Hmmmm.  So, is this a big deal, a small deal, or a medium-sized deal?

Comptroller Scott Stringer to Audit New York City Library Systems

Well, we certainly have a long list of stuff they’re not spending enough money on, like librarians’ salaries and, you know, BOOKS.  But I certainly hope that ALL the library systems aren’t spending money on things like private rooftop decks for their higher-ups!

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This week has been mad busy, as the kids say, and I really needed today off to decompress.

Some of the business was sheer clerical busywork.  I spend so much of my time checking materials in and out that I’m surprised I haven’t had to take a pay cut because I spend the majority of my time doing the job of the clerks who get paid far less than I do.

I know, I know.  I shouldn’t give the higher-ups any ideas.

But then every once in a while I’ll have to spend big chunks of time doing “librarian” stuff, like doing readers advisory work / reviewing books / writing booktalks / running my Teen Advisory Group that I feel like I’m actually earning my salary.

Then again, some of the tasks that exhausted me the most this week were the tasks that we used to assign to the pages, like rearranging the furniture in our program room to set up for a class visit … and then again for our games program … and then again for another class visit … and then AGAIN for the TAG program …

So maybe I should be bumped down to minimum wage instead?

Ah, don’t mind me.  I’m cranky and tired and I woke up with a soul-crushing headache this morning.  And coffee, crumpets, and Excedrin Migraine haven’t repaired my mood yet.

I have to catch up with my laundry and I have to go see my mother, but I don’t have the energy to do either of those things right now.  So both of those tasks will be postponed for a while.  Actually, I started to write, “until I’m in the right mindset,” but if I waited for the right mindset then I’d never get ANYTHING done.  I’ll just say that I’ll wait until my head feels better, at least.  Maybe I need to hydrate more.  Hmmmmm.

Highlights of the week:

I survived my first class visits of the year, which were even more challenging than usual — 11th grade ESL classes with a wide range of reading levels and English comprehension levels.  My next round of visits with 7th grade classes at my local middle schools will be easy by comparison.

An unusual compliment from one of my TAG members: “Wow, Miss.  You’re being really patient with us.  If you were our teacher, you would’ve been yelling at us by now!”

Season premiere of Fringe!  Woo-Hoo!  What happened to Peter Bishop?  And hooray for the return of Mr. Adorable, aka Agent Lincoln Lee!  Yowza-Yowza!

Cinematic Titanic appearing LIVE in New York City!  Okay, this hasn’t actually happened yet (we’re going to see it tonight), but I’m going to make an educated guess and say that it definitely WILL be a highlight of the week.

ETA: We just got home a little while ago.  The combination of our delicious dinner at Five Guys Burgers and Fries (bacon cheeseburger and cajun fries) and the hilarious performance of Cinematic Titanic (riffing on East Meets Watts) improved my morale and my mood a hundredfold.  Yay!!!

The hatchet team came to my library today.

I don’t know what they’re officially called, but they were coming from some central location to whittle our collection down. And yes, we’re still open to the public. We’ve had people come to weed our collections before, but I usually give them a more charitable nickname, like “weeding elves”. But this group is tasked with getting rid of everything that is not PRISTINE, which would leave us with hardly anything on our shelves.  Hence the “hatchet team” moniker.

It wasn’t clear how much they were going to get rid of each day, what criteria they were going to use, or what would be the fate of the books they pulled from the shelves. This is what was in the back of my mind every time I looked at my collection (I know, silly me, I still think of it as “my collection”).

Finally I decided that I needed to save some of my excellent books that were in less-than-excellent condition. To that end, I picked almost twenty books that were some of my personal favorites which I thought might be on the chopping block and reassigned them to other branches yesterday.

Maybe they’ll be deleted/lost/stolen from their new locations. Maybe they’ll find their way back to my shelves in a few weeks or a few months. Or maybe they will find new readers who will love them just as much as I did. All I could do was send them on their way and hope for the best.

Here are some of the titles I sent on their way.  Some were beaten-up copies of books that have several copies left in our system.  And some were the only copies left in our system.  Some are out of print, which is why I’ve been keeping these older copies.  In any case, they didn’t deserve to be deleted just because they had the misfortune of sitting on our shelves.  Oh, and if you’re one of my Dear Readers and I know where you work, keep an eye out because some of these books will be making their way to YOUR shelves.

Barkley, Brad & Heather Hepler – Jars of Glass

Baskin, Nora Raleigh – All We Know of Love

Giles, Gail – What Happened to Cass McBride?

Klause, Annette Curtis – Blood and Chocolate

Leavitt, Martine – Keturah and Lord Death

Lyga, Barry – The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

McNamee, Graham – Hate You

Quarles, Heather – A Door Near Here

Sleator, William – House of Stairs

Supplee, Suzanne – Artichoke’s Heart

Yolen, Jane – Here There Be Ghosts

Yolen, Jane – Here There Be Witches

And as you might have feared, the news ain’t good …

L.A. School District Tells Librarians: You’re Not Teachers

Because that will make it easier to get rid of them, of course.

Darkness Too Visible – Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

Hoo-Boy.  Why do I have a feeling that we’re going to have many more book challenges and bans in the future?  The writer of that article and about 80% of the commenters so far seem to be pretty much in agreement that modern young adult novels suck, and we should all be giving our teenagers copies of My Side of the Mountain and novels by Robert Heinlein.  [Really?  Robert Heinlein?]  Anyway, if you’d like some librarian perspectives on this article, you can check out this post from Agnostic, Maybe and this post from A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.

Okay, so if you already read this post and this post, that means you’re up-to-date with the nonsense (so far) about how various higher-ups are telling us what we can and cannot have when we move into our new building.  And by “can and cannot” I mostly mean “cannot.”  Well, the latest decree update that I heard was that we WILL be allowed to bring books from our old building into our new building …

… wait for it …

only if they are in NEW and PRISTINE condition.

*sigh*

Okay, so let’s say that I get all the copies of the books that are on our shelves which are also on our local schools’ summer reading lists.  A few of them could be considered new and pristine, but most of them aren’t because they were checked out multiple times last year and maybe even the year before that.  So I take these less-than-pristine books, which are technically still in GOOD condition, and I reassign them to other branches in our system.  Well, I COULD delete them altogether, but I would only do that if every last one of my brain cells had burned away.  And to be fair, I still have a few left that are in working order.

But I digress.

Okay, so let’s say that I reassign these perfectly good books to other libraries in our system.  Then our schools give out their summer reading lists to their students.  And then, I imagine, the chain of events would go something like this …

  • Students leave their schools with their reading lists in hand to walk into our library and discover that we don’t have copies of most of the books on their list BECAUSE WE GAVE THEM AWAY.
  • These students will need to reserve copies of these books from other branches, and wait for these books to show up.
  • After some delay, the books arrive, the students pick them up, read them …
  • … and when they’re done with these books, they’ll return them to our branch.

Now, in the days before our floating collections policy began, each branch could know that the collection they purchased was their own, and that it wouldn’t fluctuate too much from month to month or year to year.  But since we switched to a system where any items that are returned to your branch stay at your branch?  We’re constantly in flux!  I understand that when our new building opens, we’ll be exempt from having our collections float for a few months.  But after that, all bets are off.

My point is, before our library system moved to a floating collections policy, it was possible for a library to open with a pristine collection and have it stay that way for a while.  But now that our pristine collections can float away and other libraries’ less-than-pristine books can settle on our shores, within a few weeks or a few months it’s going to be a mix of new and old stuff anyway.

You know … it’s almost like our higher-ups are being so short-sighted that they’re ONLY thinking about us looking shiny and new on our opening day, and not about our actual function as a library that is supposed to serve the needs of its community.

Many thanks to my colleagues in other branches who have offered to keep our books “in hiding” for us temporarily (kind of like our forbidden clocks are going to spend some time in storage before making their debut AFTER our opening).  I don’t know if that will be necessary or not, but I appreciate the sentiment.  Anyway, the higher-ups in question might change their minds a dozen more times between now and opening day, so for now I’m just going to step back and watch this tug-of-war continue.

I don’t know which of our most recent decrees upsets me more:

“You’re not going to bring ANY of your old collection with you to the new building.”

or

“We’re going to take away these brand-new paperback racks before you even have a chance to use them.”

I mean … what the HELL is up with that???

We’ve been told over and over again that the collection in the new building was going to be half new and half “old,” i.e. from our current building.  So we’ve been spending MONTHS weeding our current collection — discarding, selling, shipping out to other branches.  And we’ve also spent months hearing our patrons complain about how few books we had left on the shelves.  So, does this mean that that entire weeding process was a total waste of our time, that we didn’t need to spend months of labor on that project, that we didn’t need to hear the patrons yell at us every week saying, “WHERE ARE ALL THE BOOKS?”  And let’s look at another side of this coin … the people who ordered materials for our new branch weren’t ordering for us starting from a clean slate.  They visited our current branch, looked through our collection to figure out its strengths and weaknesses, and ordered new materials that would SUPPLEMENT our current collection.  If we leave all of our old stuff behind — sell/discard/reassign the materials that are currently on our shelves — then as soon as we open the new building we’re going to have enormous gaps in our collection!

And the idea of taking away brand-new paperback racks also makes me mental — especially because for years we wanted more paperback racks but couldn’t afford any new furniture.  So for YEARS a huge portion of our paperback collection was on permanent booktrucks.  It was going to be so wonderful to move into the new building and finally have enough room to shelve all of our old stuff and all of our new stuff.  I was finally going to be able to pull my manga collection out of the nonfiction section and make it easier to browse by putting it on one of the paperback racks!

Oh, and since you’re probably wondering about the “logic” of these decisions, I can tell you this:

Not bringing the old collection with us — not enough room, and not aesthetically pleasing.

Getting rid of the paperback racks — we don’t need them, and not aesthetically pleasing.

Are the wheels slowly turning in your minds, Dear Readers?  Something is ringing a bell, right?  A little bell, or maybe a five-alarm fire bell?  IF YOU THINK THAT WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH ROOM TO SHELVE MATERIALS, HOW THE HELL CAN YOU JUSTIFY TAKING SHELVING AWAY FROM US?????

Oh, and on top of that, ever since our turnstiles and security checkpoints were removed using the argument that patrons didn’t like them and that the libraries would look nicer if they were more spacious, I’ve learned to fear any decisions made based on what is thought to be “aesthetically pleasing.”

FWIW, we do have a few allies who are fighting on the side of logic, although frankly it’s sad that we even NEED allies who have to stick up for us.  The simple truth is that allowing us to keep our collection and the furniture that’s already been bought and paid for out of our new branch’s funds would make us happy, would make our patrons happy, and would make the politicians who campaigned to have our funding restored after it was cut multiple times happy.

If only the simple truth was enough to help us win this ridiculous war.

I ran into our former regional librarian on the bus the other day.  We talked for a little while about the ways in which the library system had changed since he retired, and none of the changes were good.  His final thoughts were, “The library is a shell of its former self.”  Back when we worked together, he used to refer to me as “one of the young old-timers,” so I definitely knew what he was talking about.  I’m sure that if I was new to the system, the changes of recent years wouldn’t have such an impact on me.  But because I have over 15 years of history with this place, I know exactly what we’re missing because I remember the way things used to be.

And speaking of the way things used to be …

I was going through the archive of my staff blog last night.  I maintained it for a few years, until I was advised by my supervisor’s supervisor to use a “less negative” tone, at which point I stopped updating it altogether.  Of course, if I’d realized that our staff blogs would one day be viewable by the public, I probably wouldn’t have started it in the first place.  But anyway, I was looking for a specific entry that I had written several years ago, and in the process of looking for that entry I reread several others.  One of the ones I reread was about how I (and several other librarians) had protested against the cancellation of our young adult book committee meetings.  In the letter I cited in that post, I said heartfelt and idealistic things like:

Cancelling these meetings will have a demoralizing effect, not only on young adult librarians, but on our library system as a whole. The ____________  Library has a reputation to uphold. We are not just bodies who serve to open the branches and cover the information desks. We are educated professionals who use our expertise to put the right book in the hands of the right person.

and …

These meetings are not obsolete or expendable. Being able to actively participate in the process of young adult services is one of the reasons that librarians choose to join our system, and it is also one of the main reasons that many of the current staff haven’t left our system to seek jobs elsewhere. Our education doesn’t stop with an MLS degree. Being a librarian is an ongoing learning process, and attending book committee meetings helps us further our development both mentally and professionally. Please let us continue to enjoy this unique opportunity which makes us better librarians who are better able to serve our public.

And all I can think now is … oh my God.  I was so f—ing NAIVE.  I had no idea that within a few years, the cancellation of those meetings was just going to be the tip of the iceberg.  I had no idea when I said “We are not just bodies who serve to open the branches and cover the information desks,” that that was EXACTLY the way that our future was going to turn out.  And FWIW, I still believe that our education doesn’t stop with an MLS degree.  The problem is that now that any staff member is authorized to do the kinds of things that used to be the exclusive domain of librarians (like running programs and conducting class visits), our level of education clearly doesn’t matter to our higher-ups anymore.  In fact, since staff members with less education will work for less money, finances dictate that the less educated we are, the better it is for the library’s bottom line.

I wrote that post in 2007.  Jeez, I was such a kid then.

In other demoralizing news, I’m not going to be podcasting anymore, at least not on a regular basis.  Not for a while, anyway.  The future may hold something else, but as of this moment I no longer have a regular podcasting gig.  Every week more books come in that I ordered back when I thought that I was going to be recording reviews of them for the podcast.  Except by the time the books showed up the gig was over. Anyway, what this means is that I might be reviewing more books here for a while, instead.  I can’t let that part of my brain shut down, and I don’t want the books to go to waste.

And because this post hasn’t been enough of a downer, I will also add that our new library’s opening has been postponed AGAIN.  We’ve gone from “any day now” to “hopefully by the beginning of June.”  Which is going to be a big problem for us, because June was the first month that we started scheduling our programs with the understanding that we would DEFINITELY be in the new building, so we could run simultaneous programs for different age groups on different floors.  Except if we’re not actually in the new building yet, we’re going to either have to break the laws of physics or start cancelling programs left and right.  Either way, it will definitely suck.

Oh yeah, this post was definitely a downer … I’m sorry about that.  I’ll pick something cheerier next time.  Maybe even a book review!