Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Rush hour library

The library is hopping. Action swirls around me. It's an early evening on a midweek Winter day and I am at the front desk of my library. So it begs the question:

If it's so busy how am I writing this?

Accounting for the fact that I have already been interrupted 37 times in the course of writing what little you have read so far, there is something significant to my still being able to do this while rush hour churns through my library. Ten or fifteen years ago at this library the idea that I would have more than 30 seconds of uninterrupted time would have been laughable. I used to have the kind of three minute conversations with my co-workers that I have now, except they would have to be broken up into one or two sentence snippets and parsed out over an hour or two. Sometimes there would merely be a futile attempt at conversation. The whole discussion would just go nowhere for the whole time, like, for example, this:

"I went to this great cheese shop on Thursday!"

"Oh, really. What was... oh, hold that thought."


"So you were telling me about the cheese shop..."

"Right, but, wait."


"What were we talking about again?"

"Was it the White Stripes?"

"Hmm. No."

"Wait, hold that thought."


"Oh, I know what we were talking about. You were going to tell me about the cheese shop."

"Right! I went to this great cheese shop Thursday!"

"Hold that thought."


It took an awfully long time to learn much about my co-workers in conversations like that, but one thing a person had doing the kind of work we were doing was a lot of time, heavy time.

So, right. What changed?

In addition to the automated check in machine's prodigious contributions, library patrons can do all sorts of things for themselves now. They can check out their own books. They can look up their own records. They can renew online at home. We used have to do everything for them. Now we only have to do the strange and difficult things for them.

I was telling my young co-worker about all this while we were working at the front desk.

"So is this better or worse now?" My co-worker asked.

"Wait, hold that thought." I said.

I've been busy writing this, so we haven't gotten back to it yet.


  1. You nailed it...this is exactly why I retired when I did: "Now we only have to do the strange and difficult things for them." My favorite parts of the job were chatting with patrons, especially kids, when they checked in books, and checking out their books on the other end of the counter. Well, and shelving of course. And pulling requests. Even emptying the bookdrop. But you are welcome to all of the strange and difficult bits!

    1. Thank you. I'll take them. It's the next 5,000 registrations that I dread.

  2. I still feel weird checking out the books myself, and take extra delight in moseying over to the reserved book section and then thanking the librarian for shelving it.

    In my profession I kind of long for the days when you had class, a few office hours a week, and if a student had questions, she could also stay after class. If there was an emergency, there might be a phone message at work.

    Now they send emails. Lots of them. And there are all sorts of district emails announcing a million different things like possible transfers for the music department in our sister college, or a speech somewhere, or or or. Funnily enough, many faculty have to put the hours they *won't* be answering emails on their syllabi.

    1. Hmm, I would have been too shy to contact any of my college professors outside of class, no matter what the method. Though if what I've gleaned from the library holds, ten percent of your students would generate 90 percent of the emails.

      Also I can see how the old days might be nicer in the classic professions, like Doctor, or Professor, or Librarian, but down here in the trenches plusses have outweighed the minuses at least two to one.


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