Thursday, February 13, 2014

Front desk joy

I like it when it's slow out at the front desk. I can catch up on some important internet reading, maybe put a cart in order in a desultory fashion if there's a restless manager around. The occasional patron issue and assistance in that case becomes the light diversion. How nice it is to talk to someone instead of filing or reading things on the internet! They want me to get them change for a twenty? Splendid, I was starting to stiffen up with all the sitting! The stroll to the cash register will be refreshing. I also like when I'm out at the front desk with a co-worker who is thoroughly competent and who I enjoy chatting with. We talk. The patrons come up like batting practice pitches. We are masters of patron assistance. Affable, paying attention, we take our lazy, confident swings. All our front desk service is easy and perfect and there is nothing we don't solve gracefully and thoroughly. The time passes quickly.  And, as well, I like when I'm out on the desk with someone else who's not very good at working the desk. I try in that situation to get high on caffeine and overload myself, try and do a bit of writing in the small moments of free time I race to create. This is a way to both compensate myself for my undue burdens and to assert mastery, as if to say, I can do 80 percent of the shared work out there with one hand tied behind my back. 

The reality is that there aren't too many front desk set ups I don't like. Too busy? It has its hard parts, but it can be thrilling to race to whittle that line down. Full moon? Madness makes us look at things in new ways. But my very favorite way to be out at the front desk, and this is strange to say for someone who can take an extremely casual approach to the work to be done, is when I get to play at dominion. Or perhaps another way to put it is, when I get to play library. There is always a little bit of this going on at my front desk, but like the situational qualities of a Full Moon night (which is merely a way of describing an evening full of bizarre incidents and behaviors), this opportunity to excel, to be the whole of the library in my own self, relies upon the right kind of people, a diversity, a flow of patrons with a vast array of needs and issues. Six people in a row needing library cards won't do. I need to help one patron track down a mysteriously missing book, resolve a persistent fine issue, fix someones computer, explain tax forms, make the thing that won't print print, advise on a reading list and provide directions to those books, solve the audio problem in the meeting room, answer a trivia question, rescue the materials handling machine, explain and adapt policy, request two things and then walk a patron through do-it-yourself interlibrary loan. I need variety. 

Fortunately, I usually get it.

I am a bit camera shy when it comes to unreserved candor about my weaknesses as a library clerk. This blog is a very public place in its way. Suffice it to say I will not be the one to get everything shelved around here. And I am intensely keen on coffee breaks in all their kaleidoscopic guises. I have 32 versions of coffee breaks. But I have also spent decades in this library and likewise I have spent long years in the essence of what libraries are, and I know this place. I know it. At nearly any practical level I can step into the shoes of automation services, management, librarian, facilities maintenance, and circulation. Most days I do. I do it because I have to, because it is the right thing, because I can, and because it is a pleasure. And when the needs of the public range widely enough, and come to me steadily enough, I am the library. There are no referrals or redirection because I am whatever the patron needs. I suppose other people are like this too sometimes, I would have to follow a co-worker around for half an hour to really know, but it is true for me. My low enough, anyone can do it library clerk job, all pleasant and boring, interesting and paying the bills, and always running on day after day in the same place, has not gone unheeded by me. I have paid attention. I have stayed interested. And as a reward, sometimes I get to touch on mastery. Sometimes I can touch every inch of this place, my place, and solve everything. That is not work. That is fun.

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