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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.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Would you like an intern

As the leaves start to change their color in the fall, one of the questions a librarian may be asked is "Would you like to take in an intern". It is a question fraught with pitfalls. If you, like most librarians, are constantly complaining about being short-staffed, saying no can make it seem like you aren't as short handed as you say you are. After all, you turned down having an intern. And you don't look like much of a team player, do you?

On the other hand if you say yes you are at the mercy of whoever comes knocking on your door. You will have to train them. Do they want to learn? You will have to supervise them. Do they want to work? Your hours must correspond with their limited schedule. You can imagine yourself coming to work on your day off just so you'll be there for the intern. And what will they do? Something not too difficult or too boring. And where will they sit? Can you find a computer for them to use?
You remember the intern from a summer or two ago who completely disarranged the reference collection. It was Christmas before you could find the Bartlett's book.

But let us be positive. My eyes close. I see a sweet young intern with her cute short skirt and her cute poor-boy haircut. "Would you like some banana bread, Mr. Mustache? My mother made them."..."Don't make coffee, sit down I'll make it in a jiff". And you have an audience for all your wisdom and anectodes about your years in the profession.

Of course you could get a disappearing intern. "She was here a minute ago. I don't know where she went". Turns out she is smoking cigarettes outside with the male intern.
The biggest problem with interns is that you just get them trained on something and it turns out to be their last day. ....Still, it has been a while since I had homemade zucchini bread.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The end of the Day

The end of the library day with Fred on the reference desk:

The patron comes into the library accompanied by three children and her grandmother. The time is twenty minutes before closing. She has a rather complicated assignment and needs sources from periodicals, books and reference materials. She may not use encyclopedias or the Internet.

Fred sprints from the desk like he is on “The great race”. He bounds upstairs and picks up three books. He then rushes over to the computer and logs onto a periodicals index. He rushes to the periodical and reference areas. The grandmother helps with picking out appropriate pages from the magazines. The children start screaming.

At about this time the staff at the circulation desk turns off the house lights and all of the copying machines. Fred turns one of them back on and grabs his pocket flashlight to start with the copying. The staff hates when Fred does that.

The children are crying. The grandmother is exasperated. Finally at precisely closing time the patron goes to the circulation desk. By the portable light on the desk, the paraprofessional tells her that she owes fines. The patron presents a twenty-dollar bill and has no smaller currency. Alas, the cash register was closed for the night. She cannot borrow the books but she may take the photocopies if she promises to pay for them tomorrow. The staff goes home late.

The end of the library day with Sharon on the reference desk:

Same patron, same assignment, same kids, different grandmother. The time is twenty minutes before closing.

Sharon checks the on line card catalog without leaving her desk and recommends some titles. The patrons navigate their way to the non-fiction collection. On their way down the stairs with two of the books, the house lights go out. The patron has no magazine articles or reference book copies. She cannot borrow the books because she owes fines. She has a twenty-dollar bill but the cash register was closed five minutes ago.

The patron is disappointed but her and her family agree to come back tomorrow night. No the library is not open tomorrow night. They agree to come back Saturday. At least the staff can go home on time and the patron has learned not to wait til the last minute before coming to the library.

Alas, Sharon notices in her closing rounds that there is a man sleeping in the men’s room. The same man the Fred chased out last night, half an hour before closing. The man must be woken and guided out the door. Otherwise the police must be called. Again, the staff goes home late.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The beginning of the day

When I was a Freshman at Rutgers, sometimes the instructors would come in late. The students sometimes wondered when they could safely leave the classroom. I was told that it depended on the status of the instructor. You gave a TA five minutes, an assistant professor ten minutes and a full professor fifteen minutes before bolting for the door.

In the library world a similar order of appearance is maintained as people congregate inside of and outside of a public library. The patrons who want to use the Internet are there twenty minutes before you open the door. The older patrons who want to check their stocks in the newspapers are there ten minutes before you open. At five minutes before opening, the volunteers arrive. If they are lucky they will be rescued from the hordes by the custodian who will allow them to pass through the door, like a celebrity at a hip nightclub. The paraprofessionals arrive at the circulation desk at two minutes before the library opens.

Junior professional staff arrive five minutes after the library opens. They rush to their office and take off their coats. Now they are at the Reference desk. Since the library has been opened for five minutes, there is a queue of patrons who want to use the Internet or do a reserve. The senior professional staff arrives at about ten minutes after the library opens. Department heads get in by twenty minutes after the library opens. The director comes in about half an hour after the library opens.

This system works well all around. The secret is to get to the library and have your coat off when your supervisor arrives. That way it looks like you got there on time even if you didn’t. Always be nice to the paraprofessionals at the circulation and periodicals desk. They carry the secret of who came in late with them and that little smile they greet you with when you come in betrays their knowledge of your little tricks. The people who were there before you and got other jobs did the same thing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

America is not a meritocracy

Ever since I was a kid I believed that America was a meritocracy. It didn't matter who you were, where you came from, how much money you had. America was the one place where only ability and your intelligence and hard work mattered. Now I have read that America is not, a meritocracy.

I know this now from the place in America where all truth ementates. That's right, from the Wall Street Journal. The September 9 issue had a
huge article based on a book by Daniel Golden on how people like Walter Cronkite's son and Jane Curtin's daughter got into Brown only because they were children of celebrities and not because of their SAT scores or their grades. Their parents were not even alumni of Brown!

Brown did this because they thought they could get legacies from the rich Daddy's. America is not a meritocracy. I wonder if things like this ever happen with hard to obtain library jobs? And until yesterday I thought America was a meritocracy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Unpaid overtime

If a lawyer has a busy case he/she thinks nothing of working well into the evenings. If there is a fire in town, doctors know they will be working late with little commiseration. Teachers are expected to tutor and grade papers after 3PM. However, librarians traditionally are of the belief that they are strictly tied to a schedule and that is not permissible for staff to give unpaid overtime. The sad truth is that unpaid overtime and out of pocket donations in supplies (cash is never unacceptable) are the grease that turns the wheels of the modern public library. Here are recommended donations:

Title, Weekly unpaid overtime, Annual financial donation:

Library director: 10 hours $1,000

Department head: 5 hours $500

Division head: 3 hours $300

Junior Professional staff: 2 hours $200

Children's librarian 12 hours $3,000

With paraprofessional staff this is much more difficult to navigate. Generally paraprofessionals should not work any extra unpaid overtime or make any financial contributions to the library, especially if the staff is unionized or is possibly ripe for unionization.

There is the exception, however. The doctor’s wife, the retired heiress, or the retired businessman working as a paraprofessional may donate time and supplies discreetly, provided there is a logical reason for the munificence. For example the doctor’s wife can donate medical publications when her husband is through with them. The retired engineer can donate monitors or computer expertise on his/her own time.

However, if a paraprofessional is clearly supporting themself solely with his/her salary, resentments will build very quickly if such a person is asked to donate any unpaid overtime. Such people should not be expected to work "off the clock." Unfortunately to the Library Board, staff who come in early to shovel snow must be given comp time.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More on government documents

Today Government documents are largely available on the Internet. If you can navigate federal and state websites with ease, you will encounter many publications and pieces of information that are available to anyone with a web connection, librarian or liguorian.

Turning the pages of history with a nostalgic eye I look back on the old days of documents. The golden age. I became a government documents librarian in 1988 when the Internet was a dream in Mark McCahill’s eye and the documents were all in paper and comprised a library within a library. Sort of like Sheridan Whiteside in the Man who Came to Dinner, it was a difficult if prestigious member of a library collection.

Being a government documents librarian was almost like belonging to an arcane cult. We shelved with suDoc numbers. We knew what shipping lists were. We knew what item numbers were.

We were united in being terrified of the quinquennial event of a government inspection. The fear of the government inspection drove government documents librarians to huddle together during those fateful months when an inspection was taking place. Gossip was quietly whispered about which libraries failed and why. The government inspector wanted two full time staff people solely devoted to documents and full cataloguing of all of them. He was never fully satisfied but could be led to acquiesce to the budget problems of a library if so inclined and given a proper lunch, it was said.

And the people who sat on the reference desk were wary of our documents and us. It was beneath the dignity of a professional librarian to dirty their hands with documents or children. A request for BLS or Census data meant they could have a vacation from the reference desk while the documents person would handle this annoying patron demanding esoteric and exotic data emanating from some bureaucrat in Washington. Of course you had to find the documents person first somewhere in the distant government depository. For the document collection was always housed miles away from the reference collection, in the basement, a back room, or in my case, in the balcony of the children’s building.

The boxes from Washington arrived incessantly. Documents having to be retrieved, stamped, their existence recorded or at least acknowledged in some sort of index. To be shelved at a later day, certainly well before the inspector comes.

And then the bane of all government document librarians. Discarding! You can’t (note the use of the present tense) even get rid of anything unless you hold the piece for five years, compile a discard list, submit the list to your regional (there is one in each state) and get permission to discard. They said the federal prison system was manned by governmnent documents librarians who discarded documents without permission.

Well, so much for our walk down memory lane. Government documents are still there, although computer passwords and limited distribution of documents are the rule today. One good
site for interesting new documents is on Columbia University's site. You might want to peek at the latest Monthly Labor Review's special issue on how Katrina effected employment.