Just a random day at work....
So What Do You DO All Day?
I got to work 20 minutes before opening time. That’s about normal. The janitor and one other staff member were already there. The janitor is new, a young woman who is working nights on a GED and needed part-time work. She’s still learning all her duties. This particular morning I showed her where to empty the recycling boxes. Then I got to work moving used books from storage into the Friends of the Library sale room to fill any gaps on the shelves.
While I was doing this, six or seven men who didn’t look like they spent a lot of time in libraries came in. I checked my watch. Ten minutes before opening—the front door wasn’t even supposed to be unlocked! We’d opened the front door early to let in a group from the high school who had booked our community room for a meeting. I had to explain to the new arrivals that we weren’t actually open yet. They were understanding and stepped back outside. They had come to use library computers for some kind of job training exercise.
Our desk clerks came in, still a few minutes before opening, and began logging on staff and public computers and clearing out the book drop. They had that well in hand (some mornings I have to do much of that work myself), but I still had a few things to discuss with them about different aspects of the day’s work. Then I went to my office and checked my e-mail. The day before I had proctored an exam for a correspondence student. Now I was free to erase all the e-mails involved in setting up that appointment and getting test materials.
Remembering that I was required to destroy all test materials now that the exam had been completed, I went to the shredder and began feeding the materials in. The shredder jammed. I unplugged it, got a set of needle-nose pliers, and spent about the next 10 minutes picking wads of paper out of the machine. While I sat on the floor doing this, I talked to staff members who came in and out with things they needed to tell me. At one point I had to go get a small amount out of petty cash for a materials purchase. Finally I had the shredder fixed and was able to finish shredding the test papers.
Now I could address that stack of ten freshly cataloged books sitting on my desk. I don’t catalog items myself, but all newly-cataloged items come by me first so that I can pick some for the library’s weekly newspaper column. I opened Word and hastily knocked out reviews (Actually just summaries of the dust-jacket copy—who’s got time to read all those new books?) of the new items before taking them to the circulation desk for shelving.
I’m in the process of taking two library courses per semester online toward my degree, so I logged into the course software and started trying to catch up on course materials and discussion boards. Barely had I done so when I was needed at the desk to answer some question or other. Noticing that the mail had come in with the newspapers, I checked the status of the “New York Times”. Our subscription service has been squirrely lately. That morning we received issues from the previous day, the day before that, and the Sunday before last. Par for the course. I’m going to have to call somebody to complain about that when I get the chance.
I dealt with my own office mail, putting unwanted catalogs in the recycling pile, throwing away some junk, and opening and filing some routine bills for payment at the appropriate time. Then I tried to settle back into my school work. Within two or three minutes I had a phone call.
It was an older lady, a local “character” who wanted to donate some books, and could I come pick them up in about 15 minutes? I agreed. When I got to her house, about 15 minutes later, she was gone, looking for boxes at the local supermarket. Her daughter, whom I’d never met, greeted me. It seems they were going through a long-overdue cleanup of the older lady’s house. There were enough books piled around to fill the bed of a pickup truck. Obviously I couldn’t just carry away this mess. Within a few minutes the daughter and had I agreed that she would get her mother to sort through the books, put them in boxes, and THEN have me come and get some of them. I thanked her and left.
Once more I tried to get some school work done. Then the janitor came wanting to know what to do next. I realized that I hadn’t yet introduced her to the building’s mechanical room. So I took her in there and showed her some things she needed to know about. While there I dumped 40 pounds of salt pellets into the building’s water softener system; our local water is notoriously hard.
Then it was back to trying to do some school work. I did finally get into it, though there were the usual interruptions every few minutes. There were questions about where to find some of our local newspapers; a worker informing me that she was going to lunch; a pregnant worker going home early because she couldn’t keep any food down; people just passing through because my office makes a handy corridor between front and back areas of the building.
At one point I went out onto the floor and spoke with a patron doing research in our local newspapers, to make sure he was finding what he needed. He was apparently gathering ammunition for some complaints he meant to make at the City Council meeting. It would be held at the library that evening. I privately hoped he wasn’t going to create too much trouble for the Mayor.
Just in time I realized that I needed to head out to the Rotary Club meeting downtown. I looked outside and saw that it was now raining. And I’d left my umbrella at home! Our cataloger reminded me that she was nearly out of double-sided tape. I promised to get some while I was gone and went to the office to get the company credit card. I also thought to check to make sure we had thank-you cards on hand. I owed a certain book donor—a comics professional who sometimes quietly donates materials to libraries—a card.
At the Rotary lunch I visited with various Rotary folks, ate some hamburger steak and (very thoroughly) fried okra, and listened to a local Army recruiter give a presentation. He was one of the shortest soldiers I’d ever seen, several inches shorter than myself. I was startled to learn that he has been getting more female than male recruits lately. When they asked members to share community announcements, I made sure to talk up an event the library is sponsoring in a couple of weeks. I don’t think I goofed the announcement up too badly. At meeting’s end we all headed back into the rain.
Since we had had some thank-you cards on hand I didn’t have to buy any. I did go by a local supply store to pick up the double-sided tape. Then I headed back to work and handed over the tape. And then I got back down to trying to get some library school work done. I also spent a bit of time I didn’t really have on IMWAN. IMWAN has gotten to be my primary vice.
There were more interruptions. A technician came to work on our malfunctioning public computer printer. Our public copy machine, patched up in hopes that it would do okay while we had some parts on order, went on the blink again. We got a cryptic phone call for me from the public school administration office. What did they want with me? I took the call and found that they DIDN’T want me. They wanted a school official who happened to have the same last name, who was in the meeting in our community room. It’s not the first time our last names have created confusion.
I also made some efforts to order new books. We do this over the phone, and sometimes have to try more than once before getting through to a sales rep. I’ve been having more and more trouble doing this lately. I suspect they’ve laid off part of their staff.
Eventually 4:30 rolled around. I had actually succeeded in doing some school work by this time. Ordinarily I’d be in the office until closing at 6:30. This was the day of the week when I normally left early. Leaving early is supposed to make up for extra hours I work during the week, what with coming in early and staying until closing each day. Actually I still work more than a 40-hour week. That’s not counting coming in for at least a couple of hours on Saturdays to make sure everything’s going well. The longish hours are one reason why I try to do school work while I'm at work.
On my early-departure days I also usually take some professional reading to do at home during my “time off”. I took an issue of “Library Journal” that I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. And then I headed home. Next morning, about 20 minutes or so before opening, I’d be back.
And that was my day—or at least the highlights of it. People ask librarians sometimes what we do all day long—the presumption being, of course, that all we have to do is check out books and shelve things and catch up on our reading the rest of the time. It’s hard to know just what to say.
The public library is the community's kindly grandmother: helpful, patient, understanding. Society pays little attention to it, even though society cannot survive without it.