Librarians Without Borders’ SLAIS Student Chapter (LWB@UBC) was doing a book drive for the Carnegie library in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side this past month. We collected tubs and tubs of books and today went down to the library to give them away. The idea is that the library sets up a table outside on Fridays at 2:30 and gives books away. The library is on East Hastings street, with an alley that’s full of crazy drug happenings and such, so the idea of giving books to people is something I can get behind.
I got to chat with a couple of guys who picked up some books. One was there telling me about the books he’d bought at other places and how he was a great harmonica player who knows all the old Englebert Humperdinck songs “and not everyone can sing those! Spanish Eyes? It’s really hard!” He had a moderate Indian accent, and spoke with the same intensity my step-father does about politics or science, which was a neat bit of cognitive dissonance.
The other guy was complaining about the security cameras the police have up at that corner that can see all the way up to Cambie (which I’m not sure is possible because of the bend in Hastings; he might have meant Carrall) at such resolution that two blocks away they can read your watch. He was also worried about the chips they’re putting in babies now, and how Big Brother was coming to watch us all and lock us away if we’re crooks. “Good thing I’ll be dead before it all happens,” he said, and I managed not to talk about life-extension technologies.
There was also a guy who came up yelling “This is a stickup!” but he was just trying to be funny. I got told off for not buying a guy pizza. I said “Sorry dude” and he said “Yeah, well god bless ya anyway.” But as he walked away he got more angry and said “Maybe Satan should bless you instead.” He didn’t actually swear at me, which was pretty good.
Before hitting the street we got a tour of the community centre from the acting branch head. The Carnegie branch is a weird little branch serving a very specific community, which affects their policies in many ways. There’s a special Carnegie Library card you can get, which doesn’t require any ID. The fines are fairly flexible and while they only have three full-time staff, the part-timers who work there tend to work there a lot, because you need to develop rapport with the people, and not everyone is all over that.
Also, if I heard correctly, all of the books are non-catalogued (ie they don’t have specific representations in the VPL system and are listed basically as BOOK with a barcode). They do this because their loss-rate is so high, they’d constantly be recataloguing things as missing. This way it’s easier to reprocess books, but means they can’t search the computer to see if a book is actually there. It was interesting stuff.
Also in the building is an education centre, a very popular cafeteria, a gym, a theatre, a seniors’ centre and lots of space for people to hang out and play 象棋, Chinese chess. Because this library is also right in Chinatown. So it serves an interesting community. There are also certain barriers to access. At each of the doors there were signs saying that people must behave in a civil and proper manner inside. Randy also explained that meant they couldn’t be intoxicated or on other drugs. These are rules that come from the building being a community centre, and there’s a lot of interesting interplay between the community centre and the library aspects of the place.
I’m really glad I got the chance to go see this, and get the tour and stuff instead of just showing up one day to look around. Good job, library school.
I’m no longer a library employee, just a librarian wannabe. Going by actual qualifications I mean. Beginning of September I’ll be off to school and be a student, but for now I’m in a fun kind of limbo. Off travelling for a while, earning that librarianaut title.
My last shift today was very low key. There was cake and well-wishing. A couple of Circ coworkers weren’t aware I was leaving, but that’s to be expected at our branch. It used to be that Circulation and Reference barely spoke to each other at all. When other people came in to work shifts they commented on it. When I came back after the reorganization everyone had a bit more camaraderie. Thanks to the administration’s condescension throughout the reorganization process, making us band together against the powers that be who didn’t display an ounce of giving a shit about their workers? Possibly.
Anyway. A fine last day.
Though Thursday would have been a good one too, just for the fact that Beard Lady came in that afternoon. “So this is where they’re keeping you!” she cackled. Someone downtown had phoned earlier looking for the DVD Highlander: Endgame. This is one of Beard Lady’s favourites as it plays into her immortality fixations, so I was not surprised to be putting it aside under her name. Then she came down, wandered, photocopied some of the Yellow Pages and got me to send the DVD downtown so she could watch it there (she doesn’t have a library card you see).
The other person who was in on Thursday? A small boy who remains a little wild! He was running around all excited (he wasn’t yelling at the top of his lungs, so that’s cool) and skidded to a top at the desk. He tilted his whole torso back to look up at me, grinning. “What can I do for you?” I asked, and he ran off laughing.
Now that I’m thinking of it, that’s how I should have left tonight, with a mad cackle in the rain.
I did my last teen program at the branch last night. And when I say “did” I mean “prepped” because nobody showed up. This was one of our “Teen Program in a Box” programs that our YA librarian for the system (we have one for 20 branches) got a grant to put together. In the box was a Wii and a projector and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Our branch head was sure that’d get the kids coming. Nope. Not a one.
There are a number of reasons why no one showed up.
One: I am not a natural-born promoter. We had a bunch of posters that I put up but it’s not like I accosted every teenaged person entering the library and told them about the program and how amazing it was going to be and got them to sign up right then. It’s possible that many of the teens wandering through our library had no idea it was happening.
Two: Timing. This was the first week after school was officially out, so people probably are in “I don’t want to do anything” mode. I know I was when I was in high school. Also, it was scheduled for 5pm-6pm. That’s a fine time for a book club during the school year, since they can come by between school and supper, but probably not the most natural time to go play video games. Also, it being on a Tuesday meant that the one boy who regularly comes to YA programming couldn’t show up.
Three: The Wii itself. I mean, yes our branch is in a low-income neighbourhood so it’s possible that teens who’d want a Wii wouldn’t have easy access to one. But you can find them in pawnshops now. A Wii isn’t some crazy new thing that people just have to try anymore. And playing videogames with strangers isn’t a de facto awesome thing. It would be if the program was for 9-12 year olds. They would be excited just to play. For teens I think you need something extra, like a bunch of friends that people don’t see all the time (like they go to different schools or whatever), or some connection to the wider world. I had a bunch of library books about gaming and stuff ready to go, but really the draw was supposed to be “Hey! Play Wii games! In the library!”
So yeah. My experiments with teen programming come to a whimpering end. Selah. Maybe I’ll learn a whole bunch of secret techniques for doing better at library school.
A guy comes into our branch fairly regularly with a monkey or something that has a cheap electronic squealing laugh. He sets it off and leaves it at the circulation desk. Today after having his fun little interaction with them, he came to our desk holding a book about Humane Pressure Point Self Defense.
“I’d like to suggest this.”
“Suggest or donate?” I was a touch confused, since he handed me the book as he spoke.
“I don’t know. I think your library should have this book. It’s important.” He looked insistently at my female coworker. “So you can go to the grocery store and not have to worry about walking home with your hands full.”
“Okay,” I said tapping away at the keyboard. “So are you giving it to us? Because it looks like it’s not in our system so I can’t just add it.”
“I just want you here at this library to get this book without some bureaucrat in City Hall with a belly out to here who’s never done a day of work in his life having to make a decision three months from now.” The intensity had built as he spoke but then it fell off a cliff for his next bit. “But I want to let my neighbour’s daughter read it before I give it to you.
“Oh. Okay,” I said. “I’ll fill out the suggestion form then.” I got his library card and he extolled the virtues of this book and being safe to my coworker.
As I handed back his card, having made the request, he leaned in conspiratorially. “And here’s something you should know. You’ve got to keep this quiet but I’m telling you because the library taught me. You know that book on Columbine? That’s where I learned this.”
I smiled quizzically.
“This isn’t funny. It’ll save your life. The other day there was a guy standing with his boot on the neck of another guy and he was holding a pipe and his buddies were coming to beat the shit out of him and I called 911 and you know how to get the cops there fast? With no bullshit?”
I shook my head.
“Just say ‘Shots fired’ and hang up. They’ll be there faster than anything. Now you can’t tell anyone this but remember. It’ll save your life and I learned it from the library.”
Then he picked out some books and left. My coworker’s only comment was “That man, he has some problems.”
Not woes exactly, just recognitions of some limitations. I run the Teen Book Club and the Teen Manga Club at our branch. Traditionally there’s been a lot of crossover between the two groups, but since I’ve taken over I’ve had total attendance of one person at Manga club over two sessions (it’s probably going to be phased out after I leave this summer). Book Club has had five people in three sessions (including nobody at all this week). Needless to say, it’s not the most wonderful feeling.
The traditional thing to say at our branch is that it’s the area. In suburban wealthy neighbourhoods there’d be more people interested and attendance would be better. More of those kids’d be hustling for scholarships and volunteer hours so Advisory Council volunteering would be more attractive. That’s true to an extent, but there are teens out in our hood that want scholarships. I don’t think our neighbourhood is the sole reason we don’t get people.
The other easy place to lay blame is a lack of promotion. This I’m guilty of. It would be good to market our services more aggressively. I should be better about phoning up our book club members and encouraging them to come to our meetings. But I hate doing that kind of thing. I hate phones in general and the whole, “Please come! It’ll be fun!” kind of spiel sounds so desperate to my ears.
Ideally I’d do stuff that people would be fools not to come to, but I don’t know how to do that. Library school to the rescue? (I don’t think it works that way.)
I spent an hour today ranking all the LSA3 jobs in the city’s library system. We’ll see if I get to stay downtown or if I have to go to some far flung branch when the dust settles. Because of my (lack of) seniority position I get booted from the big one if there’s an influx of two or more people from the branches who decide to come downtown. The downtown packages have more hours than you get at any branch, so it might be tempting for some people. We’ll see what happens. If I have to take a bus to the sticks for 10 hours of work each week I will not be thrilled about work. But on the bright side, I do get to stay out of circulation work.
I read Jason Little’s Shutterbug Follies at the branch on my second last day’s breaks. I like the drawing style, which felt kind of Herge esque and there were some decent characters but overall the story just kind of left me flat. The phototech spies out this guy who may have killed his wife and then does amateur detective work around it. In these kind of Rear Window-esque stories I’m always waiting for another twist, something to make it more than it seems at first glance. This one leaves you going “Oh. Well then.” And that’s it.
After storytime on Wednesday one of the kids had a huge tantrum about wanting to read books at the library instead of going home and going to bed. It was after I was done with them though, so I could laugh and laugh.
On Monday the boss is offering my position to the woman he interviewed this past week and if she accepts (which seems likely) I’ll be able to leave for downtown, hooray!
Today I was cutting out handouts for Baby Rhyme Time that my supervisor left for whoever to do. The funny part of it is that for some reason she didn’t print them two to a sheet. So each of these little things gets cut out, leaving a good 60% of a page behind on each to either go into recycling or the mound of scrap paper she’s building on the desk (possibly for some sort of nest). I wanted to leave this BRT waste stabbed to her desk with a note saying “This is on your head, Treeslayer!” That’s probably because I’m reading A Game of Thrones though. Instead, I left a post-it saying “You know, there’d be less waste if you printed these two to a sheet.”
Friday was our staff Christmas/Going Away for the boss party. I had a very good time. Ate good food and talked about some library stuff and some not. I got to tell my “unacceptable Storytime theme” story to people who’d never heard it and who were properly flabbergasted. Met some of the people who I keep on hearing about but had never worked with. All in all a good time.
One of the former branchers quit the library and isn’t working anywhere right now. She said she’d looked at her life and asked if being a government employee was what she’d wanted out of her life when she was young and had dreams. It wasn’t, so she quit. And I filed that away in the “don’t work at the library forever” part of my brain. This is where working on the book is important. I still have the illusion that I am doing something interesting with my life. Although I haven’t heard what my first reader has to say about the first section yet.
Down at the branch things proceed apace. I don’t have a start date for the new position yet, and am still plugging away at my supervisor’s work for three months from now. I’m almost done her entire winter session of Baby Rhyme Time handouts and wonder if she’ll set me to the spring session too. We have a New Year’s program happening that I haven’t done much (read: anything) to prepare for, but that’s okay by me as it isn’t my program and never was.
The Punjabi man who had problems printing a while back is still in every day working on his citizenship/residency application stuff. He asks me questions about spelling and letter formatting which I’m comfortable answering, but he also is asking me if the documents he has are the right ones and sufficient for what the government wants. Those questions I answer with the repetitive “I don’t know” since, funny enough, I am not an immigration lawyer. I think he said he was finishing things up today.