Sunday, September 15, 2013

When Library Workers Swarm

At the end of last year the school district I work for furloughed all the remaining elementary school librarians (after decimating their numbers a couple years before).  Later it was determined to call back ONE librarian for FIFTEEN schools.  It's not really intended as a teaching position but more supervisory with regard to the slave labor library paras the district retained, of which I am one.  Since I worked half a year last year with zero supervision it was an interesting concept.  I wondered what sort of supervision would be afforded.

The first order of business was a day long meeting where-in said supervisor gave us her job description, clarified ours, and laid out her overarching goals.  Then she gave us the schedule for attacking each of the fifteen libraries to prepare them to open for circulation for the year.  We had nine days to hit them all.  Keep in mind that one of my two libraries was reduced to 200 or so boxes so the room could have asbestos removed.  The roughly 11,000 books would have to be returned to shelves and inventoried before circulation could resume.  Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, this is no small task.

Now before I tell you what we encountered there allow me to recount in a general sense what we achieved at the other libraries.  We weeded five of them mercilessly, going through the stacks a book at a time to remove several hundred irreparably old or damaged books from each of the collections.  After they are removed from the shelves they must have barcodes removed, be deleted from the catalog, and have identifying stamps blacked out.  In two libraries, we combed through the non-fiction sections to identify the low reading level books that could be recatalogued as easy reader non-fiction for kindergarten and first grade.  One library was prepped to move from one room to another.  Two libraries were merely straightened to make sure books were in correct order on the shelves.  We were barred from entering one library by an obstructionist principal.  One library was unearthed from having several other classrooms worth of supplies dumped into it when those rooms flooded.  I didn't go to three of the libraries so I can't report on them.   We worked hard.  We got dirty....seriously, you have no idea how filthy you can get in a library until you've worked in one.  Dust, book mold, all manner of mystery substances dropping from ceilings, shelves, and books themselves all come together to create a revolting melange.

And then there was my formerly asbestos filled library....

Upon arrival we found stacks of boxes, furniture, and shelves.  The shelves appeared to be configured in some vaguely intentional manner but nothing resembling their former configuration.  When we asked for help moving the shelves back the principal forbade us to restore them to their former positions.....because....wait for it....it would be too crowded at the monthly faculty meetings.  Gentle readers, it is at this point I wish to pause and request your recognition of the extraordinary self-control I exhibited that I may continue in my current employ.  My indignant self wished to inform the principal that the primary function of an elementary library is its daily use by students and staff in order that the students may have access to literature, reference materials, and recreational reading materials in order to further their education, ignite their imagination, and promote intellectual development and curiosity it is decidedly NOT to assure the comfort of faculty during monthly bullshit meetings and though that is certainly a reasonable secondary function the primary function trumps all.  Yes, I felt quite the rant working up.

Instead, I opted to inform said principal of the impossibility of returning 11,000 books to the shelves in her preferred arrangement since one shelf had broken, been discarded, and was not replaced and two other large, double-sided shelves had been placed flush against a wall further reducing my shelf space by at least another 80 linear feet.  I asked if she'd like me to stack the books on the floor.  She was not particularly keen on that idea and conceded the shelves had to move though NOT to their original places.  No, we'd have to work out a new pattern.  I attempted to reason about the arrangements regarding lines of sight to keep an eye on the little darlings who would never consider giving each other atomic wedgies in corners of the library, or scaling shelves, or defacing books, or any number of other less than angelic behaviors.  The principal was unswayed and a floor plan was drawn up for a new configuration which grants me needed shelf space and my more creatively misbehaved, nay, even the less creatively misbehaved all sorts of nooks and crannies for nefarious deeds.  Oh, and there was an insufficient crew of custodians to move the shelves that day.  They'd have to put in a work order and see how long it took to get someone over there.

One might think all this high level negotiation and effort to remain diplomatic would sap the vigor of a crew of library paras but instead it fueled our eagerness to.just.get.the.job.done.already.  We are a productive lot I liken to a swarm of locusts, only instead of a path of ruin in our wake we leave perfect order with devastating efficiency as evidence by the massive weeding and organizing in the other libraries.  With only half a day and only half the shelves in place though we sorted through boxes and returned the fiction books to their designated places.  The principal was impressed.  We were not.

A week later my supervisor told me to call over to ask if the shelves had been moved into place.  I was told by the assistant principal that they were not but that they needed the boxes out of the way so they could use the library for testing.  Gentle readers, I'll spare you the thoughts I wished to express and merely tell you that I used only the mildest of my most scathing tones of voice when I replied, calmly but ever so slightly condescendingly, "Well, if the shelves were in place I could put the books on them and they'd be out of everyone's way once and for all."  I was put on hold and passed up to the principal who got on the phone to assure me that the shelves could not be moved but boxes were in the way and they were afraid to move them because it looked as if they had been sorted and blah blah blah.....  I held the receiver at arm's length and told my supervisor it was for her.  Let us index this moment under "supervisory duties," "avoiding termination," and "self-censorship."

We were given another half a day with half a crew, two of whom cannot do heavy lifting without paying a heavy price but all of whom have a work ethic (as an aside, yoga has strengthened my back considerably so I was not counting myself among those who were not able to lift).  Four of us managed to shift three shelves sufficiently to allow us to access enough of them to be able to fill all but three sets of shelves with about half the collection....after completing the sorting of the boxes...and moving tables and chairs into place for the testing.

Like the locust, which is quite vulnerable on its own, when we work together we are a force to be reckoned with, hindered only by bureaucracy.


10 comments:

Jackie said...

I have two suggestions for the principal:
(1)Hold each monthly faculty meeting in the principal's office.
(2) All testing will be done in the principal's office.
Period.
I have no further words for this principal.
I am disgusted.
I do have words for you: thank you for your dedication and your hard work.
~ Jackie~ (retired educator and one who holds in highest esteem dedicated media specialists and media paraprofessionals.)

Tabor said...

I personally think faculty meeting should be held in the hallway with everyone standing. They are more efficient that way. As to your challenges I must say I felt glad to be retired. I also was wondering what libraries would be like in 100 years and would nerd/geeks be working on re-programming a small server closet before the kids returned to school to download the library?

Craig said...

"Dust, book mold, all manner of mystery substances dropping from ceilings, shelves, and books themselves. . ."

My nose started running like the proverbial faucet, just reading those words. . . So, uh, thanks for that. . .

And, uh. . . obstructionist principal. . . seems kinda oxymoronic to me. Or maybe just plain moronic. . .

I will never understand the mindset that educational institutions exist for ANY purpose other than, you know, education. . .

But you know, maybe I'm just weird that way. . .

haphazardlife said...

One word: Stupid asshats.

OK, that's two words, but still, I managed to keep it short.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Now I remember why we hate Mondays.

Stephen Hayes said...

Your story reminds me of why I got out of teaching. The kids were great but the bureaucracy was unbearable.

Logophile said...

hmmm, meetings in the library... you know how I feel about that
;)

Bijoux said...

The biggest thing I don't miss about working? Meetings! You have the patience of a saint.

Suldog said...

You showed constraint of which I would have been devoid. I would have had that principal on his knees eating a book. Your way, of course, results in more of the primary library function being accomplished and, as one of those students who took advantage of said function during his school years (one of the few things I ever enjoyed about school, and with lasting effect), I salute you.

Hilary said...

Ugh. It's wise that you held your thoughts. It wouldn't have changed their mindset for one moment. A principal like that never will put the kids first. Thank you to you and your team for being so dedicated.