Saturday, July 12, 2014

The failures of others

Each day that I work at the library I am faced with the evidence of the failures of my co-workers. We could be generous, or perhaps even just, and call them mistakes, but because I work with a great assortment of people engaged in largely anonymous work it makes these mistakes amorphous and collective. It weaves them into a slow trail of broken things. It makes the word mistake feel wrong. Individuals trying, living, acting, and working make mistakes, but institutions such as libraries are littered with little failures. They sit there, lumpen, like speed bumps in my tasks. I am no paragon of perfection. I'm sure that I, in all my many jobs in a given week, make mistakes that I don't catch. But I am forgiven for my mistakes. I try. I work. They are just mistakes really. But alas, when someone else finds one later, anonymized, my little seed of mistake is sprouted. It no longer belongs to me. It is a free growing weed, a bitter fruit. It has grown into its own failure, untraceable, possessed only of itself and freed of a creator.

But surely whatever mistakes I make unknowing are dwarfed by all the mistakes I stumble upon. There are just so many!

What do we have today? The same sort of things we have everyday: A bin full of easy books that says it's supposed to go to another of our branches when it absolutely isn't supposed to. A cart pushed into the wrong place or merely forgotten. A cord I need that's been removed and not replaced. Two rows of books wildly mis-shelved. The last of the masking tape taken so that the bare cardboard core forlornly sits in the dispenser, looking naked and useless. A note on a patron's record frantically alerting us to something that has already been resolved. A very popular book that we don't own a single copy of. A used Internet pass in the unused stack. And so on...

And what says my heart at the fresh and frequent encounter with each new failure?

"Who are these people?!!!"

I am furious like a flash of lightning. I am superior, diligent, mystified, stunned, suspicious, tired, and righteous.

I set the failure right. The cord is replaced, the vestigial note deleted, new tape is added, and the books are re-shelved. Perhaps I have even done it correctly. And if I have then the waters can close over our failure. The failure drops into the depths and soon even I, who was the only one ever to see it, have forgotten it completely. For twenty seconds the library is whole again. I am on to the next thing. And so are 17 other people, my co-workers, all working some job around our grand library. Eighteen of us then working at a given moment, 17 of us perfectly.


  1. Two rows of books wildly mis-shelved.
    The last of the masking tape taken

    so that the bare cardboard core
    forlornly sits in the dispenser, looking

    naked and useless.

  2. Why, you set it to music!!!!


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