Friday, January 10, 2014

We sprinkle the sunrise with dew!

We have recently been training at my library a rather large group of new library clerks. All of these people are destined for the sub pool where they will ride around in underwater vehicles viewing fish, shipwrecks, and mer-people. 

Hmm, that sounds odd. Wait, let me check my notes here.

Hold on.

Ah, no, not submarines! In a pool! No, ha ha ha. Substitutes! In a, er, a pool, but one without fish. I write my notes so small on these post it notes that I think you'd agree this is a very understandable error.

This is how everyone now starts out, or gets their feet wet, in clerking at my library, as a substitute. When we post an actual job, people with regular hours have the first shot at it. It's their way to improve or increase their hours. But then, even if they get that job, which one of them will, their old hours will become vacated. So then that job will now be posted. Eventually it will all filter down to some horrible position at a branch with a deranged supervisor, probably for two hours a day, one early in the morning, one later in the evening, mostly weekends, that no one with regular hours would consider swapping to. At this point the substitutes have priority. This is their way to get regular hours. Once they have these crappy hours they are regular hours employees who can now apply for a position with more, or better, hours when it comes available. This structure has been in place for at least several years now, with everyone coming up through this odd sort of minor league system.

One would think that this massive filtering system would create a very refined, high quality clerk staff. Three hundred people apply for a sub position (perhaps some of them hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary giant squid!). A battery of tests weeds out two thirds of them. A team of managers pour over the applications and eliminate more. Exhaustive interviews are conducted of the most promising of the remaining 100, and five lucky, talented, or possibly virtuous applicants are selected to be substitute clerks and given gold tickets. This group of five shows up at the massive front gates of our library and the gates are unlocked for the first time in decades. The group is taken inside, shown our wonders and then is rigorously trained. Then they work as substitutes throughout the system where everyone can size them up and decide if they have what it takes. A new, typically awful job opens up, and more interviews are conducted. Only the best of these subs are then hired as real clerks, for some paltry hours regular position. We watch them under fire some more, and only hire them into a bigger position when they've shown they can hold up under this array of adverse conditions. It is an amazing system.

Except, oddly, mysteriously, the quality of all the clerks that advance to our highest rungs, that is, to enough hours to sort of live on, is pretty much the same as if we chose them all randomly in one fell, unfiltered swoop, if we just stuck five golden tickets into library books and hired whoever found them. Under this laboriously detailed, slow trickle up system, we get bright people who will take care of things without anyone even knowing about it, and we get people who will take 15 minutes to determine that a DVD case is not empty. We get people who can use their own judgement and people who only strictly and absolutely follow policy that they are unclear on. We get people for whom the buck stops here and people so confused by the buck that they sneak it into the recycling bin.

So what's going on? 

At my library system hiring is a seal. It is tenure and a lock. After you are hired you will never truly be evaluated again. Probationary periods, yearly reviews, internal hiring processes are all window dressing. Hand us that golden ticket that allows you merely to occasionally substitute, and, barring crime, you are golden forever as well. People may not want to hire you up the rungs, but wait it out and eventually you will have no competition, eventually they will have to hand over some of those precious hours. And each hour is like a ratchet. Once given it can never be taken away. Part of me is absolutely horrified by this, and is keen to come up with all kinds of solutions and explanations, evaluations and criticisms, which would make this much too long of a blog post. So I will give this blog post to that other part of me. The part of me that is sort of happy about this bizarre system of extreme tenure. The part of me who enjoys the outsized massiveness of this job security. Who revels in a system that forces managers to go through four months of constant interviews to hire for one position because its overwhelming formality dooms it to domino into six sequential positions. And I am okay with all these mad things because this same part of me also suspects that if you hire five people anywhere, you will get the same five types no matter what you do. This part of me suspects that you could gather the greatest hiring team in the world and you will still end up with exactly these five people:

One who will feel horribly entitled. 
One who will be gluttonous. 
One who will seek constant mindless stimulus. 
One who will chew gum incessantly and chatter on about trivia. 
And only one who will truly love books, carefully treasuring the one he receives each year on his birthday and carefully reading it one page at a time to make it last. And he will have been kind to his bedridden Grandparents who all four shared the same bed in an impoverished hovel. He will be deserving. And if we are lucky, he will write a blog.

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