"That man over there is sleeping," the woman said. Her finger shook, the little charm bracelet on her wrist jingling.
I leaned over the reference desk a little and followed her finger. The man was slumped in the chair, legs crossed in front of him. He was not blocking aisle, not taking up more space than a student studying for midterms.
"Yes, ma'am. He is," I said. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"That's not right. This is a library," she said. Her finger found the top of the desk, sharp ticks and more jingles as she jabbed it down. Her face was round and almost kind if not for the frown and the lines drawn inward.
"We allow people to sleep in the library, to rest a spell. Are you sure I can't help you find anything?" I said.
"I don't think that's okay. What if all of them do it?"
"I understand. We worried about that. We don't want the library to be a place for people to nest all day. Staff make regular rounds, make sure everyone is behaving themselves. A little rest never hurt anyone, much less other people. I like a little nap in the middle of a busy day myself. How about you?"
"Well, at least I go…" and she trailed off as she talked. She understood, at least on a base level, what it meant to have a moment's rest. The quiet library, with the gentle click clack of keys and the far distant cry of a child from the children's department, filled then with open space.
The English language is a mongrel beast. It's cobbled together from various Romance and Germanic sounds, little bobbles here and there of even more distant tongues, sayings and passages lifted on purpose or by accident. A large portion of it has been crafted from circumstance and ether, dreams and love of communication. Difficult and unwieldy, the English language contains few words more diverse than the word "spell."
The word "spell" comes from several backgrounds. The Germanic "spell" became Old French "espeller" and Old English took the original spelling, funny enough, to mean "to form a word with letters in the correct sequence." The Germanic again was taken by Old English to form the definition of a magical incantation, as the original meaning had to do with speech and narration. On a different turn, in the late 16th century, English twisted the word to mean a short time (akin to a short speech) so people could "rest a spell" or take some time to relieve a worker. In all cases, it means to relieve a burden of some kind, either by giving society a uniform way of communicating, of magically fixing a problem with words, or by giving someone a break from their toil. Speech can do wonderous things, and putting down your worries for a moment to listen, to spell someone, is worthy of the word's history.
So remember when you see someone asleep in a library that they are putting down a burden. They are safe, comfortable, in a quiet place. The library gives spells in words and language, in books and help, but it can also give a moment of respite from the worries of the world with a gentle rest. Who among us can deny a fellow human the need for that?