Prince George's County's 336 library employes, who work at 21 branches. By and large, the librarians speak in whispers. Now, however, they are loudly expressing outrage over a decision to increase their work week, from 37 1/2 to 40 hours, without increasing their pay.
Their staff association, whose activities have normally been limited to shopping trips to Reading, Pa., and downtown show outings, has taken a militant stand. Petitions signed by 253 of the library employes have been presented to the county's Library Board, which has agreed to review its decision Thursday night.
"I don't think I'm militant, but I don't mind standing up for the things I believe in," said Marion Hargrove, vice president of the staff association. An employe for 12 years at the Bowie branch, she is now a $29,000-a-year specialist in books for young adults.
"It's not a difficult job," she said. "But it can be very stressful, very frustrating, basically because of time pressures when the phones are ringing and three or four people are waiting and you're trying to give everybody your best service."
The library, adjoining Bowie High School, is busiest during the afternoons and evenings, several staffers agreed, but the two-story building is almost never empty. The other day, patrons were in evidence, among other places, in the Selima Room, which contains what its caretaker says is the largest public collection of books anywhere about horse racing.
The collection is aptly titled and located. It takes its name from an English horse imported in the 1700s by the owners of the Belair stud farm that formerly occupied the library's current site. Custodian of the collection is Suzan Stephenson, 35, an erstwhile horse owner who has been around libraries since she was a 10-year-old sweeping the snow from the steps of the Litchfield, Conn., library where her mother worked.
The Selima Room is "the reason I came to Prince George's County," said Stephenson, who's been at the Bowie branch for 13 years. Her other speciality is "the 700 area of the Dewey Decimal System --arts, recreation--weeding out old books, buying new ones."
"If you want a book on dogs, you can train a robot to find one," Stephenson said, "but if you want to train your poodle to be a companion, then you may need me to help you."
Across the floor from the Selima Room, its walls decorated with horsey art, is the place where young children go to play with toys, select picture books or trade comics.
"It's pretty much anyway we can get the children to read," said librarian Diantha McCauley, 29. "I guess the philosophy is, as long as they're reading, why make a fuss over what they're reading?"
Eight-year-old John Spencer, however, was fussy. "I don't like 'Hulks,' " he complained to McCauley, who nodded sympathetically. Spencer eventually found two comic books he liked, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek."
"People think of libraries as, you have to be quiet and good and read stuffy old books, but it's fun," said McCauley, who evidently enjoys her job but resents the 40-hour work rule. "Just about all of us work 40 hours," she said. "What hurts is the rigidity. It's like Big Brother watching over your shoulders and saying you're not doing your work."
Assisting McCauley was Edna Burneston, 58, a library associate who shares McCauley's views on work and the work week. She especially enjoys a program she puts on for preschoolers called "Monday Morning Magic," which combines music, words and pictures and, often, hugs for the woman up front.
"Okay, let's all stand up and do what the music says," she instructed her young charges yesterday. The 50-or-so toddlers and their mothers all wiggled their fingers and tapped their tummies, more or less in unison. "That was gooood," she said, when the music was over.
Her charges were less engaged during a slide and sound version of "The Little House," a story about a country home engulfed by development. A cacophonous chorus of small voices could be heard, but the parents seemed to listen intently. "Nicholas, you're making too much noise," one exasperated mother said to no avail.
"That's all for today," Burneston said. "I hope you'll be back with us next week. Don't forget to smile."