Psst, there’s an advantage to being a library manager during lockdown. I get to go in there when no one else is around and sit and read and look after the books.
The libraries, I am sure of it, get upset if left alone too long. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had systems play up, or books slip from shelves when they’ve been alone for too long.
One of my libraries is due to be decorated this week, so I joined a couple of other managers to do some preparations ahead of the workmen arriving. Vulnerable books have been relocated, outdated paperwork shredded, and access points cleared so things can be quietly and efficiently completed with a minimum of annoyance to the library itself.
I could swear that the library is all aquiver about the attention its getting after weeks of quiet – its certainly been good to see colleagues again and to do something practical while maintaining our distances.
One or two books may have been perused in the process…
It’s been ages since the libatious librarians got together. All plans for celebrating birthdays and Christmas and New Year got scuppered by people’s holidays, or being ill, or just plain bad timing. The end of January (at last!) was the perfect excuse therefore to catch up, and to celebrate various people’s career moves and successes.
There was a lot of drinking. A fair amount of eating. Nachos were sent back and refunded for being pitifully small for a so-called sharing plate. Silliness, commiserations, and teasing happened in equal measure – and yes there were even tears and hair holding in the toilets.
And everyone has checked in this morning on the group chat in fine spirits and with reasonably clear heads. A successful mission I feel.
Is it worse to have no working IT systems, or to have most of a working IT system? After today, my vote is for the latter as we could work around most issues with alternatives, but then feel frustrated on our customers’ behalf at the inability to wholly resolve one or two types of interaction.
It also meant that it took longer and more convoluted routes to answer certain queries – which was somewhat irking as we’re all about providing or at least pointing the way to information.
What today did prove, reassuringly, was how well we know our stock. A great number of book enquiries were resolved by being able to walk to the exact section with the customers – and in some instances to reach for the exact thing they had asked for.
That was deeply satisfying. I may have appeared to be almost supernaturally knowledgeable – especially with my growing beard and tendency to silently appear beside people just as they started looking lost.
Okay, I may enjoy making people jump. I am a sadist, after all.
We get asked for all sorts of things in the library: popular books, tie-ins to TV shows, tourist information, bus passes, how to print documents, and of course whether we have toilets. Many of these we can answer not just standing on our heads, but with a smile, a request for ID, and often while serving several customers at once, giving a sticker to a grumpy child, and ignoring the man drinking out of a thermos while recharging his phone.
What I do love though are the odd enquiries. The more unusual the better, especially if it means getting creative with catalogues, websites, and inside knowledge. It usually involves trying to interpret a sometimes quite vague query, and refining it as we go in a mini journey of discovery.
Sometimes I can find a direct answer, or I can at least identify an individual or organisation who does hold the answer, and a means of communicating with them that matches the capacity and preference of the person in front of me.
Recent examples, by way of illustration, include:
How to buy Premium Bonds without using a website?
Where do UK travelling circuses store their vehicles during the winter?
What’s the largest prime number so far identified and what did they use to calculate it?
Where are the stone road distance markers that still exist in Staines?
Where was the original Saint Saviour’s Church in Sunbury?
How can I find out what my national insurance number is?
Where can I find a list of Grand Prix drivers from 1945-1968?
Who holds the records of common land in the Heathrow area and any outstanding covenants on them?
What is the speed of an unladen swallow?
Did I see you at (venue name) last Sunday?
And if you’re more curious about that last one, then the answers to that are: yes I have stalkers, yes more than one, no it’s not unusual for library staff, and no they hadn’t.
If you’re ever looking for the most subversive people in any given room, you could do far worse than to take a look at your librarians. You could be forgiven for thinking of them as slightly fluffy guardians of silence and study. You would be wrong. All that knowledge seeps into minds trained to observe and catalogue and consider the objects around them. They also deal with the unruly public on a daily basis. To them, the word public has the same connotation as the word civilian to military personnel. You can’t expect them to quite react like everyone else after that.
The mutinous room of people in front of me all seemed to have a competition going on for who could do the best analytical scowl. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be concerned, which should tell you everything you need to know about my sense of humour. I’d just done the most foolhardy thing i could imagine: telling a building full of librarians that people were coming to take their books away. I didn’t mean it in a “we’re cutting your budgets again” way either.
We were on the fourteenth day of the seige. Some idiot had concocted a virulent memetic attack on the concept and value of book-learning which had leapt from sub-Reddit to Tumblr post, from message board to Facebook, Twitter to Snapchat and on in echoing rambling iterations. Whoever had crafted it had quite possibly set off a new Dark Age – and libraries were suddenly on the front line of a war.
The advantage, as the librarians put it, was that people had never read signs and notices before everything kicked off anyway, so they certainly weren’t paying attention now. It did at least make intelligence-sharing simpler, even if not actually more secure. Passwords and locations of keys for supplies could be left in plain sight with a reasonable assurance that no one would read them.
Relocating the stock and replacing it with adult colouring books turned out to be the best solution in the end. The rampaging hordes were pacified with mindfulness exercises and boxes of crayons when they broke through the doors. Business suddenly had never been better. Meanwhile, the treasures of the librarians, spirited away in the depths of the night, entered into legend.