Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The social life of insects

I work in an ants' nest. And it occurs to me that it is pretty amazing that after 600 blog posts about working at a library (never, not once, ever veering off topic) this, the most absolutely perfect analogy for my job, that I work in an ants' nest, has not, until now, occurred to me!

Indeed, I was planning on writing about some trifling aspect of co-worker communication when I tossed off this analogy to you in passing. I was about to move on, but suddenly my antenna started twitching. I dipped my mandibles into my morning cappuccino ruminatively and knew something was up. All other considerations of blog topics must be put on hold because I must tell you about how my workplace is exactly like an ant colony!

It's as if I were on some minor scouting mission to collect morning dew and ran into a mountain of sugar. One's priorities change.

Yet, oddly, I am almost overwhelmed by how much my job is like being part of a colony of ants. My brain is so flooded with all the truth of it I hardly know where to begin. It is all so screamingly apparent that I don't know what to say. Perhaps if I provide little glimpses, visions that match an ant colony.

There is the way we have our big back room, the hive, and how we workers venture out into the world of the library on various tasks, but always return back here, often with a collection of items, to our nest of workers (indeed the whole of the work areas of the library are divided into cells). There is the way we communicate, mostly one to one, spreading information throughout the nest in a chain reaction, in a mysterious osmosis (do we use chemicals?).  And then it is also how bigger news is sometimes conveyed by a worker returning from the wider world, the public part of the library, and telling a clustered group in something like a dramatic tribal dance. There is the way everything is about the nest, the work, and the unending cycles and collecting and processing, every moment of every workday structured around this. We scurry along our secret, regular back paths. We move things that weigh more than us. We work in tandem hardly even knowing we're working in tandem. We have our castes, instead of soldiers, workers, pupae, queens, we have clerks, pages, librarians, volunteers, managers. New workers periodically appear in the nest where they are carefully nurtured just up to the first moment they can work on their own. Old workers disappear with little ceremony. Always, always, always, the hive must carry on, the work, the life, and we in it.

Every once in awhile I stumble upon an idea for a blog post that really would be more proper as a 300 page non fiction book. And so I have here. Let this stand as an introduction then. I say this without rancor or judgement or aversion. I work in an ants' nest. I am an ant. You might be too.

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