Library Day in the Life

The Library Day in the Life project is positively infectious. In its first go-round, in July 2008, Jan participated. I want to participate this year, in a meandering kind of way, so here goes:

My work days, for the most part, are similar to each other (though a benefit of working with the public is that no two days are ever too much alike). Occasionally, I do a high-energy storytime (I’m not in Youth Services at my current pow, but I was when I worked for FCPL, so I’m back-up) and emerge sweaty and happy. Occasionally, I do a program—recent ones have included a "Best of YouTube" Viewing Night (my baby--more on this another time), an Open Mic Poetry Night, and “10 Sites in 10 Clicks,” a recurring series in which we highlight useful (or much-in-the-news) sites for the 55+ crowd. As often as I can—which is usually about twice a year, as lots of other folks are interested in these opportunities, too—I involve myself in one of the library’s outreach programs—in April, for ex, I participated in Dan Marcou's brilliant Read to Me, which entails heading to the correctional facility and holding three sessions with currently incarcerated parents, talking about the library and early literacy, and helping them make digital recordings of themselves reading a few books, poems, and jokes to their kids (we send the kids the books, a CD of the recording their parent made for them, and a pic of their parent holding the books).

But for the most part, I’m a desk horse. As an associate librarian—at my previous job, called a “Library Assistant I” (whatever it's called, it means I didn't go to library school)—I have less intense assigned off-desk projects than my librarian coworkers. And mine are dreary: I handle exam proctoring, booking the meeting rooms, and tax forms, when they’re in season (if you handle them at your branch, you know that they almost always are. We need to place our orders with the IRS in August). I’m lucky in this, because I prefer to work at a clip, on my feet, moving around, etc. (with an occasional stretch of time to read feeds), and my current branch, a very busy one, lets me do just that. If I get assigned more than two hours in a row off-desk, I usually try to bum a desk shift from a coworker who could use more back-room time.

On to the average day:

6:00-- wake up, to have an hour to myself before waking my partner & our girls. This is when I throw together a comic strip, if I have an idea in mind, or catch up on unread posts in my feedreader, or read some of an actual book. If there's a new strip, I sign into Facebook to post it directly to the Shelf Check page, as Facebook's blog import feature's spottiness leaves much to be desired. Scroll through friends' statuses.

8:30-- after half-hour car commute, arrive at work. Check work email, phone messages (rarely do I have any), deal with meeting room and exam proctoring requests that have come in since I was last in the building. Sign into Bloglines, which I keep open all day. I subscribe to a few feeds in Google Reader--I am trying to prefer it--but so far, buggy as it can be, I still prefer the look of Bloglines.

8:45--9:50: Morning routine before we open: check the weeding cart we place at the end of our AMH (Automated Materials Handler) for items that need to be withdrawn. Whoever's on the desk (there are two of us each shift) in the morning gets this duty. In the month of July, my library checks in an average of 4000 items per day. When folks spot books that are falling apart, they place them on this cart. It's pretty full.

I usually do some of what I call "proactive shelving" at this point--always do, in the summer. At 4000 items per day, full carts of recently returned items line the back room, sometimes as many as a week's worth. I skim the carts (as yet unsorted) and pull exceptionally popular items to shelve immediately--right now, Rainbow Magic Fairies books, Garfield, Magic Tree House, A-Z Mysteries, Goosebumps, Geronimo Stilton, Star Wars for kids; Jodi Picoult and Vince Flynn for adults. There is a "Just Returned" status in our catalog that is a killer--folks looking up a book see that it was "Just Returned" and, having no idea of what our back room looks like, assume we can get it quickly (a neighboring county's library catalog only has two item statuses: "Checked Out" or "Check Shelf." I think "Check Shelf" is incredibly clever. "Oh, it's not on the shelf? Guess it's not available, then.") Proactive shelving is a way to try to lessen the number of times I and my coworkers need to come back digging for a Just Returned item. Shelving is not part of the info staff's duties, but I generally do a bit anyway--not with a cart out on the floor, but in quick bursts like this. I also try to shelve all of the DVDs and music CDs before we open: I like to start the day with those sections full.

At the info desk, turn on all four computers; bring up Outlook, the catalog, Communicator (IM), and Firefox on each. Open my Bloglines account at whichever station I plan to sit at. Print a copy each of the desk schedule and the meeting room schedules. Retrieve the wireless phone we keep at the desk in case we go roving.

9:50: I smoke. Awful, I know.

9:55: I listen as people attempt to open the locked lobby door. Every morning, at least one person does. Usually, the people that attempt it are regulars, well aware that we don't open until 10:00am. Just too damn tempting, I guess.

10:00am: open. I always smile and say good morning. Most people brush past me, some bumping into me, in a rush to get to whichever of our 82 computers they have somehow decided is the best. People who are coming to my branch for the first time, however, usually smile and sometimes say "Wow" as they peer in and see the awesome that awaits them. I am proud of our branch. I've been in libraries for 16 years, and have worked with many an uninvolved, complacent, who-gives-a-fuck librarian and circ aide. While it may sound improbable, we. don't. have. any. If you work hard, think hard, are constantly trying to figure out ways to improve patrons' experience, and, basically, rock, you don't stand out here. Everyone does. Our branch is always Homecoming-fine. There's no one on staff who won't stoop to pick up some patron's nasty tissue off the floor. When I first came to the branch to interview, I stopped in the bathroom to assess my appearance (pretty weak). Do you know what I saw there? A sign that said, "NEED A DIAPER? WE MAY BE ABLE TO HELP! ASK AT THE INFORMATION DESK FOR EMERGENCY SUPPLIES." So simple a service and offer, and yet, I was blown away. And still am. Maybe two people a month ask for a diaper. We purchase them with book sale money. That's how awesome my branch is.

10:00-12:30: on desk. We're busy. This is a busy shift year-round (summer evenings and weekends are slower than fall and winter). Storytime (Family at 10:30 on Tues and Fri; Baby at 9:30 and 10:30 on Weds and Thurs--we seat 80 babies a week!) adds to the thrum. The phones ring off the hook. I sometimes think we should have a dedicated phone librarian--it is a lot for the librarians on desk to handle, in addition to in-person folk. But we do. It's true that people sometimes get frustrated on hold and hang up, and that I sometimes wish there was a way to redirect calls that are not branch-dependent (they need a librarian; not a librarian at our branch) to a central service, or a less busy branch. Our hold music is horrible, the worst I've ever heard, one terrible repeated 12-bar-or-so piano phrase. I'd rather listen to someone shout, "You're on HOLD! You're on HOLD! You're on HOLD! Sucka!" When patrons seem amenable, I joke with them about it.

We frequently have to run-walk to the back room for Just Returned items. When it's really busy, working the info desk feels like skateboarding, weaving in and out of the (oblivious to other bodies around them who need to get past them) crowd. Or waitressing. It is fast. In the back, we are on our knees, struggling to squeeze between carts, pulling unsorted books out, trying to find the ones folks want quickly enough so that they don't walk away while we're back here, and everyone in line behind them doesn't get to sighing too heavily.

My job is physical. And my legs suck. I was born (don't think I've mentioned it here), like runner Oscar Pistorius and the famous Aimee Mullins (link to her TED talk), with fibular hemimelia (always a fun term to use when trying out new search engines), only my parents decided not to amputate. I've had a lot of surgeries, my right leg is full of metal, and I don't know what in hell I'll do when it stops working well enough to do this job the fast, intense way I like and feel I need to. I cannot be a still librarian. I am not looking forward to that day. Occasionally, on the library floor, I get a feeling like lightning has struck my leg. I keep moving. This is simply not a slow job. I hear myself emphasizing, maybe overemphasizing this--because many non-library folk still say things to me like, "That must be such a peaceful job. You must have so much time to read." My ass.

Lots of reference questions. Today's favorite was a precocious 5-yr-old kid who stayed with me for minutes, returning frequently throughout my shift to thank me, or inform me of something else he'd found. He was in search of books with nothing but picture after picture of treasure chests. We didn't have any. We should. I'd like a book like that, too. Picture book writers, take note. But we found some okay stuff in Shipwrecks, in Pirates, in Gems & Minerals.

12:30 Desk shift ends.

12:31-12:35: I smoke. Yeah, I know.

12:35-2pm: I'm back on the desk at 2. I technically have a half hour lunch somewhere in this block, any time I want to take it, but I rarely take it as a full chunk and eat a full meal. If I ate a meal, I'd want to nap. So I eat weird little quick things, a yogurt, or some edamame, or a Rice Crispies bar, occasionally in the break room, but usually at my desk. I lunch-work until 2. One of my more interesting back-room tasks is curating the queer ("GLBTQ Voices") fiction and nonfiction book lists at Bookspace, so I might fart around in the catalog looking for new stuff (LC subject terms are not terribly GLBTQ-friendly, so I try to keep my book lists current and abundant, fearing no one will find this stuff otherwise), check out Lambda Literary and other libraries' GLBTQ lists, etc. I love Bookspace. Favorite blurb portion from the fiction list: "If you read only one lesbian time travel romantic adventure this year, award-winning Minnesota author Catherine Friend's Spanish Pearl is a great bet." Do people read this stuff? I hope so. Also: weeding my assigned section, choosing low-circ items to be redistributed to other branches where they might fare better, processing new books (deciding which to highlight on the "new" shelf) and new reference books. I'm on the library system's diversity steering committee, and might update the diversity toolbox (links for staff to refer patrons to) or blog, or work on a possible training. Another recent task: compiling an in-branch (not system-wide) list of "If You Like 'The Clique'" books to post in the teen section and a list of books for those just starting to to read chapter books. We do a lot of recommending on the desk and on the floor, but it's nice to have these lists posted for patrons to find themselves if they'd rather not speak with a librarian--and for us to draw on when we're caught on the spot and suddenly can't remember which titles would work. If I have a storytime or program coming up, I work on putting that together.

1:50-1:55 Smoke. Yep, I count up these minutes. We get two 15-minute breaks in addition to the half-hour lunch.

2-4pm: same as 10-12:30, with a little less energy and a lot more caffeine.

4-5pm: slump. Dum de dum. I do everything I'm supposed to, but I'm losing energy fast.

5-6pm: horrid, bumper-to-bumper commute home. My morning commute takes a half hour and energizes me; my evening commute leeches out whatever energy I have left. I often apologize to my family for the exhausted state I'm in by the time I get home. I try to play a really kick-ass song right before I pull up to the house, to shock myself back "up" for them. I'm not a road rage type, but many on the road are. It's a lot of negativity to face/try to merge with at the end of a work day. Audiobooks and music don't help all that much. My commute home is the worst thing about my job by a long shot.

Thanks for reading. How's your days?


Ethan said...

Wow! I feel like I was let in on the secret world of the library.

It sounds exhausting and exciting - but I don't envy you! Thanks for keeping it going.

Bobbi Newman said...

Happy to have both you and Jan participate! thanks emily! :-)

Leigh Anne Vrabel said...

Your library sounds AMAZING! Thanks so much for sharing such a detailed, intimate look at your day. Diapers? Who knew? And some of those programs you describe sound positively steal-worthy. :)

Seriously, thanks for sharing. This was made of awesome.

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