The Clerking Manifesto
Where I work you are called “Patrons”. Around the world you are variously known as
“Customers”, “Clients”, “Guests”, and even “Visitors”. Indeed many names for you are spoken, but never your true and secret name. You are “Suspects”. You are wild animals. You are capable of any of a thousand petty crimes and must be watched with caution. You have probably already done something wrong. I can choose to forgive you, be beneficent, reward you, or I can punish you. I am a clerk.
Ha! You think I am cruel. Is a Judge cruel who gives 7 years to one person and probation to another for the same crime? Is Santa cruel? Well, maybe, but not the right, twinkly sort of Santa, not a good Judge. Yes, a clerk can be cruel, but not a good clerk. A good clerk is an instrument of justice, the edge of the blade, instant karma. You may just want to check out a DVD from the Library I work at. You may not want Judgement. I don’t blame you. The world is a hard place. I myself would rather surf the internet, stretch, get this filing done, think my own thoughts, but I can’t. I have to help you. It’s my job. I’m a clerk.
Or perhaps you think me mad with my talk of rewards and punishments. Who am I with my lack of ambition, my all too modestly paying job, and my nearly geologic layers of hierarchy ascending almost entirely over me? I do not make the rules, my authority is small, and I have to obey a thousand little laws. And if I am not talking about putting invented fines on your record nor slipping you a five from the drawer, and I am not talking about that at all, if I can’t refuse you a card you are entitled to nor take you ahead of your turn in line, what could I possibly have? I have clerking. I have the rules that are barely or loosely enforced because they sound good but are unreasonable in most actual circumstances. I can shut you down with one of those. I have the industrialization of service to work with. You check out here, but update your address there, pay your fines there, and see if a book is in or find out the answer to your question way the hell over there. I have two or three speeds, all perfectly legitimate. I have clearing up the problem here or letting it go to its assigned place and to a person I know is not very pleasant to deal with. Did I detect a sliver of impatience with me, am I pulling 17 DVDs off the shelf for you, did you just say something mean to your small child, were you ever so slightly rude or presumptuous or obtuse to me, are you on a cell phone? Well, you need to update your address over there and I am sorry, but I can’t check out to you without a current address. Did you say something friendly, smile patiently, have your card ready, really just behave yourself? I’ll update your address here, and you wanted to know the state song of Nebraska? Well, let’s look it up. I’ll turn my screen so you can see.
Did you spend 15 minutes and two dollars in three lines to get 4 books for your kid’s assignment checked out or did it take one minute because of a couple of very small, kind favors you did not ask for? If the former, and if I did my job right, and if you haven’t completely lost it (believe me, not at all guaranteed), you will think I more or less did my best for you but was constrained by an annoying bureaucracy (it is, but often not the way you think), all while some deeper, more developed part of your brain suspects that you threw yourself on the rocks. If the latter happened to you, and you stop to think about it, you will understand you met a good clerk, which happens to you from time to time because there are still a few of us out there. And you’re alright yourself.