Sunday, August 15, 2010

A day in the life of...

The library 

Libraries have an exalted position in our collective memory. And it is not without reason as the library has had a place in society that dates back through antiquity, the oldest being found at Sumer and Ugarit (long before most of us even think of humans as "civilized") but others at Nippur in 1900 BCE and Ninevah in 700 BCE.

 All through the Grecian and Hellenistic period, libraries are quite important and even in Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures libraries have been found in archeological excavations. Muslims and Medieval Christians used libraries for theological studies (what else was there? poor misguided folk...). We still learn a great deal about what these older cultures believed, how they lived, what they thought, what they celebrated, etc. by looking back at these ancient manuscripts to see how they lived- all thanks to the library! (info and pic from Wikipedia)
And that is where I work! 


I do not work with ancient manuscripts or even archival material. I am a circulation clerk and I work with the books and DVDs and CDs that people check out each day. 

I work for Denver Public Library-- A job I got last year (February 2009) after my boss at Denver Public Schools told me that my position at the Middle school would be cut to a para position which would mean both a pay cut and loss of benefits but fewer hours per week to top all of that off as well. It was simply not a tenable situation. So, I had already begun checking into positions at DPL but began to apply with more urgency. In March I had an interview and by April I began my training... 

in this building: 

It was quite intimidating at the time and the massive amount of marble and cool stone never felt warm or inviting and there is a great deal too much echo but the flashiness appeals to the hip and happening set in Denver. The original building, the Burnham Hoyt Building, is just eeking out a toehold in the picture above:

is still standing and is a credit to the historical set as they wanted to make sure that some elements of the old and historical parts of the building remained and were not simply plowed under by the flashy new Michael Graves creation. 
As you can see, there is no end to the ostentatiousness:

I trained here for what wound up being 6 months before I moved on to Hampden as the sole full time circulation clerk although we have one full time Lead clerk (Anton) who is pictured below. Hampden had begun an extensive remodel job in February and we were supposed to reopen in June. But as often happens with city jobs that are contracted out to private contracts, June turned to July turned to August wound up in September. 

Hampden is one of 22 branches (at least for the moment) and is the furthest south and east branch which means that when Aurora voted down funding for their libraries and closed all but three branches, we drastically increased our DVD circulation (and everybody thinks I exaggerate about that but I really don't- one day I am going to count the number of books to DVD just to prove it.  And I would like to add that I spent a great deal of time listening to the younger Librarians last summer talk at length on why we should be eliminating older material out of the library because they don't see libraries as a place for archiving- the question I have for this is: just how many Jodi Piccoult books do you really need to have? in the meantime we were deleting many older books including a set of books that contain the speeches of the Presidents from Washington to Lincoln that is probably the only copy in the state.)     

This is the work room where we begin our day, sorting through crates of delivery. (Pictured above are Anton, my immediate supervisor, the Lead Clerk and two shelvers at Hampden Shirley and Elsa. Both are part time which saves the city money on benefits, of course) They are delivered by the library elves who work through the night sorting the books that belong to us but have been returned to other branches (a service we offer) and the holds that have been processed during the day. They put them in crates and then stack them up by our back door.
These are what the crates look like full from the top usually stacked four high. We generally get about 32 crates a day give or take 4 or 5... and it takes me an hour by myself to unpack them (which I do on Wednesday and occasionally on Friday)

Not nearly as picturesqueness (nor as much fun) as a Christmas tree on Christmas morning but there it is.  We pile two trucks (carts such as you see pictured here are properly called trucks at DPL)- one full of holds to be processed immediately, the other with our returned items that are marked "in transit" and need to be returned so the computer shows them "On Shelf". This is a truck of return delivery and I always sort DVD from books.  As you can see there are quite a lot of DVDs on the second shelf. The books are only on the top shelf and it can take 3-4 DVDs to make one book.

Just saying....

THEN they get sorted onto the trucks to get shelved by this young lady (below) who is an On-Call shelver. Before I move on to talk about Melissa our On-Call, this is also the mysterious room where all the returns are dropped onto a bin. One of us, the same people who work the outside desks, picks them up out of the bins and checks them in. The same thing we do out on the desk, it's just that no one can see us back here!

She is "on-call" obviously because we need people to fill in. The city has put a freeze on hiring and most of us are under staffed. This means more hours for on-call which is good I suppose but they don't get benefits and they can actually wind up working 6 days a week without overtime because they rarely get a full day. They also work all over town and often get treated as-- well, not very well.  Melissa looks happy enough and seems happy when she comes to Hampden but I guess she just got hired so we'll give her some time and we'll check back with her and see how she's doing in a year or so...

This is my friend Jan
Hard worker...

Never a more dedicated company person.
Why she'd work through the night before she allowed the place to fall into alphabetical chaos! 
(Everything I just wrote was really just for Jan's enjoyment, she will laugh more than anyone. She loves to laugh and doesn't want to have to tell anyone she was just kidding)

After we get all the books that have been ordered by our customers processed, we shelve them. Hopefully we are done with this before opening. Otherwise we're multitasking, running holds, returning stuff (for people who just refuse to put it in the drop box because they think we have a personal vendetta against them and don't want to check their stuff in for them), checking out stuff, taking money for fines, etc) Meanwhile shelvers are looking for the stuff people have ordered during the night and if we have time we try to help by running them through to see which branch they are to be sent to, unless one of our customers wants them. Generally, however, we are multi-tasking all day anyway, because we have DVDs to shelve and holds to shelve. We are  often making new cards for the people who move into the neighborhood and the surrounding Aurora population who now find themselves without a neighborhood library. It can make for a very busy day which is why I can find myself a bit annoyed when a customer smirked at me and said he only returns at the checkout desk (instead of returning in the return slot where a coworker is assigned to do returns) because we don't do anything anyway.  
The real hub of the library are the public computers. Do NOT (if you value your life) stand in front of the public computers first thing in the morning and try to block this crowd as they race to the computers. Some of them will have called in to get their reservations so they'll be a bit more relaxed but others....  it is no joking matter. We do not have word processing on these computers as the library does not have the budget to buy Word or any even Wordpad so there was a crisis a few weeks ago when the public could not even get Google documents to print. It is a true crisis when you are trying to get to the one computer you have access to to make your resume and you can't even print from it! We finally did find another internet word processing program but it was pretty pathetic for a while there and not a few people stamped out of the library. 
Noel is our Reference librarian. He is apparently expendable as he has been sent elsewhere for the last few months and we have been even more understaffed than we were before- but he's back now- well, back after he comes back after vacation. He is the one who fields the really important questions like "Can you go on the National Debt website and tell me what the National Debt is now? And Now?" (And yes, We have someone who calls every day and asks that every day and keeps the reference desk on the line for some time because the amount changes each second) or "Can you tell me what your number is?" I took that call when the reference desk was busy and just refrained from asking "how did you call here?"
And here's Shelly- My really intrepid co-worker who, upon my direction, is showing how frustrating it can be when people argue with you about fines they don't think they should ever have to pay because they returned the items. "But the books were 3 months late." You respond patiently. "But I returned them!" they argue. "But they were late and we do explain in the pamphlet that there is a .25 per item per day late fee. I'm sorry." "Well, I think that's just ridiculous. I think I pay enough taxes already. I don't think I should have to pay more on this kind of crap."  
And Amanda! My hero!

She works overtime in overdrive! Getting the kids in the library for all the great programs she has going. A few weeks ago she had a pirate magician in the library for a program and at least 50 kids and their parents were all stuffed into our community center. It was fantastic!!! Then another day she brought in the worlds most talented pigs and another big group of people hung out in that room all afternoon. But her greatest gift and what she enjoys the most is working with adults. She has two evens of Community Learning Plazas where she has people working on learning computers, learning English (Amanda speaks Spanish fluently), working on homework or getting their GED. She's awesome. And she's an artist!!! Someday I hope to feature some pictures of some of her work on this blog.

Well, I haven't even touched on any of the politics of the library-- like increasing unpaid furlough days... or no raises (not even cost of living increases- no not even 3%)... or the caste system (you aren't much of anybody if you aren't a real librarian at DPL)... or the fact that my boss's boss told me that I am in public service and that is the price you pay when you work for the city and if my schedule is too topsy turvy to work a second job to supplement for the lack of pay raises and the furloughs and higher insurance rates then I should should hear what she has to deal with! Why she only makes 4 or 5 times more than I do and good lord- her husband also works for the library and they are both home on furlough days! She has two children and a house she is trying to fix-up!!! I think I have problems??? 

But let's forget all that and pretend that all the library is about is saving civilization. As it was once... long, long, ago. When the word was written on stone. 

So that is a day in the life of...

The library....  


  1. I wish I had read this before you came. It's more interesting than you mmgith imagine.

  2. Added a few new pictures here, several of the outside of my branch which I took and some of the delivery. They sort of illustrate the book to DVD ratio. Easier than counting.

  3. Wow - what a beautiful building!!!! You know, I always thought the hardest thing about being a librarian would be the huuuuuge TBR pile! But what an awesome job for a writer :)


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