The Fake Library

11 09 2010

I like my job.
Sometimes.

I love cataloging and making things work so that the right book comes up with the right search terms, and I’m glad that I have the stability of a full time job and all of the little benefits that come from having a full time job. I’m grateful to contribute to a library that is almost academic. I don’t have a bad boss – hey, for that matter, 50-75% of the time, I don’t really have a boss in the building…….and that’s another post.

Some things are becoming evident…you know, you accidentally fall backwards into an abandoned well full of manure, trying to chase this moth that you thought was a really zawesome butterfly…and you think: maybe someday I’ll be able to climb out! and then slowly realize hey, mud is slippery. And hey, this thing’s dark. And, um, abandoned?! so it’s not going to get better and there is no escape???
Um. Yeah. I thought I was getting an academic library and librarians. I got a big room (that happens to have some books in it) full of people uninterested in books or research or writing or libraries, really.

In one of my interviews for this job, I remember desperately mumbling something about loving to help students (which was and still is absurdly not true – helping students and talking to instructors makes me want to curl up in a ball in the corner) and my now-boss said “Well, in this position, you’ll be doing technical work, not so much reference.” (And I squealed inside) This was the case for a year. It was awesome. I could listen to NPR all day, in my own little cataloging bunker, and I only felt like it wasn’t really a library when someone came to ask me to make sure this book came up when someone searched for “techno-eco future visions” (and do not get me started on having to explain listening to NPR to my fellow library staff)

..and then there were plans to build a new campus. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for complaining about having a new campus (it is beautiful and nice and very…blindingly…yellow………) but…The architects who designed the new campus basically did so with no consideration of the staff in the library.

So I now sit at the reference/circulation/computer help desk. I have one shelf where I can keep my thousand pages of dewey manual, ten or so rolls of laminate, and every single other processing supply (read: i need at least three shelves) I’m not a reference librarian; I still don’t know enough about the majors to really help students. I absolutely hate the fact that the library is now The One Big Computer Lab and the two of us are The Lab Techs. We’re not lab techs. My coworker is stuck in 1987, happily; does not have any plans to ever get a cell phone, has no idea what the difference between a kb and a GB is, knows less about computers than my grandma, and does not “get” the internet. If I wanted to be tech support I’d have stuck with computer science.

And the biggest thing – I use the cataloging program all day, and every time someone needs to check out something I need to stop immediately (our lovely clientele are always in extreme hurry mode [except when you come over to help them with computers or printers, then they are absolutely absorbed in text messaging and ignoring you]) and go into the circulating program. I’m not going to give you a primer on cataloging, but you cannot do it right if you are stopping and switching programs every fifteen minutes. This is also probably why they stick catalogers (happily) in the basement. You get interrupted – you forget what you’re doing and you miss mistakes, or forget to catalog something entirely. Or, I have to get the books ready to circulate (or, at this place, the “correct” term is re-check-out or rent…again, another post) – stamps, covers, security…You really don’t want to be putting security devices in books right in front of everyone, it kind of defeats the purpose…and its another thing that doesn’t do well with interruptions.

So I’ve been unintentionally half-assing it for the last two years. My brain needs beano. I do not like this. It is the most shameful thing in the world for me when we go to do inventory and a stack of books have some sort of error, or are just not fully in the system. My fault. Because some girl needed help using the stapler or clicking the mouse, and I forgot what I was doing. I’ve gone from technical to extremely busy switching back and forth and running around with my head cut off doing things that have NOTHING TO DO with the degree I’m trying to obtain.

Our software is 12 years old and does not really support the way people use computers now. I have to manipulate cataloging standards to try and cram names and words into item records so the books will come up in searches — this is a huge NO. But it’s what has to be done to get around the old software. So let me put this another way – this is a school full of artists and designers and people very interested in the latest technology and shiny things and NEW things. They don’t want to look at our crappy catalog. They want things to work like Google or Facebook. I wrote a whole paper on how horrible our catalog was for my Info and Society class. It’s horrible. And the software doesn’t do anything that any software since 2001 does easily. I have to manually key lists of what we acquired each month instead of being able to just output all items received between the first and last of the month. Easily 80% of my job is manually doing things the software should do. We can’t just generate a list of students who have books out. We can’t generate lists of ANYTHING, because we don’t have a dot-matrix printer anymore. Statistics?! Who cares! Not fake library! We don’t need nothing you smart peoples like.

And that’s fine. I guess. If I were a reference librarian or wanted to read books to toddlers all day or help people apply for jobs on library PCs. If I wanted to hang out at my job forever, even. But what I want to do is catalog and create taxonomies and vocabularies for collections and use all of the awesome things that are happening with modern technology to make libraries awesome and make libraries survive. I want to make archives available online. I would even be ok tagging photographs forever. Cataloging in the basement. Assigning metadata to legal documents that I can’t comprehend – SURE, ANYTHING!

When I took this job, I thought, Ok, it’s technical services and it’s an academic library and they do have books….with real words in them…and yes, that’s moderately true, but it’s a 2 year art school. Moving to a university is going to be hard, moving to a museum’s library may be impossible (or maybe I have those confused) even moving to a public library would be difficult (though that’s a last resort) even moving to a COMMUNITY college will be tricky. There’s evidently a lot of grudges held by ___ librarians against ____ librarians. And even more grudges held agains _xyz__ graduates for even if they are applying to work at __xyz___ library..Zawesome.

So I’m thinking I need to get some volunteer experience in, and do a thesis instead of an “eportfolio” to graduate. It’s all I can do right now because the economy is not being friendly to my interests, but hey guess what – all of these picky grudge-holding librarians STILL need volunteers because of the economy.

I know this is what I want to do and I know I’m pretty damned good at it. I’m really passionate about it and I am haunted by my first awesome job in a library – I can honestly say there was not a day where I ever wanted to go home at that job. If I was able to stay there after graduation, I would STILL be there. I love this stuff. I’m not going to let the economy or the demise of public libraries ruin what I want to do, even though I’ve kind of been focusing on that kind of bad news for a while. I’m not going to let the grudge-holding keep me from applying to jobs I know I can do. Grudge that. If I just sit back and do nothing but work full time at a nowhere job and get a very general degree with no special research or experience, yes, I’m screwed. But when I can find something awesome like adding metadata to a photograph or art or women’s history collection, I’m going to go for it and just see where that takes me. I’ve never believed silent drudgery was a good way to live life but I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing for three years. Yeah, there’s AC and I get vacation days and if I’m really sick and our third person has shown up to babysit facebookers for the last half hour and close the computerlab errr library, I can actually take a sick day…and the campus is new, but I’m miserable and it’s just not taking me anywhere except backwards…and I have classmates who are doing all of these neat internships and getting DIFFERENT experience. And I’m illegally keywording designer shoe books.

And one more thing! The fricken campus is practically on top of a ballpark. And above a gym. A loud, obnoxious, luxury-douchebag gym. The ball games start or are finishing right as I’m leaving work and game attendees are allowed to use our building’s parking garage. How awesome is that? Even if I ride my bike, it’s rage-inducing. So much rage.