Friday, August 23, 2019

Library circulation workers for managers

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. 

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