Friday, September 30, 2005

"Oh No, It's Him Again!"

After reading Mel's post, I was reminded of my short stint as a public library worker. As a lover of reading and all things books, I thought working at a library would be an earthly version of paradise.

So I applied at a local district library, and promptly got hired as a page. Now the pages are the poor people you see out on the floor with the little carts, putting the books back on their shelves. Can I just say now that I loathed being a page with every fiber of my being? It was tedious, monotonous work. The only way I could tell the difference between the days was that the titles of the books changed.

The worst was when I had to take a cart of children's books. I think one of the attendants derived great pleasure out of the look on my face when I arrived and had carts of children's books to place during my shift. Being so thin, it was possible to place close to one hundred books on a cart, as compared to most regular adult books, which could pack usually twenty, max. So not only did you have a billion books to put away, they were mostly all in places where you had to either squat or just give up and sit on the floor. Not only that, but part of your duties was to fix any mix-up in the books in whatever section you were in. Suffice it to say, when in the children's nonfiction section, I could easily spend close to an hour trying to get things in order.

Luckily for me, in short order I was promoted to attendant. Attendants are the poeple behind the desk who check your books out for you, check materials in, collect fines, etc... I thought my days of sorting and shelving were over, but I was sadly mistaken. It was the duty of the attendants to set up the carts for the pages to shelve. We also had to shelve if the pages got overwhelmed or one of them didn't show up for work.

As always, working with the public was a challenge. Irate people who claimed that of course they had returned that book weeks ago. Irate people who could not believe how much their fine was after finding said book a month later. Irate people who came in waving their collection agency notices. Irate people who claimed it couldn't have possibly been their child who had ripped half the pages out of the book, even though we had a very conscientous staff who made note of every imperfection in the books in the computer when they were returned. Of course, everything was my fault. The receipts should be different, the policy wasn't clear, they had no idea that there was a charge for placing a hold on a book. I heard as many excuses as there were people to tell them to me. There is much more anger in a public library than you would ever think.

But the worst thing had to be the man that we called "The Captain." The Captain was, we believed, a homeless or semi-homeless man. He would come in at least once a week, sometimes several. He would be dressed in various dirty and stained garb, but he would always have a hat on. The exact kind of hat that a boat captain would wear, with the gold embroidered "scrambled eggs" on the brim. Now The Captain would invariably want to go up to the second floor. As ascending the stairs was difficult for him, he had to request an escort up the elevator, which was for handicapped patrons only.

When he would make his request, there would be a desperate, silent catfight between all of us attendants as to who got to take him up. It depended on what tasks we had assigned to us at the time, but usually, it would fall to the attendant with the least seniority. Which just so happened to be me. Suffice it to say that the only way in which to survive going into the tiny, unventilated elevator with The Captain was to take a very large breath and hope that you could hold it until the second floor was reached. Unfortunately, The Captain's scent would linger in the elevator, thus neccesitating the use of the stairs back down to the first floor. With watering eyes, you would gratefully gulp in the fresh air of the stairwell, taking a few extra breaths so as to clear the lungs out.

I only stayed at that job for about six months. The pay was good, but the work was so mentally unstimulating that even I, one of the laziest people you will ever meet, could not even stand it. The fact that I could grab almost any book I wanted and never pay a late fine just wasn't enough.

So now when I go to my local library, I feel the pain of all the workers, even the librarians to some degree, who have to be polite and helpful no matter how much of a jerk the person in front of them is being. But the other day when I paid my fine for an overdue DVD, I did wax a little nostalgic for the days when I could go into the computer and manipulate the dates so that it looked like I had turned it in on time. Hey, there has to be some kind of perk in that job...


Piece of Work said...

Wow, and I always thought working in a library would be fun. I even considered a degree in library science. Sounds like a nightmare!

Suzanne said...

I also wanted to work in a library. Sounds like it's not any better than any other job in which you have to interact with the public. Just why is the public, no matter what the venue, largely so unpleasant?