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!

My mother had to use her Life Alert system several times this week because she’d fallen out of her wheelchair, and I had a couple of tense days calling back and forth with Life Alert and the hospital where she was taken.  I’ve spoken to her several times since then, and I’m going to see her tomorrow.  My boyfriend has some ideas about installing new railings in the apartment for her, so I’m going to be taking some pictures while I’m there.

I went downtown to meet with my YA Lit group last night, which was on the one hand fun and enlightening because we got to talk about a romance novel that actually didn’t suck.  To be fair, that’s probably because it was lighter on the romance and heavier on the exotic Russian/Soviet setting.  On the other hand, our meeting was sad and enlightening because … well, because I got enlightened about the future of library programming.  Or lack thereof.  It was bad enough knowing that we probably wouldn’t get a lot of programs because there wasn’t enough money in the budget.  But now there’s this new wall we’re facing made up of liability insurance and worst-case scenarios, and our future is going to be filled with fewer programs.  Which, frankly, sucks.  Both for our statistics and our patrons.

We’ve been having issues with the heat in our apartment, which never EVER happens.  It’s often too warm, but never too cold.  Well, according to the emails circulating today from our tenants association it’s a building-wide problem, so a bunch of us filed complaints with 311 which should hopefully get our boiler (furnace?) working more frequently or at least more efficiently.

Oh, and I can share my weird/entertaining moment of the week.  Okay, so if I’m helping someone at the library service desk and one of my colleagues calls to help the next patron on line and that person DOESN’T step down … we have different theories about why they made that choice.

  • Maybe the patron was hard of hearing or distracted and didn’t hear the invitation to step down.
  • Maybe the patron needed to speak to me, personally, about something.
  • Maybe the patron has tried to ask my colleague an information question before with mixed results and now prefers the “librarian” end of the desk.

OR …

  • Today’s answer, which was that the woman in question was checking out a rather tawdry book, and if she had to check it out with me or with my male colleague, I guess I was the better choice.  It was quite a strain to keep my usual poker face and not bust a gut laughing, though.  I also think that it is a great indicator of my maturity that I waited for two whole minutes after she’d left the building before I told D. the reason she’d picked me to check out her books instead of him.

Anyway, it’s been a long week and I’m looking forward to what little weekend I have left.  We just finished watching 20 Feet From Stardom, and it was as good as I’d hoped, filled with great music and poignant stories.

Time for bed soon.  Perhaps with an extra blanket.

The Hidden History of New York City’s Central Library Plan

This evening I got the results of the fingerprinting / background check I had done several months ago in order to be allowed to conduct class visits in schools again.   Anyway, guess what?  I’m not a criminal!  Woo-Hoo!  I wasn’t surprised by the results, especially since I’d had a background check at a previous job and hadn’t committed any crimes since then.  What DID surprise me was the length of time that it took to get the results.  I haven’t been able to conduct class visits or even set foot in any of my local public schools for over two months, which is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS.  Oh, and FWIW we were notified of our results through a cc’d email, instead of a bcc’d email.  Which kind of flies in the face of the whole “only you and your supervisor will know your results” idea.

In other news, the library higher-ups have made several decisions recently that will reduce the number of programs we can offer and will cause attendance at our programs to drop.  Which is more than a little awkward, especially since we are constantly under pressure to offer more programs and increase our attendance.  This seems to be the legal equivalent of looking around at a library building, seeing all the blind spots and places where patrons can hurt themselves, and asking, “Did you even THINK of consulting a librarian on this?”

Also, there have been a bunch of staff cuts recently, with a slew of new ones yet to come.  And so, our support system continues to erode.  This ain’t good, folks …

The weirdest things have been happening over the last few days.  And they all revolve around Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre.

Several days ago I was reading Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton.  I’d reserved a copy after I saw it on several “Best graphic novels of the year” lists, and I wanted to see if it was a book that I could use with my teens.  Well, after just a few pages I realized that it wasn’t a book that I could present to teens because of a) the frequent use of adult language and b) the frequent use of adult references.  But I kept reading the book because I was enjoying it. I appreciated Beaton’s use of literary and historical references, even though I didn’t understand all of them.

Okay, on the historical side I understood most of the American history humor but was pretty much baffled by the Canadian history humor.  And my understanding of the literary references depended on whether or not I ever read the books that she was referencing and whether or not I actually UNDERSTOOD them. Sherlock Holmes stories?  Reread many times over the years and loved to pieces.  Dracula?  Read and enjoyed the annotated version quite recently.  The Great Gatsby?  I’m a fan of that story and I’m fascinated by that green light, but I know that I need to read it again.  Where The Wild Things Are?  One of the very best picture books ever written.  The Yellow Wallpaper?  A superb and deeply chilling story.  Crime and Punishment?  Yes, I read it as a summer reading assignment in high school.  But if you asked me what I actually remember about the reading experience, all I can say is that I was generally confused about all of the Russian names that sounded like each other, and I was generally bewildered by the plot.  Jane Eyre?  I’d never read the book and never seen any of the film versions, but I had a general understanding of the “woman loves a mysterious man who locked up his mad wife” concept.

So as I’m reading this book of cartoons, the thought enters my head that maybe I should get around to reading Jane Eyre.  I was sitting at my desk at work when I had this thought, and a moment later I glanced at the teetering pile of books that is in danger of falling on my keyboard.  And just as quickly as the thought entered my head, I dismissed it.

Because I simply don’t have TIME to read Jane Eyre.

After a long day of answering questions of all shapes and sizes, I came home and started to relax.  At some point during my decompression, I was flipping through the channel guide to see what was going to be on TV.  I was planning to see the next episode of Alcatraz (Another evening of exciting supernatural adventures and the magnetic hotness of Sam Neil?  FANTASTIC!) but then I suddenly noticed that Turner Classic Movies was going to be showing … Jane Eyre!  Starring Orson Welles!  WOO-HOO!!!  So I set up my DVD recorder to record Alcatraz while I watched Jane Eyre.  The best of both worlds!

Anyway, the story was great (if just a tad overdrawn and melodramatic), and Orson Welles is so compelling to my ears and my eyes that I felt myself falling under his hypnotic spell.

All right, maybe I wasn’t QUITE as hypnotized as that strangely fragile and yet strangely strong Jane Eyre as played by Joan Fontaine …

But anyway, the movie was over and it was time to go to sleep and gather my strength for another long day of answering questions of all shapes and sizes.  Little did I know that Jane Eyre and I were going to cross paths again.

So this afternoon I was working at the public service desk.  I’d like to say that I was working at the information desk, but the recent trend envisioned by our higher-ups to make us more “business-like” and “efficient” is to have a variety of staff members all working at the same desk with the understanding that each staff member is supposed to try to answer each patron’s questions to the best of their abilities.  If you’d like a longer discussion of how I feel about the fact that I earned a master’s degree in library science and spent years training both to be a librarian and to be a young adult specialist but now I spend the majority of my time checking out materials and processing library card applications … well, to be honest I don’t have the time or the energy for a long discussion right now.  I can briefly sum up the effects of this policy to say that when patrons ask staff members for help with something, the staff members might experience various levels of discomfort and bewilderment as they try to satisfy the patrons’ requests.  And when a patron approaches a staff member sitting at the public service desk, they have no idea if the person behind the desk has a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, or one or more master’s degrees.

Okay.  So much for my long discussion.  But this policy is at least tangentially related to the next stage of my story.

So I’m at the public service desk, and I overhear a conversation between a patron and a member of our clerical staff near the other end of the desk (about ten feet away).  Or more specifically, I overhear the end of the conversation, when the patron raises her voice to declare, “This is RIDICULOUS!” before storming out of the building.  I had no idea what the conversation was about, but I assumed that it was one of the usual topics that inspire anger in our patrons: library fines, limits on how many DVDs people can check out, people trying to use each other’s library cards, etc.  But, no, it was none of these things.  I later learned that what had happened was that the patron had asked if we had a copy of (you guessed it) Jane Eyre.  The clerk, who was not familiar with that title, didn’t know how to spell it.  So she asked the patron if she could spell it for her.  And the patron, rather than spelling the title, declared, “This is RIDICULOUS!” and stormed out of the building.  This whole exchange brings up several discussion points:

  • What used to happen was that if a patron asked a clerk to help find a book, the clerk would direct the patron to speak to a librarian, even though we worked on a different floor.  Now they’re supposed to answer information questions themselves instead of directing the patrons to talk to us, EVEN THOUGH WE’RE SITTING AT THE SAME DESK JUST A FEW FEET AWAY.
  • If you weren’t familiar with the title Jane Eyre, how would you possibly know how to spell it?
  • What is with these patrons and their goddamned anger management issues?  Why didn’t the woman just spell the title, already?  I mean, I HAVE a master’s degree, and I constantly have patrons explaining things to me and spelling things out for me like I’m a ten-year-old child who’s a below-average student.
  • Unless of course … Hang on … What if the PATRON didn’t know how to spell the title and she was embarassed?

Okay, so all of these Jane Eyre references were starting to get spooky.  But they weren’t over yet.  Later in the day I was covering the desk in the Children’s Room.  I was busy for a while exercising different areas of my brain than usual (Picture books for kids who love Mo Willems but already read all the Mo Willems books we have on the shelf?  Books and videos about potty training?  Songs about Martin Luther King Jr.?  Books about force and motion for third graders?  Books for a teenager who’s learning how to read in English?) but eventually things settled down and we started getting ready to close.  During the last few minutes of the day, I was perusing some library blogs to see if anything interesting had been posted recently.  And what do I find?  I discover THIS POST called “Bronte Mania” about some illustrated editions of Wuthering Heights and, yes, Jane Eyre!!!

Weird, huh?

Ah, but that was not the end of this strange Jane Eyre connection, I’m afraid.  Because when I got home and my boyfriend and I were having dinner, I asked him if he wanted to watch the Alcatraz episode that I’d recorded.  He said yes, I opened the DVD menu …

You already guessed it, didn’t you, Dear Readers?

That’s right, I’d accidentally recorded the wrong channel.  Instead of an hour’s worth of Sam Neil and his steely (hot) intensity, I’d recorded an hour of Jane-frigging-Eyre instead.

I’m telling you, this is getting WEIRD.

So … I guess I have to read this book now?  Because I’m feeling strangely … COMPELLED to read it …

A private meeting / discussion took place this week, the main upshot of which is that I’m not going to be written up, or fired, or demoted, or transferred.  The secondary upshot is that I have some Deep Thinking to do about some of my personality traits which I thought were assets but which apparently can be seen as flaws by other people, about behaviors I learned from childhood that I find nearly impossible to shake off decades later, and about what it feels like to have a painfully personal criticism come from a workplace associate and suddenly flash back to a similar conversation during an argument with my then-but-not-for-much-longer boyfriend over a decade ago.

There’s either a future blog post in this, or thousands of dollars to be spent with an analyst in a voyage of self-exploration.

I think I’ll go with the blog post.

Stay tuned.

Man, am I wiped out.

Today a girl asked me for the latest volume of a manga series.  We had volumes 1-8 but she wanted volume 9, which was not listed in our catalog but was available on amazon.com.  I wrote the information down on a piece of scrap paper and told her that I would request that our library system order it as soon as I got a chance (I needed a few quiet moments to visit the Baker and Taylor website and add the book to one of our patron request carts).  I kid you not, Dear Readers, I carried that slip of paper around with me from desk to desk for TWO HOURS before I had the time to visit the B&T site, look up the book, and add it to the right cart.  TWO FRIGGING HOURS.

And by the way, that was one of my success stories!  It was a success in that I actually completed a task that I set out to do.  Every day I am so busy doing checkin/checkout stuff whenever I’m not answering information questions that things I mean to do just fall by the wayside.  When I get to a problem with a patron record that requires intervention by a Higher Authority, my plan is to send off an email explaining the problem to the right people who have the power (and the right passwords) to fix the problem.  But I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WRITE THE EMAIL because as soon as I have five seconds of peace, yet another patron steps in front of me and says, “Are you busy?” and then I get swept up into dealing with my upteenth transaction of the day.

A big part of the problem is that The Terrible Old Man came in today.  As usual he wanted information that we did not have, and as usual he was very rude and patronizing about how unhelpful we were.  We’ve been dealing with him for many years now; he has actually spent months at a time staying away from the library (tormenting other public servants, I expect), but like an evil boomerang made out of wormwood he always comes back. When I came to relieve my colleague at the information desk and saw her concluding a transaction with him (and looking like she needed to run to the nearest bar for a strong drink), I was delighted that I had dodged a bullet.  I should have realized that he would come back multiple times to ask me the exact same questions that he had asked her, because he was not satisfied with the answers that she had provided.

Here’s a hint:  he is NEVER satisfied with the answers that you provide.

There were several other highlights today.  One was a series of reports that we received about our old building.  We got a report from one of the security higher-ups that the electricity had been cut to the building, and that if we needed to go back in there to get anything, we should bring flashlights.  Which was both alarming and exciting news.  I was visualizing us going back in there with miners’ helmets and having an urban exploration party.  But then I heard the second report — that according to our custodian, the old building now has lots of waterbugs running around in it.

So … lots of waterbugs running around … in the dark?  AIGH!!!!!

Remember that scene in Cloverfield?  The one in the subway tunnel, where they’re walking around in the dark and they keep thinking that they’re hearing things following them?  And they keep turning around and trying to see with the light from the camera, but they don’t see anything?  And then they turn on the camera’s night vision setting and … well, what happened next is that I almost wet my pants.  Anyway, I have a feeling that going into our old building right now might turn out something like that.

Here’s the scene, in case you want to relive it.

Oh Lord, there goes my heart again.  Hoo-Boy.

Anyway, the final highlight of the day that I want to mention was the older woman who I noticed was trying to make an internet appointment on one of the young adult computers.  I told her that these computers could only be used by patrons who were registered as teenagers, and I pointed out the area with computers that adults could use.  She nodded, went to pick up her things, and added as she walked away, “A sign would be nice!”

As I wondered how best to respond to this, I noticed Betsy out of the corner of my eye, cracking up as she shelved the magazines.  I told her that I’d just found the epitaph for my gravestone.  She said that it should be the motto for our new building.  Couldn’t you just see it on a giant banner right above our entrance?

Oh, wait.  That would count as a sign, wouldn’t it?