Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Library information

I work at a library. I think you will grant that it is an institution that has much to do with information and the conveyance of knowledge. But let me clarify for you: this only has to do with its broader, public mission. As far as how the library runs or finding what's going on institutionally, as an employee, it is the same tattered, falling apart grab bag you will find in any institution anywhere. I am likely to receive an exhaustive email about a slight policy change that affects nothing that ever actually happens on the same day that no one bothers to inform me that our elevators are broken. 

Of course, the patrons can always let me know.

"You said I can take the elevator upstairs, but I've been pushing the UP button for 20 minutes and nothing happens!"

"I'll go take a look." I respond heartily. The patron indeed is correct. The elevator is non functioning. I return with patron in tow to the front desk and inquire of my co-worker "Did you know the elevator is not working?"

"Oh, yes," she replies. "It's been broken since yesterday morning! There's been quite a fuss!"

"Perhaps I should make a sign?" I suggest, leaving off that yesterday I did not work.

"I thought there was one." She says quizzically. The three of us walk back over to the elevator. During our inspection I spot a trampled piece of paper on the floor. I pick it up. It says "Out of Order."

"Ah, there it is!" My co-worker exclaims. I reattach it and reinforce it with several kinds of glues, tapes, solders, and metal screws. I know how long it can take for things to get fixed around here.

"So how am I supposed to get upstairs?" The patron asks.

I need to control my tone to prevent it from going into a withering, sarcastic mode. "I'm afraid you'll have to take the stairs, if you can." I say gently.

"What if I were in a wheelchair?" The patron asks confrontingly.

Once again I must check my tone. "Um, perhaps we would carry you?"

This apparently passes the test because the patron now willingly climbs the stairs, knowing we are willing to lift him in an emergency.

What this goes to show is that being informed as a library employee takes a good deal of craft. You have to eavesdrop, talk to a lot of people, and stay curious. My co-workers who socially isolate themselves are forced to constantly misinform people. Well, I suppose everyone has their method. I can't keep tabs on those people all the time, but since I do a lot of eavesdropping I can sometimes correct their most egregious errors.

"Oh. Yes." I gently interrupt. "We actually do have bathrooms; out in the lobby, in the kids' room, and upstairs, though we may have to carry you to those."

"OH! Bathrooms!" My co-worker exclaims, seeking cover for her error. "I thought you said Ferris Wheels! Ha ha ha. We don't have Ferris Wheels, but of course we have bathrooms, uh," She turns to me "Where were they again?"

Among my most useful co-workers in this tumult, and in the constant expectation that we absorb all vital library information by osmosis, are the people who enjoy collecting and sharing information. A couple of my colleagues are quite good at this, in different ways. One, especially good at dealing in higher level institutional information, has, like the rest of us, become so inured to the erratic and mostly useless relaying of information from above, that I think she feels a faint sense of guilt as she shares information. The word gossip rears its head. But we are virtually never talking here about salacious stories of our co-workers' shocking personal lives. We're talking about what's going on in our library system. The fact is that I work at the LIBRARY. I need to know this stuff, because sometimes it helps me do my job, sometimes it helps me understand my job, and because there is very little our public is not entitled to know. And I like to tell them. 

Just as I like to tell you.


  1. Really?! Y'all carry your patrons around? That's kewl!!

    1. Um, hypothetically. But yes, actually, it has happened.


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