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on to the biggest of the libraries to catch up with a fellow manager while we went through and started throwing out outdated manuals, empty biscuit tins, and all the minor detritus that seems to build up in workrooms and staff areas to take over every surface.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manuals for IT systems that don’t exist any more, procedures printed out from seven or eight years ago that have been superceded, and new homes for all the cash paying in stubs that we need to retain for a few more years.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.

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

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.

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.

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..!

Well That Was A Bit of A Day

I’ve been dragged into doing recruitment at work the last few days – which is hard work at the best of times, let alone when you’re physically and emotionally wrung out to start with. We did the face to face interviews on Friday, taking copious notes on our matrix of questions and preferred topics of answers along the way.

Today, even though it was our collective day off, I and the other manager handling this bit of the process sat down to thrash out a consensus on scores. Then we worked out what post we were offering to who. Tomorrow we’ll run it by our boss for a sanity check in case all the calculations and mobius logic loops have scrambled our brains. So that was/will be/might have been going to be about to be/is a successful morning’s work. Told you my sanity was a bit wobbly.

Now that was fine, but before I could disappear from the building and enjoy the sunshine, a call came in reporting a possible break-in at one of the libraries I manage. As I am the designated keyholder/emergency contact for that site and it was actually on my way home, I sighed and said I would investigate.

This particular library is closed to the public on Monday, but the Citizens Advice Bureau has an office in there, and they often go in out of hours to catch up on paperwork. Apparently they had come out of the office for a spot of lunch to find things disturbed and a previously closed entrance now open – and so had barricaded themselves back in their office.
I didn’t know that last bit.

So I duly arrived and let myself in, saw no signs of anyone being around, but clocked that the alarm was still deactivated. A quick tidy and check for damage and theft later, and I was sure the site was secure. So I went to check in the CAB office.

I looked through the fire door glass panel and saw someone sitting in a chair, so rang the little doorbell to let them know I was there. I’ve rarely seen people move so fast to hide. So I let myself in through multiple keypad-controlled doors to the office itself in time to hear a frantic voice saying “there’s someone coming through the doors! I don’t know! They’re coming right in!”

So I called out and waved my ID badge, said I was duty manager, keyholder, and I’d been called about a break-in. Thankfully one of the staff there knew me, and I heard her say on the phone: “It’s okay, it’s Tim, we’re safe.”

I don’t think I’ve ever managed to terrify someone so comprehensively at the same time I came to save them. Should I start calling myself Batman on future call-outs?

Long story short, they recounted their story and what they’d found. I made sure everything was secure and logged; phoned back the people who needed phoning, and then made sure the building was empty, locked and alarms reset as we all left.

I may even have said Oook to reassure the books as we left…

Back to Work

The last story was quite draining to write for some reason, and between late nights, work, and a bit of burn out I haven’t felt particularly inspired the last few days.

Then Mre B reminded me that the sole purpose of this writing lark was just to enjoy writing every day – if it was snippets and fragments, poems, descriptions, contained short stories, or cliffhangers, all were good.

They’re right, and it was a timely reminder of my habit of making life difficult for myself by setting stupidly difficult targets on occasion that can set me up to fail.

So, more diverse fiction pieces may well be occurring, and hopefully will keep switching things up, over, and around.

Oh, and the day job is being pretty intense this week, but nothing much that captures the imagination beyond the sort of usual grouses you’d find in any job with the public and limited resources.

That said, I can’t quite believe that someone complained that I had too many books in the library…

The Lake

I had a somewhat surreal experience today while trying to sort out a variety of problems at the library I was looking after today. I had been trying to arrange a shorter call-out time for engineers to look at the drips of water I’d noticed yesterday with a range of phone calls and emails when suddenly all resistance faded away.

Instead of weeks to wait, it was suddenly “as soon as we can”, and two men turned up to see what they could do.I deflected their initial belief that it was a burst pipe by pointing out it only started with yesterday’s rain, and so we climbed out onto the flat room to inspect the affected area.

And we found, essentially, a peaceful lake covering a large section of the roof. The drainage pipe was blocked somehow and the rain water had collected there quickly.
They tried to clear the blockage and failed, and called in others who were also unable to help. Tomorrow, I’m told, even more engineers will arrive to resolve the problem. The sooner the better, because the damage to the books if that roof fails will be devastating.

And yet… There is a part of me that admired the simple beauty of that water on the roof. It reminded me of mountain lakes in the Scottish Highlands that reflect the sky and clouds, bringing beauty to unusual places.

Somehow I think it’s an image and whimsy that’s going to stay with me a while.

Grumble

I seem to have had a day that’s veered between annoying people on purpose through to major foot in mouth moments, with a side order of “would anything else like to fall off this building?”

One of the aspects of my work at the library that tends to elevate my stress levels is managing the maintenance of the buildings – or at least nudging corporate property services to respond when things go bang, clunk, fail to work or let in the weather in ways we’d rather they didn’t.

One of the libraries in my remit has a growing number of issues that may or may not be related, and that seem to causing a domino effect. Every one thing getting fixed seems to then lead to two more cropping up. I spend a lot of my time on the phone or chasing emails.

Staffing issues will always be high on the agenda of course. The last couple of days have had me smiling through gritted teeth, or asking myself why I am even having to challenge individuals on what should be completely obvious issues. At the same time I will continue to defend them from external pressures.

It has left me… a little frazzled around the edges. This has then dulled my ability to operate my own mouth to consider some of the words coming out of it in a timely fashion and instead let some absolute garbage out. Some of those who’ve engaged with me today have therefore been justifiably annoyed at my responses. 

While I’ve apologised where appropriate and we’ve moved on; my brain has of course continued to administer the self-inflicted beatings of remorse and anxiety with its usual gusto long after the fact. I guess if nothing else it’s a sign of acknowledging mistakes; but if it could rein back in now and remember that the world isn’t actually about to implode, it would be helpful.

Who knows what new joys tomorrow will bring?