Call Numbers (novel)

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Call Numbers is the first novel in Syntell Smith's series about the fictional daily operations of the staff of a New York City Library back in 1994.  First self-published[1] in 2019 the novel is a contemporary work which explores public interactions, workplace relations and several social issues involving an ensemble cast with multiple story lines.

Call Numbers
Author Syntell Smith
Country United States
Language English
Series Call Numbers
Genre Contemporary, Literary
Publisher Syntell Smith Publishing
Publication date June 22nd, 2019
Pages 374
ISBN 0-578-44052-0
OCLC 1109395079

Plot Summary[edit]

It’s 1994 in New York City and Robin Walker has transferred downtown to the 58th Street Branch library. But his position was promised by his new supervisor Sonyai Yi to Janelle Simms, because she was next in succession, and she’s pregnant. Sonyai’s plans to antagonize Robin upon his arrival in hopes he’ll transfer someplace else before Janelle’s secret is discovered.

The branch is currently in a feud between clerical supervisor Sonyai Yi and head librarian Augustus Chavez. The two constantly disagree on several policies on how to serve the public.  Augustus believes in favoritism, rewarding exclusive access and occasionally bending the rules to those who contribute charitable donations to support the branch individually.

Both sides also deal with usurpers of their own leadership as well. Gerry Coltraine confides to Ethel Jenkins his doubts in Sonyai’s plan and is conflicted when Ethel and fellow clerk Tommy Carmichael participate in the hazing of the young arrival. Challenging Augustus among his camp is Information Assistant Heywood Learner whose conservative views clash with his supervisor liberal thinking. Heywood receives occasional assistance when opposing Augustus unbeknownst to either side by the elderly puppet master and assistant librarian Zelda Clein, who manipulates all the pieces on the chessboard to provide a certain balance in the conflict.

Neutral from both the clerks and librarians is Information Assistant-in training, Angie Trueblood. Like Robin she attends college at night in order to acquire her Associates in the Library Studies and climb the ranks to become a head librarian in her own branch one day.  Working the shelves with Janelle are the rest of the branch pages, Alex Stevens, Tanya Brown, and Lakeshia Seabrooke. Alex joins Janelle in her hatred for Robin, while Tanya discovers Lakeshia has developed a crush on him.

Robin struggles to prove himself while being tested on the job as he attends school and faces the reality of his grandfather’s failing health. He also endures social misadventures involving his college friends including several missed opportunities with an elusive, mysterious female Asian student he keeps engaging. After several hostile incidents, A fistfight with Tommy and a racially insensitive practical joke by Alex, Robin finally finds himself in Sonyai’s favor when standing up to Augustus in the face of his applied favoritism.

Lakeshia’s infatuation with Robin results in her sexual awaking. She fantasizes about being with him but is unsure how to proceed with these new feelings and emotions. The young page confides to Tanya who decides to use the resources around them to teach her about human sexuality. Tanya deals with pressure in school from a bully after getting caught inadvertently in a love triangle. Lakeshia gets involved after some near miss harmful encounters and pleads for Robin’s assistance. He takes care of Tanya’s situation and then wins the other page’s (including Alex and Janelle) respect by offering advice in a routine group reassignment of duties.

Gerry is approached by Eugene Iscaro, a newly hired security guard assigned to the library who warns that Sonyai is being investigated for mishandling funds by the Special Investigation Unit. Gerry agrees to prove her innocence by secretly getting copies of the ledger which is locked in a safe. With Tommy’s help Gerry succeeds only to find out Eugene was working with Sonyai to test how far he would go find evidence of her possible misdeeds. He justifies his intentions once again saying he was trying to prove her innocence, but she knows where his loyalties lie.

Heywood meets a female nightclub singer and they begin to have a relationship. It is drastically affected by the death of her childhood friend who turns out to be Kurt Cobain, the pioneer lead singer of Nirvana. She moves in with Heywood after an emotional performance dedicated to Cobain which resulted in her losing her job. Pushing his own agenda, Heywood misrepresents Augustus while preparing for one of the branch’s events and his deception is discovered. The head librarian unleashes a tirade to set him straight and warns to never undermine him again.

Augustus executes a campaign to improve public circulation statistics with a recommended promotion that is approved, but then fabricates false paperwork that gives 58th Street an unfair advantage. Sonyai suspects that Augustus has the tools and the means to produce fraudulent documentation but has to confirm her suspicions. Others suspect Augustus of foul play as well, including officials from nearby neighborhood branches in their cluster.

The novel ends when Robin and Lakeshia attend a sports event with the rest of his college friends. They agree to keep their friendship strictly platonic due to their age difference, for the sake of not drawing attention to themselves. She’s hurt but he leaves the door open to explore the possibilities when she graduates from high school. Meanwhile Angie accidentally discovers a box with the materials Augustus uses to make fake memorandums that support his campaigns. She meets Sonyai outside the branch and reveals what she discovered. The two plan to work together and gather enough evidence to bring Augustus down.


The novels main characters are library employees separated into three groups: The clerks, The librarians, and The pages.

Robin Walker: 18-year-old African-American college student, the novel centers on Robin as he attempts to adjust working at his new part-time clerical position while juggling school, work and personal life all at once.  His arrival is not well received which leads to several conflicts while attempting to prove himself.  He's completely in the dark about the staff's reasoning for not accepting him.  Brash, arrogant, but intelligent and compassionate for other, his friends often turn to him for problem solving strategies when trouble arises.  Robin yearns to just fit in and belong, but repeatedly finds himself in compromising and socially awkward situations.

Sonyai Yi: 58th Street's senior clerk.  The petite Asian woman has been in charge of the clerical staff, training pages and clerks with the teachings of her predecessor.  When one of her pages becomes pregnant, she promises the next part-time clerk vacancy will go to her and keeps it open for as long as she can.  Unfortunately, Robin fills the position which causes her to think of a contingency that will have the young man reconsider staying.  A mother hen to her pages she puts herself in jeopardy by falsifying health insurance claims that pay for the page's prenatal care.

Augustus Chavez: The branch's head librarian. Chavez is in a heated feud with senior clerk Sonyai Yi due to his seize of power from his predecessor thorough a compromising scandal.  The two have disagreed on various policies when it comes to serving the public due to his pandering.  Bending the rules and favoring those who's charitable acts come across the branch's way.  Chavez is a man of the people and has no problem selling the library's integrity to the highest bidder.  Due to the fact that he's Hispanic he feels slighted when being accepted by his fellow peers and is not above cutting corners or methods of deceit to prove he is their better.

Zelda Klein: Assistant librarian, Augustus's closest friend and mentor.  A Jewish school teacher and civil activist before working for the library decades ago.  After a chance encounter at the museum of natural history, the once photographer and amateur archeologist is convinced to work for the library.  With sage advice from her experiences she attempts to keep Augustus in check when it comes to his questionable policies.  Little does he know, Zelda serves as counter intelligence to Sonyai and his other enemies at times to maintain a certain balance in the hostile work environment.

Heywood Learner: Information Assistant who just recently earned his degree in library and information studies, conservative opponent to Augustus' liberal out views Heywood lives to undermine the branch's head librarian at every turn.  While the library's policy has always been against censorship, Heywood's "clean, wholesome family values" agenda puts him at odds when Augustus applies more adult themes to the branch's public presentations.  His conservative views come from his strong religious upbringing, which he has worked hard to keep a mystery.

Gerry Coltraine: African-American Library clerk, with ten years work experience Gerry feels he should be a senior clerk but racial bias has kept him from advancing.  Thus, making him socially awkward and ill-tempered, attracting intense interactions with public patrons that believe the customer is always right.  Similar to Heywood Learner challenging Augustus, Gerry makes a conscious effort to challenge Sonyai's policies as she supervises the clerks and pages, not supporting her plan to antagonize Robin when he arrives to help keep the clerical position vacant for the page who needs it.  He instead welcomes the young clerk and engages in insightful conversations on various social issues in the current state of affairs.

Angie Trueblood: Information Assistant-in-training, the young Native-American woman attends college part-time at night while working during the day at the library.  Angie is earning her Associates Degree in Library Science at Queens College.  With the opposing conflicts between clerks and librarians, Angie remains neutral, keeping to herself.  She mostly interacts with fellow Information Assistant, Heywood Learner.  The two have become close and at times bicker like they're in a relationship but have chosen to keep things professional.

Tommy Carmichael: Irish-American Library clerk and Sonyai's current protege, Tommy is still fairly new to his position, hanging on every word of his supervisor.  He immediately supports Sonyai's plan with full animosity against Robin from the moment he arrives.  He takes on the task overzealously to the point of hazing, testing Robin's limits which backfires when the two get into a physical altercation outside the library after hours.  Tommy is married and his Hispanic wife, Sarah is also pregnant.  With their child arriving, Tommy is questioned by Sarah's parents over cultural differences of how they plan to raise their family.

Ethel Jenkins: Experienced African-American library clerk, the sassy elder has worked at the branch the longest next to Zelda Clein.  As the only two black clerks in the branch, Ethel and Gerry Coltraine engage in witty banter and conversations about the current work environment. When Robin arrives, she at first pays no attention to the young clerk nor Sonyai's plan to discourage him so he can relocate to another branch.  At the senior clerks request however, she then intimidates the clerk with an embarrassing request.  While facing health issues due to her obesity, Ethel is approached by her family members regarding a real estate investment that could possibly secure her impeding retirement that she's considering.

Janelle Simms: Library page, high school senior, at the age of 18 she has accomplished the rare feat of completing her classes a term early.  Highly intelligent, with a bright future ahead of her, but unfortunately, she discovers she's pregnant.  She confides to Sonyai Yi in fear of her parents finding out and the senior clerk assures her that she will do everything she can to help her in the crisis. Janelle's parents are furious when Sonyai reveals the news to them but relent when the senior clerk subdues Janelle's father with an uncharacteristic feat of strength.

Alex Stephens: 16-year-old African-American Library page, a close friend of Janelle and loyal to Sonyai, Alex also becomes a bitter adversary for Robin when he arrives.  She taunts the new clerk constantly about his fair skin complexion (A frailty Robin is very self-conscious about.) as he returns with insults regarding her darker complexion.  After several heated exchanges, the novel's climax centers on a cruel practical joke she plays at his expense with disastrous results.  She is very private when it comes to her personal life but there appears to be a secret connection between her and head librarian Augustus Chavez.

Tanya Brown: Library page who is still in her sophomore year of high school despite being 17 years old, Tanya has a laid back sense of thinking and speaks with a country drawl.  Very athletic with tomboy-ish ways Tanya once had a physical relationship with former library clerk Sonyai was training, who left after a promotion to be in charge of a nearby branch.  After discovering page Lakeshia Seabrooke's secret infatuation with Robin she uses the knowledge to take advantage of her young co-worker with some blackmail but then helps her after Lakeshia pleads to Robin to step in and stop a bully who was chasing Tanya after school intending to do her harm.

Lakeshia Seabrooke: The youngest of the four library pages, very shy and meek. While most are against Robin when he first arrives, Lakeshia is smitten by him on sight which leads to her discovery of new feelings she's never had before.  Embarrassed by her sexual awakening, Lakeshia turns to Tanya for advice after Tanya discovers the crush, keeping it a secret between them. A biracial child with two brothers, being the middle child and only daughter she's lived a very sheltered life. Rarely takes public transportation, depending on her older brother or street cabs to get around the city.

Supporting Characters[edit]

Jon Walker: Robin's maternal grandfather, Robin was left in his care by his mother when he was very young. Jon tamed the child's wayward ways teaching him responsibility and morals.  The elder lost his sense of hearing towards the end of his career as a subway worker so the two communicate through sign language and reading lips. Unknown to Robin, Jon's health is failing. As he begins to put his final preparations for his estate, he turns to a mysterious comrade to carry on his wishes and find Robin once he's passed on.

Franklin: Robin's best friend.  A former library page himself, the pair have been friends since Robin moved in his current apartment complex with Jon at the age of 10.  Franklin's father is the building's superintendent and is very strict when it comes to raising Franklin.  He works at a boutique not too far from the branch in midtown and is a known womanizer.

Barbara Schemanske: Robin's mentor and former supervisor.  Known affectionately as "The Battle Axe" to library employees, the head librarian of the Fort Washington Library, Robin's former branch located in his neighborhood of Washington Heights.  With a reputation to be feared and near omnipotent knowledge, Schemanske arranged Robin's transfer and checks in with him frequently to monitor his progress.

Eugene Iscaro: Branch security guard who returns to 58th Street at Augustus' request after an altercation between Robin and Tommy. With a no-nonsense sense of style, Eugene is overzealous when it comes to keeping peace, from body-checking a homeless patron who attacks Robin, to slamming the heads of rowdy teenagers against the reading desk after disrespecting Angie Trueblood.  The security guard approaches Gerry Coltraine with inside information about an investigation of the branch's management of funds, implying Sonyai Yi is falsifying figures on the ledger.  To prove him wrong, Gerry agrees to get proof the senior clerk is reporting everything correctly by secretly making copies of the accounting records.


  1. "Self-Published Author chronicles "The not so quiet life of librarians..." in "Call Numbers"". Issuewire.

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