Last thursday, my place of employment hosted an all-day staff training. In it, we learned about customer service skills from Susan Berk and played some fairly fun, team building games. I can’t say that I learned too much from Susan Berk. What I did realize, though, is that my customer service skills have been slacking after 18+ hours a week on the reference desk. Now, some people may not think thats a lot. Over the average 5 day work week, that’s about 3 hours on the desk per day, which, in reality, isn’t that horrible when broken up amongst 5 days and not consecutive hours. When its spread out over 4 days, and sometimes 5.5 hours with a 15-30 minute break off the desk, it can become tedious. People mean well, but they just have no idea what they are doing to you and your psyche. When they visit the library every day, and every day you teach them how to read the Dewey decimal system and they still don’t get it (i can’t teach adults how to count. that’s something they should have learned in pre-school) or everyday the same kid forgets an eraser. and then 10 minutes later he forgets paper. and then 10 minutes later he needs scissors. and then tape. and then he actually has a real question for you but he can’t really remember what his teach said or what kind of book he needs. And those are the patrons I like. let’s not discuss the people who can do my job better than me (then why are you asking me for help?!) or who think wikipedia and google has all the answers.
anyways, it adds up and it wears a person down. so since the talk, I have been working on my “emotional leakage” as she called it. The, “I’m saying the right things but my body language and tone are saying something totally different”. I’m trying to be nicer. More friendly. More like I was when I first got the job and was so excited to be on the reference desk for 5 hours straight.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love my job and I love helping children and their families and I love sitting on the reference desk. But it’s kind of a tease. You see, I only work part-time. So, ultimately, all I get to do it sit on the desk. I don’t get to do storytime or programming or school visits or crafts unless someone is sick, someone is overbooked, so I kind of beg. My managers are really awesome. They try to give me a break + at least 30 minutes off the desk and they try to give me projects that make me feel like an integral part of the team and remind me that I’m more than a gateway to the bathrooms or a barrier to the dora explorer books (we don’t carry books based off of tv really in my library). They let me do programs. I did a really awesome Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory trivia program for grades 2-8 last month and in May I’m going to do a Pacific Islander program. But there’s a lot of space inbetween those occasional storytimes and programs and sometimes projects that get me thinking about something in particular that came up at Staff Training Day (i swear it’ll come full circle and I’m not just babbling…)
Susan Berk asked what kind of different services are people looking for in our library due to the economy. And one big, common response, and a major factor in defending libraries in these economic times, is that the library is a place someone can go to look for a job. People today are unemployed, underemployed, and on the verge of being both. Libraries are someplace they can go that is free and has resources that they cannot attain at home. It’s awesome for people. Some libraries even have resume workshops and job postings.
What I found ironic about this, though, was that many of the people helping these underemployed and unemployed people are underemployed themselves. I got into a little tiff once with a patron. She was complaining that she was underemployed and I said yeah, I understand. It’s really bad out there. And then she told me that I don’t understand because I’m a civil servant with cushy benefits and my job isn’t going anywhere (this was about a year or so before 20 LAPL librarians got laid off). When I proceeded to explain to her that I was in fact a MLIS holding graduate working as a library aide for $11/hour, 20 hours per week, she still didn’t care and I didn’t make my point. But the point is that we’re all frustrated with the economic situation and we’re all in the same boat. If we’re not in the same boat, we know someone who is, and its frustrating as hell.
So what does this have to do with the underemployed helping the underemployed finding work? Nothing really. I just found it ironic that I understand where these patrons are coming from and I understand their frustrations, but, because I am in the position to provide them with resources and teach them how to look for jobs, they don’t consider me on the same playing field. They see me as a lucky one (and I am) and someone who is overeducated, overpaid, and not worth their tax dollars.
Even though that job they get in the end might’ve been with my (or any other librarian’s) help, using our free resources, in this horrible, horrible economy.