Friday, February 5, 2021

Like a rat through a snake


I have long envisioned the workings of the circulation department of my library to be like a snake consuming prey. This is because, like a snake swallowing a rodent, my library taking in library materials, both returned by patrons and sent by other library branches, results in a slow, methodical absorption of said materials that is visible by its bulge as it works its way into our system.

Though this graphic, uneasy simile has always been true of my library, it seems most true now. The rate of things coming into our library has always been somewhat uneven, but before the pandemic we processed a higher regular rate of returns. A large bulge of incoming books might be more hidden by a constant influx of items. But under our current pandemic rhythms we have a more pronounced boom and bust cycle. We feast and fast. And as the days pass we can watch our weekly engorgement work its way down our library's snaky system.

Monday is the day. 

Over the long weekend, though we are open, we receive no deliveries from other branches. Our hours shorten. And for whatever strange reasons the pandemic has, we are a little less busy as well (not at all something that ever happened before the pandemic closings). Through the end of the week we grow lean and hungry. All our shelving gets done. The items on our request shelves thin out. We practically hibernate.

But then Monday morning comes. End of the weekend returns pour in. The public returns to the library and with them come their items brought back. Lists of requested books are printed, searched for, and piled at the check in machine. And above all the delivery arrives from half a dozen branches. It is a triple sized delivery. Three days worth. At least a dozen large push bins and dozens of full to the brim boxes stand poised for processing. 

We start to feed it all through. 

It is our rat.

And we're hungry.

We try to swallow it whole. What a lump!

First the bulge of it hits the machine. We run books on it at a furious pace (well, some people more furiously than others). Many of those books are requested by patrons, so the request processing area swells next. Then it all moves to the request shelving, where people's requested books are filed for them to pick up. That area distends with items on carts, waiting to be put on the shelves. Then, as teams of people put the books in their places, the shelves start to get so packed it is hard to fit anything on them.

By Tuesday one can see the results of this gluttony in the areas where we keep our regular collection of items to be shelved as well. The carts start to fill that area where it seems like moments ago there was nothing. But by that afternoon, though still visible, a lot of this avalanche of books and movies and cds is starting to even out a little. One can trace that Monday morning rodent, but it's flattening out a little, starting to conform to the shape of the library, getting crushed and disassembled.

On Wednesday most of the shelving, general and requests alike, gets worked out to feed the shelves of the library, but request lists and patrons coming in for their hold pick ups ease the congestion of the shelves. Only the faintest of bulges is hinted at.

Thursday is almost deadly quiet. The rat is eaten. We sleep.

Friday is cruised through.

Saturday we start to get hungry again.

And Sunday? Oh Sunday. Sunday we dream of gerbils, hamsters, and mice, rats, a big rat, oh god, maybe a rabbit even. I think we could do a rabbit, if we really tried.

Metaphorically of course.


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