At one point last Friday, I noticed that my work badge had gone AWOL.
Given that staff need this badge to get into the building, and are supposed to wear it at all times per the rules, this was a touch inconvenient. Expensive, too, as replacement badges cost $25 a pop. That’s an awful lot of large regular coffees in the LAV world.
To make matters worse, when I went down to get a replacement badge, I discovered that the badge-maker was broken. While temporarily saving me $25, this meant I would have to spend the rest of the week depending on the kindness of colleagues to swipe me in every morning until the machine was repaired.
At least, that was the case until the phone rang, and the delightful C., from the Penn Hills library, informed me that somehow my badge had ended up at their library. Apparently, your absent-minded alchemist had used her own badge as a bookmark, forgotten that she’d done so, and then returned the library book with the badge in it.
Just one more anecdote from library hijinks in America’s most livable city. I swear, I could copy out daily events in a notebook, type it up in script form, and sell it to HBO as their next big hit. It would have to be HBO, of course, because of the cussing, although the ideal situation would be to get into a bidding war with HBO and Showtime. Oh, and Felicity Huffman plays me, or it’s no go.
I must confess, I feel just a teensy bit guilty about the amount of time I spend laughing. And I wonder if I’m really the only person to whom amusing things happen, or who is surrounded by smart, funny people who say witty things in Sorkinesque patter. That doesn’t sound quite right, and yet, I don’t really see a lot of evidence that anybody else in library science is having a good time. And I mean “a good time despite the fact that library world is falling apart” not “la la la I can’t hear you I’m having a good time.”
There is, you see, a diference. Laughter, happiness, and positive thinking don’t, if you use them correctly, obliterate the fact that libraries are in a world of hurt right now. They do, however, coat those bitter pills with enough honey so we don’t have to choke on them. A little sweetness can go a long way toward firing you up to carry on, if you let it.
I get such sweetness here.
If you’re reading Eleventh Stack, you already know a lot about some of my co-workers, based on what they choose to reveal about themselves in the library blog. If you’re not yet reading it, click here to read the contributor bios, so you can make up your mind whether or not you want to know them (and, by extension, all of us) a little better.
Starting a blog was one of the smartest things we’ve done recently, not only because it is an excellent way to promote the library, but because it gives the staff a voice, and reveals a human element that is often obscured in a large organization. That’s not a pejorative; it’s just what happens. Library directors still skeptical about blogging may want to take note of that.
And they’ve used their voices for good, this team of blogonauts, as they like to call themselves. They write well, and they make the library look good. They understand the delicate balance between the personal and the professional. When it comes to advocacy, they know how to fire people up without ticking them off. And, occasionally, they make me mist up, as I did while reading Wes’s recent essay, On Babies and Bebop.
There are others in local library land who prefer to keep a lower profile, either because they don’t think they’re good writers (they’re wrong), believe they have nothing to say (also wrong), or simply do not wish to have an internet presence (choose privacy!). Some of them may be anxiously perched on the edge of their chairs, reading carefully to see whether or not I’m going to “out” them. Relax, dears – your secrets are safe with me.
I will say, only, that this space, from the basement to the rafters, is filled with marvelous people who make a difference in so many ways, every day. Often their work is invisible to the public, as it is with the small army of people who stoop and stretch for hours, pulling holds and trundling them off to where they need to go. It is not, I assure you, elves that keep the floors clean, the coffee brewing, or the hallways secured. Nor is it fairies who balance the books and write the grants, though their work, admittedly, often does seem downright magical to me (numbers, alas, frequently do not add up in the LAV world). Preservation, conservation, transportation, and much more go on here; like instruments in a symphony, each person brings his or her melody to the whole, and the whole sounds like – with apologies to Julie — awesome.
On top of being great library workers, they’re just plain nice people. People who see you walking and offer you rides to, or from, work. People who lend you umbrellas when it’s raining, or buy you lunch without wanting reciprocation. People who volunteer to be your personal thrift store shopper (seriously). People who read great books, and recommend them. People who peel you off the ceiling when you’re freaking out about something, and trust you enough to confide in you in return. People who rejoice with you, and with whom you rejoice, when things go well. People who listen patiently while you muse aloud for the fiftieth time about some random philosophical thing on your mind. People who actually stop typing and turn away from their computer keyboards to give you their full attention. People who make you baby cockroaches out of book tape (You know you’re jealous and want one. Admit it.).
It’s not all wine and roses, though, and we’re no angels. A large, diverse staff means, of necessity, that there are going to be differences of opinion on everything under the sun, mismatches in communication style, and accidental hurt feelings all the darned time. But we try to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and we fight fair. Some of the people I respect and admire most around here are the people who drive me the craziest, because they tell me what they really think instead of what they think I want to hear, and they’re ever-present reminders that there are other ways to look at the world than mine. They choose the authentic rather than the easy, and they chellenge me to live up to my own personal code of moral/ethical conduct every day.
In fact, I think the only thing that really bums me out about working here is, sometimes, our size. Unless you’ve got meetings with them, it’s possible to go an entire year without seeing someone who works in a branch. It frequently takes an extra effort just to see somebody who works on a different floor, which is another excellent reason to use those morning and afternoon breaks for walks around the building. You really have to be pro-active if you want to get to know people; luckily, my efforts to get to know other people in the system and understand what they do have mostly borne positive fruit.
This brings us back to my peers at Penn Hills, who did me a solid, even though I don’t really know them at all. Pittsburgh’s pretty transit-friendly, but it’s still not possible to get everywhere just yet. On top of that, Pittsburgh is very “neighborhoody,” so everything I’ve described above about CLP and Oakland is completely inapplicable to Moon Township, which is itself different from Green Tree, which is different from Oakmont, and so on. I pick those particular libraries as examples because I”ve actually been fortunate enough to get to know and work with their directors, somewhat; there aren’t a lot of opportunities for that, beside committee work, unless you live in one of those communities. And yet, somehow, between the countywide listserv, the various committee meetings, and the social bonds we’ve forged both digitally and IRL, we make it all work, somehow.
It takes an awful lot of manure to grow a rose, and if I am at all a librarian worth knowing, it’s because my character has been molded, shaped, and influenced by the professional company I keep. I wanted to make sure that at least one entry in my professional blog was dedicated to giving them their due, even at the expense of Constant Reader rolling his/her eyes at The Hokiness. They deserve more money and more vacation time, but all I can offer them is my love, respect, and cookies. It will have to suffice. I suppose it would probably help if I toned down the acerbic wit and rapid-fire snark from time to time, but I can always put that in my goals and objectives for next year.
See? Loving your fellow man doesn’t have to be all magical unicorns and “Kumabaya.” What do you love about your library? Your co-workers? Do you have people in your professional life who simply rock your library world? Here’s your chance to brag on them, via the comments. And if this post inspires you to write your own essay about the library where you work, I would love to see a link.
Reading Today: The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin. A writer decides she would like to be happier, structures a year-long program to boost her happiness, and offers suggestions on how you can do the same (non-fiction, self-help).
Next up, a pensée, after which we move to the next-most-popular poll topic. Two topics actually tied for second place, so I will probably flip a coin before choosing my next subject.