Sunday, October 13, 2019
There are two kinds of co-workers at my library, and maybe in this world, and I am hoping you might like to think carefully about what kind you are.
But only if it's not any work to you, and no trouble.
One kind of co-worker gives you work because, hey, we're all working here and they want to help.
One kind of co-worker sometimes does your work for you because, hey, we're all working here and they want to help.
Saturday, October 12, 2019
One of the common refrains upon the election, such as it was, of Donald Trump to the Presidency was "This is not normal!" And with that phrase came the admonition "Don't accept it as normal!" But something about our brains is not right. Maybe it was a once upon a time evolutionary advantage and the only way to get us spreading out of our cozy African homes was to have us react to insane things like snow with furious outrage, lost toes, and long, miserable nights huddled together trying to stay alive raging against the gods, all followed by ice cream.
Yum! All is forgotten!
Whatever it is, human beings make everything normal, whether that thing be dessert or a sudden fad for systematically killing off 20 percent of all our neighbors. Or, let's be realistic here, having 80 percent of our neighbors kill us off. We're definitely a 20 percent crowd here.
Now as a member of the 20 percent crowd I like to politely excuse myself from the table as I cast dark assessments on the human race. Not only have I refused to allow for the normality of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, I believe that if you don't express some clear, true rage at the deep injustices of your Country you will one day cease to be allowed to do so. This is advice The New York Times would do well to heed. And I'm sure they would, if only everything weren't so... normal. Normal, normal, normal, normal, too late.
But for all my begging off, there comes a time when I see I am, alas, made of the same sort of stuff as everyone else. While there are big crazy people out in the world ruining many lives, down here at the library I work with my share of little versions of the same, the little crazy people who maybe just ruin an hour or 15 minutes of your or my life. These people might lazily misshelve a book so you can't find it. They might tell you to call someone else to solve a problem they could and should take care of in five seconds, causing me to have to do it instead, later and extending the length and complexity of your chore. They might mysteriously turn your five minute library card registration into a 15 minute process. They might just tell you the wrong information because it never occurs to them that getting it right might be important. I know the people who do these things, or most of them. And I am ever shocked and horrified when I come upon the evidence of their disturbed actions.
But I also have to work with these people. I don't have the power to fire them. I'm no good at being personally mad at people all the time. And so as soon as they're doing some simple thing normally, like changing a bin, putting a book on a cart, telling a patron where the bathroom is, or saying hi to me, I set all the madness and incompetence aside. In a short time I even start to question my extremely low regard for them. There are too many incidents of rotten behavior to remember any particular ones clearly, but not enough for there to always be one that just happened. So maybe I'm overstating their incompetence. Surely a person who walks around speaking and looking fairly normally couldn't peel off the last tape from a roll and just... leave the cob empty, or lie to a patron they're supposed to help. Surely I made too much of it all. Everything is just so... normal.
And then I am working on the automated check in machine while one of these colleagues is 20 feet away on the phone. My lovely wife calls. I sure would like to talk to my wife! She asks for me! My co-worker says "He's on automation right now. Can I take a message?"
My wife, well acquainted with the spatial and work dynamics of the backroom is appropriately confused, and she says so.
My co-worker relents. She puts my wife on hold and travels the six feet necessary to not have to raise her voice, and tells me I have a call.
The same mad things happening in the big politic happen down in the little one. I'm sure 40 percent of my co-workers think this particular terrible co-worker is perfectly fine. And who among us would countenance impeaching her? Everything is fine here. Everything is fine here. Everything is fine here. And so I submit my report to you. I'm the fucking New York Times.
Friday, October 11, 2019
The President of China is a terrible person. But I don't say that Xi Jinping is a terrible person because of the swaths of murder, repression, tyranny, and assorted terrifying crimes against humanity he has committed. Although these things help it along. I'm just saying that any big time leader of a big country has gotten their hands, er, dirty, or, um, swamped in blood, and I'm not here mainly to talk about that.
I'm here to talk about Pooh,
as in Winnie the.
Xi Jinping, the President of China has repeatedly been compared to Winnie the Pooh.
And he doesn't like it. He doesn't like it so much that he has more or less banned Winnie the Pooh in China.
So far I have remained temperate in my comments here. I'm not saying it has been easy, but I am a reasonably judicious man. I can discuss most things, even ones I feel wildly passionate about, like injustice, with at least some element of coolness. But seriously, what kind of total monster would be embarrassed to be compared to Winnie the Pooh. I am so moved that I must speak to Xi Jinping directly. He's probably here, so:
You should be so lucky in your life to be half the bear that is Winnie the Pooh! Who the hell do you want to be? Rabbit? Cause you remind me a little of Rabbit. If you were a composer and you were compared to Mozart, would you ban music? If you were a soccer player compared to Messi would you ban soccer? If you were compared to the greatest blogger in the world would you ban Clerkmanifesto?
Yes you would. Because you're a monster. A MONSTER!
I sentence you to...
Winnie the Pooh. And House at Pooh Corner. Try them out, oh tyrant. Let their wild sweetness soften that wee heart of yours a little. Then read them again. They're really good, aren't they? And Pooh is wonderful.
I like Piglet too.
And then the next time you get compared to Pooh maybe just chuckle that distinctive chuckle you have, enjoy a pot of honey, and then perhaps forgo having some dissidents brutally beaten and incarcerated.
It would be a start.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Dear Library Patrons,
As you know, our most popular program is Read It Down wherein one can bring in a child (or yourself, if you happen to be a child), and said child can read at the library to earn credit against library fines. We operate at an exchange rate of one dollar per 15 minutes reading, which is chintzy, but nevertheless can add up if your kid really gets into something juicy. Show 'em the Dahls. This program, as you know, is very popular. And Read It Down skirts child labor laws too, we think, somehow. We're not sure exactly how but are hoping it has something to do with reading being good. Look at you, reading right now! Don't you feel healthy?
But the one complaint patrons like you have with our Read It Down Program is the same complaint pretty much everyone has about everything:
"What about me?"
Yes indeed, what about your Read It Down?
Well it's coming, albeit with a few changes. For adults only, it just so happens that early this November we are having a blood drive! And while the occasional library patron might donate blood out of the goodness of their heart, we thought to ourselves "What about a little reward?" That is why, this coming blood drive, every pint of donated blood will be worth $5 towards your fines. That's right, $5!
We're calling it: Bleed It Down.
So come on down in November and absolve your sins (well, library sins) with blood (well, yes, blood).
So looking forward to your visit,
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
So there I was with an idle half hour on a computer and I turned to YouTube: "Florence, Italy in 4K Ultra HD". Oooooooooohhh, pretty!
As you may have heard my wife and I will soon be going to Florence. So I spend a fair amount of Internet time investigating the few small available details on the Internet concerning this obscure travel destination. But in this case we're talking about a video that was pure indulgence and fluff; gorgeous footage of Florence, often from unique angles, shot extremely well with good equipment, and utilizing professional-level viewpoints and techniques. It was set to pleasant, unobtrusive classical music. There was nothing not to like about it, or so clearly was the opinion of 3,900 people making the herculean effort of giving it a thumbs up.
I gave it a thumbs up too!
And then I looked over. There were 70 thumbs down.
Who are these people?
Look, I understand having an opinion. I have one! I have a billion opinions, and they're all very passionate! And I also understand not everyone is interested in what I'm interested in. Maybe people don't like Florence. But if someone didn't like Florence what would possess them to seek out lush 4K Ultra HD videos of it on the Internet so that they could downvote it? And yet this was hardly unique. Every great video I have ever seen on Youtube, with their tens of thousands of reviews and relentless plaudits, whether extraordinary music or helpful theater, has its attendant tiny sprinkling of mysterious downvoters.
What a hobby! To think there are people out there right now thinking "Hmm, what else don't I like on the Internet that I can look up and downvote?" What if they run out of things they don't like and have to look at things they like? They might be like a mirror image of myself, opining "There's so little crap on the Internet, but maybe if I keep looking there will be a new horribly competent video of hated Florence. Ah, yes! Thank God! Downvote!"
Maybe one day one of these mysterious and negative hobbyists will find their way here, to clerkmanifesto.
"Welcome" I will say. "I am so happy to see you. Unfortunately there is no voting here of any kind because this tiny part of the Internet is a Monarchy. Nevertheless, I have registered your disapproval."
I'm here to help.
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
At the library I work at we get a lot of book donations. They are piled up in something awfully close to a heap, near a dark, windowless room where they are sorted and sold by The Friends of the Library, a semi-autonomous group working allegedly to our benefit. While value is regularly extracted from these books it tends to be in volume, a dollar or two at a time. It turns out one doesn't have to be a brilliant business person to make a go of a business where one's staff is free, one's stock is free, and one's well-trafficked retail space is also free.
In all my years of watching such a variety of books come through I have learned that when people talk about "rare" books they really mean "rare" in all the richness and exclusivity of the word. I have looked into the value of donations, both idly and officially, and when it comes to the value of books, well, they aren't. And if a stray book looks like it might be super valuable there invariably tends to be a mitigating issue, like condition, or some nuanced thing that qualifies its rarity. Rare is a word with actual meaning here, and it doesn't mean one in a hundred. It means one is as likely to come across a nice signed first edition of, say, The Big Sleep as one is likely to come across a small briefcase of gold coins. This is exactly why both are worth $25,000 or so.
Although I suppose one would have an easier time selling the gold coins.
But all this doesn't mean the books we get aren't interesting. They are. They are packed with historical and cultural information. They're sometimes strange and fun to look at. They make one think about things. Awhile ago we got a guidebook to Los Angeles from about 1910. I didn't even know such a thing as traveling for fun to L.A. would be relevant in that time frame, and yet it looked interesting enough, albeit provincial, even if there weren't any Getty museums or movie star houses to visit yet. I was alarmingly struck too by how the increasingly ancient time of that guidebook is actually closer (barely) to the time of my birth in that city than it is to the present time.
A book I came across yesterday was the mundane guide How to Build Modern Furniture. Since the book was 70 or 80 years old it cast the up-to-date appellation of "modern" into a dubious, slightly comical light. Everything from tools to available materials to changed tastes casts such a book into so extreme a niche that, coupled with it's mediocre quality, modest initial success, and faded musty looks, it may have now something close to zero prospective readers. Similarly one might find travelling to Los Angeles with that 109 year old guidebook could present some insurmountable challenges. These, and their smell, easily explains their ultimate dollar price tags, as rare in their own right as they might be.
The most recent book I looked at among the donations was one heralding the best political cartoons of the year. The year was sometime around 1990. Yes, I was around then and politically aware. Yes, I remember Dick Gephardt. But that doesn't mean I "got" even a quarter of those cartoons.
And that says it all to me: History is not that different from the present. Some of it is of incalculable value, but most of it it is mere idle curiosity, with no more value than what we can give to it with what will and heart we have.
Monday, October 7, 2019
A few days ago in this space I'm afraid I got a little over-excited about our Diverse Books Showcase.
In my enthusiasm for it I didn't conduct the research and due investigation of facts that is the usual standard of Clerkmanifesto. It turns out that The Diverse Books Showcase did not feature diverse books at all. The books it featured were all the usual, boring, rectangle shaped things, printed on paper that was bound between some kind of typical cardboard covers, and all generally full of words, words, words.
In short, it could have been called "The Uniform Books Showcase".
I was thinking some of these "diverse" books were going to be made out of butter toffee, or that some could only be read underwater. But no. That's not what they meant by "diverse". They meant something entirely else by "diverse"!
And so when I erroneously encouraged thousands and thousands of readers across the Internet to come to my library to check out these exotic and fascinatingly unusual books, people came and were instead faced with entirely regular books of and about different cultures, ethnicities, and orientations.
What on earth does that have to do with diversity?
I sincerely, deeply apologize for any inconvenience my error caused anyone.
It wasn't my fault.
Sunday, October 6, 2019
For the first two-thirds of my career in library work the librarians' job was way better than mine. And like all people in a hierarchical system, these librarians weren't particularly gracious about it. Because of this I mildly resented them. But for the last third of my career here not only do I find there is not much to choose between our respective jobs, but parts of our jobs are so overlapped that, functionally, I am a librarian much of the time.
So I have mellowed regarding them, though I still like to make a bit of fun of them in this space when I can, for old times sake.
And so we come to today. Being busy with shelving and a variety of things I was much back and forth across our main reference desk upstairs. Every time I passed a sad looking librarian was sitting there with nothing to do. Nobody needed their help. No one was asking for assistance.
"Internet stole your job?" I wanted to ask. But I didn't.
I felt too sorry for them.
Saturday, October 5, 2019
A few of my recent posts have suggested I'm quite helpful in my job at the library. And maybe I am. I mean, it's now all written on the Internet. If you can't believe stuff on the Internet what can you believe?
Nevertheless there are a lot of different ways of looking at things. Compared to most of my co-workers I am extremely helpful to the public, but every once in awhile I'll see one of my co-workers doing something for a patron and I'll almost be shocked. "Oh my god!" I'll think "I wouldn't do that for someone in a million years!" And we're not talking about things like loaning money, or cleaning someone's ears for them either. Today I saw that one of my colleagues had gone to the far back staff area, gotten our 20 pound paper cutter, brought it out, and was personally helping some patron lady to cut crap up into little pieces.
I don't really care how nice someone wants to be to any patron, go for it. What I worry about is precedence. And doing something like bringing out a giant, sword-like paper cutter for a patron is far far far too dangerous!
No, not because the patron could hurt themself, though I guess that's maybe a concern. But no, it's something far more dangerous than that. It's possibly the most dangerous thing that could happen to a person working out at the front desk of a public library:
They could make a friend.
Friday, October 4, 2019
I am super excited about my library's diverse books showcase. I think diversity is so important and I'm so pleased that the library system I work for has been obsessively nattering on about the value of diversity. I'm all for it! More diversity! Let's celebrate diversity. I haven't had a chance to get over to this new diverse books showcase, but I'm already imagining all the wonderful things I'll see there:
Round books that bounce!
Books printed on chocolate!
Heavy exercise books you have to wrestle with to read!
Books printed on sheets of flower petals!
Books that only show up under ultra-violet light!
Books written in smells!
Books that purr and walk around!
Books designed to disintegrate after one reading!
Collapsible books you can put in a tiny pocket!
Books you have to write part of yourself!
Secret books you have to put on a turntable and spin to read!
Books filled with helium that float in the air and make your voice funny when you read them aloud!
Sometimes I'm just so proud of my library!
Come check it out, the diverse books showcase.
Thursday, October 3, 2019
The manager I go to at my library for issues of time off, whether for sickness, vacation, or hour adjusting complications that are far too technical for this space, is quite nice about it. I could rather go on for a bit about the evils of management, and how it's none of her business anyway, and how of course she should be nice about it, but this isn't that kind of post. I just appreciate how she is. It's one of her good qualities.
But though I would not change it, I recognize a perhaps unavoidable downside to this graciousness.
Yesterday, while at the front desk, this manager walked by my desk partner and asked her something something something cold something sinuses, and my ears perked up. It turned out that my front desk partner, working in closer than I like proximity to me, was walking around with a communicable disease!
I catch communicable diseases!
I hate communicable diseases!
So now these two have my full attention, and my manager is asking after my desk partner's health, which it turns out is not great. They go on for awhile in a non entertaining way about congestion. And then, finally, in parting, my manager thanks her for coming in anyway.
No, no, no, no, no!
Don't thank the person with a communicable disease for coming in! Say, instead, "We will be confiscating your sick time to distribute to your co-workers who know how to use it."
But sure, say it nicely.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
One of our more complicated library patrons was in yesterday. I like him in the way one might like a dangerous, but not necessarily evil animal, admiring their energy and uniqueness. This is a person renowned throughout the State for his interest in... policy, for his monumental persistence and willingness to take things all the way, and for his surfer-like obsession in riding the waves and edges of what is allowed.
I do for him whatever he wants as long as it is not an egregious violation of rules- one that would have unfair repercussions on other library patrons. But he never really wants egregious violations of rules. What he is generally looking for is
a. the enforcement of pointless, contradictory and/or indefensible policies.
b. the enforcement of policies that aren't actually explicit policies.
c. specious refusals.
I'm okay with this.
But he has a lot of special requests, so I was busy with him for awhile.
Seeing as I was at the front desk with one of my younger colleagues, and not one entirely averse to guidance, I decided to explain and instruct.
"You know Mr. X." I said, referring to the notorious patron. "I find it easier to just give him anything he wants, as long as it's not egregious or unfair."
She nodded knowingly and then I went in for the lesson/punchline:
"Just like I do for anyone."
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Today is both the sweetest and saddest day of the year. It is 84 degrees out, but an uneasy 84 degrees, like it knows it's all collapsing and will be 53 degrees tomorrow, like it knows that it will be at least 200 days before it is this warm again. And that helps make today the sweetest and saddest day of the year here, but it isn't it, quite.
The sweetest and saddest day of the year has no special name, and it regularly goes unmarked. Yes, this year it is gray and warm, but another time it could be cold and clear instead. It's not weather, exactly, or the length of the day, precisely. It is this:
I look out the high windows of the library, of our apartment, I walk along the river. It is a city of trees. The leaves have begun to change color. Their canopies of green are riddled through with aging yellows, with gold. Rust has swept into whole trees already. But, and here it is, nothing has fallen. Every tree holds every leaf. Seven hundred million leaves in the Cities, all there, all here, until tomorrow, when they fall,
and fall and fall and fall and Fall.
Monday, September 30, 2019
I recently commented on the retirement of one of my more challenging librarian colleagues. But one thing I neglected to mention was... she was Jewish. Like me. And not only that, she was the only other Jewish person left in my library system, and now I am alone.
I am the last Jew standing.
Today is the Jewish New Year. The year is 5780. I only, shockingly, found this out today. But don't worry. I'm all over it now. I am wishing "Happy New Year" like there is no tomorrow, which in this case, there isn't. I have a responsibility now. I am the last Jew. Actually what I say is "Shana tova." which means "A good year". It's an ice breaker because no one around here has any idea what I'm talking about when I speak Hebrew. This is because they are all goyim. "Goyim" means "Not Jewish" which may or may not be a derisive term depending on how you feel about people who are not Jewish. I'll let you mull that over and decide it on your own.
But do keep in mind a day of reckoning is coming in a week or two.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Well, my far left, radical socialist library is at it again. Surely you know that they use the garnished money of hard working Americans, compelled through property taxes, to fund a book-sharing system that probably violates copyright and almost certainly undercuts the profits and jobs of hard working publishing houses and movie studios. Just because someone buys a book somewhere doesn't mean anyone anywhere should be able to read it! It's the information a person is buying! It shouldn't be like, sell it once and then everyone can have it forever! How is that supposed to work?
Plus my library constantly encourages layabouts by providing shelter and entertainments. Maybe if we didn't have chairs and fancy things like that, these layabouts would go get some jobs and work for a living instead of enjoying cozy inside leisure all day on the county dime.
But, oh, it gets so much worse. Now we're indoctrinating people into the library's radical leftist political agenda. Just yesterday we had an Antifa event, right here in the library! Sponsored by the library! Now I'm not saying I support Fascists. I think there are a lot of problems with Fascists, but it goes a little far when the library not only takes a political stand like this, but hosts a radical anti-fascist, ANTIFA event. It was all featuring this radical man who not only advocated for, but actually dropped bombs on Fascists.
Let me repeat that: The library, my library, hosted an event lionizing a man who not just advocated for violence, but actually committed repeated violent ANTIFA attacks on a Right Wing group. He dropped bombs on them! Whatever your politics are, surely none of us want to countenance this terrifying radicalism!
Fortunately this was a movie and so none of us were in danger from this man. Apparently he even went to jail for his acts in Germany quite a while ago. A couple of years ago, after the movie was made by his niece, he died of old age, and I for one feel safer to be honest, not that I'm a Fascist or anything. But holding this guy up as some kind of hero seems particularly inappropriate for a neutral space such as a library, and the fact that his attacks happened some 75 years ago hardly makes them the sort of thing we should be excusing, let alone holding up as some kind of positive, especially in this divisive day and age.
Despite how all this may sound to you, you will find no bigger advocate for the traditional library than myself, as Ben Franklin envisioned them, with membership fees and for the main purpose of rigorous study and self-development. And I am also for the full discussion of ideas, but even if violent leftist radicalism is not beyond the pale, which perhaps it should be, the library should remain neutral in this discourse, letting ideas do the talking. It should above all refrain from taking a side, whether that be for or against a President, in favor of some ideology, or in picking a country to claim as wrong or right in The Second World War.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Lately, more and more often, when I am on the automated check in machine in the early evening I empty all the bins that go to other branches. This is something required of the last person on the machine for the evening, and it is generally considered to be an annoying task. This is not something the second to last person tends to do, a truth I well know from regularly being the last person on the machine for many, many years.
Do I do this out of the kindness of my heart?
Eh, maybe. But mostly I think of it as a quiet way to call all the people who never did it for me assholes.
Friday, September 27, 2019
I have seen my share of thorn-in-the-side co-workers retired off. The one who is riding into the sunset this week has been a colleague of mine for every moment of my time here. She has been a low level burden on my workload all along, though the way that burden manifested has changed over the years, almost as if the being burdensome was the point, and whatever path there was to it merely a matter of circumstance. From the relentless family phone calls and urgent messages of the early years to the constant inability to do her job and the attendant requests for help of the later years, I have always been grudgingly helpful to her at best, and she has generally been thankful and apologetic towards me.
In these later years she has physically fallen apart. True to form this has created burdens on everyone around her. She has eschewed things that would allow her to do her job, like a wheelchair or adjusted hours, insisting on a strange, martyr-like pretense that everything is okay. Eventually some things have been forced on her, like the above mentioned adjusted hours (so she doesn't keep all her co-workers an extra 20 minutes after the close of the library), but some she resisted right up until, somehow, she was forced to retire.
I see her farewell card on the table of the staff breakroom. Retirements are unsettlingly often like funerals. And like at funerals people only want to bring out the positive memories.
I don't have any in particular.
And the notes of thanks I read on the card all seem strangely strained. The official intranet announcement of her retirement started:
"It is with mixed feelings I announce the retirement of..."
It was swiftly changed, but it says a lot.
Every time I look at her card all I can think to write is the wholly inappropriate:
"Thank you for letting us all help you so much all these years."
I still have yet to sign it.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
I was helping a very frequent patron at the front desk of the library. She comes by roughly three times a week, and has done so for about 10 or 15 years. As I was getting a book for her a man I've never seen here before walked by and spotted her. "Oh my god, I didn't know you came here!" exclaimed the man I had never seen. He asked what she was up to (picking up a book on running), and if she was going to be at the thing on Thursday (yes, she was planning on it). Then he said (again) "I didn't know you came here. Are you at this library often?"
To which the woman, who, by any conservative estimate, I have seen at this library way over a thousand times, said "Only every very rare once in awhile. And you?" She asked.
To which the man I have never seen here before in my life replied "I'm here constantly." Then he added sadly "They're probably sick of me!"
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
I was puttering about on the Internet and I saw an article about how the desire to be popular on the Internet is killing people's creativity. I didn't read it. I'm on the Internet a fair bit, being something of an ad hoc Internet reporter, and I figured:
If I am seeing this article prominently featured on the Internet it is popular.
If it is on the Internet, popular, and an article, it was designed to be popular.
And, by the author's own title, as it was trying to be popular, it was a creativity killer.
I don't read the work of murderers!
Do my attempts to be popular on the Internet inhibit my creativity?
No, my attempts to be creative seem to inhibit my popularity.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
I have had people bring me items at the front desk to check out for them under the guise of protecting my job. "I know I can use the self checkout," They say, "But I don't want you all to lose your jobs to a bunch of machines."
That's okay. I don't mind losing my job to a machine. I'm very self-entertaining. I just want the pay from the job. The job I can live without.
Did you know that besides automating check out, and a great deal of check in for that matter as well, my paycheck is largely automated? What say we automate more, not less? More automated check in, more automated check out, and most of all a more automated paycheck. Hell, let's automate everything. We can hook our automated check out machines right up to our automated check in machines and just keep 'em going. The stats on that stuff ought to light up the County Commissioners. "Wow! This library is circulating millions of items every week! Fund the hell out of them!"
It would all be so reliable we could go ahead and just automate the County Commissioners.