Sometimes working my job with a small host of other co-workers is a lot like exploring in the woods. There are signs of life everywhere. I see traces of activity, the effect of industry and life, all without actually seeing much of it happen. Out in the woods I might see the prints of an animal on the damp forest floor. Perhaps I'll see some trampled plants or some debris of large fruits from a tree that has been stripped bare. I hear chattering in the distance, or hidden in the greenery, and perhaps the calls and industrious scurryings of birds. There are animal droppings, bones, a bit of fur caught on the end of a shrub. But despite all this evidence, it is rare that I see any of it as it takes place, and often, even if I am a regular habitue of the woods, just exactly what happened at each of these scenes remains partly a mystery. Was that a squirrel or an Owl? Did something die here or was it born? Did someone eat this? What was it? Who did it?
Don't get me wrong. I see my co-workers all the time. And a lot of the time they're working, or sort of working, but it's all very vague. Mostly we're all moving about, commenting, socializing, interacting, skirting the edges. The work part, the main work part, is all done kind of privately. We don't alphabetize carts jointly, or answer the same phone calls. We don't team up to register patrons, or to put books away, or to request a series of obscure items for a patron. No, we go into our private worlds for that, our dens, up into the tree tops, off into the bushes. Good jobs, bad jobs, comprehensive, sloppy, industrious, fruitful, scattershot, and helpful jobs I don't really see happening, but the evidence of it having taken place is all around me.
My job is mostly a collective task done anonymously. While I may be specifically responsible for a very distinct task for an hour or two, it is hardly my job alone. I leave and someone else comes, they leave and someone else comes, they leave and someone else comes. They leave and I am back again. Why is this box filled so inefficiently? Who took the last slip and did not replace it? Who would leave this infuriating and pointless note here? Who left this mess for me? I don't usually know. I know all these people I work with, sort of. I may be able to hazard a guess occasionally. But I don't know. All these carts are in order. These bins were emptied. The holds for this person are all where they were supposed to be. Someone did it. I don't know who. It just sort of happens. I don't mostly see it happen, except maybe when I myself am the one doing it, but that is just a trickle into the pond.
We are invisible. We are on our honor. I am doing more than that person there and that person is doing more than me.
Sometimes I see someone go upstairs with a cart of books to shelve. It takes anywhere from 15 to 80 minutes to shelve them all. I take up a cart myself after five minutes and the person before me is nowhere to be seen. Where did they go. The library is not that big. What are they, a deer? A jackal? A hummingbird. Have they disappeared?
We are all horribly autonomous, cheaters, industrious, grunts, masters. We are all living secret lives. And no matter what we do, we cannot seem to help but to get it all done.