Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The joy of grunt work

Sometimes it's nice to get your hands dirty.

Although we took every possible precaution this year to ensure that we were not caught without student labor during the weeks between the end of Summer School and the start of the Fall semester, Hurricane Irene successfully disrupted our returning students' travel plans just enough that we've been a little short this week nevertheless. So yesterday I got to do something I hardly ever get to do anymore: I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the boxes upon boxes of incoming ILL mail. No meetings, no email, no IM, no phone calls from patrons, colleagues, or other libraries asking for this or that, just me and a box cutter and my favorite playlist of piano medleys on YouTube.

It was the perfect Tuesday afternoon.

No matter how far they may work their way up the org chart, I believe that inside every librarian there's a page or student assistant with a book truck full of titles to be reshelved, or a due date stamper with loans to be checked out, or a tangle of barcode stickers and tattle tape and a pile of new acquisitions to be processed. I've always found library grunt work to be a solace, a form of on-the-clock therapy that is equal parts meditation and good works. No wonder our Medieval predecessors labored in monasteries! I've also enjoyed the kind of grunt work that is done at front line public service desks as well- back when I had more free time, I was a substitute for our Reference Desk, and I always looked forward to getting the call and making myself helpful for an hour or two.

If I could change anything about my job, I would require myself to spend at least an hour or two a day getting my hands dirty, because there's no better way to understand how things work than by doing them yourself. Just in the space of an afternoon I had a couple of insights into how I'll want to train new hires that would not have occurred to me from my office. I was also reminded of how much I truly hate Jiffy Bags, the bane of any ILL librarian's existence- not only did I have a couple of overused bags explode on me, but I also encountered the scariest thing I've ever seen opening ILL mail: a Jiffy Bag containing several smaller Jiffy Bags (ack!).

This is something all librarians should do, especially managers whose regular duties remove them from the daily workflow of their unit. I consider myself fortunate to have had a mentor who had absolutely no reservations about charging into the office and doing whatever it was that needed to be done today. She always told me stories about colleagues who believed that acquiring the MLS somehow made them exempt from doing grunt work, and how she thought that was the most absurd thing she'd ever heard of in her life. I agree wholeheartedly. Not only is grunt work good for the soul, but there's no better way to build morale in your office than by showing your staff that you, too, are willing to break a sweat when the going gets tough.

But please, folks, I beg of you-- no more Jiffy Bags!

1 comment:

Dennis Meyer said...
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