Sunday, November 15, 2015

Amateur hour

I have been writing a lot about new employees lately, and through them about old employees too, but it recently struck me that there is a similar distinction among our library patrons as well. 

Our library is full of grizzled, veteran library users. They are keenly aware of our systems and have their own areas of expertise, such as using the request system to exploit every minute advantage, or grabbing the best study room for the day, or arriving every Tuesday at 11 to check out one copy of each new rental DVD release whether they want to watch them or not. The most extreme of these dedicated patrons come in every single day. But many come weekly, or whenever their schedule allows. They're regulars, specialists, professional library users. I know many by name, virtually all by habit, and generally, if they need help from me, it will be on a more sophisticated, nuanced level.

On the other hand we also get a vast number of new library users. Of course, everyone has to start somewhere, and all those pro library users were once neophytes. But there is a wide swath of people who come infrequently enough that they forget how everything works in their long spaces between visits. And there is a surprisingly huge contingent of people who come in one time, bumble inaccurately through our unfamiliar (to them) systems, and never come again.

Because so many of these complete beginners come on the weekend I have started to think of working the front desk on weekends as Amateur Hour. My skills are not put to the test in providing a constant stream of describing where the bathroom is, or registering cards, or explaining how you don't do that here, you do that there, but I will take care of it here for today. I don't mind instructing people on how to insert a book through a slot. I don't mind checking someone's books out because they don't understand our seven simple self check out stations, or merely can't find them. I don't mind teaching someone how to look up a book and then maybe find a book. I don't mind showing someone where we put the book that's on hold for them. I don't mind telling someone how to get on a computer. But there is a lot of it on the weekend, and I have to try hard to forget that on those days my careful lessons and preparations will never be used again. I do not love the brief tedium of library card registration, but it is only for me to get a person a card. It is for them alone to decide what they want to do with it; whether that is to never use the card again, or whether it is to unlock the secrets of the universe.

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