porcelainandporcupines

Archive for January 2013

(Warning : portions of this blog have appeared elsewhere. Like on Facebook. Yesterday.)

I had a weirdly aggressive encounter with a patron yesterday. Although a recent arrival, she has quickly become a frequent visitor to the library; while it’s difficult to make assumptions about people, I would guess, based on her behavior, that she is neither Illustrious student nor faculty nor staff, but instead is of the sort of person who eschews the public library despite being the sort of person one imagines when coming up with reasons to eschew the public library.

Or, I suppose the difficulty lies in accurately judging a person about whom you have already made assumptions. Whatever the case, my very first interaction with this particular woman resulted with her thinking that my answer to her very bizarre question about my bracelet (which I no longer remember, except that it was off-putting) was an invitation to grab said bracelet which, having an elastic band, she then snapped against my wrist. And, while we may go into detail on physical contact in the library another time, the short explanation is : No. Even the great Colonel Mustache, who stole my heart by being the answer to the question “What would Yosemite Sam look like if his great-grandparents on his mother’s side had been Norwegian alcoholics, and his paternal great-great-great-grandfather had been a Lorax, who spoke not for trees but for mustaches?” was invited to remove his hand from my arm as I demonstrated how to use the scanner; there are no exceptions to this rule.

Subsequent interactions with this woman – who so far has not exhibited enough personality to earn a nickname, although perhaps we should start working on something tissue-based – have, now that I think of it, been fairly limited. At least on my watch, her pattern seems to be to establish herself in front of one of the computers, do whatever it is that she needs to do, and then leave, without requesting assistance from the staff. However, before heading over to the computers, she likes to stop by the desk to stock up on tissues. And, to her credit, unlike many library users, she does seem to realize that the tissues are kept on the desk not because we want to be a part of your nose-blowing experience, but so that they’ll be easy to find.

However, unlike most – if not all – of our other library users, when she stopped by the desk yesterday she glared steadily at me as she pulled tissues singly out of the box, as though daring me to stop her. One after another, it seemed like her whole purpose in coming to the library was to prove that she could remove as many tissues from the box on the desk as she wanted. It seems weird to describe anything involving tissues as defiant, but there doesn’t seem to be any other word for it.

And I almost took up her challenge. When she got to 4 and showed no signs of stopping, I inhaled, preparing to say Ok, lady – that’s enough with the tissues. And then I exhaled, wondering if that was really the life I want for myself? Do I want to be a person who restricts access to tissues? Kind of, but under the guise of wanting to ensure adequate tissue availability for all of our library users at all times.

However, that’s not a realistic goal – no matter how many or how few tissues an individual person takes, it is inevitable that the library will one day run out of tissues. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tissues in the world. And as long as there *are* tissues, the library will get more.

It may be, though, that her aggression yesterday was a result to regain some face after the tissue-related ordeal of last weekend. The difficulty then was not because of the tissues themselves, but because she was attempting to take all of the tissues. At once. Using only one hand. I don’t know why she had set this unusual challenge for herself, but I worried for a bit that she was not quite up to the task. As she struggled, unable to get her hand fully inside the box, and then unable to get it out, I wondered whether I should intervene – should I try to help her? She was having difficulty, but then she was trying to take all of our tissues – I didn’t want to encourage that. On the other hand, what she was going through was so very fascinating that it didn’t seem right to try to stop her either.

Fortunately, my conundrum was easily solved by realizing that this very moment illustrated the guiding principle behind the Prime Directive, and since anything good enough for Jean-Luc Picard is good enough for me, I decided to let events unfold as they may. Eventually, as I watched with a rapt expression upon my face, she did manage successfully to extract all of the tissues from the box. It was quite a moment, and I quietly enjoyed her victory even though her face betrayed no recognition of her achievement.

This week, I had momentarily forgotten that Directive, but fortunately, I remembered it in time. Since I did, it is my hope that in the course of proving yesterday that she can take as many tissues as she wants, she noticed that I made no effort to stop her. Because it’s interesting for two weeks, but I am kind of hoping for an end to the tissue-related drama in my life. Unless it’s new life forms coming in to the library – I’m always ready for that.

One question I was asked over and over again the last time I was interviewing for a job was “What made you decide to become a librarian?” I did not at the time realize that the interviewers were likely looking to account for my sudden career shift as a way to buttress my limited library experience, but even if I had, I don’t think that would have altered by response in any way : that I was not happy with the direction my career was headed and, one day, on investigating the jobs on the B.U. website, the first 3 that popped up were in the library. And suddenly I realized “Oh, the library; I should be a librarian.” And then the interview would move on to my meagre library experience, the first part of my answer completely forgotten.

However, it cannot be overstated just how unhappy I was with where my career was headed : I hated the job that I had at the time. Although I very much enjoyed the way the lobby looked like The Movie Theater of the Future, as designed in 1950, I wanted to cry every day when I walked into the building. And, in addition to my job striking me as particularly useless – both in the sense of how it might benefit society in general (it wouldn’t, ever), as well as in a local sense of the value it presented to the company (none) – I was also incredibly bad at it. I’m sure the fact that I did not want to be good at it played a part, but, in fairness to myself, the skill set required of that position is completely outside the realm of things at which I am good : a Sweet Valley High reference would land just about as well as that plane Olivia’s flight instructor crashed, killing himself and paralyzing her and thus wrenching her plan to break up with Roger, who she no longer loved regardless of his newfound place in the Patman family, and the fact that I just mixed up plots and characters from several different books would have gone completely unnoticed.

Yet, despite my vast unhappiness, there were actually several positives to that job. For one thing, I made a lot of money; a lot. Upon receipt of the job offer, I may have exclaimed “Oh my god, I can buy everything I’ve ever wanted and a pony!” aloud, to an otherwise empty room, although several years having passed since the potential incident renders positive confirmation difficult.

In addition to elevating my lifestyle to an extravagance I can no longer afford, that job also provided a very interesting view into an organization that believes they can actually achieve a goal. Or, actually, that’s not entirely correct; most companies probably think that can achieve goals; otherwise, they wouldn’t exist. What was different about this place was that their goal was 100%.

And they took it seriously. There were reports about which I can provide absolutely no detail of systems running at 99.486% accuracy, and it was stunning not only that they would investigate into the decimals following the 99, which I think in and of itself would be enough of a measure for most organizations (at least the ones that are not Ivory soap), but also that that number, decimal and all, still represented room for improvement.

The most amazing thing about that was how quickly I got used to it. I mean, I was never going to be one of the people getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning for a software release, and I found it completely baffling that the people who were would follow up that release by coming in to work for a full 9+ hour day, a practice in which I also did not participate, despite the frequent urgings of my boss. Yet, however much I might have questioned their passion for a product that I thought ridiculous, I had come from an environment where we frequently set the bar at about 60 and were perfectly content to miss it most of the time. Working with these people was inspiring – their intensity, devotion and focus to their job was like watching Olympians. Of work, but still; it was impressive.

So, even though I was extremely happy to leave that job, yea the entire corporate world, behind, I did have within me a small glimmer of hope that, doing something I was devoted to, something I had actually chosen rather than happened into by default, I might one day be a finalist of some sort; perhaps even the winner of the work bronze.

Were I the sort of person who cottoned to things a bit faster, I might have noticed that this attitude did not especially pervade library school. Which : is strange. Librarians for the most part like to tout themselves as busy and engaged, up on what’s going on and passionate about connecting people and information. But the loudest voices in library school are the ones that stay with you, and so what rings in my ears is a refrain I heard from several instructors, who would follow up the description of any particular Librarian’s task with a put-upon “Which you’ll do in all of your free time”.

Of course, budget cuts have left libraries understaffed, and that is a very real issue, but this self-image of the Librarian who is just too busy to actually do her job bothers the hell out of me. For one thing, it often results in an Ur-Millenial need for praise whenever something gets done, which offends my latch-key Generation X sensibilities to such an extent that it might lead to a rumble if I weren’t so desperately in need of a nap.

More serious is the frequency with which this attitude affects users. Obviously, an underfunded library does not have the same resources to divert toward a problem as does a large multi-national profit-driven entity. However, the number of times I have received a response of “We know,” to a report of a problem is extremely discouraging. That’s a difficult message to pass on to a user who points out that our system is confusing – yes, it certainly is confusing. No, we’re not going to anything about it. Because we’ve gotten to a point where something works well enough; there’s no need to push it to actually working well.


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