Library Life Behind the Scenes

I’m just back home from doing a quick tour of my libraries this morning and it has at least given me a chance to be outside the four walls of my flat. There are a number of things we’re doing while we’re closed in preparation for when it is safe to reopen, and they range from some simple maintenance of the buildings to measuring up for potential protective measures. The libraries are big enough that we can observe social distancing while a few of us go in to sort these things out, but it still feels strange to be doing so.

The first library was just a very brief stop in before we handed the building over to decorators. I was there the other day clearing surfaces, but today was the official start of works. I’ll not be returning there until works are completed on some repainting and minor repairs and the company hands the building back to us. Having been there for about two or three minutes, it was then on to the biggest of the libraries to catch up with a fellow manager while we went through and started throwing out outdated manuals, empty biscuit tins, and all the minor detritus that seems to build up in workrooms and staff areas to take over every surface.

Along the way we found training manuals for IT systems that don’t exist any more, procedures printed out from seven or eight years ago that have been superceded, and new homes for all the cash paying in stubs that we need to retain for a few more years. Waste disposal companies got politely prodded to come and actually empty bins that weren’t; air conditioning units got inspected and maintained; water tanks and sinks checked for legionella/water temperature controls – and yes, okay, we gossipped and caught up on how things are going because these things too are important.

The other libraries it was just a quick glance on the way past to check the doors were still locked and nothing looked out of place. We’ll get to them next week – we’re pacing ourselves.

More importantly the majority of our conversations are debates on how to interpret the guidance being wafted around in such a way as to promote safe access to services and buildings for staff and public alike. We’re already pushing our digital services and online presentations – with rhymetimes, storytimes, and craft events all being presented online via social media – on https://www.facebook.com/surreylibrariesUK/ – and a big part of our debate is how we can safely restart doing these activities in the branches. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Oh yeah, World Book Day Happened

That said, I’m not too worried about not blogging on the day about it as so many schools have decided to do things on the Friday before the weekend rather than have dress-down days. Only this morning I had a number of Harry Potters appear for Rhymetime, making me wish I’d brought in one of my replica wands with which to join in the fun and practice some spells with them.

Yesterday was the day itself though, and as libraries we did our best to fit it in with our general mission of getting interesting books in front of variously interested people of all ages. I was unable to convince any of the staff working with me to actually dress up as anything, so I was left to fly the flag and adopt most of my Harley Quinn cosplay while still remaining professional and unscary to the majority of our customers. In other words: no weapons, no facepaint, no fake tattoos, or blood (fake, or otherwise).

Just an average day at the library

In practice this meant a white shirt, the red and black waistcoat made by Lady M, and the old red and black nail varnish. This was fine, and bemused a number of elderly customers who didn’t dare ask what was going on. My staff are used to it, so all was well. We just didn’t get any children older than two and a half in all day. You might think therefore that this was a waste of time, but I say any excuse to wear cosplay at work and be paid for it is no bad thing. Then again, I am famous for having no shame over these things.

I couldn’t be bothered to remove the nail varnish last night, so I’m still wearing it today, along with my more general casually smart library manager attire. So far I’ve had ten people admire and compliment my nails while I’ve been serving them. I’ll take that.

Unexpected Sleep Break

Well, I must have needed that – having had a fairly heavy day sorting out a variety of issues and feeling like my head was about to implode, I got home to find Lady M already in bed with a migraine. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and thought “I know, I’ll snuggle down for a little bit with her.”

Then my alarm went off and it was seven in the morning. So, yes, that happened…

Its just as well as today sees the first day for a new member of staff, and a fair amount of things happening at work event-wise so I’m chalking it up to my brain deciding that my conscious processes were going to get in my own way and forcing a reboot..

I do feel better for it, but I’m still looking forward to the end of the day so I can properly switch off for a bit.

The V On The Roof

One of my libraries has a building site next door – as in, just the other side of the wall of my office – and it has been a noisy year as they demolished the old buildings and then started to build the development from scratch. One of the big complaints from people in the area was that it was removing an architectural feature from the area – specifically the imposing front of what had been a college, complete with an impressive facade – even though the site had been closed and falling apart for quite some time.

As I was walking in to work the other day though, I could start to see the final shape of some of the buildings in the development coming together as the peaked roofs are added to the bare bones of concrete and metal. The shape and colour of the tiles is reminiscent of the older building that had been there before – and I thought it a nice touch. Then I noticed on one of the roofs a lighter coloured V shape, which looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. I mentioned it to a member of staff whose family has been in the area for generations and she got excited enough to jump out and go round to take a picture.

Apparently it exactly replicates signs of bomb damage from World War Two, where a device hit the road a short way away from the school (as it was at the time), and lightly damaged the tiles of its roof where it faced the explosion. Builders rapidly replaced the tiles from bombed out buildings nearby so that the school could keep running but the colour didn’t quite match. This left a distinct lighter coloured V shape that was never repaired or replaced until the building was demolished last year to make way for the new buildings. It had become part of the fabric of the local community – a sign of it pulling together in war and adversity to help its members – and so the reappearance of this V in the tiles on the same alignment and location of the original has been grudgingly admired as a nice nod to the past and the continuity of that spirit.

Little things go a long way

Tap, Tap, Tapping

Its been a while since I encountered it, but there’s a very easy way to tell if someone originally learned to type on a typewriter: they stab at the keyboard very very hard for every single stroke, making the whole experience sound very very angry – especially if they’re two-finger typing.

I’ve had a number of customers recently do this, and in each instance I’ve had to refrain from asking if everything is okay, or what the problem is. In each instance, a sneaky peek at what they’re writing has revealed totally innocuous messages and even pleasantries – its just that they can’t get past the ingrained lessons that taught them they had to make sure that a mechanical arm struck the page with sufficient force to leave a mark.

The reverse is true these days of people who come in to use our computers, where they find great difficulty in using a mouse because they’ve got so used to using a tablet or their phone. I remind myself that we all adjust to our most commonly used tools – its why there’s always an adjustment period when you drive a new vehicle for example – rather than it being a sign of relative facility or attitude.

Lanyard Inclusivity

I may have mentioned previously that I have a number of badges on my work lanyard. Some are representations of fandoms, or of work initiatives, while others are for LGBTQIA+ representation, or are purely decorative. They serve a multitude of functions – not least of which is being visible, which may seem a strange option, but does serve a function when people are struggling to describe who served them last time. “The man with the badges” works just as well, especially with the amount of swapping of staff we have to do at the moment between sites.

From time to time, a member of the public tries to interpret some of the badges that are less common in appearance, which can lead to some interesting conversations – some of them useful, some of them an exercise in confirming or denying nothing depending on the tone of the questioner.

What has been heartening recently however, is seeing the slow spread of LGBTQIA+ badges on a number of other staff members’ lanyards – either as quiet declaration or as allies – and finding the very reassurance I’ve hoped to project to others coming from seeing them in front of me.

It just reinforces how important representation in the workplace is.

Long Week

My rota pattern changed recently so I’m now adjusting to the new days, including the swapping of the weekends where I work. This wouldn’t normally be too complex, but I’ve also got various weekends and days swapped round to accommodate colleagues or allow for various holidays. The general effect therefore is one of having to consciously remind myself several times per day where I am, what hours I’m doing, and whether I need to make further course corrections to avoid having to be in two places at once.

Its all a bit exhausting. Fortunately this weekend we’re off to go see lady s as its her birthday tomorrow so that will be a nice escape from the grind. For at least a couple of days I’ll be able to forget buildings that are generally porous to the weather, or that have been shaken by nearby construction. I’ll instead be able to delight in giving presents and sharing a breakfast tomorrow before being a bit touristy in Portsmouth.

We’re all pretty run down, so it’s not going to be a grand explosion of frolics and silliness (well maybe a bit of silliness) – but just being in each others company will help I think.

Back to Work

Ah, its as if I’ve never been away – and so this week I’ve been striving to change things in my work environment – little but important things, especially given the recent walkabouts we’ve been doing looking at fire and building safety. I may not be able to conjure fresh staff out of the ether, but I can at least have a tidy and make sure life is a little less complex where I can.

So Tuesday I spent most of the day clearing out shelves and paperwork from a workroom at one of my libraries – removing anything financially related that was more than seven years old, and disposing of all sorts of broken bits of junk kept “just in case”. A fellow manager has maintained the charge today at that site, with the grudging assistance of staff who know better than to get in the way of someone described as “contagiously enthusiastic”.

Today I’ve been overseeing surveyors and engineers looking at leaks and other issues in another building, using my advanced knowledge of the building to accurately predict where the next domino in a cascade of events was going to wander next. There may also have been some more cleaning of surfaces, decluttering of access corridors and careful removing of wedges behind fire doors. I’m in equal minds as to whether the latter has been in the spirit of safety or spite.

Tomorrow will be more of the same – and no doubt there will be fresh assaults on my sanity and patience.

Switching My Brain Off

At least for a little while – its been a busy old day, with many customers needing perhaps a little bit more hand-holding than anticipated. Nothing particularly outrageous happened; its all just been a bit relentless. On the bright side however, I’m now not due in to work until next week, and there are celebrations and shenanigans to attend in the meantime. As an added bonus, it happens to be payday tomorrow as well – meaning I can breathe a bit more easily for a bit.

I think my staff may have been a little concerned for my sanity today, all the same. I may have appeared at various moments looking a bit wild-eyed as I avoided certain customers, focused on completing certain tasks, and felt steam coming out of my ears as I attempted with my fellow managers to play enough shell games to cover staffing requirements. The relaxed expression currently on my face comes at least in part from the knowledge that I won’t be called upon to have anything to do with that for five days – three of which being a bank holiday so I don’t have to feel too guilty about my colleagues stressing in my absence.

My out of office emails have been set. My morning alarms switched off. I may even have a gin and tonic shortly…

Resignation False Alarm

I caused a small degree of bemusement today among staff where I work when one of the more eagle-eyed of them noticed that one of my browser tabs had the label “Resignation” on it. It was actually quite nice to have them express concern that I might be leaving for other pastures, but in this case it was the header for a page on our intranet about the management procedures for processing the resignations of staff. I was reminding myself of these because here in the UK, A Level results are due out in about two weeks – and a fair proportion of our Weekend Staff are therefore about to be heading away to universities around the country.

This almost sounds as if I’m organised, doesn’t it? I really must do something to dispel that impression at some point, assuming I don’t procrastinate long enough for it to be a moot point…

It’s an interesting reminder that people spot and interpret the smallest minutiae in interesting ways – and mirrors the experience we had this weekend where the smalls reported back their aunt a conversation that Lady M and I had about tickets to Legoland in pretty much the same cadences and accents as we’d used. I was unaware of their secondary jobs as living voice recorders… Hopefully this is not a talent that they will take with them into the workforce in years to come..!