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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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Library Directors

Although they have been slow in coming, I'm starting to get some comments. Yes, I know most of you have lives. This blog tries to be a different. I won't unnecessarily bore you with new trendy software or hot meetings to attend. I plan on writing about the things librarians need to know and maybe don't need to know. Today we are going to discuss Library Directors.

There are many types of Library Directors. There are first name directors; there are Mr. and Mrs. Directors. There are hands on Directors and there are hands off Directors.

All of these Directors possess unique problems and situations. A hands on Director may not like the cataloguing records that are being produced in Technical Services. A hands off director may not know that there are cataloguing records being produced in Technical Services.
Someone who comes up the ranks may still retain his old alliances and friendships from the old days and this may cause resentment among some of the staff. A first name Director may tell an employee about the fight he had with a department head, the employee's boss. A hands off Director may not realize that a department head is allowing volunteers to input cataloguing records. A hands on Director may want to rearrange the display cases where the tax forms are kept, annoying the Head of Reference in the process.

It is permissible for a Library Director to take lunch with his department heads. However if he/she has lunch with the Head of Technical Services one week he must have lunch with the Head of Adult Services the next week. He should not divulge his feelings about other staff members unless he knows that staff member very well, and even then he does it at his own peril.

One of the problems that staff have with Library Directors is that Directors do things on their own time with their own priorities. A grant proposal is prepared in April, ready for the Director to review. The information is given to the Director and the Director puts it on the back burner. Two weeks before the grant is due in July, the Director suddenly calls down and wants to discuss the grant. The staff member must quickly review the grant, update any vendor prices, and be ready to work in a rushed environment to get the grant in on time. Since the Director is away the next week and the employee is going to a meeting on Friday, the staff member must stay late with the Director on Thursday night to finish work on the grant.

Here are a few general rules for working with Library Directors:

Never reveal something in passing that may suddenly tweak a director's interest unnecessarily. A casual remark that the patrons are using up a lot of paper with Internet printing can turn into a series of prolonged meetings and policy changes.

Always copy everything that you give to a Director. Don't assume a Director has a piece of paperwork no matter how many times you have put it in his/her in box.

Things that happen on the Reference desk can get back to a Director. Always put requests from political figures in town as well as Board members on the highest priority. Putting the mayor's wife on hold can get back to a Library Director.

Don't assume that a Director has read a memo or is aware of a procedure. Be wary about revealing rules that don't make a lot of sense at first glance but make life easier for the staff. Just because a previous Director allowed something doesn't mean the present Director would allow it, providing that he/she knew about it.

Remember that public relations and dealing with the Library Board are a Director's first priority. Department heads and senior staff members should take care of internal issues before they get to a Director's ear, if at all possible.

Get to know your Director's personal habits. Custodians learn which stairway a Director uses so that he cleans that one daily, if not the other ones. A staff member may allow her son into a staff office in the afternoon. She learns to put the child in a room that is out of the normal line of sight of the Director. A Children's Librarian learns which programs the Director's niece will be attending, so she knows to give that program a special polish.

Do not be complacent about a Director's habits, however. Be aware of situations that may bring a Director in at an unusual time or into an office that the Director does not normally see. An administrative assistant may be accustomed to getting to work at 9:10 in the sound belief that the Director will come in at 9:20. A breakfast get together for a retiring staff member brings in the Director at 8:50. The Director suddenly is furious to find out that the staffer she assumed was coming in at 9 all these years actually has been coming into work ten minutes later.

Sometimes a Director may change a procedure or configuration that works but looks bad to something that looks better to the casual observer but causes problems in the implementation. This is a common problem in the military and perhaps, an acquaintance with standard military operating procedure can be of help. The General issues an order. The order does not work. The enlisted men try to make it look like they are obeying the order when in reality they are not.

Likewise in a library, it is usually possible to alter a bad decision for the better without a Director noticing. This should be done slowly and cautiously. Many big picture Directors do not notice minor changes in their directives. Directors like knowing they have instituted change for the better. However, sometimes it is only an superficial change. Like the Inca's wearing traditional totems underneath their Christian crosses, the clerk in TSD continues to maintain paper shelf list cards after being told to discard them, but takes off the labels of the drawers.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The school assignment

Occasionally a teacher will give an assignment that involves a visit to the library. Although the student can, theoretically, use the school library, that often is inconvenient and less fun than hanging out, gossiping, or playing skin the cat during the school day. Hence, the student waits until the evening before the assignment is due and casually mentions to the parents at dinner that a visit to go the library that evening is imperative if a decent grade score is to be maintained this semester.
Unless the student has a driver's license, the parents will have to take him there. An evening pleasantly spent watching America Idol or the Kings of Queens or going bowling is suddenly changed. The routine is broken, much like a child spraining an ankle and needing an emergency drive to the hospital for ex rays would change an evening. And like a trip to the hospital or doctor's office, the trip takes longer and costs more money than originally anticipated.

The parents arrive at the library with the child in tow and drag the poor miscreant to the Reference desk. Well, barks Papa, tell her what you need! The child, now close to tears, gives a mumbled account about needing to write about a true hero of the Korean War and how this hero showed bravery and acted upon a situation in an original way.

The Librarian grunts. Those teachers and their &*^$# homework assignments, the librarian thinks. Naturally there are no books in the circulating collection on the Korean War. These were borrowed the day the assignment was given. The librarian, fortunately familiar with the topic, goes to the Encyclopedia of the Korean War (if somebody had the foresight to order such a thing) and finds a few names that he/she remembers using last year for this assignment. The librarian trots the books over to the copying machine, which, God willing, is working tonight.
The parent is bewildered. The eyes tell the tale. Money! This is a free public library. I didn't know this was going to cost me money! I thought we were going to borrow five books and go home. Nothing is ever easy. Fortunately the Mrs., a veteran of such expeditions, remembered to bring some change and the photocopies are made.

The next time you get an assignment you better not wait until the last minute! scolds papa. The family goes home and the student stays up late to write her paper. The student gets a B.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Like elementary schools and nursing homes, government agencies are filled with "days". This fulfils the tedium of being too young to change classes every hour, or get out of the recreation area because they are cleaning your room. There is secretaries day, government employee appreciation day, hispanic heritage day, take your child to work day, homemade cookie day, take your dog to work day, sloppy dresser day, recycle day, mustache day, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, left handed day, handicapped day, dayglow shirts day and more.

Then there are days that are there to accomplish tasks like cleanup day. This is the day when everyone comes in dressed like slobs and tries to clean up their offices with limited results.

There are days to fund raise for one cause or another. There is homeade cookie day, bagels day, apple pie day, egg sandwich day, streudel day, muffin day.

Government workers, like second graders and the elderly, have short attention spans and the novelty of having "days" keeps morale high. When I realized I was looking forward to bagels day, I realized I had a dull life. I hope my sesame bagel is fresh.


Library staffs are just like staffs in any field. Some of them have lives and some of them don’t have lives. There are advantages and disadvantages in having staffs who have lives. People who have lives are generally more stable and are less apt to snap at you or become difficult than people who don’t have lives. People who have lives are more flexible in terms of procedures (if not hours) than people who don’t have lives. On the negative side, people who have lives hate to work evenings or Saturdays. They must have Christmas week, the day after Thanksgiving and several weeks off in the summer to be with their families.

People who don’t have lives are more likely to be willing to work multiple evenings, stay late, work extra weekends and around holidays. A life can be more than just a significant other and a family. A single person whose sister has a baby may suddenly have a life. Someone who must care for an ailing parent has a life. A well-rounded staff consists equally of people who have lives and people who don’t have lives.

Having a cat does not, in and of itself, give someone a life.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

In the diaspora

The major change in my professional career has been moving to working in a public library to moving to a government library. In effect I have moved from the community of librarians, paraprofessionals and volunteers to the diaspora where only a small percent of the people in my workaday world are librarians or library people.

The change in my environment has been immense. The most notable thing is that I no longer have the men's room to myself. I could rest assured that in a library, the employees rest room would inevitably be empty. I could have my choice of stalls, sing if I wanted, do push-ups if I wanted and no one would know. Now, in the diaspora, I notice that there are men in the men's room. Sometimes all the toilets are occupied.

Vocabulary is different also. In libraries, people use terms like OCLC, OPAC, and patron all the time and everyone immediately knows what they are talking about. My first day in a library, many years ago I found out that library users were called patrons. I was a library user since childhood and always thought we were just the people in the library. It was a surprise to know we had a name. Patrons. Why library users are called patrons I don't know. The term implies that they are benefactors of largesse. Anyone trying to collect a fine or a fee from a patron must wonder how these parsimonious souls got to be called patrons.

I have not experienced break room conversation among men before. Men don't talk about sports like I expected, but they also don't talk about families and children the way women do. If they mention their families it is in reference to something else. "I was visiting my daughter in North Carolina and you wouldn't believe the size of the golf course they took me to." "Military engineers make good money. I can't believe the way my son is treated."

Computers have in some way brought libraries closer to the diaspora. Librarians have to mouse around with web pages, word processing, Windows stuff. They also do this in the diaspora.

Librarians are preocupied with their pensions. So are government employees. Librarians are preoccupied with how many days they have coming. So are government employees. Perhaps I am not in the diaspora at all. I am only in a larger cloistered environment. I'm still a civil service employee. I am even in the same union as before. I look out the window and there is a hot dog stand. He doesn't have beneftits and a pension. Now that is the diaspora!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Men in libraries

Today we are going to talk about the issue of male employees in libraries. In the old days men’s roles in libraries were well delineated. A male was either the custodian, the Director, or – in a large public or academic library, the Head of Reference. Staff knew to be nice to new male librarians because they knew they would be the Director someday. Women did everything else.

Now the roles are less heavily delineated. Women can be Directors as well as custodians. Men can work on the circulation desk (which would have been unheard of in the distant past). Men can work as clerks as well as in professional positions. It seems the only task that they are not permitted to do is act as the Children’s Librarian.

Even today, though, men are the minority in all but the most technical libraries, and men must realize that they are working in a woman’s world not a man’s one. A man must get used to listening to women talk about their children, their relatives and their health. Sometimes women will talk about things that are not intended for a man’s ears. A man must know when his presence is not desired. For example it is acceptable for a man to look at pictures of a newborn. However when the conversation turns to the more stringent aspects of labor and delivery the man must vacate the room.

Having men in a library can be burdensome.The custodian has to maintain the men's restroom. They can monopolize the break room with talk of the deck they are hammering together or the time they rebuilt their carburetor.

Technology is the best thing that ever happened to men in libraries. Technology in libraries make the work seem less sissy. Men can do mannish things like carry boxes containing new printers, and installing drivers, USB lines and formatting new hard drives.

Women can install software but usually it is a man who installs the hardware. Men can add toner and fix paper jams. Women can add paper and edit documents. The age of hunters and gatherers is still with us. Men are hardware people and women are software people. Hardware people who can pop the case of a computer make more money than software people. One caveat however. Men don’t like to fill out warranty cards.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another librarian blog

So somebody told me i should write a blog and so here it is. My blog. Well, it's actually another of the countless librarian blogs out there, and it's blocked where I work ( I know this since the Librarian ettiquette blog is blocked) and that was what I couldn't read at work so home alone on a Friday night decided to read it and then the message came up, "would you like to write a blog?" so I said yes. Nobody knows I am doing this so it will be our little secret. I am a working librarian in a Northeastern state so more details later. Hint: Well my father sent me to dear --- in the hope that I would be a man.... and there it's stood since the time of the flood on the banks of the old Raritan -- is where I went to Library School. I constantly bore people with anecdotes with my many years in the field along with other adventures from that world outside of these grey buildings called life. So now I have a place to put my thoughts and opinions and other stuff too.