Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I am so indescribably and sustainably angry that I'm sitting in front of my computer, before 6 am, wondering where to go next.

Obviously, that means I'm going to rant. But it's library-related. ;)

Yesterday, I got up, ran some errands before work, and then went on in to the office. Life was good. I was five minutes early, and had been consistently on time for quite a while. I was raring to go with a rare Monday zeal. My days of depression seemed a distant memory. I should have known it couldn't last.

My boss walked in and proceeded to tell me that she'd had several complaints about there not being paper in the printers and copier, staplers wouldn't work, that I had sometimes been rude, and that I was on the phone all the time and wouldn't bother to get off or interrupt my phone conversation to ask if someone needed help, and that people didn't find me approachable.

This floored me. If you look at my performance appraisals, you will consistently see marks like, "she treats everyone the same, whether doctor or cleaning staff", "very helpful, very approachable". Mind you, that was the case even during the darkest days of my illness when I was suicidal and probably should have been in a hospital.

We have had long-standing issues with our copier. It jams a lot, its staplers cease working, only to be "fixed" for a day or two, then stop working again. In essence, it is very nearly an ex-copier. Sometime within the next two weeks, we are finally getting a digital, top-of-the-line model that will allow people to build their jobs from their desktops, do all sorts of image adjustments, take each original through only once, and even hole-punch for them. Through the other copier's demise I have tried to help people get their jobs done, explained the problems we were encountering, etc., etc. Once I got I supply cabinet, I labelled it with a big sign that said "copier supplies". Unfortunately at issue isn't whether the supplies are available, but that people have to put in their own paper. While I do provide equipment assistance, I am not a copy service. I am a librarian. My focus is patrons' information needs and the maintenance of not one, but three collections.

There is a colour printer in the library that essentially is for the whole hospital and goes constantly. I check the paper often, but I can't do any of the other maintenance on it because it's apparently a sensitive machine (you have only seconds to change to drum, for example, or it ruins) and I don't even have a manual for dealing with jams, so I've mostly had to figure it out on my own. It can be very fussy if you open the paper tray to check on the paper if it's in the middle of a job. The only thing I can think of is is someone must have sent a job before leaving for the day and then got upset when it ran out of paper. Mind you, it doesn't hold even a third of a ream at any one time, so if it's a big job, it won't matter if you check or not.

So, my boss wants me to check the supplies everyday before I leave. And of course, a lot of it will change once we get the new copier. And I'm going to check with our tech people about getting an attachment to that printer so it'll hold more paper, given the constant use.

The thing is, I could see where people are exasperated with the idiosyncracies of these machines. I'm frustrated by them too, and maybe, even conceivably, at times my frustration has boiled over and they've assumed it's directed at them instead of the machine. And with Joint Commission looming, people are only going to get testier. I understand that, and I've tried to maintain the same level of services while dealing with antiquated machines and my own project deadlines. I do not automatically assume the person is an idiot, and jump up and do everything for them. But I do ask if they need help.

No, the thing that floored me was the last complaint. I always greet people when they come into the library, unless they're obviously doing one of those quick in and out copy jobs and are in a hurry, and then I acknowledge them with eye contact and a nod. I am rarely on the phone. When I am, I do not hesitate to put the person on hold if I'm needed. I can't imagine who or why anyone would tell her that. And the thing is, she didn't ask me about it. She just took them at their word. When I was obviously surprised and said that I couldn't understand where that was coming from, it's like it didn't matter with her. Later on I discussed it with two friends I work with and one I don't (the main one I do speak to on the phone). None of them could figure that one out; they thought that this was some sort of nitpicking control issue designed to get me to leave.

You have to understand that in the last few months I have gone from being essentially an autonomous manager with flexible hours to one that is constantly being told I must not be a minute late, that directors must now sign for all requisitions, even copy paper (despite the fact that one manager I talked to who isn't a director never got the same sort of pronouncement, although my boss said that it was policy, not because of any problem), and basically I'm right back to being treated like a glorified secretary. My last boss recognised what a librarian did, and ran interference for me when people wanted me to do projects such as printing, copy jobs, or scanning. My favourite example is the time I was asked, "if you have time, would you mind cutting up some signs for the patient's rooms?" I refused that one. They have clerks, some of whom work overnight, in a tomb-like quiet.

People used to assume that I literally read all day, even though I never even crack a book except on breaks. I had thought I'd put that to rest. I'm always either up dealing with equipment, books, and patrons, or at my computer, after all. My new (and first boss) actually assigns those kinds of things, and it's harder to refuse coming from her.

In March I will have been at my job for six years. In that time I have built up the collection, increased the service tremendously. Almost no one actually used the library. I had to teach them what I could do for them. I've helped people work computers to get their GED who have treated me like I was somehow going out of my way despite my assurances to the otherwise. I've not only found articles for clinical staff, I've translated them. I can honestly say that of the 220 or so employees, I know and I have talked to virtually all but the night shift and some evening people. I've written a grant to start up an early literacy programme and have continued to get donations for it and trained staff to give the books to children and educate the parents. I've set up a family resource center. I've catalogued the collection. I've designed and maintained our hospital web page. I've served on numerous committees, even attended the parent's group to get a sense of what they needed. I've presented at local programs, been active in three organisations, and served as president of one. I've brought the librarians of our system together through e-mail, so that we know each other and can discuss issues.

Maybe what I haven't done is publicise those accomplishments enough, although I've always kept my bosses appraised of those activities. Yet I feel like none of it matters. I'm still being paid a ludicrous amount (I was hired, with Master's degree required, at $9.02 an hour. Six years later it's finally up to $13.11, but only after me pestering them for market raises). This in a market where an entry-level librarian makes $29-32,000 a year and someone with my experience should not be making less than $35,000. There are some who would argue that I should never have taken the job, that I was a traitor to the profession to perpetuate that sort of thing, but let me point out that I'd made $2000 the year before and had gone back to school because the paucity of jobs in the area. After four years of nothing above making bagels for $5 an hour or assistant managing a store on a volunteer basis, I'd nearly given up being a librarian at all. So now, I'm a solo librarian working 35 hours, which is .8FTE. I was originally told that my job was considered full-time, because they'd cobbled a part-time and half-time position together. When I found out, five years later, that this was wrong, the management couldn't figure out why I was upset. After all, the benefits were nearly the same. It wasn't that. It was the idea that I'd been lied to. There have been a couple of attempts to increase my hours, but without success. When I started my job, a Master's was required. Now they've re-written it to be preferred. I think they realise they can't get a MLS for this pay. After five years, I finally requested to go to a national meeting (and meet the other system librarians, most of whom go), and built a budget that even with the requested travel budget was lower than the year before. Denied. Is it any wonder I feel frustrated? I feel like I've done everything I could to develop the library, but they won't let me develop professionally.

When I was ill, dealing with weekly doctor's appointments, sleep studies, and about five different new diagnoses, I got written up for attendance not because I wasn't coming in or having lots of sick days, but because I was having to go to the appointments or was having trouble with medication in terms of getting up in the morning. Kathy, my last boss, was pretty flexible, and understood, although even she eventually wrote me up because of the amount of times it was happening. But my medication and my health have stabilised for the last four or five months. Now, even though I have plenty of personal time off built up, it's things like, "oh, you're still clocking in late" by one minute, or "even though you left a note and told the secretary you were going to a meeting I had no idea where you were and HR tells me I have to write you up." Requests are not phrased as requests at all, just "I need..." or "now (pronouncment)". I'm beginning to feel that if I go to the bathroom at a time when she decides to check up on me or the moment someone comes in, that I'll get written up. My friend Dwana's afraid to come down and chat for even a couple of minutes because of the way my boss looks at her, despite the fact that every time we go down the hall, she is either laughing and gabbing with other women in her office or theirs, or out. I can't ever seem to reach her, either, and in order to talk about even the smallest thing I have to make an appointment, whereas Kathy always had an open door and was generally locatable.

At first I though I was just reacting to losing such a wonderful boss when Kathy took a position closer to where she lived. But now I think it's a matter that my current boss just doesn't have a good management technique, feels out of her league, and doesn't have the self-confidence to explain or make her own decisions. I should confront her, but the thing is, I don't think it'll do much good, except for my own self-esteem. I've talked about some of these issues before. And I've talked about almost all of them once to the nursing administratior, who is above her. They just don't understand. Maybe if I put it in terms of how a master's degreed nurse would feel if treated like a nursing asssistant? Mmmm...I don't think so. There seems to be a bias against non-clinical people. After all, when we were going over the list for the family resource center, they didn't trust my choices (and I'm the one trained in collection development). Instead we went through the list one by one, while they decided things like "Dr Spock's Baby Care? Didn't he take LSD? Oh, no, that was Leary. Well, I guess you can keep it." This is what I deal with.

And yes, I realise I have my own issues but of the people I have talked to, most have be separated enough from the situation to immediately go, "oh, that's passive-agressive on your boss' part", and "you should find another job--it's not going to get better."

So, I guess that's where I am for now. There aren't any library jobs in town at the moment, and I don't want to just take the first that opens. I want a position where I can advance, that has some flexibility, and one where I can afford a cheap but reliable car and my rent isn't half my paycheque. In the meantime I think I'm going to have to talk to my boss for my own sanity, but I don't expect it to make much difference. If you know of anyone needing a slightly eccentric but reliable and generally top-notch librarian with experience in medical searching and subject specialites in the humanities and social sciences who can read several languages, let me know.

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