Saturday, January 31, 2015


You have probably noticed that just lately the blog posts around here have been really, really good. You are no doubt wondering just what's going on.

What's that? You haven't noticed that they've been especially good lately?

Well, you'll have to trust me on this one. They have been. You might have something in your eye.

The reason they have been really good is because finally, after a rough few months where my writing was cutting it close with my deadlines, I am once again safely out ahead of my blog writing. I have seven or eight blog posts all lined up and ready to go. This confers a big advantage to my blog post writing. That advantage is one of obsessive editing. If I write a post the night before it goes live there's not much time to live with it, to see how things feel, to see what tiny false notes won't leave me alone and have to be changed before they nibble me apart. But with a post like this one, I have eight days before it goes live. This may sound slightly compulsive to you, but that means I can and do reread this post every 15 minutes for eight days. Not counting sleeping that means I have, or will, carefully read this roughly 512 times!

I'm not saying I change something each of those 512 readings. And the fact is that the vast majority of changes I make during that time are miniscule. But it makes for a kind of polishing. It puts a high buff on my blog posts and subtly improves them.

Maybe I can show you. Here is the original version of this exact blog post, just as it was when I first considered it finished. See if you can spot any of the differences.

Gosh, well, it's still January! Hard to believe! Sure is cold in my basement! I need to get more sleep! I think I'll go make a sandwich!


You couldn't spot any differences?

Yes, I understand. I guess it takes a professional eye.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Linden Hills

Here I am with an hour and a quarter to pass in the Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills. It's certainly one of the Twin Cities' best neighborhoods. Grab a million dollars and you probably have enough money to buy any number of houses here! Linden Hills all centers on a proper and charming neighborhood commercial district with some very good restaurants, a nice size hardware store, and a genuinely lovely library. Real live lakes, our signature city feature, are at farthest a short walk away. The food co-op, a place where any human in the history of the species, endowed with enough cash, could learn to happily shop, was a victim of its own success and moved to bigger digs just barely out of the neighborhood, but it remains close enough.

Everything is sunny and beautiful here, full of trees and hills and charming houses and healthy people. The last crime committed in Linden Hills was in the nineties. The streets are clean but not suburban, and the town is free of toxic waste, plastic, harmful glutens, hatred, and unkind dogs. Besides English, everyone here speaks French. It is an American fantasy town. The Go-Go's come to mind "I bet you'd live here if you could and be one of us." I suppose that goes for my wife and I, though it's a bit alarming when I so clearly spell it out for myself, as a kind of upper class neighborhood hiding in the ancient mythical veneer of a middle class one.

On the down side Linden Hills has no coffee shop! Or, well, they have three coffee shops, but not one of the good ones, which are no longer rare in the twin cities so there's no excuse. I'm actually writing from one of these mediocre coffee shops, a regional chain no less, because Linden Hill's lovely library has the audacity to be closed at 11:30 in the morning. So there's a second strike. And come to think of it, all these women of leisure talking loudly in French are kind of getting to me too.

That's three. I guess no place is perfect.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


I like a bit of elbow room when I am wandering around town. My particular, and possibly peculiar, taste runs towards dense, well populated urban centers that are somehow on a day to day basis mysteriously populated like dying rural towns. And so when I go for my morning walk on the river, and it's minus 10 degrees out, and I see maybe two other people on my whole journey, I feel that all is as it should be. When we get to summer, I am avoiding the far too crowded river, and trying to make my way on any obscure route I can find. But when it is 35 degrees out, things get tricky. The path is not crowded, exactly, it's actually pretty empty, but there are enough people around that I run into problems.

Lately what happens is that I merge onto the river path, and even though there is only one person within half a mile, that person is ten feet away from me and heading in the same direction.

I hate this.

So I try to walk very fast to pass this person by. Mysteriously this does not work. The other walker seems to be moseying along without urgency. I, on the other hand, am at a pace just short of a run, and yet I cannot seem to effect our relative positions. Pretty soon my hip starts to hurt. I try to go faster. I start to gain on the moseying person, but at a pace similar to the logic conundrum where one can only ever go half way there, and half of that, but never get there. I cut the distance in half. In half again. In half again. I give up.

So then I slow down. Maybe I can let them zoom off far ahead of me. Oddly this only works a little. I have to go really slow. Some space develops between us, but I feel like I practically have to stop. I am always running late on my walks and it's unsustainable. I return to my brisk pace, and soon I am the same ten paces as ever behind.

I do hate this. But I admit that eventually it ends. My nemesis, by which I merely mean some other random walking person, turns off the route I am traveling. I am alone again. Ah how lovely the city is, crusted with filthy snow, and scattered with broken frozen things. I am too hot for hat or gloves or my coat. My spirit turkey shows up now that I am alone. It's brown. It keeps getting bigger. What do you have for me today spirit turkey?

He doesn't know. Neither do I. But it's probably the communion that matters.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Seven ways to make your Library more American

It is a well known but rarely mentioned secret that libraries are, well, er, international. International. You know, International. You're going to make me say it, aren't you? Fine! Libraries are Socialist! They are not Capitalist. They are European free love commune loving hippie institutions that Friedrich Engels and Noam Chomsky would go nuts for, and probably do, every day! Libraries are a bare inch from evil. Aye, worse even than that, they are Un-American!

But do not give in to despair. I am here to try and save the library. I am here to tell you how to make libraries more American!

Seven Ways to Make your Library More American

1. Eliminate all items that do not fit into either the Fiction section or the Non Fiction section to reflect our great two-party system. Extra categories of things like CDs and Reference materials and Children's books smack of European (Socialist) Parliamentary systems.

2. Hang up lots of signs that say "This library welcomes firearms."

3. Flags and more flags! I'm talkin' about the old red white and blue!  You don't see much of old glory around your usual library because libraries are nests of Communists and Secular Humanists. Well, we're going to pack our libraries with American flags, the colors that make Commies run!

4. More Bibles. Lots and lots of Bibles, and Librarians properly trained to answer the question "What should I read next?" with "Have you tried the Bible?"

5. Entrance fees. If libraries are worthwhile, then they're worth paying for, like hamburgers, high speed Internet, and political representation.

6. More signs. These should read "Abortion Free Zone" and "No Abortions Permitted in Library". These signs should be placed between American flags. Librarians should not be shy about stopping people from having abortions in the library!

7. Weed all the Greek Literature post-haste.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Benefit of the doubt

When you walk into my library I give you the benefit of the doubt. 

I assume you are not there to steal our almost, but very much not quite, valueless DVD collection. You don't believe in hitting children. You are not a cannibal, aren't looking for a fight, and won't chew on the books. I expect that you aren't going to start yelling in the fiction section and that you don't plan on using the bathroom and missing. My firm belief is that you are not a person to tear pictures of teen stars out of our magazines, that you have showered or bathed within the last month and, if you haven't, that you have contrived a passing facsimile thereof. You're not going to break things, try to convert people to Christianity or Mormonism, and that you aren't generally here to bug other people. You are not tracking anything horrible in on your shoes, you have parked your car in at least a vaguely legal way, and you have brought no explosive devices with you just to sort of toy with thoughtfully while sitting out in some dark corner of the non fiction stacks. I assume you are not a Nazi, Klanner, John Bircher, Climate Change denialist, or Republican. I figure that if you liked soccer, which I don't necessarily expect you to do, you would prefer Barcelona FC over Real Madrid. I think you would enjoy at least Jasper Fforde's first book. If you're going to eat here you're the sort of person who will be cleaning up, and you come equipped with a reasonable command over your ability not to spill your coffee all over the CD collection.

And so I happily welcome you here.

But the benefit of the doubt is a mighty load. And keeping it hoisted is an act of strength at the far measure of my ability. It is balanced delicately. A cold word to your child, an unsolicited mention of Jesus, the gratuitous removal of your socks, and it all comes tumbling down.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Whatever drives us on

Yes, I occasionally joke about a devotion to slackerdom at my job. I am keen on occasional discussions and confessions of on-the-clock not working.  I as firmly believe in doing a good job as I believe in not working too much and think that these have far more to do with each other than you have been led to believe.

Nevertheless there is a baseline of productivity I fervently believe in for myself. I think that every day I come to work, beyond certain basic responsibilities and fundamental public serving competencies, I should be getting a genuine measure of bulk work taken care of. At my library that usually comes down to shelving, transit and request processing, and putting stuff in order.

Everyday I get a share done.

Why? What contributes to this nobility? What drives my steady industriousness?


It is not a sense that I owe it, that I am being paid for it.

I do not do it to protect my sense of self worth or to meet an idea of myself.

It is not my sense of teamwork that drives me, or a desire to make the library more efficient.

It is not out of fear, to avoid trouble, to ward off the disapprobation of my colleagues or bosses.

It is not for love, money, ambition, or accolades.

I do it so that if one of my supervisors suggests to me, in any way, subtle or not, that I get to work, I can do less and make their comment or suggestion into the failure I so want it to be.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spirit animal

I was on my accustomed long morning walk. I had already reached the far side of the river. I had crossed both my bridges. There they were again. Turkeys! On a stone wall over the ice strewn Mississippi sat two enormous turkeys, looking at me searchingly. How long had they been waiting for me this time?

I tried and tried to get the noble, daffy moose to be the spirit animal of this blog, but to no avail. I would have been thrilled if a wolf stepped into the role. That did not happen, but I would also have been delighted for the fox or a coyote to be the spirit animal of clerkmanifesto. Either of those seemed so appropriate to our wily, ever so slightly disreputable tone. But it didn't work out that way. All my calls went unanswered. No, wait, one of my calls was picked up. It was picked up by a turkey. I don't know what it means that a turkey is the spirit animal around here.

The river turkeys are but five feet away from me on that wall. They are huge, iridescent, brown turkeys, nearly as big as I am. I am not terribly big, but in turkey terms, I am a hulking behemoth. So, thus, are they. I take a step towards them. The smaller of the turkeys flies into the river bluff and perches on a tree branch. That must be the trainee spirit turkey. My true spirit turkey is unphased by my approach. I am almost close enough to reach out and touch the bird. The bird does not look like it would mind. I am too shy.

Speak to me turkey! The turkey looks me in the eye. Oh, it's talking, it is talking, I just need to figure out how to hear.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What you want

What do you want from a customer service clerk?

Friendly? Yes, yes. Good.

Accurate? Right, excellent. Their mistakes can make you pay a dark price sometimes.

Quick? Sure. Absolutely, at least to a certain degree. I mean, how great is it if your clerk is competent at everything but takes forever?

These are three legs of the clerking table, so to speak, and you can get a table to stand okay on these legs, these virtues, of fast, accurate, and friendly. But when the chips are down, when things aren't exactly how they should be (and they often aren't), there is a fourth leg. You will above all want that fourth leg.

What is that fourth leg? What will you want?

You want a creative clerk.

Businesses and Institutions have a lot of rules. Many of these rules are very sensible. Some, occasionally, are not. But most of them, good or bad, are crude. Sometimes they are designed to protect from the far flung abuses of crazy or unethical people. Sometimes, oddly, they are simply there to protect clerks from working. Many, very many are for leaning on. They are there so a clerk doesn't have to reinvent or justify their seemingly specific act. I, for instance, am not saying that you're lying about who you are, I am merely required by some giant, abstract authority, to have a library card or picture ID to check out to you at my library. 

Actually, I am exactly saying you might be lying, who knows. I am professionally doubting you. The neutral, monolithic, god-like rule is merely something to hide behind while I do it.

But the fact is that sometimes your interaction with a clerk is a bespoke experience. It tangles with rules by accident, or it tangles with rules designed to prevent something that has nothing to do with what you reasonably want. A permissive clerk might let you check out on your good word or let you walk off with that book you desperately need, but often enough others in the community may pay a price for that largesse. The book may rightfully have been for someone else who can now get no justice, who has been cut in front of. On the other hand the strict clerk will simply tell you no. They are a servant of the rules, with you just the device to serve those rules. Indeed I have seen those people even invent extra rules to restrict you! But there, thankfully, in the middle, is the creative clerk. The creative clerk is like a safari guide. They know the land. They will show you the sights. If there is a way across they will get you across. To you, in your innocence or ignorance, it may look like a simple, straight shot from point A to point B. The permissive clerk will take you just that way, wrecking the land, or maybe leaving you stranded in mud. The strict clerk will say it is impossible, and they will leave you frustrated on the side of the road. But the creative clerk, your safari guide, will say that they cannot go straight or the jeep will cross a sensitive path of the elephants, and then the elephants will not come this way so readily in the future. They will say that the road is closed here because it is starting to churn into a quicksand, but that you deserve to see the elephants, and if they circle 'round, there is safe table rock that it cannot hurt to cross, though it requires a bit of caution and maneuvering, and if they slip under these trees you come out in a slightly better spot, here.

Elephants! Or the DVD you were hoping to see, or the answer to your question. They find the way through.

I roam the library I work at. I see my co-workers on the job. Sometimes it is hard to tell what they are up to, and sometimes it is very clear. Sometimes there are a lot of words, but I just hear "No".  "No, no, no, no, no". And sometimes I hear my co-worker guiding people through the bush, wily on the roads, clever at their suddenly intricate job, heading for the open savannah. Creative clerks. I hope they get there. They usually do.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The double

I usually find it enjoyable solving the patrons' small computer and Internet problems. There are a few automatic, recurring ones that are resolved with the snap of a finger, or perhaps I should say, with the click of a mouse; someone turned off the sound, or the print button is here. But a surprising number of computer problems have their unique aspects, and so present themselves as little puzzles. I really like puzzles, especially the easy kind that I can impressively solve.

Today I was noticing how common the double problem is, or, functionally, the double puzzle. There is the initial problem, and then there is the misguided thing the patron did to try and fix it, which creates a secondary problem. These must be untangled one after the other, especially when the patron confesses their deeds only under direct questioning.

A man comes to my desk. The screen on his computer suddenly went black. Can I help? Sure, I can help. This one sounds pretty easy, but one never knows. We get to his computer and the screen does indeed look quite dead. My diagnosis? A loose cable. I fiddle and jiggle under the screen. That's it. The power plug was loose. The power returns, and just as I'm about to get that Lone Ranger feeling and walk off into the sunset, it becomes clear to me that the screen, though now powered, is getting no signal. How odd. I look at the computer tower. It is off.

I turn it on.

"Did you turn off the computer?" I ask the gentleman I am helping.

"I might of." He answers quietly.

I tell him the computer will take a couple minutes to log back on and then I'm on my way.

Thank you masked man.

Aw, any especially intelligent genius would have figured it out eventually...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living the dream

One of my colleagues showed a small family to the back room of the library. We are not above conducting impromptu tours of our glamorous automated check in machine just because we're feeling nice without warning. Any number of us, out at the front desk, might go ahead and be nice just for the hell of it. It's better than surfing the Internet. It's better than putting carts of books in order. Aye, it has so little competition you'd think it would happen constantly. But, still, it manages to make a mark out there.

So a Mother, with her approximately six year old son and four year old daughter came back for the big machine tour. When I'm on the machine with children touring I like to go in for the extremely permissive role. "Do you want to put some books on the machine? Do you need these fingers? Do you want to surf along the rollers and belts of the machine? Would you like to see if the machine will suck you up here and spit you out there?" 

Yeah, they usually do.

All the excitement made a full convert of the boy, who, in the heat of the thrilling tour, proclaimed "When I grow up I am going to work here and come here every day and work on the machine!"

I swear to you, that is just what he said, this very day.

I am living the dream.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How I hate them

After nearly two years of blogging the clerkmanifesto I have become aware of how I am both extremely well suited to it and extremely poorly suited to it.

The fractured, new subject every day quality of blogging, the requirement for concision, the way I can sometimes complete something, a whole post, in as little as half an hour to an hour, the ability to share it around within a few days, the ever ready vehicle for all my whirring fevers of theories, jokes, satires, raves, and reveries. This blog is like having a perfectly tailored suit of clothes. It fits me everywhere, it moves with me. It is beautiful.

And yet I don't do so well out on the Internet. I sort of hate the Internet, and my blog is a creature of the Internet. But it's not exactly the Internet, and hating it isn't quite right. It's something else, something I struggle to express.

Fortunately I think I have found a way to say it.

I warn you that you will probably find it a bit off putting or even alarming. You may even be a little concerned for my mental health. And well you should be. It is one fierce emotion.  But speaking truth to our feelings is the first step to recovery.

Here it is:

I hate everyone who is not reading this.

I hate them. I hate them with a great hate.

Seven billion people or so, and I am hating them all, hating them from the bottom of my heart, hating them forever.

Oh how I hate them.

People I admire, my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jasper Fforde, Daniel Pinkwater and so on. I hate them. I think I even hate my favorite dead authors, Kafka and Farley Mowat and the like who could at least try. I hate old friends who aren't reading this. I hate that person who is sitting next to you, your dog, your cousin, my favorite soccer player Messi, random strangers. Oh how I hate them all! I hate people who do beautiful things, I hate artists, the campaigners for peace and justice, my nice co-workers, all those friendly library patrons at the library I work at. If they are not here, reading this, and oh how incredibly many of them aren't, I hate them.

Did I mention that I hate them? I hate them. Hate, hate, hate!

One simple line to cross. On the not reading clerkmanifesto side of that line my hatred rains down, heavy, endless. A rain of fire? A rain of water? No, a rain of dazzling drenching hate. I hate the hosts of angels in the heavens and I hate the demons in hell, but not if they read this. Convicts, Saints, custodians and presidents. I hate Reddit and Facebook and Google Plus and Stumbleupon and Boing Boing. I hate every road that does not lead here.

There is a hierarchy to it if you want. I certainly hate people more who have had the opportunity to read my blog, who have heard of it, or those who choose not to click on some link to it, or those who read it once and said "whatever" and never read it again. I hate all those people the most. Whereas someone in China, or maybe just someone who could hardly know such a thing as this blog exists, them I hate just a tiny bit, comparatively speaking.

Though you mustn't get me wrong, I still hate them.

I hate them all. I hate every single person on the planet and floating in the void. I hate people I cannot imagine, through history and in the future, every intelligence in all of time and space, who is not reading, or has not read, this.

I am not a sociopath. I might even be the opposite of a sociopath. I am a writer.

And my audience is everyone I do not hate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Random notes from the library

Random notes from the library:

It's almost like twitter around here today!

1. An old man called to renew a book. I asked him for the barcode number off of his library card. He read me the library's phone number.

2. We got a box of temporary tattoos in for a kid's event. The tattoos say "Read", a commandment that, when viewed, is fulfilled.

3. I saw The Dapper Man, who restlessly roams the genre fiction section making cell phone calls all day, complain (politely) to a woman in a study room that her cell phone call was disturbing him.

4. The library coffee shop, called Dunn Brothers, is now selling disposable, one shot coffee pods. Their orwellian advertising campaign? "Less Waste".

Monday, January 19, 2015




Just in case you don't get to all the comments on my blog, there was quite an active discussion on a recent post. I smashed my "most comments in a blog post" record! The swear word referred to in the first comment is concerning my use of the word *******, as in ******* Ancient Mariner. The ******* stands for fucking which I will not write here because I only swear once every 100 blog posts.





  1. We only use swear words once out of every 100 blog posts, so today is a special occasion!


    1. Swear word? Was it "bimbos"?
    2. Yes, exactly, it was "bimbos". I only felt okay using it because it was a direct quote.
  2. I only add 3 of my own comments to my blog posts once every 100 posts, so today is a special occasion!


    1. Isn't it actually five comments you've added, counting this one and the other comment you wrote that you pretended was from an anonymous user but was actually just you?
    2. No, the joke is on you! It is actually six comments!
  3. This is all very interesting, but does anyone read the comments down here?


    1. Not usually, which is the beauty of it, it's like whispering a secret to the wind, or writing a little prayer and shoving it into the cracks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
    2. Ooh! This sounds super interesting. How do I leave a comment?
    3. I'm sorry, comments are now closed for this post.
    4. How did I do this then?
  4. Just as a small point of interest, I am fast approaching my all time record for most comments on a single post!


    1. Hmm, though I am wondering if this record counts if I am the one leaving all the comments.
    2. I think so as long as in some of the comments you pretend to be an anonymous person and not yourself.
    3. Well then, SHAZAM! We have done it! Sixteen comments!
    4. Sixteen comments? Wow, this must really be a good blog post!
    5. Maybe, I hope so. I mean, I can't even remember the blog post, but I am high as a kite on all these comments!
  5. Hey, good work on all the comments. I know what it's like- I'm getting a lot of reaction to my upcoming album of Frank Sinatra songs.


    1. Bob, I am touched that you read my blog, and I think you are great, but if you keep promoting your cd of Sinatra covers on my blog I swear I will ban you so fast your head will spin!
    2. I am sorry, I don't know what comes over me! If there's anything I can do to make it up to you let me know. Do you need any sneakers?
    3. Actually, I do have a small, er, request. Not for me, but if it's not too late for a favor?
    4. Anything, just say the word.
    5. I would like you to take a nice break from touring and then publicize a really huge return concert, maybe solo acoustic. During that concert spend at least half the stage time chatting affably to the crowd, telling stories, making wry comments, you know the thing. When you play songs do them pretty similarly to how they are on the records.

      Would this be okay?
    6. You totally had me going there!

      But do you think I should take a break from my tour and spend a couple weeks with my daughter?
    7. Bob, I've begged you not to ask me these questions. I don't know. I don't know you or your daughter.
    8. Right, right. Sorry. I'm sorry.
  6. Hey, is that really Bob Dylan?

    And congratulations on all the comments, all from different people, almost none of whom are actually you!


    1. I don't understand, who else would it be other than Bob Dylan?

      I know! The comments, there's like thirty some! I feel like Smitten Kitchen!

      Btw, love the painting, especially the deposition one at the Vatican.
    2. Thanks, it's all in the glaze work.

      Love the blog, keep up the good work!
    3. I'll try, but lately I'm spending so much time writing comments it's hard to keep up with the blog! lol.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


I like to complain as much as the next person, especially if the next person is, like, a huge complainer. But it is hard to find much purchase when I want to complain about my blog. I think this has to do with my super non-professional status. Everything I do here is just so glaringly optional. If I'm going to be carrying on about the difficulties of the brutal seven day a week writing deadline I'm on, I'm very aware of that sharp voice that will be there to shrug, and narrow its eyes, and say "So write a post every three days then."  In the end I just don't have much to say back to that. "Oh, right, yes, Mr. smart guy, but then my blog will only be like, um, an every, um, three days blog, I guess."

Not that that sharp voice there isn't a bit of a jerk, because he totally is.

Professionally, what I am paid for is my job as a library clerk. And if I complain bitterly about having to work most days of the week at the library, or I complain about all the time it takes, or the hierarchy, or how boring it can occasionally be, there might still be a voice to say "So, don't do it. No one is making you." But I have plenty of answers to that: I have to eat. I need money. I have to make a living!

 I suppose there are all kinds of clever, complicated ways to approach life in order to make an end run around the bulk assertiveness of money: pigs in the backyard, creative acquaintances with dumpsters, crafty engagements with craigslist, etc., but none of them are likely to improve my quality of life in any real way, nor do I seem terribly suited to them. Likewise there are, theoretically, all these spiffing jobs out there that, if I were just an amazing enough person, I could do in order to be super fulfilled in my work life. If I were to believe all the magazines and books that come through my library, and all the social media I'm always crashing into on the Internet, some 80 percent of everyone is doing incredibly valuable, engaging, fun, well-compensated work. The great jobs are out there. Go get them.

Many years ago I read a great book by Studs Terkel, called Working. It's basically people's accounts of their jobs and how those jobs are for them, how they feel about their jobs. I hope I don't get this foggy memory of the book too wrong, but the way I remember it there were like two people in the whole fat book who were just totally engaged by and thrilled with their jobs. The other two hundred emphatically weren't. I wonder how much has changed in the 40 or so years since that book came out. I don't know. I hope it's better for people. Mostly I suspect that feelings are pretty similar underneath, but everyone is selling themselves so hard these days, everyone is self marketing so passionately that it might be harder to get down to it.

What? You're more interested in my personal experience than my idle speculation? Okay. My job is a cruel grind and a modest pleasure. Good and bad and it puts me in the 99%.

My blog? Oh, that's not a job. It's more like a little fire.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


One of my oldest library jokes, which probably isn't really a joke, says that library patrons will no longer be known by the antiquated term "patrons", rather they will be known from now on, to better reflect on their role in our library system, as "suspects". This is hard to count as a joke not because it isn't hilarious. It is. It's very hilarious. But rather because it is so functionally true.

Most of us here at this library are pretty nice and at least fairly good at our jobs. Only my crappy co-workers are out at the front desks getting all cagey and begrudging with the people they're helping. Some of us even really like the public. But behind the scenes, in private co-worker conversations, in spontaneous back room discussions, in glancing drive by comments, patrons are regarded with a grave suspicion. The stories about them tend to be dark, or outraged, irritated or wounded. I would hazard a guess that no more than five percent of the people who come to the library are any kind of trouble at all, but 95 percent of the discussion will be about that five percent.

It's easy for me to joke about because I don't much share this tendency. I'm not above loathing an occasional patron, but I tend to find the enormous swath of them all sort of dear and heartbreaking. And I think, as much as we can, we should give them what they want. We are the public library. They are the public.

So I find, on most issues that I have a say in, and ever so many I don't, really, I am more on the side of the patron. And often enough, when I am the instigator on some small new addition to our library, it involves something I think the patrons might like.

For instance, our counter of office supplies.

For years and years if a library visitor needed a stapler or scissors or pen or paperclip or envelope they'd have to come to the desk and borrow one. I proposed a little office supply area on a counter near the copier, one with all of the above tools and a few more besides. It was low profile enough to win approval without too much fuss, and I set it up. It went okay. And though I think on the whole my co-workers liked it, perhaps mostly because they no longer had to hand over the stapler six times a day to the same guy, I also heard a lot of suspicion. There was a good deal of worry that everything would just sort of disappear.

"Are we really going to trust the patrons with scissors, a stapler?"

I guess so. We did. We wrote on everything we could to identify it as property of the library and, about a year ago, put it all just out there. Unsupervised. Chaos.

Things seemed to go pretty well, and I haven't much thought about it lately. Until today. Today was a scissors census.

We usually have about seven pairs of scissors around for our diverse staff. Over time the scissors scatter and I have to hunt them down in the far corners of the library.  But today I looked everywhere in the library, and I could not find any more of these scissors. They were gone! Six pairs of staff scissors were lost for good, all now needing to be replaced. They weren't scattered. We are down to only one pair. 

Of course, that's not counting the patrons' pair of scissors. It is in fine condition. Sitting in it's accustomed place, a year later, along with all it's friends; the stapler, the staple remover, the highlighter, and so on. For them, the wild and unscrupulous patrons, I have not had to replace a single thing.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Well adapted

Another sub zero day for my morning walk. I'm no hero, no tough guy, no arctic explorer. I just have to get somewhere that's 3.5 miles away. I have no better way to do that than walking. I put on my endless layers of clothes until I am unbearably hot, and I step outside. It is minus 7, but I can't tell. It doesn't feel so cold to me. Maybe it's because it's not windy, really there's just a light breeze, and sun. I crunch along the brittle snow. Did you know that here in Minnesota we have over a thousand adjectives we can use to describe snow? Some of those adjectives don't make a huge amount of sense, like "juicy snow", some run to redundancy, like "cold snow", but still, over a thousand adjectives is a lot and goes to show how concerned we are about the snow. We talk about little else, and why would we? Snow expresses everything about us.

I walk through my neighborhood, breath steaming lightly. The world is white and grey/brown. All those sprawling, bare trees. The streets are lightly sprinkled with crows, cats, lost gloves. About half way to my destination (my car) I realize that I am not getting colder. No, it is minus 7 and I am actually sweltering. I spend too much time under the delusion that I couldn't possibly remove any of my clothes in such weather, but once it's clear to me that I can, I start peeling layers. My coat comes off. I tie it around my waist. One of my hats must be folded higher up. One comes off. As I cross the mighty Mississippi I expect bitter winds on the bridge, the need to add layers. But no, the icy winds are merely refreshing. My mittens, warm and wet, have to come off. Nearly at my car, my scarf comes off, radiating heat, and my final hat. I am now dressed for a pleasant fall afternoon. It is no act of hardiness, no hubris, no showing off. I am steaming. I am comfortable. The battle is over.