Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's with all these books?

Sometimes, like now, I just can't find anything to read. Or, I can find tons of things to read, everything at the library ends up sort of interesting to me sometimes, everything. I just can't find anything that seems that great once I'm reading it. I am not a "Too many books, too little time!" person. I am more a "Where are all the great books person."  At least I am sometimes. And one of the things that completely confounds me is that I am surrounded by an astonishingly rarefied collection of writing. Millions and millions of people are writing books. It is even a bit of a cliche how difficult it is to get published. So this tiny, unprocessably tiny group of superstars/publishing lottery winners actually makes it into print after other people stake their livelihoods on thinking it is of sufficient merit and conceivable popularity. Of these books the great majority are almost instantly forgotten or lost in the shuffle. But some smaller amount are of enough notoriety and buzz to get reviewed. Some of these books get bad reviews, some pretty good reviews and some, very few, get glowing reviews. These are the books I am constantly running across at the library, stashing away, taking to the break room, carting in mammoth bags to my home, books that get "A"s in every magazine, semi-rare publishers' weekly starred reviews, best books, New York Times Bestsellers, pick of the months etc. I am often amazed at how I'll just completely miss the book when even the angels are singing its praises and am now only finding it 4 years later, when it sits forgotten and rarely checked out on our shelves. Either way, I read the first 5 or 10 or 40 pages. It's pretty good. I put it down. I go on to other things. I find it in my chest of library books many, many weeks later. " I guess I better return it."  I think, without even a touch of remorse.

Is this sour grapes? Is it an argument that our whole grand human ability to make art is overrated? I don't think so. I think some of it is just mood. Lately I keep hearing music I like, but the books aren't working out. Mostly what I'm thinking is that maybe this whole filtering system isn't all its cracked up to be. The hype isn't necessarily wrong, or a lie, it's just that stuff is everywhere, people are wildly different, and the magic of art shows up in crazy places, is ungovernable, combusts in a moment of alchemical magic. It might be under a bridge or long since weeded from most libraries across the country. It might be an ink drawing on a coffee shop bathroom wall. It might be handwritten in a notebook by someone's bed or it might be a group of songs a friend plays for you in your living room. Are these things the greatest things ever? Are they Bernini, Bob Dylan, Jane Austen? Eh, why not, depends on where you are and how you're feeling.

Sort of One of Them Shaggy Dog in Non Fiction Stories

I am very leery of bringing this blog down with too many complaining posts. I am trying to keep that balance of analysis and comedy, folly and wonder, against my deep down clerk predilection for joyless criticism and raw despair. So it is only with great trepidation that I bring this short tale to you from my recent sojourn in the non fiction section.

There I am, merrily shelving along, composing super fun and happy little blog posts in my head when I come across Careers for Perfectionists and Other Meticulous Types by Blythe Camenson YA 331.702 C18C 2007 just strewn onto a shelf in the 500s. This is not a book that was pulled out of the stacks, looked at, and reasonably set down in a near location to its proper order. No, this book is sitting there crookedly, rows away from its Dewey Decimal location. I must set my cart very carefully aside and out of the way in order to head all the way back to the 300s. There, where Careers for Perfectionists and Other Meticulous Types by Blythe Camenson YA 331.702 C18C belongs, two other books sit, out of order! These must be put in order and, really, the whole shelf these are all on is just sloppy. It is not out of order anymore, but books are pushed back and not lined up at all with the front edge of the shelf as they should be. Not only must I fix that, but this shelf is also packed full while the one below it is less than half full! After shifting some of the end books from shelf one to the start of shelf two I can finally head back to the shelving I was working on. Unbelievably though, when I get back to my cart I find that it has been moved! Not a lot, just an inch or two, but I left the perfect amount of passage. There was absolutely no reason to move my cart at all!

I eye a patron down the row who looks extremely suspicious. This maybe causes them to set down the book they are reading, rather furtively I think, and move quickly on. I straighten my cart carefully and head down to collect the book Stop being your symptoms and start being yourself : the 6-week mind-body program to ease your chronic symptoms by Arthur J. Barsky and Emily C. Deans. It's a 600s book! I am telling you, it is too much. Sometimes it is just too much!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Local Arts Review: New Graffiti Under Bridge at End of Greenway by the River

This is a review of the new graffiti work that was done sometime during the last couple of weeks. I call it "Hangman" as it is mainly a large, purple paint depiction of a hangman game. It is located by the river under the Greenway bridge. I don't know how long this installation will be up, but as it is in a street level, highly accessible place, I expect the city should manage to obliterate it pretty soon, so if you're interested you'll want to go see it right away.

What I liked about this piece:

One crucial element that "wild" graffiti (as opposed to "sanctioned" graffiti) has is that it is in conversation with danger. Fundamentally it is the danger of being caught that underlies this kind of artwork. A graffiti piece can express this danger in a variety of ways; the extreme physical peril of it's location, the sense of complexity in a piece and thus the implication that the artist must work extraordinarily fast and still stand exposed for a long time, and finally the extreme exposure of painting art in a highly visible and observed (and obviously illegal) location. Anonymous' (anonymous to me!) piece, the purple "Hangman" is a witty play on these issues. While hidden under a bridge it is still in a very active and accessible location, and the implication that our insouciant artist(s?) sat down (so to speak) to a very public game of hangman implies that they give no thought to capture and prosecution, indeed that they are so calm in their peril that they are even bored. Rather that the elegant or ugly hurrying motif of graffiti, they instead find themselves killing time with a game of hangman.

What I didn't like about this piece:

While "Hangman" is a conceptual success, aesthetically it struggles. The purple paint is a nice bold choice and the artist seems to know how to use a spray can. There is even the suggestion of some worthy stylistic cartooning in the actual hangman himself (the 'guesser' appears to have lost this game) and in a side figure (one that has nothing to do with the hangman game and so somewhat dilutes its conceptual power). Unfortunately the whole piece comes off crooked, a bit scatter-shot, and ugly. This sloppy visual sense only fuels our dismissal of the piece and washes out a lot of its considerable narrative power. This piece need not be beautiful, but it is not served by ugliness, and being so near to some of the best graffiti in the cities only makes its weak sense of visual consciousness and wanting skill stand out more.

Should you go see this piece?:

It's worth a look if it's not gone already, but do so on your way to the more completely realized pieces that are nearby, notably "Pretty fly" and "Human power" under the Highway 94 bridge.

Teatime With Bob and Bunny!

Enjoy a special teatime interview with a retiring Carol and the half Swedish Gloria. Flags fly and Bob asks all the pertinent questions about Scandinavian Royal Unification. Scones are eaten and we briefly glimpse a crumpet.

More Tips For You! How to Argue Your Fine.

Who would read a Library Clerk blog for mere entertainment? I don't know. I think people are here to glean valuable insider information. That is why today I have more tips for you! Today's valuable insider tips are all about how to contest your library fine.

1. If your fine is tiny, just let it go and pay for it. Yes, you are right! Yes, it is the principle of the thing! But you can achieve a tiny greatness here for only ten cents.

2. If you're sure you have been fined unjustly (and your fine is not tiny), contest it! I don't want you paying us money that you don't owe us. We're just blowing your money on too many James Patterson books that'll be doorstops in a year anyway.

3. If you decide to refrain from contesting your fines, please also refrain from bitter martyrous muttering as you pay it. If you contest unsuccessfully you can mutter bitterly if you want to.

4. Be specific: "I returned that book the same day I returned 6 others I checked out at the same time." is great! "But I never return books late!" is profoundly unimpressive.

5. Be confident. If the choice is between you're pretty sure you returned those on time and our computer system's specific accounting of the time it came back being 3 days late I will go with our computer system, as it is more dispassionate about and uninvested in the whole thing.

6. If you get caught out as wrong, go like Bugs Meany and concede the fight. "I am positive I returned it in the afternoon on Thursday before Sasha's soccer practice." met with "Yes, but it was due on Tuesday and that's why there's a two dollar fine." should conclude the contestation.

7. Please refrain from irrelevant arguments and faulty reasoning arguments. "I didn't realize the book was under the seat of my car." is a sad anecdote, not a reason for fine removal. "If it was due on the 22nd and I returned it on the 24th I should only have to pay for one late day, the 23rd." is bizarrely compelling, but actually wrong in a way that is very hard to discuss.

8. You don't even have to be right! You are actually allowed to ask for mercy. "Wow, I just totally lost track of time! But $24 is a lot of money for me right now with my impending surgery. Is there anything you can do?" I am waiving half of your fine here for sure, god, maybe even more. But first I'm checking your payment history, so be forewarned this will only work once or twice.

9. Don't let the clerk blow you off. "You don't have to pay it now." should be met with "Yes, but I don't think I should owe this money and would like to resolve it now."

10. Invoke the manager. This can help clear up logjams with people who don't like to get the manager or it can get you to a manager who will usually waive at least some fines because they don't easily have anyone to pass you off to and have to get rid of you somehow eventually. Be forewarned though, more than half the time there will be no manager around and the clerk can happily dispense with you by helpfully presenting you with a business card, or even just a name.

You are now fully equipped to contest your fine. Good luck. Fight the good fight.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Twitter Lottery

Like anyone who eschews twitter I have been mystified by it. What could be of interest that is merely a sentence long? The answer, of course, is nothing. Wait, no, the key here is that the answer is not "Nothing". The answer is just incredibly close to "Nothing". Once you get into that lottery-like territory it all falls into place. Twitter is roughly like spending 7 seconds of your time on a one in 275,000 chance of enlightenment. Understood this way twitter becomes no different than all its relatives; lottery, channel surfing, slot machines, surfing the internet. One plops their nickels in, their 5 seconds of attention, their puny effort of a mouse click, and who knows, something extraordinary, something exciting, illuminating or visionary could, technically, happen. I mean, statistically it does, every 40,000 (or whatever) times you do it. Because we humans are so wretched at calculating the real meaning of astronomical odds we continue to persevere on the basis of our deranged hope. After all, it does pay off sometimes. You found this.


You know, blown up like this it doesn't look so much like dirt. Coffee, maybe? Still, I admire the creative effort, and it cleaned off easily.

Living the highlife on a very special day!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I always kind of liked this one, Hevel. So go, if you like theological business cartoons of 1994. If you don't I have some posts below that are more non-theological non-business and have no cartooning and furthermore can barely remember 1994. Kind of a win-win situation if you keep your standards for winning super reasonable.

Oh, and my link to Hevel up there will probably change as I post new cartoons, so don't panic if it is no longer April 27 and you get an old cartoon about teeth, or comets. April 27 cannot last forever alas.

A Bloggers Manifesto

It has been only a couple of months since I began my (largely unstated) quest to become the greatest blog on the internet. I have been hardworking and occasionally obsessive. I have posted at least once every single day. I have burned through years worth of meticulous essays on the art (circus? theater? banality?) of clerking. I have been (fairly) careful, and (pretty) structured in my approach. I have even marketed my blog, erratically. And now I come to this place.

What is this place? Not to get all personally revealing here, er, not to get a bunch more personally revealing here, I'll just say, in the normal scheme of things, this isn't the place where I'd exactly give up, but it's the place where I'd start to give up. But in thinking about this giving up some part of me is understanding there isn't really anything to give up on. I just sort of like this. I like cracking the code of my work life. I like thinking a lot about how these mundane days work and figuring out how to say it. I like making my work day more conscious and concentrated, and my breaks and lunch into frantic episodes of eating and typing and writing. I like hurling it all into the world, testifying to and expressing things on multiple levels. And you're welcome to it if you want it.

So instead of fading away, I think I'll become slightly broader and less measured here. I'll have less scheduled, morning posts and now just posts. If they come in clumps so be it. Short, long, loose, tight, pictures, anecdotes, trifles, irrelevancies, scrupulous analysis and oddball homemade TV shows. I'll be posting them and re posting them. I'm sure you'll sort it out. And so will I.

How a Clerk Copes, Your Guide, Part 1

Institutional Library work is truly not a bad gig if you can get it. But as one examines these library jobs, in a descending order of power, things do tend to coarsen a bit as one goes on. Down nearish the bottom, out among the proletarian clerks, one finds it can still be a good way of life, but a life also beset with both mundane and strange trials and tribulations. That is why any library clerk out there is going to need to at least dabble in coping mechanisms. Every clerk has one or two going, but a creative clerk with energy might run 9 or 10 different coping mechanisms at various times.

"Whoa," You might ask "What are these fascinating clerk coping mechanisms and where can I find out more about them?"

Well, I typed into Google "Clerk Coping Mechanisms" and did not find the results helpful. Perhaps some kind of a Library Blog explaining them would be useful. If only there were a library blog dedicated to clerks! But that's silly. Who would write a blog about library clerking? And where could you find it? I can't find it on Google. I looked. I think maybe Google is broken! I know that it is broken because there is such a blog and it is right here! Luckily you are already here, don't have to go searching hopelessly on the broken internet for such a thing, and, best of all, right here and now, I am going to introduce you to the exciting world of:

Clerk Coping Mechanisms!
(a new series because there are so many coping mechanisms!)

Our inaugural coping mechanism is: Supreme Self Confidence!

In this coping mechanism a clerk considers all that they do right and true. They are better than anyone else and they don't suffer fools gladly. They are the engine that drives the machine and others are mere auto-detailing, like pinstripes, or maybe, if you're lucky, leather seats. They will complain freely and enthusiastically about others, but don't really need your help with that. If you complain with them they give off the sense that you haven't fully earned that right as you are not, well, them, and you're just sort of lucky they are not at present complaining about you. 

Tools of the supreme self confidence coping mechanism:
1. Impatience.
2. Being really good at some parts of their job. Their ability to run with that bit of data is almost endless.
3. Energy, this takes a good deal of energy.
4. Ability to harden heart, a la Pharaoh.

What are the benefits of the supreme self confidence coping mechanism:
1. Most of us are already halfway to this one already, so there's a big head start on it.
2. Gives a delicious feeling of imperviousness. 
3. Makes the day go fast. Anger propels you forward like a rocket. 

Downfalls of leaning too heavily on the supreme self confidence coping mechanism:
1. Your co-workers can, conceivably, start to fear and loathe you.
2. You develop a strong tendency to get in trouble with your bosses, as you don't bother to hide your goofing off since you believe too firmly in its rightness and justification.
3. Megalomania, promotion, unceasing rage.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Waiting For You to Find Your Library Card

I have just done some rough math to determine that I have spent in my career 270 hours waiting for you (the general you, you in particular are faultless) to dig out your library card, a little more than 11 unsleeping and continuous days all at once. Fortunately I haven't had to do it all at once, but have managed to break it up into little 5 to 100 second pieces scattered carefully across 20 years. This breaking up the waiting is the key, as the smaller the pieces are the easier they are to digest.

Now here is my advice and whatnot to you:

I know it can be pretty anxiety inducing to be looking for that card with the time pressure and everyone waiting and everything, but I am totally cool with it. I am a professional. I have to be sitting here anyway. Just relax and breathe. You have 30 seconds.

Wait, don't panic. 30 seconds is, first of all, a surprisingly long time. And it's not like you're in trouble if you can't find your card in 30 seconds. You'll just need to switch gears. It is hard, but you can do it and I will be here to help. I will be helping and indicating the end of the 30 seconds by saying "I can use your license to check you out." Yes it is brutal and wrenching to give up that search, but it must be done. You are strong enough. Hand me your license.

Question time!:

Can you keep looking for your card while I am transacting business with your license?

 Yes, if you aren't too distracted. Be careful. It's a fine line easily crossed.

Can you share your delight with me when you find your card?

You won't be able to resist. But, yes, it is a triumph and I rejoice with you.

Should you ask if I need your card now that you found it?

No! Big faux pas. Let's just be quietly happy together. And maybe move your card to just a little bit better place.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Question and Answer Time

We get a lot of mail here at clerk manifesto so I thought I'd take the time to answer a few of the questions from it all here. You can just leave a question in the comments section below here (I think you'll have to click the unpromising "no comments" thing ) and surely I'll answer it, but I will do my best to field your emailed and snail mailed questions as well, when I can, like now!

RC of Fort Wayne asks:
What times are libraries open until?
We answer:
4, 5, 5:30, 6, 7, 8, 8:30, 9, 9:30, and 10 depending on the library and where it is. If I've missed any closing times let me know and I'll add it in. (Thanks Jeremy of Sheboygan for "9:30").

PL of Owen's Creek (?), Georgia asks:
Why is everybody so cranky at the desk of my local library?
We answer:
It's not you. They just think books could somehow be better than they are, and it weighs on them. Slip them a copy of the now obscure King of the Schnorrers By Israel Zangwill and see if it perks them up.

RK of Fanghorn, Kentucky asks:
Can you waive my fines?
We answer:
You bet! It is one of my clerk superhero talents- use it too much and it's cheapened, use it too little and it's a waste of a magnificent gift. Come on by and we'll roll the die, so to speak.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Busman's Holiday: Or My Scattershot Review of Some Other Clerk's Library: St. Anthony Park, St. Paul

From time to time, traveling about the world, I will review other libraries. What fun! On the downside I'm not going to be thorough and in depth. It'll be more of a what-I-happen-to-encounter, tip-of-the-iceberg review, so, perhaps, not fully representative. On the plus side hardly anyone reviews libraries, it's all restaurants, movies, and electronics, so this is better than nothing. Also, I'm knowledgeable, having decades of seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak. And sausage is the correct analogy because written knowledge and entertainment is like various unsavory and savory parts of the imagination run through a meat grinder, fillers and herbs are added, and it is then encased in book covers.

Okay, onto the review! 

The St. Anthony Park Library in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is a beautiful, small to almost medium sized Carnegie Library in one of the most charming parts of St. Paul. Long ago I lived near here and have great affection for this library, so I am stunned to find myself giving this library a "D"! A "D", and I'm not even being harsh. It failed virtually every random test I wandered into and it was only its charm and ambiance, and the simple fact that it was open (a surprisingly important measure for library quality), that kept it from getting an "F". How could this beautiful, genteel library possibly do so badly? Let me count the ways.

1. The St. Anthony Park Library has a very pretty double staircase up to the front entrance. Unfortunately the staircase was closed, with a sign on it instructing me to use the side basement entrance. This nice staircase was closed apparently because there was snow on the stairs. Hmm, if only there were some way to remove snow from stairs, like with a bulldozer, or a spoon, or a hairdryer.


Version of me that is actually more snarky than I am to Librarian:
"Do you have any books on shoveling snow off of stairs?"
Librarian: "No, we don't, as the skill is considered too basic to require texts of instruction."

2. The heavy on the nooks quality of the library was just fine, but seemed to cause them to break up their collection into too many pieces. I'm focusing here a bit on the separation of hardcover and paperback, as in one section for mystery paperbacks and one for mystery hardcovers. I find this silly. How often do people come to the library thinking "I want a mystery, not sure what, so long as it's paperback."  It is my contention that people far far more commonly look for a book they might want in the library, and if there are two or more copies, paperback or hardcover, they choose whichever one seems least filthy.

3. I became briefly involved in a search for Agatha Christie books. I know from personal and professional experience that Agatha Christie mysteries have been unceasingly popular since they were written. St. Anthony Park had zero Agatha Christie books (hardcover or paperback, you have to look twice!). I know this is a much smaller library than my own, but still. Today at work I counted the number of Agatha Christie books on our shelf. There were 131 and they looked a bit fewer than normal.

4. This may be or may not be their fault in any way, but, I couldn't find anything I wanted to check out, and I poked around for a good while.

5. Observed this: Patron went to nice big open comfy counter where it looked quite like you would go to get help. Staff, seated back and sideways from the counter took a fair bit of time to acknowledge patron. When she did she said she would help person at third location, where the two of them then convened.

6. Observed this (continued): Same patron did not have their card with them, but was registered in their system and wanted to check out 3 items. They had a picture I.D. They were told emphatically that they could not check out without their card. All the other stuff we discussed here is a bit of fun and games and may or may not be so bad, but this is so wildly in the familiar but horrifying "This would be a great library if only the patrons weren't always coming around" camp that it makes my little clerk brain reel. I promise you there is no good reason for a policy like this and if your Library Board, Library Director, and or Branch Manager has settled on such a policy your number one job as a clerk is to subvert and ridicule that policy at every opportunity. Hmm, maybe I'm being too hard on them though. Typing one of these modern, hyphenated names into your database search can be brutal. Maybe we can compromise and they can look people up by name as long as their name has 11 or fewer characters in it, and they don't mind doing a bit of shoveling.
After all, I know how busy staff at a library can get, what with all the people.

edit, update: Sources have informed me there were actually 4 Agatha Christie novels available (not zero). I apologize for the error. On the other hand after shelving today in the Mystery section at my library I counted 154 (up from 131) Agatha Christie books. Not that it's a contest. Cause it isn't, and if I hear that the stairs were useable far patrons with crampons I will definitely be upping the grade here to "D+". Just let me know.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Tortoise and Hare Clerk, Station 3, Phones/Holds Processing

This is a running series of Tortoise and the Hare comparisons of the different stations of my job. If you missed it see my introductory blogpost for more explanation here. But, briefly, it is a cross comparison of how these aspects of my job respectively suit the slow and steady worker and the volatile sprinter/loafer worker.

Station 3: Tortoise and the hare at the phones/holds processing:

I'll be sure to tell you more sometime about the fevered, but kept quiet, popularity of phones/holds processing (it even sounds super appealing! Well, it would if you only knew). This simple job, a solo one, wherein a clerk answers the thin smattering of phone calls that muscle their way through the automated answering system, and, mostly, processes bins full of books that are on hold for people so that they get a coded slip inside them, and alphabetized onto a cart, is undercut with such intense secrets and clerk strategies of working and not working that it's hard to analyze vis-a-vis the tortoise and the hare. It's like my crystal ball has gone all foggy. Something happens over in that little corner. Tortoises go fast and hares plug away. No one can ever really tell how much work anyone has done there but everyone thinks everyone else is doing too little. The reasonable clerk takes moderated advantage of the position and works to keep their complaining about others moderate as well. The unreasonable clerk deludes themselves that they don't take advantage of the position and complains immoderately about others.

What, you ask, does all of this express in our slow clerk, fast clerk, tortoise hare comparison? I think I would have to be able to sit over near that station, observing 6 or 7 different clerks over the course of 8 hours to know, because at this point I really don't know for sure. It's so hard to see. What I suspect is that all the tortoises and all the hares over there turn into something else, cats maybe. They could be fat cats, or sleepy cats, frisky cats or wise cats, but they are all, in the end, cats,  and so are outside the purview (yes) of this comparative discussion.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Seeing the Future! Live (not really) From the Service Desk

I can see the future! You might be all excited, thinking you'll be getting valuable stock tips or thrilling visions of space alien technology or reaffirmations of your need to keep crates of canned goods in your basement. But nope, it's nothing like that. It's just...more clerk stuff. What's that? You love clerk stuff? Well okay then!

Here's how I see the future. A patron comes to me at the front desk. There are intimations already; the off kilter angle at which they approach my desk, the way they don't really look at me, the way they only pause, as if to say they don't have time for any of this. Their question is "I have something on hold, where do I get it?" The answer to this question is actually very simple, but comes with 2 curious caveats; it takes longer to say than one might think, and you really have to pay attention to it to understand it. "Items are held alphabetically by the first 2 letters of your last name and the first letter of your first name." It's all those second, first, 2, last, first things. I try to convey this 3-letter filing system to people through my inflection of the words and the mixed pacing of the explanation. Usually it works, sometimes requiring a rhythmic reiteration. But it will not work with this person, with this lady who is about to trigger my vision of the future. Even as I begin to speak she is looking in the wrong direction. Before half the statement is out she is already wandering out of hearing range, has already allowed my answer to recede into a series of pointless buzzes and snaps. And there, right as she crosses that invisible line where I can no longer reach her, that is where I have my vision, my fully formed, completely accurate perception of the future, about 20 minutes worth of it.

I will list these elements as singular visionary facts, but the seeing is a little more like a movie that's shown at an illuminating, confident instant, in my head, before it plays out in its stately, unchangeable real time in the world.

1. As she fully leaves the range of my voice there will be a sudden rush at the front desk and a long line will quickly form up.
2. The woman will wander aimlessly among the thousands of requests, hoping to accidentally run into her title.
3. The woman will start a cell phone call while looking for her request.
4. After several minutes of aimless, random searching and cell phone chatting the woman will try to cut in line in a sort of confused distracted way that has no chance of succeeding.
5. The woman will find her way to the end of the line.
6. When the woman's turn comes I will be the available clerk, not my co-worker.
7. The woman will not be able to find her library card.
8. The woman will have charges on her account and "address correction" issues.
9. After resolving all the issues on her card I will run out and get her hold book. It will take 7 seconds.
10. While checking the book out to the woman she will ask where I found it. After I tell her where she will say, a bit thrown and a bit annoyed, "Huh, I looked there."
11. We will part amicably.

Why, you might ask, if I know all this will happen, don't I just chase her down as soon as I can and get her book?

There are several reasons for this, but I will leave you with just these two:

I believe visions of the future are rare, and only granted when it is impossible to change them, and
If, say, once every few weeks I could, briefly, but under my own power, fly, but only as fast as I could walk, I would surely choose to fly, for even if a power of the Gods might be useless, it would be disrespectful to reject it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The attic of my blog

I have decided to find some place on my blog to store old things that are being changed. For instance, I thought I would try changing my masthead today, but that it might be nice to keep my original one that has up to now been featured prominently on my blog for more than a year and a half. It's too late to save all my early "What's on the free food table at the library" entries, or so many of my sidebar changes, but I can live with that. The fact is that I would be fairly astonished to find any reader so avid or thoroughly exploring as to find this entry anyway. I am just a bit of a pack rat and so like the idea of a storage space.

That said I have had to take over a very old post. But it was merely informational and so suitable to just leave here as is. It is still entirely relevant.

I will do my best to label things.

Original Post:

I have rolled out another in my family of websites. You can see it on your right or go here. It is the Wiki Magenta stories, which, if you're interested, you could read a tiny bit about there, but mostly now it's the first of the short detective stories about a small blue haired girl. Since I'm talking about this I will mention that you can also link to my cartoons over there too as I am still regularly posting new (but old) stuff. And there's the writing page too.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled blog, which is about Libraries! And Clerking!

Original Masthead:

 Just about anyone can Cook or Write or Read or whatever people do that they blog about, but can anyone Clerk? Um, apparently. I think that's why it doesn't pay much and the quality varies. But can anyone blog about Clerking? Would they want to? I don't know. I'll try. I'm a clerk at Large Suburban Library that I dare not name, and this, this is my blog!

What's new on my blog expired sidebar posts:

Will be revamping the "Here by accident..." landing page to require trackers injected into bloodstream. Other improvement still delayed.

Exciting Talking Book About Ales!

This one came through on hold for someone recently, and tells the tragic story of the conflict between seeing what a Library item actually is and a Library's penchant for consistent, useable labeling. The actual title is "SO, YOU'RE NEW TO SALES" which is massively less interesting to me than what I first thought was the title. I wouldn't mind knowing more about ales as I had a couple really good ones in London once. The weird stuff up in the barcode is just to protect the identity of the library system and thus of the technical services staff who have generally been kind and responsive to me.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tortoise and the Hare Clerking: Part the Second

This is a running series of Tortoise and the Hare comparisons of the different stations of my job. If you missed it see my introductory blogpost for more explanation. But, briefly, it is a cross comparison of how these aspects of my job respectively suit the slow and steady worker and the volatile sprinter/loafer worker. Hey! I took, like, 2 long paragraphs to just say that in part 1! Eventually when this blog hits it big we'll hire a really good editor. 

Anyway, this is part 2.

Station 2, Shelving:

With its non time sensitive, methodical nature I was inclined to say this one suits the tortoise best, but something about its anonymity and isolation tips things surprisingly far back to the hare. On the downside the hare at his or her worst will still drift off to restless meandering, reading, breaks, more breaks, and invented or genuine "other" responsibilities. But the hare at his or her best, isolated and with far fewer distractions than usual, may just find that the best outlet for their restless, race car energy is, yes, shelving. And they may tear ferociously through 3 or 4 or 5 carts just to prove they can. This is an amount of shelving it could take a not-at-their-best tortoise days and days to match. This is because, in isolation, these tortai are prone to descend into a deep rhythm theta wave steadiness wherein a time lapse camera is required to show their precise and beautiful movements, like those movies one sees of plants growing. Of course, there's nothing like a good tortoise, book after book, day after day, for getting those endless cart loads back up on the shelves.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tortoise and Hare Clerking, part the first

Already in the short, but voluminous, life of this blog we have had at least one recurring theme. This theme falls roughly in the aegis of what I think of as "The Tortoise and the Hare". So far, when I have written on these slow worker, fast worker issues, I  have not invoked this Aesop's fable directly in any way. This is because the Tortoise and the Hare is strictly, and in every way, a pro tortoise polemic. I then, being rather far more hare-like myself, have not much been inclined to look benignly on this fable, and perhaps have argued its opposite case. But now, finding myself perhaps less defensive about my Hareishness and also more interested in the pleasures of the tortoise as well, I am suddenly interested, without agenda, in taking a look in a wide way.

So then, I am not interested in advocating a position, or in propaganda, or even really in the storytelling requirements of a Fable. The Tortoise can keep its plucky, aw shucks, charms, but maybe the Hare could be a bit more Bugs Bunny or Thumper, or just really not an over-confidant jerk. And perhaps we can cool things down some from this whole idea and drama of a contest. Let us just...compare... as we run through the various stations of my work as a Library Clerk. Aren't you just dying to know the stations of my work anyway?

I am going to start with a comparison on the first station here, and will post further station comparisons in a sort of ongoing series.

Station 1: Bin Emptying:

This tends to be more a half hour filler assigned position and it is definitely better for tortoises. It really is just emptying books and such from self-rising bins onto carts, and if your put your head down and plod you can get a lot done. It is not so good for the hare though because it is in a high traffic, super distractable location and hares always end up in long conversations about raw milk, Neil Young, or the curatorial promise of Libraries. Of course, the worst of the tortoises I have seen minutely examining each removed item with an almost Zen-like attention that could theoretically be beautiful if it wasn't so disturbing and didn't stretch 8 minutes of work out past a full hour. Nevertheless, fair is fair, and the worst hares won't even get as much done as that tortoise and often tend to end up unavoidably engaged elsewhere for the whole time period.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Shortcomings of Others (Fka Clerking 15)

The Shortcomings of Others

(With thanks to Stanislaw Lem)

(Clerking 15)

There is no clerk so wonderful, so peaceful and perfect and together, that they do not, at some point, complain about one (or more, many, many more) of their co-workers. Also, perhaps far more notably, there is no clerk so bad, so incompetent, so irresponsible, lazy, daft, ignorant, confused or downright catatonic that they do not find fault with, at some point, their co-workers. I myself can go make an espresso, loiter reading the jacket of a book (pro-tip: you can judge a book by its cover!), exchange commentaries with a passing colleague, stare blindly into space for awhile, check the clock, consider lunch, and then pick up a book with the vague idea of maybe doing something work-like with it, eventually, maybe, only to spot a co-worker off to my left idling. Maybe they are in a conversation about their new shoes, perhaps they are leafing through a magazine, they could even mysteriously be peering at a computer screen with the intent look of someone who has mysteriously invented some fake work, and I feel a sudden flash of outrage. Why do they get all this free time? Why is their work-life full of luxuries and relaxation while I am forced to toil away on my unfair share of burdens? Bitterly I toss the book I am holding onto the machine and stew. I go over to a reliable co-worker to grumble. They are nonplussed, but wait patiently for me to finish before launching into a tirade about their issues with a different co-worker. Invariably their issues hardly sound to me like anything to get all worked up about, but I do my best to commiserate, knowing from experience that one day I'll probably feel the same way about that person they're complaining about. And so it goes around.

The more I like a co-worker, the more basic respect I have for their abilities and contributions, the more room I have for their foibles. But I think even if I could hop into the library's time travel pod and dial back in time 8 hours to work with the person deserving of the very greatest quantities of indulgence, namely myself, I would, in the right situation, get pretty irritated.

How many coffee breaks does he have to take?” I might fume to myself about my earlier self, conveniently forgetting that I am energized and focused because that was me taking all those lovely coffee breaks. And my old self perhaps, looking at my future self, would surely stew over how my future self was taking it easy while I was working like a dog.

Hey!” My old self says to my future self “Help me get all these holds processed. There's a ton of them and you're not even doing anything!”

To which my future self replies in outrage “I worked like a dog all morning on those holds with no one to help me! The future version of myself just sat here checking his email the whole time!”

Well that's you now!” My old self complains bitterly.

Well I've earned it!” My newer self says petulantly, turning back to the emails that are from eight hours in the past and so have already been read three times. Sadly I also have to delete spam I already deleted in the past. This makes me tired. I need an espresso but my old self is using my espresso machine again! The ingratitude!

So what am I trying to say here about co-workers? Am I saying one should try hard to look at the full context of things before casting stones about? Am I trying to say one should not indulge the little irritations because they are about us rather than about that person out there? Am I trying to say that it is hopeless to complain about your co-workers because no one ever seems to commiserate at a sufficient level? Or how about I am saying judge not lest ye be judged?

No, sensible as these all may be, I don't want to say any of them. And I wont.

I will say this:

Everyone is useless and shiftless at their job sometimes. Everyone. But see that person over there? The one staring intently at the computer screen that basically has nothing on it? That person is just unbelievable. And I'm gonna end up having to do all that work there. I mean, what are they even looking at? Nothing!

It all makes me so tired. I need a break. I think I better go have an espresso.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yes, it is today. See "free food in breakroom" sidebar for exactly how this benefits me! I can't wait to work the front desk to see if the public gives me presents! If I get too many presents I'll have a giveaway because a book about publicizing your blog that I saw while shelving  said that giving away free things is really good. So get ready for some really cool swag because it is...

National Library Workers Day!

The Bob and Bunny Show

Next post down is the decidedly peculiar talk show: The Bob and Bunny Show. I had a vision, and my co-workers were oddly, and very kindly, accommodating. We filmed it during my lunch, or really it's my dinner, in the breakroom just north of the free food table. It doesn't exactly dwell on issues of clerking, yet I believe it shines a kind of small light on my workplace. Maybe more like a black light or a strobe light. It is after 4 in the morning as I write this and I nearly stayed up all night to edit it together, which is odd because it looks like it was cobbled together with seven nails while I stir fried some tempeh. I had a few problems with truncated titles in the uploading, but I'd like to think that it adds to its homespun charm. No, sadly I can't think that, but I'd really like to! 

Whether or not I put together more Bob and Bunny Shows depends on their popularity and whether Bob and Bunny hold up psychologically under the crushing stresses of celebrity. So please comment or let me know if you're interested in seeing more.

Bob and Bunny Episode 1 Has Gone Live!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Unprecious Life (Fka Clerking 14)

The Unprecious Life
(Clerking 14)

One of the great truisms of life, or perhaps one of the most popular stock phrases of easy philosophy is “Life is precious.” What follows this is almost invariably that “You must make the most of each moment.” There are a breathtaking number of books in our Library's collection in which the author asserts that they attained much of the wisdom required to write their book through the mastery of this lesson, which was usually imparted by some wise elder figure. I do know that just because something appears frequently in books does not make it true. Two thirds of all our books now contain vampires, for instance, but I think this precious life thing is more like an aphorism or a proverb. Is a chain only as strong as its weakest link? I'm not inclined to put up to big a fuss about something like that. Besides, I feel it. Life is precious! I am old enough to note it racing by. It makes me feverish and dizzy. If I am prone to occasional squandering it is hard not to regret it. Days blur in their speed. Projects close to my heart flounder in backwaters for years while I am cleaning the bathroom or watching youtube videos of fluffy bunnies. I calculate, with eager hunger, how much sleep I can get. The minutes are like trying to hold sand. I try to be full of the wisdom of all the authors who have mastered their life-changing revelation but who tend to be ever so slightly less clear on how one actually makes every moment count. I schedule, organize, try to extract the full richness of all the luscious, succulent, ticking, accelerating seconds until...

I go to work.

And time, mundane, inscrutable, miracle, time, comes to a screeching halt. I have somehow stepped out of the precious life. Seconds sprawl heavily on the floor, inert and unwilling to move on. If the precious life can be seen at all it is off distantly on the horizon like half-imagined land. My co-worker turns to me,

“Do you see that?” they ask longingly, hopefully.

“I think it might be land, or it might be a fog bank.” I reply, then pause, looking. We gaze earnestly for awhile. “Well, it might be land.” I add, “But I don't think we're moving towards it at all.”

The Preciousness of life has been relocated to lunch maybe, or quitting time, or is it never? It feels like never. My soul leans towards towards it and all its succulent goodness. That glorious, storied land where I drive home, reunite with my loved one, and be free telescopes away from me as time plods, extends, and becomes wanton.

And here I am. At work.

And I have a lot of time. Time is unprecious. A patron comes to me at the Service Desk. They need to update their address. They slowly search through their huge, fat wallet for their drivers license. They know it's there somewhere. They tell me long stories about their medical problems. Okay. I don't have anything else to do. I type in their new address. I look up Peter Lorre movies for them and request two. No, I didn't know that Peter Lorre's second wife was Karen Verne, an actress I had never heard of. Fled the Nazis did she. Yeah, I hate Nazis too. They have a fine of 65 cents. No, not the Nazis, the Patron. Do we accept pennies? Sure we accept pennies. We count them together. I print out the patron's receipt, check out the patron's items, wish the patron a good day and check the clock. Total time elapsed: 7 seconds.

Vague, only half serious ideas I have about time are suddenly able to be examined in all the fecundity of time itself. The elasticity of time becomes quite nearly visible. I take a one hour stint on the big check in machine. Standing there feeding transit items onto the belt I face a bank of windows that looks into our break room. Two of my co-workers sit peacefully eating and reading as their lunch hour passes by. I know that time is moving differently in that room, moving differently for those two people. It's like dry heat venting into cold air. You can see the warp in it. It looks like a distortion of reality. But reality is not distorting. It is simply that time does not need to move at the same speed in the same place. It is simple and it is real. Time stirs with each consciousness to create whatever pace it wants. There is no master time. All time is personal.

So, do I fail at the precious life then? I don't know. I struggle like anyone. I mean, anyone other than all those wise authors with the elders and all. I do try. Sometimes I even get it and life's preciousness makes each moment as sweet and rich as a perfect truffle. Days are bliss, my concentration perfect in its appreciation.

And then I come to work.

And I kick. I kick and I kick and I cannot break it. And sometimes my co-worker says “Does that clock not move!?” And I say “It is still 3:43!” And we groan in small agony. But sometimes, and this is most nearly never discussed so I don't even know who else it includes, sometimes, I forget to kick. Time stops and I float. I cannot make moments count when they cease to come in multiples. I am free. Instead of work lasting forever I am on a vacation from time and all its ceaselessness. Nothing matters and nothing happens yet I am alive and I breathe and I feel good. The world spins, the machine checks in, patrons approach the desk, I shelve a book and all is beautiful and unprecious and squanderable and endless and moving and still. It is 3:43 forever.

And then I kick, again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

New Links to My World of Entertainment!

Yes, yes, we will keep this entirely about clerking and its related endeavors here whenever we can, but I am weaving this site into my vast empire of entertainment blogs and so I beg your forbearance as I introduce you to this new world. My goal is that you will never ever have to go anywhere on the internet but to my constellation of blog pages or, er, web sites. Don't worry though, it wont be a legal requirement that you only go there, just something you'll feel compelled to do all on your own! Like facebook for some people, or that game where you shoot colored balls at other colored balls. Anyway, the links are over there on the right (and will probably always hover up near the top of those things). At this early stage we have a link to my cartoons. That page will see fresh material for quite awhile on a daily basis. We also have a link to the secret secrets of writing. That will update every couple days for a couple weeks and then just mostly simmer. More links are yet to come though. Good luck! We will now resume our regular programming.

Cranky Clerking and Working Less

I am having one of those super cranky days where a book shelved out of order can nearly drive me to tears and the fact that the last interlibrary transit slip was taken and not replaced makes me lose hope in all humanity, or at least in all my co-workers, who are now hard for me to look at and not wonder: "Is it you who has wounded me so?"

For good or ill clerking can well tolerate these feelings. A clerk just sort of turtles up and chips away at the very minutes, seconds. We dig our way to a break, a grounding chat with a congenial colleague, a change, a lunch, the end of shift, a weekend, a vacation. But it's dangerous stuff too, and though the few clerks I know who are all subsumed and destroyed in their protective shells certainly have many and far greater contributing factors to that reality than mere 8-hour a day clerking, I think every clerk takes a little damage walking the line of institutional drudgery, the unholy world of bosses, and one's private commitment to contribution, self-respect, and doing a good job. I see for most of my co-workers empathy is the first thing that flickers, that ability to imagine others experience and some of that do unto others... stuff. Some focus more on the patrons as the enemy, some their co-workers, some the supervisors and institutional structure (Hi!). There's a little deadening, a little passing the buck, a little unhealthful anger or sadness. It makes one...tired, and it's a good time to have your home-life in order.

I recently read this really interesting article, about the 30 hour work week, here:
and I do think that would help, though certainly not resolve these issues. At the least I have found that my co-workers who work more towards part time sometimes seem a little less blasted by these issues, a little less prone to be riled by some of these things that can be pretty small.

And I believe it is like that article implies, or even says. We could get by on all these fewer hours of staffing. Not because we can just afford to cut hours (cut them more, I should say, for believe me, they've been being shaved for a decade), but because we could use our hours better if we weren't driven to these darker places, to this crankiness, to an overworked grinding, quite so often.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Here, you don't look busy, let me give you a blogpost to read

Every once in a while a patron will come to me and say something like "Here, you don't look busy. I'll give you something to do." The fact that this never fails to rankle me is probably at least partly indicative of my sensitivity to my slacker aspect. I have a sense of responsibility and pride, efficiency and mastery that balances this slacker aspect, but for reasons I am only able to partly understand I work best when no one is looking. And the universe conspires to hide my effort. I may have climbed into the ceiling duct-work to un-knot a vicious jam in our giant check in machine, raced down the ladder to answer the phone and request, find, and ready for checkout a book that a patron desperately needs but has just been told is unavailable. I'll swap two bins on the machine while answering a colleague's complicated procedural question and directing another to a supply item they need. Then, chaos managed, I will spot a cute book on ducklings I want to look at. I am certainly not enjoying it for more than 30 seconds when I look up to see one of my (many) bosses surveying me and the backroom. I am not much of a mind reader and certainly my boss could be thinking something sensible like "Whoa, where is everyone else? Thank goodness I can count on him to keep everything under control." or "I had no idea that chat with my friend would go on for so long! I was supposed to be covering the phones and the machine, yet everything is so calm and perfect back here, hmmm..." But they could also easily and even likely be thinking "What's he doing standing there reading again? Hasn't he read all these damn books by now???!"

Likewise I could be abandoned by some co-worker out at the front desk. I run (literally more of a jog) out to fix a printer problem, showing someone how to find their files on a computer on the way. I speed register library cards for a group of deaf/mute people (I can be chatty even when communicating in notes) while providing directions to someone else to one of our other branches and to the post office. I resolve a contested $80 fine issue to everyone's satisfaction and inform a patron as to the chronological order of a book series she has become enthralled with. Then, finally, there is a moment just for me. Ahhhhh. I stare briefly into space, thinking nothing, breathing. And I hear: "You don't look busy, I'll give you something to do."

Maybe what they're thinking is "Oh boy! It's my favorite clerk ever! I'll just tease him a bit."

Or not. Sure I'd like the patron to understand that the reason he doesn't have to stand in a line now is because I have just been very busy and very good at it, but I suppose there is a price to pay for my penchant to not work slowly and steadily, but rather at wildly erratic speeds. And it is true that I'm not doing anything just then, and if I am quick and efficient maybe I'll be able to stare into space some more, or read something. I'd like that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Good News Bad News and Bad News Good News at the Library

While I wrote this it kept reminding me of something from the old Mad Magazines I read as a youth. I wasn't finding it a particularly good feeling, but it's okay, we'll call it sort of a tribute, and so I proceed as follows...

Episodes of a day at the library with the good balancing the bad and the bad the good.

Bad News: I can only understand one in four words of the patron calling. Also I think he is yelling and crying.
Good News: It seems to be an issue for the reference desk!

Good News: Am having an amiable discussion with a co-worker about our shared hatred of a literary sub-genre (twisted psycho-sexual thrillers).
Bad News: When I launch into a small tirade against an iconic example of this sub-genre (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) it turns out my co-worker loved it.

Good News: That guy who is always sitting in the magazine/genre fiction area is reassuringly there again today.
Bad News: He seems to be sort of staring at me.

Good News: This cart of genre fiction books had nine John Sandford books on it and so was incredibly quick and easy to shelve!
Bad News: This just means I have to go downstairs and get another cart.

Bad News: This patron I am helping smells overwhelmingly of urine!
Good News: I am continent and gainfully employed!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Big Machine (Fka Clerking 13)

Big Machine

(Clerking 13)

We have, at my Library, acquired, for a million or so dollars, a machine. This machine, through a series of belts, ramps, RFID readers and bins, checks in the vast majority of our Library materials and roughly sorts them according to 20 or so different parameters. Before I tell you about how I love, love to the point of weepiness, this humming, beeping, blinking giant of a machine, I must first tell you about how strange and out of time it all feels, how it transplants me to an industrial age. Yes this machine is run on a computer, rich with big screen readouts and entirely modern radio chip readers, but it feels, and truly is, more kin to something out of the Industrial Revolution. It hums with power. It's glory is all in moving parts, all its belts and pulleys and giant rubber bands. When it goes wrong it does not freeze and become mysterious and intractable like our modern wonders, repeating minor errors obsessively, glitching in abstract, autistic non-sequiturs. No, when it goes wrong it eats books! It makes digestive noises as it eats them. It refuses to cooperate. It looks you in the eye and spits books to the wrong places. It chews itself to pieces as it breaks down. It does not “Glitch”, it gets confused, insolent, comical. It is human!

I will not glorify the Industrial Revolution, nor presume to give you a history lesson. I must though, for the sake of this account, say that its result was not to give workers a lighter time of it. But it could have been. Partly this is because there can be differences in the fundamental tenor of ones job when it becomes more industrialized, but there don't have to be differences. The vast majority of it depends upon whether you become a part of the machine or whether you become the boss of the machine. If you are a part of the machine you may like one thing better than another, but as long as there is work to do you are always either doing it or not doing it. If you are the boss of the machine you quickly begin to accrete some of the wondrous benefits of being a boss. I don't want to glorify here, but when you are the boss, those you are the boss of do work on your behalf. You are always working as long as you are facilitating the environment where work is done. What defines this facilitation? On the one hand merely the fact of the work getting done. On the other, well, the boss defines it. Put simply, no matter what you do you're working!

Here, I'll show you. If my job is to scan library materials and sort them into 20 bins, the moment I start reading a book, wandering to get coffee, or chatting with a co-worker I have instantly ceased to do my job. I have slowed down the process. I have become guilty. My boss could come up to me and say “Aren't you supposed to be scanning these materials and sorting them?” to which I could say “Oh, I was just making sure this book's binding was okay, its heft and crackle felt a touch off.” or “It's my coffee break.” or “I was just explaining to Leroy here to watch out for books with a funny heft and crackle.” but whether or not I say any of these things there's not much to do at that point but start checking in Library materials and sorting them, and probably watch my back for awhile. However, if my job is to make sure the machine, the AMH ( the automatic materials handler), is processing and sorting, as long as it's doing that, who cares what I'm doing? My boss is greatly less inclined to worry about my working when before both our eyes work is clearly being done on both our behalf’s. Oh, there are hundreds of things to do to facilitate the machine's work, all tending and attending; a filled bin might need to be replaced, and a book pulled into the rollers is a moment to drop everything, but a good deal of the time is hovering, being ready, keeping an eye on, and all of that, while it must be done, can be done while getting coffee, reading or chatting. The books are all getting checked in, aren't they.

Which brings me to the point that the process and benefits of being a boss tends to place a person on the dark side. I'll go easy on you and say if you're a really good and conscientious boss there is no reason for you to necessarily become evil, but all that watching and telling people and having other people do work for you, all that bossing, and getting paid more for it, is dicey stuff, dangerous stuff. But if you are bossing a machine, well, as long as it's mostly non-sentient, you're off the hook.

And that brings us to the love. I work 36 hours a week. This is approximately 36 hours more a week than I'd ideally like to work. If someone kind and unobtrusive wants to come in, granting me every authority and respect, and make my job more pleasant, easier, boss-like yet without any victim, then I am delighted to have them. If they want to generally increase my access to coffee breaks, recreational reading, lightness and distraction I rejoice. I rejoice so much that looking over at said co-worker makes my heart all gushy inside. It makes me want to walk over to said co-worker and give it a big hug, except, I don't because my arm could get caught in said co-worker and be torn from my body.

Or maybe that is all too much. Allow me to dial it back one notch. As I've said before, these machines are my co-workers too. Imagine for yourself a co-worker, hulking, but gentle. This co-worker is not versatile because they are not very bright. Actually they're just barely functional. But they are strong. And tireless. And they insist on doing a tedious and time consuming sub-section of your job round the clock. They do what it would take 5 or 6 other workers together to do. They don't complain, though you might wonder about some of the strange whining noises they make. They can't do this job without you. They need a lot of attention, take instruction poorly and have to be watched, facilitated or repaired pretty much all of the time. But they are sort of companionable, and they like working for you, for free. And though they never bring in cookies, how on earth could you expect them to make cookies! Besides, they never eat more than their share when others bring them in. What I am saying about this machine is it's not perfect. It has good points and bad points, but its good points well outweigh it's bad. And for those of you with co-workers, you well know how beautifully high on the curve that is.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Comparing Clerks, an almost scientific study


Among the many strange things I have been led to do by my curiosity and frustration with the worst of my co-workers is to keep track of how many patrons I help versus how many patrons my co-worker helps. I have only ever done this with the really terrible co-workers, but I have found it soothing and informative.

Analysis ground rules:

Since we work in pairs at the front desk things are pretty simple here. I merely count our respective patron interactions. I give my co-worker the benefit of the doubt and if they come up on a big transaction (registering library cards for a family of four, for instance) I will pad their points a bit (though not my own, I'll just work a little faster). If things slow down and they want to go and shelve a few requests I wont count that time. Finally, I try to keep the count for a long enough time to account for all the variability in difficulties in interactions.


Roughly 3 to 1, that is if one of my co-workers is so bad (there are currently four of them) that I am driven to keep track of our clerking speeds, I have so far found that I will be helping 3 visitors for every 1 they help. The lowest differential I have encountered is just under 2.5 to 1, the highest a bit under 3.5 to 1.

An Explanation:

This would not mean much if I were a brusk, unhelpful automaton churning through the public while my co-worker was friendly, thorough, kind and helpful. But I am chatty and meticulous and able to go as deep as you need to go on almost any issue. I will refer you on to someone else only if all of the following are true, you are needing me to do something exceptionally annoying, it is extremely time consuming, and it is not my job. Ultimately I am far more likely to do more for you than I am supposed to.

What it all means:

Remember my blogposts on touring my city's clerks? Well, I haven't written part 2 yet, but remember part 1? I don't too well either, but here's the thing: It can be hard, even for a professional, to judge a clerk by its cover. Did that crisp, professionally dressed clerk in a kind, friendly way tell you helpful information? That information may turn out to be useless, partial, or inaccurate when and if it comes time to apply it. Did that clerk no problem take care of that little issue on your account? You may be taking care of that issue again. Was that clerk super kind and thorough? They may be why you waited in line for 7 minutes instead of 2 and also need to go now to the reference desk to complete your business. And on the other hand, what about that ever so slightly scruffy clerk (actually I am dressed super nice today so this is like a hypothetical person!) who doesn't necessarily seem very industrious but looks like he or she is having a good time? His or her line might move strangely fast for all their casualness, and you might be surprised what all gets done there and doesn't need to be done again.