Last week we did inventory. With out trusty iPads and bluetooth scanners, we touched every book, CD, DVD, videotape, and bound periodical in our collection. Dust fell on our heads as we scanned books and (especially) videos that have not been touched in a long time. Now we know the location of everything in the library. But we learned some other things as well:
- Every advantage has a corresponding disadvantage. We were excited to learn that our new system would allow us to know immediately when a book was checked out, out of place, or even not in the catalog at all. We would be able to fix things as we go! But our enthusiasm quickly died as we moved into some of the sections that are popular research paper topics. Scanners would beep every two-three books. Now 90% of the time this was because the book was only one spot out of place, but we still had to check. It was annoying, and we soon found a way to work around the problem (such as scanning the whole section, pulling out the books that were in the wrong spot, and fixing them all at once.) But it was a good reminder that it’s foolish to expect any system to be perfect.
- There are several ways to track needs. Our library system can tell us when a book was last checked out, how often it’s been checked out, and when it was inventoried. By looking at a range of books, we know whether to buy more materials for a section. But there are also some low-tech ways to judge a section: how much dust falls on your head as you’re scanning or how many books are out of order (if books are in the same pristine order from the last time we read shelves, it’s a good bet that students aren’t browsing in that section). Always have more than one way to judge whether or not something is working or not.
- The plan will have to be tweaked. Our directions on our scanners said that each could hold 5000 scans before needing recharging. This turned out not to be true. So we had to modify how many hours we could be up in the stacks each day. It’s good to have a plan; it’s also good not to be married to it.
- People will approach work differently and that’s okay. When Pam was scanning, there were two piles of books at her feet: 1. problems, 2. books she wanted to check out. I tended to analyze my sections for what topics needed added materials and what sections had never been touched by students. Other folks could have been anywhere; all they cared about was the sound of the scanner. Some people chatted as they scanned. Others were silent. But the work got done. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, why not allow folks to work in their own way?
Some of the other lessons learned are more minor:
- how much dust you can inhale before you start coughing like a maniac
- that a mistake can exist for four years and not be noticed because students never go up in that particular section
- the breaking point of every person in the library (Mine was the tiny pamphlets in the OT section. For Colette, it was the tall art books on the top shelf. For Emily, it was the section where every other book was out of place.)
We dread doing inventory every time it’s due, but we always agree that it was worthwhile. And grateful that we don’t have to do it again for another two years.
Last week, I went to visit a friend in the hospital. While I waited for her to be moved to her room, I sat in a room with a large family. They had obviously been there for a while, and the concern over their relative was beginning to show in different ways: One man leaned back in the recliner and slept and snored. Another woman kept coming in and out, obviously going to smoke a cigarette to calm her nerves. And then there was the woman in the opposite corner from me who kept up a dramatic monologue that listed all the people who were mean to her and how she was never mean to anyone, in fact, how she “killed people with kindness.”
When I am anxious, which I was, I crave quiet and solitude. So my first impulse was to run away, but that was not an option. The nurse was coming to this room to get me when my friend could be visited. My second impulse was to distract myself by reading and responding to emails and perhaps checking up on online gossip. But unfortunately, her tales of woe overcame my ability to concentrate on celebrity tales of woe. I couldn’t concentrate on the book I had with me. Finally, my thoughts became terribly uncharitable, and I hate to admit I was tempted to go over and say something like, “When you finally are allowed to visit your relative, please stop talking about this stuff, or she’ll go right back into her coma in self defense.”
Luckily, my introverted nature prevented that last from taking place, although I did fantasize about it quite often during that hour we shared space in the waiting room. But I reminded myself that there is no one way to express anxiety, and she might actually have been performing a service for her family by entertaining them with her stories (and perhaps allowing them to silently judge her) instead of dwelling what was happening in another room in another part of the hospital. In any case, my sad-sack face certainly wasn’t making anyone feel better.
Still, in my perfect world, any place that had a waiting room, whether it be a hospital or a car repair place, would have one quiet space for the introverts.
In the academic world, we are ending a year. Students are taking finals. Many will graduate. After commencement, faculty will take a well-earned vacation for a few weeks (or months.)
In this spirit of endings, I’d like to suggest something. Probably over the last few months, one of the following has happened to you:
- Someone broke a confidence.
- A friend hurt your feelings.
- You felt disrespected.
- You were left out.
- Someone snapped at you.
- Someone broke a promise to you.
- A friend or colleague was totally undependable.
Now look over the list and grant each of those people total and complete amnesty. Give each of them a fresh start with you. Let this be a new beginning.
Why? Montague Jocelyn King-Harmon (try saying that fast three times) wrote in 1917 that “we are quick to judge others by their acts, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.” If we look very carefully at our own behavior, we will very likely find several instances when we were the perpetrators of some of the acts on that list above. We probably didn’t intend to be hurtful, but we probably were.
So assume that the people who hurt you also did not mean to, and give everyone a second chance.
For the people I’ve offended this past year, it’s more like a hundredth chance. But I hope you will.