I have heard enough anecdotal accounts of the work lives of a variety of people to know that work comes in a lot of different forms. Some people have a very set array of responsibilities that they can get to on their own schedule. Some people mainly pretend to work, or work dodging work. Some people don't have much to do and wish they did. Some people have to sort of invent their jobs on a day to day basis. Some people have an endless job that they just need to steadily plow through. Some people choose amongst an array of complicated, important, and yet optional tasks. Some people race around in a desperate attempt to manage too many things at once. And some people, like me and many of my co-workers, are often in the position of taking work as it comes.
My job, and I suppose many jobs, has some elements of many of the
different kinds of jobs described above, but it is that last one about taking work as it comes that
feels most defining to being a library clerk. Sometimes there is a
blizzard of calls, sometimes there isn't. There may be a long line of
people with a lot of complicated issues at the front desk or there may
just be one guy who says a couple of things to you in what seems to be
Swahili before leaving you to do what you want for 15 minutes. You may
be buried and pressed for weeks, even months, under a crushing load of
books and people, and then, almost out of nowhere, find yourself in a
lot of conversations like this:
"I wonder why it's so quiet tonight?"
"Maybe because it's so hot out."
"But it's snowing."
"Maybe because it's snowing. Also, there's a big ferret show at the civic center this week."
"Hmm. Could be."
I think a lot of us try to take our pacing as we can. We race hard when
everything is thrown at us, and, maybe if we see an opening for some
down time, we try and grab it. We may have that downtime for so long
it starts to curdle, and yet too we may have it ripped away from us
before we even can get the first, sweet whiff of it, before we even know
what it is.
Last night I was on the machine, as I usually am, and the library was
very much on the quiet side of things. But closing up the machine is
still usually a bit of a job. So there was no hope for me. But my
colleague in the back room with me was on the phones, which is among the most fertile assignments for down time. As things were
slowing down dramatically, and we neared the end of the evening, he saw a
suddenly blossoming opportunity. No calls had come for over an hour. He'd
finished all the requests. Nothing was backed up. No managers were restlessly roaming. He'd put in his full day, so he said, with twenty utterly placid minutes laying out before him "That's
it, I'm done for the day."
And immediately the phone started ringing...