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Mr. Mustache, another librarian blog

I am a reference librarian with experience in both the public and state government fields. I am doing this on a whim, sort of like the mustache I grew when I was 19 and still have in my 50's.

Location: New Jersey, United States

I am a state worker and a librarian.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

No work today

One of life's unexpected pleasures is to unexpectedly find yourself with a day off. A snow day, or in my case a flood day, means you have your lunch packed from the night before, you're just about to take a shower and you get a phone call. "The boiler bursted and the library is closed today." Suddenly you have a day where you can mouse around the house, clean the kitchen floor, send e-mails and watch courtroom shows while lounging around in your sloppiest clothes.

Snow days are long anticipated and don't always happen. After watching snow fall all evening the phone call doesn't come. You have to go out to your car with a scraper and scrape ice and snow off of your windshield and drive through the icy streets to work. But sometimes you get that call and you are happy as a clam at high tide. Just like a kid waiting for the radio announcer to announce your school there is the eager anticipation of a day off, the only real work being clearing the snow from the car and shoveling the snow off of your driveway, if you are fortunate enough to have a driveway.

Snow chains can be perilous things. I, for one was not called this morning. I got suspicious and read a news story on the internet and woke up my boss. "Sorry xxx was supposed to have called you." But he didn't. Thank the Lord for the Internet.

Then there is the overeager caller. I used to have a director who would call the staff an hour before they normally got up to tell them they didn't have to come in.

There is always the person who doesn't get a call and comes into work. Poor Mrs. Crabapple is a seventy five year old volunteer who always comes in on Wednesdays. She waited an hour for the bus, came to the library and was greeted by the maintenace man using the snowblower on the sidewalk. "You mean nobody called you?' he screams over the sound of the dastardly machine. "That's terrible!"

Always remember to call the volunteers on snow days. Staff will remember to call you or check the radio, but not always so with volunteers.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Regular patron

Public library users consist of occasional users and the people who are there every day. The new Librarian soon notices that he sees some of the same people frequently. In the beginning he thinks they are scholars. Then he finds out they are not, for the most part, scholars. These are the regular patrons. They are the people who get to the building before the staff does, and they keep the staff honest by refusing to leave the building until the exact minute of closing.

Often their presence is an enigma to the staff. Too young to be retired, too old to be still in school, they are there every day. They know when the periodicals clerk is late in getting back from lunch. They know when there is a staff birthday party going on in the building. They know the staff by name and often have better attendance records than the employees. Sometimes, the level of service they receive is different than the level of service they feel they should receive. Because they are in everyday and know everyone by name they feel their needs should be put first over other patrons.

Often staff member can feel the opposite way. The Librarian may feel that it is the occasional user, who has the truly legitimate needs, who should be given first priority. The staff may ignore that person who has nothing to do all day but sit in the library. Neglected at home, friendless and sometimes poor, the regular patron feels the need to “throw her weight around” when she is at the library. Here she is known and respected. And in a battle with a staff member she has the advantage of time. She wants something and she will wait there until she gets it. She knows the magazine she wants was just delivered by the mailman. Her time is too valuable to wait until the clerk gets back from lunch and finally puts out the new periodicals. She wants to read her magazine now. She wants the Reference librarian to go to the mailroom, pick out the magazine and hand it to her, right now. Not when the clerk gets back from lunch or wherever she is. She knows that if she is persistent, someone will give in to her because it then means they can then be rid of her, at least for a while. And she knows what type of cake waiting in the lunchroom.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Old Guard

The new librarian soon meets up with "the old guard" in the staff. These are the people who have been there for twenty years or more. They were there before computers, the Internet, the OPAC, and still remember fondly the days of the card catalog when a librarian had to get up and help the patron and wasn't just a computer jockey. They also remember those halcyon days before teenagers had "attitudes".

The stories you will hear from the old guard are priceless if you can catch them in a chatty mood. The old days of the bookmobile, how the bookmobile driver used to park at the A and P and do her shopping on library time and other anecdotes will stay with you always.

Sometimes you might resent "the old guard". They get twice as many vacation days as you ever will. They get to use "the traditional plan" for health insurance and you were dumped in the ppo because you are new. As a new employee you will work the worst shift, be on duty when there are no periodical clerks and have to work with the most difficult paraprofessionals.

You will be mentored to a certain extent by "the old guard but you will find that, with meetings, doctors appointments, health problems et al. that you will spend most of your days with the other new employees and do a lot of "covering" for "the old guard".

However, "the old guard" will occasionally teach you invaluable lessons. On my first day on the Reference desk I told someone on the telephone that another staff member was at break. I was quickly told we never say that word in a public area of the library so that others may hear it. We say that they are can be reached through "extension 26". On my gravestone it will say, "he is not gone, he is at extension 26".

One day there is a retirement dinner. Then a retirement luncheon. My favorite was the retirement hike. It happened so quickly. Within a year, "the old guard" was gone. Then I became part of "the old guard". "Why in my day we had to go to the card catalog and weren't just computer jockeys....."

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Coffee Break

The one indispensable part of the day is the coffee break. Well actually there are two of them, morning break and afternoon break. The break room is where gossip is exchanged, rumors are started, coffee is drunk, complaining is done and where all the staff members actually see each other. The break is theoretically fifteen minutes long but the typical break goes from twenty to forty five minutes in length. Like praying to Mecca or an English tea, it is the most important ritual in the life of the library. The staff room is the chapel dedicated to this institution. Surprisingly, telephoning and looking at pictures are tasks that are rarely done during break. These tasks are normally performed during the working part of the day at people's desks.

Sitting in the staff room is one of the most enlightening experiences you can achieve as a librarian. Always pay attention to the older Para-professionals at these times. Here you will learn anecdotes of the past, who dyes their hair, who is older than they look, the way things used to be done and why things should have been kept that way.

The staff room is often a source of dispute in a library. Dishes are left in the sink. The refrigerator needs cleaning. Tables need to be wiped. The staff room has its overachievers and its underachievers. Some people make coffee. Some people don’t. Some people clean spills, theirs and other peoples’. Some people don’t. Some people clean out the coffee pots. Some people don’t. Reminders to some people can result in “you’re not my mother” and other such rejoinders.

There are always signs in the break room reminding you that your mother doesn’t work here and that it’s bad manners to leave the microwave dirty. I wrote a sign once explaining how to clean out the microwave. When the microwave was stolen they also stole my sign. To this day I wonder what ever became of the cute cartoon I drew, Mickey Microwave.

Cleaning out the refrigerator is always a big project and the source of multiple signs and (today) e-mails. Some people clean out the refrigerator. Some people don’t. Someone’s lunch inevitably gets thrown out when the refrigerator is cleaned.

The young librarian is smiling. He doesn't know yet that he threw out Mrs. Bueschlecher's lunch.

Friday, June 16, 2006

t shirts and sandwiches

Demonstrations. Most of us have gone to them. When I was sixteen years old and visiting my big brother at college in Boston I sneaked off and joined a demonstration that was going on in front of his fraternity house. "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh NLF is gonna win", I shouted along with the college students and eventually the NLF did win. I was so proud.

Senior year in high school I went to the Vietnam Demonstration at Van Saun Park in Paramus and the following November I went to the moratorium in Washington on a creaky Newark bus. At college, I slept on the floor of the University president's office. I ended the war in Vietnam and I was happy to know my demonstrating days were over.

Then through a series of events I was nominated to be a shop steward in a public libray. Soon the negotiations were going bad and CWA proposed having a demonstration on the library lawn. We all walked around singing "15 cents don't pay my rent" to the guitar chords of our custodian. Then a bus came up Broad Street and we were joined by "ringers". CWA activists and Bennet Zurofsky playing the guitar. What a memorable evening.

Now I am working in State government and Monday there will be a major demonstration. Somehow I feel old. In the sixties I was protesting for Ho Chi Minh and truth and justice. Now I am protesting for my pension. According to the grapevine, the union will supply t shirts and sandwiches. I hope I can still fit in a large and they don't put too much mayo in the sandwich.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The summer reading list

Libraries are seasonal places. There is tax season, Black History Month, DAR assignment month, look up your birthday on the microfilm month. As the lawn mowers are whirring in the distance, the librarian becomes aware that we are entering summer reading list season.

One day you notice kids coming into the library at odd times. It must me exam time. Then you see those green lists in one of the students hands.
Booway the librarian says, a summer reading list. The student is in possession of a list of books supposedly to keep his/her reading skills up over the long doldrums of summer. The astute librarian runs over to the copy machine to copy this list which will be as much a part of the coming months as iced tea and air conditioning malfunctions.

There it is, a seemingly random list of books, some good, some bad, and with a few of the authors names badly misspelled. The student goes to the librarian with the list. Some of the books will be in the library, some will be in the non-catalogued paperback collection, some will be in nearby libraries, and some of the books will be nowhere to be found.

The parent has a problem with this situation. To the parent, the school and the library are one and the same. Both fall under the category the government. The parent assumes the library has fifty copies of each book on the reading list, arranged by teacher's name. That the library does not have the summer reading books in such a format or may not have the books at all is often one of the unpleasant surprises of summer.

Sometimes the librarian gingerly suggests that some of the books might be in paperback at the local book store. This annoys the parent. The parent feels If the gument wants him to read the book, the gument should supply him with the book.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Illness blackboard

One thing that takes up a lot of time in libraries is explaining to staff members and patrons the status of a staff member's illness. At eleven the assistant librarian gives a long account of an employees illness to one of the volunteers. Then at 11:15 one of the patrons comes up to and says, I just heard Jack is sick. How is he? and the same employee has to give another account of Jack's illness while the patrons are all waiting patiently in line. My proposal to this problem is for all libraries to have blackboards similar to the ones fancy restaurants use to name the specials of the day.

They would give the name of the ill staff member, his/her current status, location, prognosis and be it good or whether it's time to bring the dark suit to the drycleaners. The illness blackboard would be located in front of the circulation desk. This way a patron could come in, look at the blackboard, and be brought up to date on Henry's operation or Mary's by-pass surgery without taking up the staff's time.

With the shortage of librarian positions, such a blackboard might also be helpful to the job hunter who wrote in the
etiquettetiquette blog.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The secret all librarians share

Since the beginning of time, libraries have been putting their newspapers on poles. Why this practice has persisted I don’t know since the poles are difficult for patrons to handle and a pain for the clerk that has to assemble the product. Occasionally the professional staff is called upon to do this task.

The secret is to look at the last page of each section. If it is divisible by four, the section can be easily installed on the rod. If the section is not divisible by four the section will have an orphan. This is a newspaper sheet that is half sized and only contains two readable pages, the front and the back. It cannot slide over the pole, because it is too small. You should tape the orphan to the page behind it, so it fits in with the rest of the section in terms of pagination. Otherwise when the patron lifts the pole, this orphan will fall onto the floor.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Job Market

Another link I use. If you like public radio, a nice way to download files of shows is available through Pubcaster, available through at WNYC http://www.wnyc.org/podcasting/ You can download shows as mp3 files to play on a computer as well as a pod. This is especially handy to locate NPR and BBC programs that are not available on your local public radio or only available at weird hours.

I was reading about the job prospects for librarians here,
http://community.livejournal.com/libraries/591575.html and here, http://www.librarian.net/stax/1706 and unfortunately, the job market for librarians is not as rosy as some of the news stories would lead one to beliveve. Apparently, in the fifties and sixties there was a real shortage of librarians, partly caused by the miserable salaries the field used to pay. It's been a tight field for years though, although children's librarians seem to be able to glide from job to job easier than most of us.

I had an English degree and couldn't find a job. Finally my mother's friend pulled some strings at the local library where she was a board member and they created a CETA position for me. I did everything from ILL to working on the Reference desk to pulling catalog cards from boxes that used to come from the Library of Science. I thought it would make a nice profession at the time and I got my MLS degree. After looking for a job in the northeast for six months I moved to Colorado and found an indexing job within a few days. When I got laid off I got a job working at the night crew of a title research company, where I stayed ten years.

Hearing there were librarian jobs opening up back east, I moved back to New Jersey where I lived with friends and got a part time job through the employment agency Gossage Regan. Then I finally landed a librarian job. My secret was that they couldn't find anyone to take the position because the salary was so low. So I always bragged that it took me eleven years to find my first librarian job.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Today we are going to do some of the things that all blogs do. Make recommendations. First, two entertaining websites where you can look at and submit original movies. From New York there is http://www.blip.tv/ and from California there is http://www.youtube.com/index You can look at videos that people are making. Bloggers are already obsolete. It's video bloggers that are now on the cutting edge. Boo hoo.

For librarians, this is a nice site.
http://www.popgoesthelibrary.com/ It was part of my inspiration to try the art myself.

If you want to meet people online and off, this free site has been good to me. http://icq.com and if you are over forty, a nice news board is the 40 something group, http://www.icq.com/boards/browse_folder.php?tid=339 (You do have to register first)

Well that's it. I have a nice cynical column for next week. So long

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Perry Street Irregulars

On my first day at my new job I had to go to an all day orientation session at the Personnel office on the 15th Floor. After filling out forms and told to avoid sexual harassment if we could, we were handed out bus schedules. I remember thinking; “It’s great they push mass transportation at the Department”. Then came the bombshell.

Told delicately in the way you would inform a patient that they had incurable liver cancer, my trainer announced “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you all have a parking space provided by the State. The bad news is that is on Perry Street, sorry guys there are no spaces at the main lot. But there is a free shuttle you can take to get here, the Statehouse Shuttle. That’s why I’ve given you all bus schedules. The shuttle also goes to the train station. Just show your badge to the driver and the fare is free.”

Upon further questioning our hostess told us we would eventually be given spaces at the main lot as they opened up. After all, people die and retire. And if we were desperate, we could always do what she does, since presumably she was new too. That is, you could park at $7 a day at the hotel across the street.

What a surprise! Nowhere at my interview was this little factoid mentioned. I wanted a job in State government. I got a job in State government.

So now I was in my new condo and ready to embark on my new adventure. Taking the car to the Perry Street lot and then taking the Statehouse Special to the main building. I got out my maps and figured out a way to get to the lot. As drives go, it wasn’t bad. I got to go through the three great regions of our country, all within twenty minutes. I drove through the great-extended suburbs of America, where you go 45 on residential streets. Then I drove through blue-collar suburbs. Soon I entered urban America as I turned and drove on the last leg. The part that passed through tough streets and bad traffic congestion. I passed by the Trentonian guy. A guy sixty years old who sold the Trentonian on the streets (he literally sold papers on the yellow line of the road). Then I passed the great offices of the Trentonian itself and later the entranceway to the great road of the eastern seaboard, Route 1. A tricky turn to the lot and I parked. There were plenty of spaces. And I met up with a unique species of State employees. “The Perry Street Irregulars.”

The Perry Street Irregulars mostly worked at Motor Vehicles, Personnel and Labor. They all knew each other and chatted about the weather, their mothers, their health problems and other matters which my ears could not hear. Of course they complained about work, especially their co-workers. Some of the ladies were young and comely. Most, sadly, were not. Men were outnumbered 3 to 1.

Although the Statehouse Special was technically a public bus, it was filled mostly with State employees and so became, de facto a charter. The bus drivers were friendly! They would wait for you if you were late. They would pick you up if you waved. Once one of the sweet young things asked the driver to wait. She ran to her car, rummaged through the back seat, got her hero sandwich, and ran back to the bus, much to the amusement of her girlfriend. It reminded me of summer camp. It was a treat being one of the Perry Street Irregulars.

Then things changed. Romance and the green-eyed monster of jealousy entered the club. Like an Arthur Miller script, the bus had one really cute young lady. She always wore sunglasses, which added to her allure. Then they had a new employee from Motor Vehicles who rode the bus back one day. He was maybe 22 and had a cute face for a guy. He started sitting next to the cute young lady. She started laughing at his remarks. She had an annoying laugh. Then they started driving in together to the Perry Street lot. Then they skipped the lot altogether. Maybe with two of them they were chipping in on parking. She and the rest of the girls were like a family and the new guy broke up the family like an unwanted brother-in-law. The spell was broken. The gang stopped sitting together. It was a dark week on Perry Street.

The week passed. June turned to August. The gang started uniting in the back of the bus again. The green-eyed monster had temporarily been pacified. If not forever. There was peace again on Perry Street.
One morning I got the letter from the Department. I had been given a space at the main lot, or the Rutgers equivalent, “on campus”. I was going to leave the club. I had moved up in the world. I was no longer one of the Perry Street Irregulars.

Now I am like everyone else. I take the thruway to work. I park in the lot. I exit the back way to the parking lots. And I will never know what happened with the Perry Street Irregulars. I will be left out of the news of marriage, babies, and retirement that they will all share. Like being let out of the Army, you never really return. Now I am in lot A6.