Friday, July 14, 2017


Shelving books at a library wears everyone down. Everyone. We never have had, and never will have, a great, long term shelver of books.

We could have an explicit rule that says "For every hour one is assigned to shelve books, we expect a person to shelve books for at least 30 minutes." The advantage of this rule would be that it is roughly accurate to what everyone actually does. The disadvantage of this rule is that, due to human nature, everyone would probably start shelving for 15 minutes, thinking "Surely no one expects me to shelve for the whole 30 minutes of my hour of shelving!"

On the other hand maybe if we had that 30 minute rule nothing would change. I don't believe most of us hate shelving. There are times when most of us like it. It can be our one chance to get away from everybody. How long can I, for instance, wander around the library working myself up into a lather about how no one else is doing any of the work I'm supposed to be doing, or thus may have to do. I need a break. Sometimes shelving is that break.

But one can't live on shelving.

Oh sure, every rare once in awhile we hire some amazing new person and they look like a real shelver. Naturally everyone is delighted with them. They are diligent, and industrious, and they like shelving. Give them a whopping three scheduled hours shelving and they spend three whole hours shelving. The manager, the one who only wants people to look busy, will adore them. But thinking they are just the sort of person they want to see around more in the workroom they will assign them to less and less shelving and more and more to tangential tasks, where they can observe and admire their industriousness. These once great shelvers will get a taste for these stray jobs. Everyone does. There's a feeling of responsibility, importance, and control of one's destiny that goes with them. Soon they will have taken something like organizing the incoming book donations, which got by for years with no one at all doing anything about it, and grown it into a mildly useful six or seven hour a week job. Now when it comes time to shelve for an hour they're just too backed up with book donation organizing to get to it right away. They need to empty these three boxes first. Then it's time for their fruit snack. Then they can get to their shelving. No problem, there's still about half an hour left. 

Which brings me to an older, cherished fantasy of shelving I still harbor: Every worker, at any level, who comes to the library, should do a small tithe of shelving.

I made a joke, as in joking on the square, last night, to a visiting branch manager that did not go well. She asked where our P.I.C. was, which took me a moment until I realized she meant Person In Charge. I said that we're more of an egalitarian library, not dominated by hierarchical structures. She became a bit more terse, and I instructed her on her way. She went and joined three other managers for two hours of a community program that required somewhere between zero and one staff members, closer to zero. It was an interesting program. Do I object to their gathering to chat, fuss around it, and then watch it for 90 minutes? No, no, no. Just so long as, since they're here, they put in an hour of shelving. This might seem like a lot, but it only takes half an hour, and even less if one works really hard.

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