A Year of Library Directing, or The Value of Useful Things

“Grace means you’re in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had absolutely no way to get there on your own.”
-Anne Lamott in “Oh Noraht Noraht” in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“So–well–I think I grew up questioning the contradictions, as we all do, but finally admiring the way we human beings always manage, however clumsily, to build a footing out of not much, and then dance on it.”
-Natalie Babbitt in “We’re All Mad Here,” Horn Book Magazine (September/October 2004)

Today I am celebrating one year of library directing.

I know, right? That went fast.

I was excited and afraid in equal measure when I took this job. I loved working at WPL and was not sure I could love my new job as much as I loved the old one, and I worried how that might affect me and the quality of my life–a thing I was then trying to improve. I was also unsure how I was supposed to go about all this. My only direction from the board was that I should start on July 10.

I arrived at HPL amid a swarm of flowers, cards, and gifts, which I didn’t expect and found deeply comforting. I spent a little time at the reference desk, since I knew how to do that, and I started to watch what was going on.

That first day, I looked at how very much I was going to have to learn and decided there was no use in pretending I knew it all. I started asking people questions, which they answered, even when I’ve asked the same ones over and over again. One of my favorite memories of my first days at HPL is Kristen teaching me how to issue a library card, something she seemed happy to do if also shocked that I her to teach me. Early on I also decided that I was going to need to focus part of my day every day on what I think of as useful things. I learned this from watching Terri at WPL, who is often to be found shelving new books or DVDs. This isn’t to say she doesn’t also take a lot of time for other activities–she is notably running one of the most successful libraries in the county–but she takes time every day to do things that directly and immediately benefit patrons and that help keep the library running smoothly.

And so I started a daily ritual of sharpening the pencils.

My repertoire of useful things has expanded through the year. I like to refill the scrap paper bins, wipe down tables, and clean the reference desk. I shelve new books, and sometimes I’ll shelve DVDs or shelf read. I spend a lot of time picking up stray books and trash. I help out at the reference and circulation desks. I answer the phones. Sometimes I dust. Lately I’ve gotten into pushing in chairs.

I do a lot of things to take care of the library when I’m working in my office. I believe writing policies, communicating, and planning are all critical to our success, and that’s a lot of what I do in there. I do a lot of training and attend a lot of meetings; those are important, too. But there’s also something vital in the useful things. Patrons often compliment me on my cleaning, and my colleagues seem amused by my activities–both worthy outcomes–but when I’m out and about is when I see, hear, and learn things. I have spontaneous conversations with patrons and staff. I find other opportunities to help. I experience people experiencing the library. As humans, our interest is piqued by things that are unusual and beautiful, but love, be it for places or people, is built by time and experience, countless interactions and small gestures of caring shared and received.

I’ve been growing and learning and changing along with the library. There’s nothing scary about my job most days, and there’s a lot to be excited about. This is the year I sold my house, moved into my new place, and crossed Death Valley on my own. It’s the year I learned how to run. I am slow, but no matter how awkwardly I stumble along or how many times I have to stop, I save some energy so I can run that last minute or two as fast as I can back toward the place where I started.

I think that’s how it’s always going to be.

6 thoughts on “A Year of Library Directing, or The Value of Useful Things

  1. This couldn’t have come at a better time… well maybe a time a little further in the future, but I’ll need to print this post. :)

  2. Cathy, Clearly we need to talk.

    Jama, Thanks, and I KNOW. It went so quickly. I feel like I’m just getting my bearings in so many ways.

  3. It never fails to amaze me how seemingly insignificant experiences add up over time to equal something huge.

    I love reading a ton of books because I feel it helps me to make sense of both the big things and the also the way small things can fit perfectly as mile markers along the way.

    Paying attention to the messages life offers us as mortals only serves to help us each achieve the higher purpose for which we exist.

    You seem to be so perfectly on your path and I admire you greatly for that. Congratulations on one year of directing.

  4. Thanks! I’d try Mercury, but I do feel worried about the lack of oxygen there. I hear it’s warm there, though. That’s a plus. It’s always freezing at HPL.

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