I am the second-youngest librarian on staff, saved from being the youngest only by our newest staff member, who is only slightly (like, I suspect, months) younger. Usually, this works either in my favor or does not register with patrons at all. However, twice this week, while working on the desk with one of our veteran librarians, I had the patron insist on asking the “older” librarian, because she knew more.

The “older” librarian did not, in fact, know how to answer the patron’s question any better than I did, but that’s not what upset me. The problem is that the two veteran librarians on staff have, for years, cultivated the air that they are experts in their particular areas and no one else can know things the way they do. I have no problem with expertise, and consider several areas to be “my” areas, but I do not, and would never, tell a patron that I am the only one who can help them in that area. I might know more about online reference sources than my colleagues, but they also might know some resource I don’t, or, you know, they could learn!

Being told by a patron that Veteran Librarian over there is the only one who knows historical records questions is annoying and insulting, because, 1. Veteran Librarian is currently busy and so Young Snarky Librarian is the one available,  2. Young Snarky Librarian does in fact know her way around the local history room, thank you very much, and would be more than willing to help, and 3. Young Snarky Librarian also knows that Veteran Librarian just wants you and everyone else to think she’s important. And she is, but not because she hordes information.


Monday morning is teaching me that some things never change: over-helping co-worker still over-helps patrons and makes the rest of us look bad when we uphold the policies; poisonous co-worker is still poisonous, demonstrating a particular lack of respect for me as she passive-aggressively refused to help me find something I needed in her department; the atmosphere of communication-breakdown-as-policy continues as people push their feelings onto others instead of being invested in finding a solution – sending an email is not the same as having a conversation!

I’m obviously having a frustrated morning. Perhaps it is because there are so many wonderful things about my job that the difficult things stand out? More than that: I want things to get better because I am committed to this place, but I really need everyone else to understand that just doing our jobs alone means not contributing as much as we are capable of contributing together. And wow, look, I sound like a training manual! Which, interestingly, is also something we are lacking!

Patron Theft

January 7, 2008

We don’t work on commission here, but we do thrive on building relationships with our patrons, and patron-stealing isn’t cool. What’s patron-stealing? A colleague butting in on my conversation with a patron about choosing a book for her book group just a few minutes ago. What happens is this: my colleague acts is though she is the only one who knows anything about book groups – she knows more even than the patron, in fact – and jumps into the conversation, suggesting a book without hearing the patron’s requirements, and then she beckons the patron over to her side of the desk and deliberately pretends not to hear the phone ringing, so that I am forced to answer and be parted from my patron, despite the fact that we were mid-sentence.

Thankfully, this incident of patron-stealing didn’t stick because the patron did not find my colleague’s suggestions helpful, and she returned to me once my phone call (a quick request for a book) was complete. We ended up compiling a good list of leads for the patron’s book group, I showed her how to use NoveList, and then she recommended a book she had just finished. A perfectly excellent interaction, despite the attempted subterfuge. My rage was slightly diminished.

I know why it happened. This is just the way this woman rolls. She’s the Experienced Librarian, and I am the New Girl. She knows more, and instead of teaching me (a small blessing, honestly) she just takes over when she thinks she should.

I wouldn’t have minded a team effort – in fact, that’s one of things we do well at the reference desk, especially in terms of readers’ advisory since we all have wildly different reading interests. But there’s a big difference between cooperation and outright theft, and on top of the website playing Hide and Seek with me this morning, I was not in the mood to have my readers’ advisory cred questioned. I may be the new girl, but I give good RA.

I have had no energy to spare for library narratives, though actual things have been happening beyond me fighting with web guys, getting lost in print reference, and trying to find good sports writing readers’ advisory sources.  I finished a monumental task that had been smoldering in a very threatening way but in the end turned out almost exactly the way we wanted, despite the above-mentioned web guys (which, ok, I admit, it’s not all their fault, but it is all the fault of the system they wrote, so.) I am working at just one (one!) library now, feeling grown-up and terrified about setting down roots in what’s obviously a career move. I read a book about the physics of baseball.

But let’s be real. Of course my first week as a full-time, honest-to-god professional librarian has been a lot like dealing with a town full of adults who got their yearly crazy shot  and turned into pre-schoolers with deep-seated behavioral problems.

Highlights of the week: Watching Panic! At the Disco concert videos on YouTube with the sound off while patron number one zillion does something totally nuts, like tries to steal a phone book.

Lowlights of the week: See highlights.

Still, I’m a full-time, honest-to-god professional librarian for the first week ever. That goes pretty far.

Dear web developers,

Do not blame your users for your mistakes. Just don’t. It’s tactless, and it makes ordinarily sweet-tempered libraries turn into furious raging monsters who toss coffee back like they’re professional drinkers and then worry that it is actually something they did wrong. Which is isn’t. And you know it.

Own up to your mistakes, mean web developer people, and please, invest some of the money we’re paying you in QA testing that isn’t on the live system, so that when you try to fix the issue you say is our fault, the whole staff doesn’t have to be flooded with blank test emails every half hour.

No love,

P.S. A web editor is supposed to save me the trouble of having to write out the html, not cause me to spend more time in the code than I do in the visual area. Just while you’re fixing things, you know. Take a look at that.

It’s Halloween, and much to my surprise, the Northernmost Library decided to let the staff wear costumes to work. Having just been to a great Halloween birthday party earlier in the week, I thought, “Awesome. I already have a costume. This will be fun.”

Not so much. I mean, I love my costume, and there are other people dressed up. But no one in my department. The worst thing is that no one really said anything when I came in. Their looks said, “Oh, so you’re dressed up like all those other people downstairs.” They said aloud, “Hello.” They looked uncomfortable, and that made me uncomfortable.

What’s weirder is that the patrons who’ve come up to the desk so far are also just pretending I’m not in costume. No “I like your costume?” or “Happy Halloween!” or anything. Just, “Where’s the Physician’s Desk Reference?” or “How do I log into a computer?”

I don’t know, I just want a moment of human connection. It’s Halloween! Be silly! Embrace the silliness of others!

So I guess I’m just going to make myself some coffee, and try and spend as much time as I can hiding behind my monitor, working on the electronic resources page, and daydreaming about being home.

Yesterday, I walked into the brick wall that was the realization that many of the projects I want to work on at the Northern-most library I might not get to work on. It’s frustrating because I thought I would be able to get a lot of things off the ground and I got excited and invested in that, and then it turned out that the library’s promises of being interested in making themselves more 2.0 and integrating social networking services into their world was not on the level. They do seem to want to do those things, but they don’t trust me to guide them, and that’s the worst part, because that’s obviously the major reason they hired me. Right now, we’re working up to a committee, and I hate committees but that doesn’t mean they can’t still help us get things done. If it takes three months for everyone to talk to death the idea of a blog but then we still get a blog, that’s ok. We get the blog! I’m just afraid there will be lots of talking, and then lots of backing down.

Every Library 2.0 handbook and guide advises me on what to do when I’m met with reluctance, and honestly, it’s not like I expected to walk in the door here and have the whole staff on Twitter by the end of my first day, but the problem I’m facing is that no one seems to want to admit – or acknowledge – their reluctance. I can’t help them face their fears of social networking tools if we can’t talk about it.

So I’m proceeding slowly and with determination, but I can’t help feeling that I’m a digital librarian in a library that is a few years from being able to embrace digital culture, and maybe I’m here to help them move closer to that point, but in the meantime, frustration and I are going to get to know each other really well.