Here is my fever dream of the end of the world as it is reported in the newspaper. It doesn't matter much from which newspaper- New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Star Tribune. They are more distinguishable by their font than they are by their ideology.
Angry Trump Lashes Out at New Zealand
President Trump, said to be furious at the lack of cheese on his cheeseburger, demanded more cheese from New Zealand, who, he said, have "lots of sheep" and are "being stingy just to spite him".
Below the fold story number one:
Reports suggest than Trump angrily hurled his cheeseburger against a White House wall and demanded more cheese on his burgers. White House spokespeople denied this as "More President hating" and also denied reports that a startled kitchen staffperson blamed New Zealand in a "moment of panic" and then had to stick to her story when Trump seized on it.
Below the fold story number two:
The New Zealand Prime Minister said he was sorry the President was unable to enjoy his dinner, but that New Zealand exports very little sheep cheese to the U.S. and had nothing to do with the situation. It is merely an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Third page analysis:
Is New Zealand withholding cheese? What is our recourse if New Zealand is withholding cheese and other essential products from the U.S. in violation of world trade agreements?
On Tuesday nights I work the front desk with a Buddhist co-worker. Sometimes reincarnation, monks, and light Buddhist themes come up in discussion. This Tuesday she came across a copy of The Four Noble Truths: A Guide to Everyday Life, and she was pretty interested in it. So she showed it to me. I looked. I'd seen the book already.
So I handed it back and said:
"In my past life I was a Buddhist. In this life it's my only one."
As the concept of going fine free sweeps through the world of twin cities libraries like an angry wind, many key issues come flying through the back halls and shabby conference rooms of my library. A key one was addressed in a question posed by a library board member.
"Why," She asked the library director "Can't we get rid of library fines?"
"Because we need the money." The library director answered.
Fair enough. But then the board member had an inspiration. Or maybe she was planning it all along. "How much" She asked "Staff time would we save if staff no longer had to spend time collecting fines?"
This is the question that came down the line to us, the circulation workers, down here. No, no, way down here! Yes, us, working in the ol' boiler rooms of the library system, stoking the ol' engines. Hi.
We all had quite a chat about this. Ten minutes an hour was thrown out as a figure, which on reflection seemed seriously inflated. Five? For one person or two? I weighed in at this point with an impassioned "What we do here at the front desk of the library cannot be quantified by mere numbers!" This didn't add a lot to the conversation.
We didn't settle on anything exactly. Except that we need a chess clock! See, you're at the front desk of the library and someone gives you their card. You hit the chess clock GO button, then say "You have 30 cents in fines on your card." They say "I'll get it later." Then you slam the STOP button. Then you repeat as applicable.
This is the only way to get an accurate picture of how much time we spend on fines currently.
Plus, as the supply procurer for the library, it would be fun to order a chess clock. I've really grown to enjoy ordering all kinds of junk for the library.
Which, unfortunately, takes a lot of money.
Everyone just remain calm.
It was a minor issue and there are no indications that there were any actual bedbugs at the library.
I believe it's all taken care of.
And not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I handled it pretty well. I was cool in a crisis, as one says, and I think I made some valuable contributions to the resolution of the problem.
We don't really have a protocol, exactly, for this situation, but I was able to contribute, I think, to a plan of action.
So I think we're going to be okay. God willing. Not that there's the kind of a god that wills stuff, but, you know what I mean.
I wasn't even there for the start of it.
Apparently a man came in and said he had bedbugs in his house. And by the way, here are our three library books back.
My colleague took care of these books, or "nests" as I like to think of them. She got them into a paper bag and clamped it up with gigantic binder clips. She washed her hands. She was sitting with the bag of books on the table next to her when I came in to start my day.
"A man returned these books." She said to me. "He had bedbugs in his house and thought we should know. What do you think we should do?" She asked.
"Throw them away!" I screamed in terror, backing away.
"Yeah, I thought so." She said. "I just wondered if we should..."
"Throw them away! In the dumpster!" I yelled. "Don't do anything to them! Throw them away! Throw them away!" And then I took a few steps further back.
Then she said something about how, yeah, she was going to go throw them away in the dumpster now, but I didn't hear it too clearly because I was standing so far away from her.
Then she went and threw them away while I went and washed for awhile.
Now I feel kind of itchy.
Name of Museum:
The Sistine Chapel (Part of The Vatican Museums, but reviewed here as a specific element just because I'm feeling like it).
Overall rating (not a strict average of the below) out of 100:
85! Yes, I'm aware this rating is insane!
9-4 M through Sa. plus other expensive, dedicated visits by arrangement. Closed for awhile after Popes die.
Not bad for Rome, 3 stars.
Quality of building architecture:
Fine, bland, old, and you are unlikely to be able to see it unless you're in a helicopter because it's positively crammed in with the Vatican buildings. That said, it's in Rome. Everything is pretty in Rome!
Quality of interior design and display:
This gets complicated. It's all pretty bare and barnlike except some dead guys painted stuff over all the walls, and especially on the ceiling, which must have been really hard, and some of these paintings turn out to be the among the most brilliant painting ever created. This is where a conflicted rating for the place comes in. Like, the ceiling paintings are amazing, and yet viewable only in crowds with yelling guards, from a terrible angle, and at too great a distance. The best way to enjoy it I think would be to become a Cardinal and wait for a Pope to die.
General location in the World:
Rome. Rome, Rome, Rome, bella Roma.
More specific location in city:
Vatican City is easy to get to. It can be an interesting neighborhood of Rome, though a lot of it is either crowded, requires a wait in line to access, involves tedious airport check like security, and involves running a carnival gauntlet of bric a brac vendors, but I'm being a bit jaded. I mean, another way of looking at the Sistene Ceiling location is that it's in the same area as the Vatican Museums, since it's just a part of it, and that museum holds possibly the single greatest painting I've ever seen, Caravaggio's The Deposition, among not a few other treasures of the human soul.
Cost and entrance fees:
17 Euros. Free to Catholics.
Naw, I'm just messing with you. 17 Euros even to Catholics. So I will continue to be an atheist. Well, a pantheathiest. Well, more of a polypantheatheist. And alas, I don't think there's a discount for that either.
Ease of access:
Complicated, sucky, full of lines and security and vaguely complicated optional reservation systems and scamming bookers. I can't entirely blame them for all of this though. It's a popular... thing! You can have a nice walk there though.
Vocation of the Apostles by Ghirlandaio. Okay, I'm kidding, but it's not like the other frescoes are bad or something what with Botticelli and the like. And one could make a legit preference for Michelangelo's later Last Judgement on the back wall, which is, at least, easier to see. Still, I don't buy it, in the end it's the Sistene ceiling that's the best, and it's really really good. Really good. Good. Really something. If only I could get a good look. I brought binoculars. It didn't help much. And it turns out you're not allowed to lie on the floor. Sorry. They let me do that in the Barberini!
Naturally it's the frescoes of Michelangelo, who complained the whole time he was painting them that he's a sculptor! And, weird thing, he is! This ceiling stuff is gorgeous, especially, alas, in pictures, but the sculpture, oh lord, though, sorry, none of that is in here. You'll have to pop over to the main church for that.
Nevertheless, 5 stars
Revolving collections and shows:
Nope, none that I know of.
5 stars (because it would be silly if they did).
Noisy, crowded, uncomfortable, disappointing, but not really allowed to be disappointing. Yes you should see it, but if you can resist, I really respect that.
Power mad, overdressed monsters on their best day. Watch out for their angry staffs!
You're not even allowed to think about food in there. I guess that's okay. It's not a convivial hangout anyway.
To expedite making reviews of museums I thought it would be nice to have a template. To have a template one has to write a template. So I'm going to do so.
"That's too boring!" you cry out.
No, not you. You wouldn't cry out like that! I am referring to you. And, fair enough. Good point you! So for my template I will also fill it in, using as an example, my local go-getter museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is maybe now officially called the MIA, which is perhaps slightly too cute, but I won't mark them down for it.
Are you ready?
Name of Museum:
The Mia, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis MN, USA
Overall rating (not a strict average of the below) out of 100:
I give it a 90 because I like it and because it's our own local museum.
Th and F 10-9, Sa, Tu, and W 10-5, and Su 11-5. Closed Monday.
Good for a museum, kind of weak for a library. But they're not a library, though they do have a small nice one inside (by appointment only).
Quality of building architecture:
They say it's Beaux Arts and who am I to argue. That means it's sort of a Frenchified Classical looking thing. It's actually pretty grand and nice, especially when one enters from the old proper entrance on the north side, up the grand staircase that is now more often closed in lieu of the more modern, less impressive glassy side entrance. New buildings have been added in a connected way. They're all right.
Quality of interior design and display:
It's a nice big place with interesting features, rooms, period rooms, and displays. The variety of staircases are fun and the main window view is well featured and kind of spectacular sometimes with its near downtown view. It's a large place, but usually just short of overwhelming. Some of the viewing rooms can get a little warren-like, which can be good or bad depending.
General location in the World:
Minneapolis. It's really nice here. Don't make a special trip.
More specific location in city:
There's a park to the north that's a pleasant buffer. A short walk east takes one to "Eat Street" Nicollet Avenue, where there is a fairly interesting variety of restaurants. In most directions it's slightly divey, cut off by freeways, and bounded by overwhelming ugly urban boulevards. The museum grounds also host a decently peaceful courtyard and a good art college, but there's just not that much besides the museum to explore and it won't be part of an interesting walk or bike ride without a lot of craftiness and effort.
Cost and entrance fees:
Free except for a fairly expensive ticket if you want to hit the special exhibit going on, which may or may not be great, but is never necessary. Lots of boxes you can drop cash in if you want, but none of that shaming "Pay what you want but pay something" crap the Chicago Art Institute and the Met have employed before deciding to just soak the hell out of people because they're elitist assholes.
Ease of access:
If you have a car it's pretty good. They made their lot a pay lot, but it is almost never impossible to find decent street parking. Buses suck in the city but work. The train is too far. Biking and walking here can be a bit mazey.
3 stars, which is a bit generous, but it's my city and I have a car.
Oddly hard to say since I've been here so much and I've had my own favorites over the years, like the brilliant, witty Grant Wood view of Herbert Hoover's birthplace that they share with the Des Moines Art Center. But on the signature piece level one might want to go with the Rembrandt (Lucretia) or the Van Gogh. No single thing will bring one here.
This is more of a breadth kind of a museum, and they do a good job of it too. Still, their Asian collection is surprisingly excellent and the highest rate of delightful surprises will be found among it.
Revolving collections and shows:
Yes indeed. Sometimes the focus is a bit too insistently contemporary for this sort of "history of all art ever" kind of museum, but they do a fine job of it. They always run one big time show at a time, which varies in quality, but can be mindbogglingly brilliant, and the museum has seen visits from Caravaggio, Delacroix, Vermeer, and Da Vinci, which does set a high water mark that leaves little room for improvement.
I just like it here. There's a nice Chihuly chandelier at the entrance, big spaces, quiet nooks. It's a good place.
They are generally pleasant and helpful without being amazing.
There's a sort of restaurant cafeteria which seems to be open like 15 minutes a day three days a week, and though I exaggerate, it is merely an expression of my hate. Their food is, er, mediocre. They do have a still fairly good cafe (in the coffee bar sense of the word) which was actually great for about a year until the museum made a deal with someone else (I don't know the story). Unlike the restaurant (never open, remember), that one is open with the museum's hours I believe so...well done. My frustration with their lack of ambition and vision on this score, even as they manage some good things, makes this complicated to score.
How about 3 stars?
Big. Lots of nice stuff. Interesting. Bespoke. Pricey, but that's to be expected. Albeit a wee bit too polished sometimes for my taste.
A terrible person died the other day. And who am I to call a person terrible?
I am the judge and I am the vision.
I will not argue with someone over the sky being blue, over one being less than two, or over David Koch being evil. These are too self evident to cast the complainant in the light of respect. Besides, we are not here to explain, but rather to witness the passing of darkness. The passing of darkness should be observed and rejoiced in. As Gandhi said:
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall--- always.
And so why not mark the occasion with a few quotes:
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live long enough to savor that when they finally put you in the ground, I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.
Who's next. Mark Twain is here to lighten things back up a bit with:
I didn't attend the funeral, but I wrote a nice letter approving of it.
And as David Koch was a fierce denier of climate change for his own now entirely useless gain and everyone else's despair, I am put in mind here of Max Planck, who said:
Science advances one funeral at a time.
We can hope so. Oscar Wilde said:
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Clarence Darrow, remarked, in a similar vein:
I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.
But even as we perhaps rejoice in the death of evil, it is never a happy time. So perhaps we can end on the more hopeful rumination of Simone Weil:
Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.
I guess you already know this. Maybe I knew it and somehow lost it along the way. It has to do with The White Stripes.
I can't believe I didn't know it. I'm almost embarrassed. I''m a little embarrassed.
The White Stripes is one of the very few bands I've ever been wildly enthusiastic about contemporaneously with their heyday. It creates a special bond. I am extremely well acquainted with their oeuvre. That's the background.
This morning my family was sitting down to breakfast.
There are just two people in my family. It's perfect.
And with coffee and the sad impending moving on with our days coming up we fell to chatting. The White Stripes came up after Dolly Parton came up. We discussed The White Stripes lowered profile these days. There's always been a strain of people mistakenly believing that, while it's cool to like The White Stripes, it's a bit of special cool not to. I find it disrespectful considering they were the last rock band.
RIP, rock n roll.
It was great. Mostly.
But as a counter to their lowered profile we did briefly touch on the sheer iconographic power of Seven Nation Army, their master hit, which led to a brief discussion, almost naturally, of riffs.
Then my wife had to gather things for leaving. I went to wash my cold press glass. I was humming the simple, yet astonishingly catchy and powerful guitar line. So few notes, and yet so utterly magical.
"Hey, I wonder how many notes" I thought.
I am not one to generally provide advice to managers. Managers are like genies. Their power and promise is irresistible; maybe they will fire your incompetent co-worker, perhaps they will recognize your area of creative expertise and give you interesting responsibilities, or maybe, if you say it at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way, they will even institute your excellent, innovative workplace improving idea. But alas, like genies, if a manager does take your advice, your wish, they will only apply it in a variant version that is darker and less ambitious than the dream that formed your wish in the first place, and your best possible outcome, only if you're very lucky, will be minuscule improvement. It could come out much worse, and it will never come remotely close to the fulfillment of your heart.
This is because managers have managers.
And a certain amount of sense, whether native or manufactured, for appealing to managers is in itself what led to any manager becoming a manager. In any hierarchical system the more power, benefits, and freedom one has, that is the more managerial one is, or the higher one is in that hierarchy, the more one is inclined to find that the system one works in is fundamentally whole and just, even if one still might think it could bear improving. Concomitantly the lower down one is the more inclined one is to understand that said system is fundamentally broken, which it is, and in serious need of dramatic fixes and improvements.
I have been thinking of these ideas all afternoon and I could go on at great length about them. But then I remembered: I came here today to help library managers.
And since in this space we are all neutral, equal sorts of people, with me getting to choose every single word that is expressed, I will share some important information about library circulation staff, useful in their hiring and firing, and also useful in understanding their very few, but very important levels of quality.
Please note: I will call this "circulation staff" henceforth "clerks" because it's such a glamorous, mellifluous sounding word and one compellingly attractive to the Internet.
The five rating levels of clerk.
Level Five: There are no fives. The job, constrained by institutional rules, lack of autonomy, low pay, too many hours of work, and conflicting demands, makes it impossible to be a five.
Level Four: There are fours. I'm one! I know exactly what I'm doing. I care. And I only screw around 50 percent of the time (okay, 60). Reluctantly I acknowledge that there are other kinds of "fours". For instance one could mostly know what they're doing. Sort of care. And only screw around ten percent of the time and be a four. It takes a village!
Level Three: It would be easy to say a three is merely a less of the above, but surprisingly that is only sometimes the case. Yes, on the one hand a three can be exactly like the above only less so, and yet a three can also be exactly like a four except full of shit about it.
Level Two: In the preface of my remarks about twos I want to prepare you for the fact that a two, while ranking higher than a one, is actually the worst of all clerks. I have seen many times how keeping a level two clerk can cause literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to a system over the years. Their mistakes, corrosive nature, and lack of productivity are a terrible drain on any library. I currently work with two of them and just spent two weeks (not) training one. But what is a two? A two is someone who by nature does not really care because they don't know how to. They don't exactly screw around any amount of the time because they have nothing to contrast the screwing around with. And they don't ever understand what they're doing except in the sense of pretending to do the job they're doing. They are not actual clerks. They merely feign to be one. Their co-workers and the public will regularly fall for these often pleasant, but ever desperate liars to the extent that they think they're clerks, albeit bad ones. But alas, these people at the level two only know how to roughly simulate what the job of clerk looks like.
Level One: Level one clerks sort of don't exist because no one normally will hire them or retain them, but they do actually show up sometimes through various loopholes. They're like the level two above except they are not false in manner. They can't fake that they know what they're doing so usually they quit somewhere in training. I have nevertheless worked with a few grandfathered in level one clerks who thrived as wards of the state and were assigned to a narrow, simple array of tasks. My theory is that level two clerks can be retained by being treated very consciously as level ones, but it would take a far more committed and clear-eyed manager than I have ever run into. The temptation would always be there to treat the two as a real clerk in times of need and that would never be the right thing to do.
Conclusion: To properly staff your library you will want to have a good mix of all of the four clerk types.
Just kidding. You want all level fours. There will be easily enough problems just with the highest level of clerks. Nevertheless you will sadly get threes whether you wanted them or not. However any level twos are a sin against god and say bad things about everyone involved, and they should only be pitied after their death or dismissal. Not from malice, but for the protection of other people.
And the ones? Having a one around is very trying and exhausting. It is also unlikely to happen. And while I personally feel glad we don't currently employ one in my library, I nevertheless believe they're good luck and wonder if we shouldn't make the sacrifice.
If you have read, or at least glanced at, all 2,406 of my previous blog posts, you will understand that I enjoy a good template. If however you missed one, and only caught 2,405 of my previous blog posts, you will probably be wondering "Wait a second, who are you again?"
It's me. Meeee!
And I love a good template.
"Oh, right." You respond. But look who I'm telling how you respond! You know how you respond. You're you!
Wait, you are you, right?
Me? I'm the person who loves a good template. I'm just not very good at using them. Conceptually I'm strongly pro template. But practically I am the most bespoke person you will ever meet.
You haven't met me? Sure you've met me! I'm me, the one who loves a good template.
But I think I like a good template just so I can break it.
Recently I wrote a review of The Minnesota Marine Art Museum and it went pretty well, by which I mean the Museum itself saw it and told me all these nice things about it and asked if they could put it on their web page. I enthusiastically wrote back and said "Yes!" And then I never heard from them again.
This might make you a little sad, but that counts as a super successful blog post for me.
It doesn't make you sad?
Well, it makes me a little sad.
Anyway, the point is that it made me think about how it would be nice to write more reviews. No one noticed that my 200 Reviews of Rome series sort of petered out in the forties or fifties, but I remember, and more reviews are still required! Plus my wife and I are going to Florence soon, and so I thought:
Wouldn't it be great if I had a template for museum reviews!
And then I thought:
It sure would!
And then I sat down to write a really good one, and this came out instead.
Downstairs I go after shelving in the fiction section of the library.
"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"!" I exclaim randomly to the first person I run into.
"Really." They reply. "Did you like it?"
"It was fine."
"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I tell someone else a few moments later.
"Wow." They say.
"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I say again, to a new person as soon as I can find one.
"My goodness. That's really something."
"Yes it is." I say.
"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I say to someone else as I come upon them.
"OH!" They say.
Then, "All of it?" They ask.
I shrug. "It's only four words."
I've read it, and now so have you, four times no less.
The twinkling midnight city of Minneapolis is lit up but not in operation tonight. My blog is mysteriously down too as I write, but if you're managing to read this somewhere in the future I suppose it isn't anymore. You are always in the future to me, racing off to your spaceship at the drop of a hat and managing to read my blog because all technical difficulties are ancient history in your blissfully perfect utopia of the future.
Last week the Perseid Meteor Showers came and I got very excited about them. Who doesn't love a shooting star? But as I made my plans for watching bits of space debris go burning across the sky I remembered two unfortunate things:
It was overcast.
I live in a City of lights.
There are maps and scales for light pollution to help one choose the best places to see into space. I, like maybe you, live in nearly the worst measured area for seeing the stars, an eight or nine on the Bortle Scale. On these maps of light pollution it looks like we are all burning to death here. But if we could just get ourselves out to the middle of Lake Superior everything would be a perfect "one". Stars would fill the sky, and shooting stars would flood down like rain, I mean, if it weren't cloudy, or, er, if it were cloudy. Oh it's all so confusing!
Of course the Perseids are pretty much over now for the year. There is only me falling from the sky. I look out my windows in the night and see but a few pale stars, even though the sky is clear. Lights are everywhere, except in the great Mississippi River gorge, which is quiet and has retreated for the night into space. The city burns, but the river runs ice down its center, dark wilderness where Minneapolis quietly disappears in the night. If only the sky were down there too.
Dear Library Patron,
We know that you love your local library. But what if it were even better?
We'd like to make it better, but we need your help!
Consider becoming a supporting member of your local library. For $100 a year, that's less than two dollars a week, you can make the difference in keeping us open longer, allowing us to provide less greasy books, and in providing a slightly less rude staff. But showing your support in this generous manner won't just give us the vital resources we need to continue to provide top quality library services such as seven year old computers, bathrooms, and programs for teens that will irritate you when you hear them happening from throughout the library, it will also get you the special benefits that only supporting members receive! One hundred dollars a year (or $250 for your whole family) will get you your own bronze library card. This handsome bronze card allows early access to the library for a full two hours before regular opening and stay after privileges for an hour after our regular closing on week nights.
Not enough? You want more? Join us at the silver card level. Five hundred dollars gets you and your family silver card privileges. This includes all the bronze level privileges, plus access to our exciting new Target Weekend Nights at the Library, featuring four fun open hours after closing on Friday and Saturday just for you. Enjoy our open bar, roaming jugglers, and talented balloon sculptor. Also enjoy seeing your fines cut in half. That's right, silver card holders will pay only half the fines that everyone else does in thanks for their support!
But where there's silver there's sure to be gold. Gold cards are available to library supporters beginning at $2,000 a year (per person only). With a gold card you will enjoy all the above privileges, but you will also receive the thank you gift of being charged no fines. Yes, you will have no late fees associated with your card under any circumstances. That's not all though! A gold card allows morning access (before noon) to our brand new English Literature Club Lounge. There you will find plush velvet armchairs awaiting you, complimentary espresso beverages served by gloved valets, and all your favorite newspapers laid out for you, ironed by hand. While a gold card won't allow borrowing privileges from the beautifully preserved volumes of the English Literature Club Lounge, that world renowned collection will be there for your personal perusal as you wile away your morning in library luxury.
How, you wonder, can you check out the glorious artworks, technology, pristine bestsellers, and glamorous first editions housed in the English Literature Club Lounge? Support us at the Diamond Card Level, sponsored by Chase Manhattan. The diamond card holder receives everything that the bronze, silver, and gold card holder does, but they also have full day and evening access to our English Literature Club Lounge where a premium bar is available after noon, and your own personal valet/bookrunner will be on hand to assist you every day from two until ten, Tuesday through Saturday. As a diamond card holder you will not just help the library thrive with your extremely generous support, but you will also experience the ultimate in plush, hushed, leather and velvet library luxury. The soundproofed English Literature Club Lounge will be your library away from home and the one of a kind collection will be at your beck and call.
How much is a diamond card membership?
No, seriously, a lot.
But if you cannot support us at any of these special card levels, don't worry! The library will always remain available to you, a standard level card holder (free), for at least four days a week at a minimum of five hours a day.
I mean, for awhile, depending on the political climate and our annual budget.
So thank you for anything you can do to help! Contributions of any size are what we need to keep us going. We can do this together!
Our deepest thanks for all your support,
There are half familiar people you will sometimes see while working the front desk of the library. You will think "Oh no." And your stomach will sink a little bit. And you will also think "They look like they're a lot of trouble", but you won't know why you think it. And you will hope against hope that they won't come up to the front desk to seek your help.
But they always do. And they always have. Because all those things you thought and felt about them were for a reason.
For today's customer service discussion please consider the following comments from two different customer service representatives:
1. "Can I help you with anything else? Thank you then and have a good evening."
2. "Can I help you with anything else? Thank you then and have a good evening."
Now obviously the second is vastly preferable to the first. But why? After all, both of these statements are exactly the same.
Oh, right, both of these statements are exactly the same! This may turn out to be more difficult to explain than I thought.
Perhaps I can explain it with tone? Picture the first statement as spoken by someone using a script, as reciting, as someone endeavoring to be the physical embodiment of the institution they are representing. Picture their statement as an expression of policy. Its intonation devoid of warmth and life and presence.
Now for the second, picture a person, talking to you. Just a person saying something because it seemed like the good thing to say at the moment. It could have been something else.
The first type of intonation is most common from phone help representatives of all kinds these days, especially the kind one has to wait on hold for, but it also comes up in its share of physical venues, particularly when there are large corporate chains involved, or also with notably bureaucratic institutions. These robot fetishising people have a tendency to fall apart when anything slightly difficult or off-script is needed. When I encounter this first type I am wary of the sort of help I'll receive. The lack of humanity kind of freaks me out and disturbs me a little.
The second type, merely a person working, doing their job as they can without disappearing into it, might be found anywhere, because, well, people are really just everywhere.
Oddly enough this second type makes me wary of the help I'll receive too. And they commonly freak me out and disturb me slightly as well, what with their being humans and everything.
But it is, nevertheless, still a notable improvement.
I know I have touched on this theme in this space before, but seeing as I write here often, daily, and for many years, six, I think it bears refreshing. It is a statement of principle, perhaps, at once both ill and pure. In other days, possibly, we can plumb the psychology of it, but today is for the sheer, raw, writer's feeling of it. It is a naked truth renewed. Read it in all its acid as you dare:
I hate everyone who is not reading this.
This is not a joke. Or a test. Or a playful use of the work "hate".
I hate everyone not reading this!
Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate hate, hate, hate.
Which, luckily, and with perfect reliability, does not include you.
Up on one of our staff bulletin boards, the only popular one, where the daily schedule is posted, I came across some upcoming classes. These are classes we can take on work time for our professional development. I never take these classes because I don't want to develop any more professionally. I'm afraid with any more professional development I'll become too accomplished, like as one over-muscled, hulking, bulging out my t-shirts in an obscene fashion, and intimidating my co-workers into a mute and unproductive awe.
So, right, I don't take these classes. But I did look at the sheet offering one this week called "The Art of Motivation". Immediately I cast about for a co-worker to whom I could say "I really like the look of that 'The Art of Motivation' class, but I just can't seem to come up with enough reasons or energy to go to it."
But everyone was just so far away, it wasn't really a very funny remark, and what, when it comes down to it, was the point of it all anyway?
There is the dark side:
Lately, in our clean and well-kept apartment, we have been experiencing bizarre, sudden blooms of flies. Typing away some Thursday afternoon on my computer I will suddenly look up to see half a dozen flies sluggishly slamming themselves into our many closed windows, drunkenly lurching away, then wandering confusedly about for awhile. I get out my John Prine Flyswatter, messily kill them all, clean up their corpses and gory spilled guts, and then notice that three new flies have shown up. So I kill those too. Then there's a couple more. I murder them and that usually does it for awhile.
We have no meat full of maggots sitting around, and there is no easy rational explanation for these flies. It's all a little Amityville Horror for me.
And then, on the other hand,
There is the light side:
I am pushing a cart of non fiction down our long hall and a fly joins me, calmly bobbing down to the elevator as I go. I push the elevator button and wait. The fly rests politely on my cart. The elevator opens and the fly flies in and settles on the floor. I roll in. We regard each other calmly.
The door opens. I roll the cart out as the fly flies out as well. The fly makes a quiet loop in the air to give me time to open the staff door out to the public. I push my cart through and the fly heads off into the library. We wave peaceably to each other in farewell.
There is little in the way of rational explanation for this one as well, merely the strange sense of kinship and camaraderie. Unlike the horror films of the first, it doesn't remind me of any movies or books I can think of. Flies have yet to capture the popular imagination. However, I am just beginning to think it is not necessarily beyond them.
Wearily I pushed my cart of non fiction books down the long hall. I was on my way to shelve them on the second floor of the library. On the elevator ride up I looked over all the books on my cart. Once again there were a whole bunch of poetry books on it.
"Ach!" I cried out irritably "What's the point of shelving all these poetry books again! No one ever checks them out anyway!"
It has long been a feature of libraries that one is financially punished for transgressions. The most legendary of all these punishments is known as "The late fine". But let me ask you this: why don't you get anything nice for doing things right?
They say that virtue is its own award. And I think...
What? They don't? Are you sure? Cause I'm almost pos...
Well, it's definitely one of those "...ward" words. I know that. Yes, it could be "reward", but it may also be "coward" or, possibly "toward". Virtue is toward. Well maybe it's not toward. Wait, I know:
Virtue is a sword!
Actually, I think it's more like a butter knife. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
No, I agree. We should move along.
"Okay," Hypothetical person asks "If we give fines out for being late, what kind of rewards can we give to people for just doing things properly?"
I have an idea!
Everybody gets a nickel credit on their account for every item returned on time! It's not redeemable for cash, but only against any charges on one's record.
As so often happens in my life you are probably thinking "That's mildly clever." While I am thinking " I am a genius!"
Oddly enough it turns out that I am right this time while you have understated it. I can even explain.
There are currently two serious issues at the forefront of library culture.
One is the trend away from late fees. More and more systems feel fines more adversely affect children, the poor, and the under privileged in the community. More and more systems are exploring the elimination of some or nearly all fines. And good for them. There is a downside to this and that is that people waiting in line for popular items may wait for what seems like forever while someone keeps their item illegally without repercussions!
The other trend is that, while libraries tend to be broadening their services, they are still faced with relentlessly declining circulation numbers. These are bread and butter numbers for selling their budgets to County Boards, cities, and sometimes states.
Under my carrot and the stick solution we solve both of these fundamental problems. Any family besieged by late fines can fix their problems without spending money, merely by checking out more items. Nevertheless, because people value their resources, even if it be a credit on their account, they will have an incentive to return items in a timely matter, an incentive other than virtue being its own stupid reward. Meanwhile people will, as they ever do, screw up constantly, and, owing us tons of money, be forced to check out hundreds of extra materials they don't want.
1. Rich people continue to buy themselves out of fines, providing us with some revenue.
2. Poor people and cheap people check out more things to pay off their fines, making our circulation numbers soar, and securing our budget sources.
3. The underprivileged become trapped in a library cycle of checkouts, fines, more checkouts to pay fines. This leads to them reading and becoming increasingly enlightened. Which inevitably leads to the overthrow of the oligarchy, Capitalism, and the class system.
At which point we'd have to revamp our library fine system once again.
Which I'm sure we'll be able to handle.