The Lost Library Book

Here’s a story for you. Once upon a library book….

Back in January, Kelly had me come in to her class to do a book talk for her students as the official kickoff to “I Love to Read” month (which is February). I’ve done this for years for her. I bring in a ton of books from different genres and talk to the kids about what the genres mean and what types of books they can read. It’s a ton of fun, the kids love it and learn a lot.

Then I leave the entire pile of books with Kelly for the kids to use and explore and play with. Now, I would not do this for just anyone. The books are checked out to me, so I’m responsible for them, but Kelly loves the library as much as I do, and she’s very responsible with the books. YEARS we’ve done this and never had a problem.

Of course, this year, there was a problem.

She kept the books and the due date slip and returned them all by the date. As she returned, she checked them off the list to make sure she had them all. She didn’t. There was one missing. She looked for it. And looked for it and looked for it. The kids cleaned their desks, scoured the room, looked at home, this book is missing.

Kelly had told me all of this from the minute she couldn’t find it, so I knew. I fully believed that she would find the book. I figured one of these little kids had it tucked away somewhere and it would turn up. But, it’s been 2.5 months now and it still hasn’t turned up. Kelly offered to pay for the cost of the book, because it is in fact lost.

I’ve been renewing the book this whole time, hoping it would just turn up. But, it’s been so long now, Kelly is sure it won’t. Last night, I went to the library with the intent of paying for the book. There are no more renewals, so I just wanted to deal with it.

I explained this story to the woman working there. She said, “did you get a bill?” Um, no. I didn’t even know they did that. Honestly, I’ve never lost a library book in my life, so I have no idea how this process works. I only know it from the librarian end, how to handle payment for a lost book. And I only know that procedure for Anoka. She said that after a period of time, she thought 30 days, but wasn’t sure, the system would send me a bill for the lost item. At that point, she said, I can come in and pay for it.

Now, I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but I asked “why do I have to wait?” I explained that the book is 100% lost and we’ve been looking for it for months already and I’d like it taken care of. At this point, she is staring at me like I’ve grown another head while talking to her. She explained that until the system registers the book as lost, she can’t accept payment because there is nothing to pay. I’d really like to know who comes up with these things. That’s not true. She should have the ability to mark the item as lost, forcing the system to add the charges to my account. Thus, allowing me to pay for it. But, whatever, it’s not a huge deal and I wasn’t there to make trouble. So I just said fine, that I would wait until I get the bill.

Then she asked if she could call me with additional information, she said she wanted to talk to her boss today. She would find out the details of the this procedure. I couldn’t believe she didn’t know them, but I agreed and gave her my cell phone number.

She kind of hesitated and then she looked at me and said, “thank you for being such a conscientious library user.” I asked what she meant, because it is kind of an unusual compliment.

She said that it is extremely rare to have people step up and take responsibility for something like this, usually it is a fight that the library loses. Now, having worked in a public library myself, I can understand that, people don’t usually take responsibility. They claim they returned it or they accuse us of making a mistake or whatever. But this situation has nothing to do with being a librarian. I told her, “well, the book belongs to you, you trusted me to take care of it and I didn’t do that, so I am responsible for what happens next.”

She nodded and said, “that’s what I mean, very conscientious, so I just wanted to say thank you.”

And that made my day. And they still won’t let me pay for the book yet. When I get the bill, I’ll take care of it, because I am a conscientious library user. And it was nice to be recognized, but nicer still was the fact that I know I somehow made HER day just by doing the right thing.

Another First

People seem obsessed with “firsts” when children are little. I get it, it’s exciting the first time something happens (mostly). But the thing is, I’m on the cusp of being 35 years old and I still experience many firsts. I just had another one today.

As you may know, my part time job is subbing for a county system. There are a dozen or so of us subs. Recently they just hired a couple more, one of whom happens to be named Olivia. Recently, I got an email of thanks from a branch manager for something I did while staffing that branch. Except, I did not staff that branch on that day and did not do the thing for which I was thanked. It was odd. I forwarded it along to the correct Olivia and copied my supervisor so they would be aware of the snafu.

Today, I received an email from my boss, copying the branch manager where I am working on Saturday. The email said this:

Saturday has been partially filled at NTN and Ruth thinks they’ll be OK – thanks Olivia M!

And just like that, I had another first. First time (in my recollection) that I was called by my first name and last initial. I understand this is common practice for elementary schools, where classrooms often have students with the same first name. Growing up as an Olivia in the 80s, all my friends were named Jennifer and Katie, this was NOT something I had encountered.

But, here I am, a professional, an adult, and suddenly I’ve lived this first. I have to say, I don’t really care for it. I think I should just be Olivia and this new girl should be Olivia 2. After all I came first (both in the job and in life), but it was nice to experience it, even if slightly out of traditional context.

Sincerely,

Olivia M. (see, you thought it was weird, too!)

On Working

I don’t talk about work much on the blog. I allude to it here or there, but for the most part, I’ve stopped actually talking about it and airing my grievances here on the blog. But today I wanted to, I just wanted to put this down.

I worked at my part time job today, in a public library. This is vastly different from my full time job, in a corporate library. I’ve known for a while where my heart truly lies, but for some reason, today, it really struck home with me.

I’ve had an exceptionally busy week, I was sick, I’ve had a lot going on, and then I had to work today. I’ve been avoiding working at my part time job, mostly because I’ve been working multiple jobs for seven years and I’m so very tired of it. I want ONE job, just 40 hours and that’s it. That’s the dream. But that is still a long way off. At any rate, because of that and because of the busyness of life in general, I’ve not worked a ton lately. I still work, sure, but not as often. I was scheduled to work on Saturday morning. This was after spending my Thursday night with Arionna, then a sleepover, having her all day on Friday, then hanging with Kelly for her birthday on Friday night, THEN work. Then going out on Saturday night. It’s a lot.

I think it is fair to say that I was dreading this weekend. Not the events. Most all of it was fun. I sure wished I didn’t have to work, sandwiched between all the fun. Then, my night with Kelly went later than expected. I didn’t get home until 3am. That’s pretty late, to have to get up in the morning and work at 10am. Plus having to drive an hour to get to work….yep, I was dreading this day.

Then I arrived. It was chaos. CHAOS. And I was so tired, but there is no option. This is the job, this is MY job, and I need to dive in. So I did. Before I blinked, an hour flew by. I was working in the children’s room, which is so much fun, and I answered questions from little kids. I helped parents track down books. I watched a little boy jump straight up, just once, in excitement, when I found the next installment of a series he was enjoying. I felt my heart lurch when I turned a corner and almost tripped over a little boy, about four, who sat on the floor, up against a bookshelf, next to a stack of books nearly as tall as his seated body. He couldn’t even read but he just sat there, flipping through his books. He looked like a poster for how awesome libraries are. I told his mother that when she came over to check on him. He was “reading” about snakes and asked me a question and I told him that I used to live with a snake (*not* a metaphor!). I grinned out loud at the not-quite two-year-old boy who couldn’t even reach the counter who asked me about pirates.

That was just a few of the interactions, a smattering of the things I did today. Then there was the actual “work”, where I pulled holds and weeded the EJs and reshelved books and straightened messy shelves after hordes of children stormed through. In the late afternoon, a young man and a young girl came in, without children, looking much too old to be using this room. (In the library I was at, there is a separate room for children’s, so people don’t randomly pass through, you have to pointedly walk into the children’s area). I was instantly curious about them. I approached, to ask if I could help them find something. Turns out, they were library school students in a children’s lit class, doing the universal “find books of different ages/genre/media” assignment. I did it. We’ve all done it. You leave the library with like 50 different books. I thought it was fun. The boy seemed to be loving it, but the girl was not. I offered my assistance. I told them that I wouldn’t find them anything (which is actually my job) but I would show them how to find it themselves, if they got stuck. They have to learn and I was so happy, so eager, to help them. They had lots of questions, not surprisingly, it’s not an easy assignment. I realized that I was having a blast.

A blast. I was having flat-out fun at work.

It has been so long since I’ve felt that I’ve honestly forgotten what it’s like. I no longer cared that I was tired or that I was busy or that it is inconvenient to work a second job or have to drive halfway across the state to do so, I was happy and having fun and, dare I say, GLAD to be at work.

What’s my point?

No point. This isn’t some deep-seated psychological realization or some soul searching quest for truth. I know where I want to work and what I want to be doing. I just can’t get there, right now. I wanted, today, to commit these thoughts to “paper” so that I’d remember. I want to be able to look back on this period and remember that it wasn’t all bad. I want to remind myself to focus on the positive and minimize the negative. I want to be able to smile, in the future, thinking of the boy with the stack of books taller than himself. I need to confirm that I’ve been right all along. This job, this purpose, being a librarian, it is in my soul. It truly does make me happy. I’m just not there yet. I just have to keep trying, keep waiting, keep searching, but someday, I will end up where I’m supposed to be. I’ll be a public librarian again one day. I’m meant to.

At this moment

There is a girl in my library. She is maybe 19 years old. She’s tiny and cute and doesn’t at all look like she should be sporting a giant head of dreadlocks. But she is.

She caught my eye and as I watch her, she tips her head down to read her textbook. As she does so, her dreads fall forward and flop into her face. Impatiently, she scoops them up in one hand and flips them back over her shoulder. I watch as she shifts position to hold them in place.

A few seconds pass. Inevitably, the dreads creep forward and tip the scales, falling into her face once again. I can almost feel her frustration as she gathers them up and sends them sailing back over her shoulder. I’ve been staring at her for several minutes now and it’s become like a ritual. Shift, slip, flop, frustration, grab, flip, shift. Repeat.

I’m fascinated by the process. I’ve had long hair my whole life and one of the first lessons you learn is not to let it bother you. My hair falls in my face. It hangs where I don’t want it. Sometimes, it is just in the way. You ponytail. Long hair, you always have a binder of some sort, or you learn to use a pen. You ignore. You adjust. You refuse to let it be a bother. Or else, you become the girl in the library who is silently fighting a war with her own hair. A war she cannot win.

And strangers write blogs about you.

Part of me wants to ask her if they’re new. They must be. She doesn’t wear them comfortably. Then I want to know why. What made her make this statement? Is it an act of rebellion? Is she trying to prove something? Does she think she looks cute?

At this moment, I’m simply curious.

Library Woes Revisited

Remember this tale?

If not, or if you never read it, I beseech you to do so now, otherwise, this will be a confusing post.

Next, I am going to print the email I sent to the branch manager.

Hi Carrie,

 I was in your library (N. St. Paul) on Thursday night to pick up a holds request. My card was out of date and I handed over my ID to the staff member working. Two years ago, I moved from Washington County to Ramsey. I still have my Wash Co card. Your staff member insisted that I get a Ramsey county card. I protested this switch. I am a long time library user and I have had the same card since I first moved to Wash Co, more than 20 years ago. I keep updating my address, but the card and the card number have remained the same. 

In addition, I’ve registered my current card in all the 7 county area MELSA libraries, as well as several independent libraries. I am an avid library user and have my card number memorized. Given the fact that I go out of my way to keep my card current and use it heavily, it is a huge inconvenience for me to change to a new card. 

I tried explaining this to the staff member but he simply would not listen. His response “you have to have a card from where you live.” Clearly that is not true as I’ve lived in Ramsey Co for two years and still use my Wash Co card. Even with my unwillingness, he signed me up for a new library card, without my consent.

 I do not want this new card and I do not plan to use it. At one point he even said to me “I will allow you to keep the old card but you can’t use it here” as though he had some right to confiscate my library card. This is not acceptable.

 I rarely complain and do not wish to do so now. What I would like is for my old card to be updated with my new information and allowed to continue using my Wash Co card, correctly registered in Ramsey Co. As it is, I now have one card for six systems and four independent libraries and a separate card for Ramsey County.

 Can you please tell me how we can make this happen?

 Thank you, 

Livlife

That was sent directly to the branch manager. I fully expected that she’d email me back and we’d solve the problem. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Two days after I emailed her, she called me. CALLED ME ON MY CELL PHONE. Aside from the grievous breach of etiquette in returning by email, there is the privacy issue as well. Yes, I use my cell phone as my only number, and yes, it is registered with my card, but that does not give her license to use it at will. She could have responded to my email to ask if we could talk via phone, but she did not. So, she had one strike against her going in. Well, two actually, because it should not have taken her two days to respond if she only had to pick up the phone.

While we spoke, she was condescending. She kept referring to complicated policy and repeating things over and over again, as though I couldn’t possibly understand. Never mind the fact that I am highly intelligent, I am also a librarian and incredibly familiar with all these policies, as I had already explained to her. However, she clearly had an agenda and a script in mind and she wasn’t willing to deviate.

Eventually, after more than ten minutes on the phone with her, I simply cut to the chase and said that I wanted my card reinstated in her system. She waffled and wavered and said she had to check with some people. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and she said it wasn’t likely she’d get back to me by the end of the day, but promised to call me no later than Monday the 26th with an answer.

Naturally, she didn’t call on Monday. Or Tuesday. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the business day on Wednesday that she finally called, just to say “the answer is no.” She mentioned speaking with the director. And that’s it.

I was understandably and justifiably upset. What I am asking for, while it may not be strict policy, is not that big of a deal. It costs them nothing. It means a great deal to me.

I’ve been working on composing a letter. I’ve decided to go over her head and approach the library director. I am writing a personal appeal, which I will happily publish here, after I’ve finished it. I am honestly surprised that this is such a big deal. There is no reason under the sun why they should care. Or if there is, no one has shared it with me. It is as though they’ve dug in their heels on some imagined principle and just feel like they need to stand strong.

I promised to keep it updated and I will do so. Anyone else feeling like this is a bizarre reaction to a simple request?

We’ll see what happens next.

Library Woes

Rarely, rarely, rarely do I have issues with using the public library. I’m a librarian, I know how it works. So, imagine my surprise when a library worker (not a librarian, a staff person without an MLIS) screwed up the finely hones system I’ve taken YEARS to build.

Here’s the skinny.

You are supposed to have a library card in the area where you live. Primarily, this is done by county. However, there are some exceptions. The city of St. Paul has their own system, even though they are in Ramsey County. Washington County libraries Stillwater and Bayport are indpendent libraries, even though they are within the county. There are other independent branches as well (South St. Paul and Columbia Heights to name two).

Essentially, you get the library card in your home area and done. Now, intrepid library users, such as myself, are aware of the fact that the seven main counties in the Twin Cities (Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, Dakota, Scott and Carver) are all part of a consortium called MELSA (MEtropolitan Library Service Agency). And MELSA allows for reciprocal borrowing in any county, so long as you register your card.

So, I could take my Washington County card and use it in Hennepin County, as I did when I worked there. I’ve had my same Wash Co card since I first got a card at the now gone Rosalie Wahl library in Lake Elmo, in 1990. Nearly 23 years I’ve had the same card, with the same number and I use it….heavily. I have that card number memorized and use it close to daily.

I’ve registered that same card, from Washington County; in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota, and Scott counties. I’ve never registered it in Carver because I’ve never been to a library there. I’ve registered it in the City of St. Paul, at Stillwater, Bayport, S. St. Paul, and Columbia Heights. It used to be registered in MPLS before they merged with Hennepin. It has taken me years to get this card to be exactly as I want it. One number, one PIN, to use at virtually any library I want. And I do! I take advantage of my freedom by shopping for the shortest wait on popular titles. I use it in Hennepin because they are the biggest and I can often find obscure titles. I’ll use it to access databases that one system carries but others do not. I use it in Ramsey County because they allow me to check out audio books online without having a Ramsey Co card. (Hennepin does not).

Now, I get that I should have gotten a new card, but really, most people don’t use their cards as much as I do and it is a damned inconvenience for me to change. Also, given where I moved, I’m actually still close to Washington County and use my regular Oakdale branch quite often. And there is the fact that technically I live in Ramsey County, but because of where I live, I am closer to several of the St. Paul branches than ANY of the Ramsey Co branches. I live in a weird tail of Ramsey County that most people consider St. Paul or Washington County. So, if I had to change, I’d prefer a St. Paul card.

Having said all of that, the crux of this is; I don’t want to change. It has been more than two years and I’ve kept the status quo, no problems have arisen. I keep my account current, I pay any (minimal) fines I accrue and I don’t abuse the system, not ever.

Flash to last Thursday night. Whenever I used Ramsey County, in the past, I have always used the Maplewood branch. However, it could not be less convenient for me to get to. I finally realized that the North St. Paul branch was actually not a terrible drive from my house and decided to switch that to my home branch.

I asked the guy checking me out if he could switch the pickup location of my holds from Maplewood to NSP. He said, “did you move?” I confirmed that I did, but just thought of switching quite recently. He said, “okay, let’s go ahead and update your account while we’re at it.”

No problem, I’ve done it a million times.

Except…problem.

He took a look at my shiny new license and said, “oh you live in Maplewood. That’s Ramsey County {duh} so you need to get a Ramsey County card.”

I smiled politely at him and said, “well, actually, I am choosing NOT to get a RCL card.” And I explained to him, succinctly, that it is an inconvenience for me. He said, ‘you HAVE to have a card where you live.”

Um, no you don’t. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve used this card for two years after moving. Clearly, it doesn’t matter that much.

While I was protesting, he just went ahead and made me a RCL card and deleted my old one from the system. OVER MY OBJECTION AND WITHOUT MY CONSENT.

I was livid. This is ridiculous. I get that there are rules. I get that everyone would prefer that I just follow the rules, but I am not hurting anyone. And given the state of hurting public libraries, they should be down on their damn knees thanking me for using as many as I possibly can, proving their value; at least to me.

I’ve worked in public libraries for years. I currently moonlight in a public system. I know that while it is preferable that I shut my mouth, get the new card and set it up, after hearing me protest, he should have stopped what he was doing and given in. There are ways around the rules, as I have proven. But, he wouldn’t listen.

After handing me the new card and insisting I sign it, I said, “look, I’m trying to be patient here, but I do not want a new RCL card, I’m happy with the card I have.” And he said, “you can’t use that card in RCL, but I won’t take it from you. You should return it to Washington Co, though and only use the new card.”

You won’t take it from me?

Try it and we’ll see what happens, jackass.

He was so infuriating and aggravating and insulting. I thoroughly disliked his cardigan-wearing self.

So, I left that night, defeated and angry and frustrated. And I thought, if I weren’t such an avid library user, what part of that transaction would have convinced me to go back?  Can libraries, in this day and age, afford to alienate anyone?

As it is, I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason to go back to using any Ramsey Co library, especially since they deactivated my account and I no longer can access my information online. I can’t check the due dates of the books I just checked out. I can’t renew items. Oh, I probably could, with the new card, but it’s at home and I’m not. Only my memory and I can’t use the number I know.

What to do (other than complain on my blog)?

Well, I looked up the branch manager’s name and wrote her an email. I figured that I would explain myself and see what she has to say. If she gives the right answer, “yes, bring in your old card and we’ll re-register it and you can keep using it” then I will keep using RCL. If not, then I’m cutting them out. If it causes more problems than it solves then it really isn’t serving its purpose anyway.

And that is one of the only times I’ve ever actually complained about a public library. For the most part, I love love love them. They are amazing and offer untold secrets if you know where to look. But, frankly, they pissed off the wrong librarian.

Resigned

Well, just like that, the dream job is over.

This morning, I resigned as the director of the Lake Elmo Public Library. I imagine this is pretty shocking news, unless you’ve talked to me in the last couple weeks.

I’ll tell you what, it’s shocking news for me. I tried everything I could think of to make this work but I just wasn’t able.

I don’t really want to go into much detail here, if you want the full story, just call me or email me and I’ll tell you, it’s not a secret. The short version is this.

They promised me they would make me full time, which is why I was willing to kill myself these last four months; working to make this happen. Just under two weeks ago, they reneged on that promise. They made it clear to me they would not be hiring me full time, probably not ever.

It’s incredibly disappointing. I’m very sad today. However, I’ve realized I can’t make this be the job I wanted. The job, the people, the library, they are exactly as they are. There was no room for change. I tried my best to make this match my vision and it just wouldn’t bend. So I had to face the fact that no matter how good this job looked, it was simply not the job I wanted it to be. And I had to let it go.

Regardless of this bitter ending, I am leaving this job with my integrity intact and a healthy dose of pride for what I accomplished.

In under three months, with no staff, limited support (no one with library experience), and no money, I managed to launch a public library. It’s a rare and incredible feat and I’m very proud of what I did. On main street in downtown Lake Elmo, there stands a little library. It’s quaint and charming, a testament to the community and to the volunteers who pitched in with the time and love. Mostly, it is a testament to me. The director who worked, often beyond the hours for which I was paid, to build this little library from nothing.

No matter how it ended, you will always be able to visit that library and know that I was the one who built it. I was the one that made an empty shell of a building into a library.

I did that. And that is what I am taking from this experience. My last official day is Friday. Until then, for just a few more days, you’re welcome to still call me Madame Director.