Over the last two days, I’ve actually had more than five minutes at a time at the information desk when I wasn’t busy helping patrons. We’re supposed to help out with the shelving during our “down time” (we have one page to shelve everything in our huge building), so I’ve been trying to work on that. Unfortunately, my section is so far away from the circ/info desk that by the time I walk all the way over there to do some reading and shelving, I turn around and see people coming over to the desk to ask for help. On the plus side, I’ve been getting a lot more exercise than usual in this new building.
We’ve had several patrons comment on administrative decisions made by our higher-ups, only they don’t realize that THAT’s what they’re commenting on. Like the man who wandered around staring at the walls before circling back to my desk and saying, “So, did you run out of money for clocks?” I explained that we HAD clocks, but that they were staying in the closet for now because they didn’t work with the architect’s “vision,” or some such thing. I said that we planned to put them up at some point in the future. Cue bewildered laughter. Then there was the man who needed help finding a book on the shelf, or more specifically, which of our aisles contained that shelf. He said, “Usually I’d be able to find it myself, but I see that you haven’t finished putting your signs up yet.” I smiled and explained that while we would LOVE to put up signs identifying what was in each aisle, that certain administrators had decided that we couldn’t put up those signs because they weren’t aesthetically pleasing. Cue bewildered laughter, followed by comments like “No … really?” REALLY?” and “Do they know how a library WORKS?” which made me laugh out loud. I said that he was preaching to the choir, and that there was a certain way that we were told the library had to look on opening day, and that over the next few months we would gradually start making changes to make things more logical around here. In the meantime, unidentified shelves mean more exercise for me.
Oh, and you know that circ/info desk I mentioned? Well, on opening day, nobody had any idea which was the info part, which was the circ part, where people were supposed to line up, or if there was a line at all. That’s because we were not supposed to put up signs saying things like Information, Reference, Librarian, Check In, Check Out, Returns, or anything else that would tell people where they were supposed to go to get what they wanted as quickly as possible. We also weren’t supposed to put up any signs indicating which way the line should form. So that means that sometimes the line forms down the middle of the floor, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. Sometimes the line forms to one side, but then people approach from the other side, but since there’s no official place for the line to BE, how is anyone supposed to know where to go? It also means that patrons are constantly coming up to me asking if I can do something I wouldn’t normally do (check in, check out, register someone for a library card, etc.) and then … what am I supposed to do? Refuse to help? Tell them to go to that desk instead of this desk (which they would have known if we’d bothered putting up a goddamned sign)? So I’ve ended up taking on many of (but not all of) the tasks that our clerks usually do.
Then there’s the flip side of the problem. When patrons approach our clerks sitting at one of our (unidentified) desks and ask them for help finding a book, the clerks have one of two options.
The first option is that if it’s just a general subject area question, sometimes they call the question down to the librarian — “WHERE ARE THE KNITTING BOOKS???” and then I have to stop what I’m in the middle of doing (checking in, checking out, remembering how to indicate which fines the patrons are paying, checking the DVD cases to make sure the right DVDs are actually in there) and remember off the top of my head where the hell the knitting books are. Now, I know exactly where some things are, and approximately where other things are. Knitting happens to be one of those “approximately” subjects. The good thing about knowing something approximately is that since I was never a “sit-and-point” librarian, I was always walking over to the shelf with the patron anyway. So I would get to the right area — somewhere in the mid-740’s (or was that the mid-640’s?) — and then when I was standing in front of the right shelf I could see the books and point them out to the patron. But if I’m in the middle of re-learning an activity I haven’t done in a while, or learning from scratch how to perform an activity I’ve never had occasion to do before, and someone calls out the question of where the knitting books are, I have to stop what I’m doing and call back, “Uh … they’re under seven forty … something … uhm … I’d have to go look” in front of a room full of people who are now convinced that I’m an idiot.
The clerks’ other option is to send the patron to wait over at my desk for me to help them, which is sure to piss the patron off because a) if they knew which desk was the information desk, they would have gone there in the first place and b) now they have to stand behind the patron I was already helping, which means they have to watch me laboriously go through the clerical procedures and run back and forth to different desks to get things done (the cash register is at the clerical end of the desk, and the doohickeys we use to open the DVD security cases are also at the clerical end of the desk). So now I spend a lot of time running back and forth between the desks that make up our info/circ area saying “Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me” like I’m in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Did I mention that I’m getting a lot of exercise in our new location?
Anyway, we are starting to make itty-bitty changes to make our lives more bearable. We now have an 8 1/2 x 11 “Information” sign indicating which of our desks is technically the information desk. I’m now starting to develop a system for dealing with questions, which is that if I’m not helping anyone at the moment and I see that there are people waiting on the “main” line, I ask if anyone is waiting with an information question. If a two-beat pause goes by and nobody takes me up on my offer, I say, “Can I help the next person checking out, please?” which means a) I’m helping the line move along, b) I shouldn’t take too much time with that patron in case someone approaches with an information question, and c) I can usually check things out without requiring too much assistance.
Future plans include putting up itty-bitty signs that say things like “reference” “young adult” and “foreign” so that patrons (and staff) can figure out where the hell stuff is. Future plans also include putting up the damn clocks.