Monday, November 18, 2013

The Days Dwindle Down to a Precious Few

     My first day as a librarian at Central was a happy and boring one. I was starting my rookie year with Magic Johnson who had joined the Lakers but I was no point guard but more of a kid from nowheresville at the end of the bench. "Apocalypse Now" was the smash movie, "Taxi" was the television show everybody talked about around the water cooler and "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson boomed out of car stereos.  Downtown was kind of half shabby, half cool but the city was guided by the strong hand of Tom Bradley, he of the Bradley Wing. To get a fashion sense watch the movie "Argo" and think big eyeglasses and lots of hair. To gain some perspective on that day,  younguns now would hear me say  I began in 1979 like I would hear the old hard shells who trained me say  they started in 1945. There were only a few World War II vintage folks at desks when I started but the staff stories reached back to the 1930’s. I heard about Mary Helen Peterson chain-smoking Lucky Strikes in her office in History and knew Saunders in Lit actually lived in the Engstrom across Fifth Street. I was told that Jane Ellison had brought a live turkey to a Board of Library Commissioners meeting and let it loose, pissing off a lot of administrators. I actually worked alongside people whose kids have now retired from LAPL. I remember when you called the Principals "Miss" and the legendary Tom Owen sat in the California Room typing on an old Underwood. Where computers are today there were catalog cards and p-slips and the new-fangled micro-fische readers. The phones were rotary, connected by a  charming switchboard operator named Pearl. We requested magazines from the pool run by Miss Williams in Lamson tubes and 90% of the collection was in closed stacks. It was deliciously busy and stimulating on any reference desk in Central. I was complimented ten times a day by grateful patrons. Scholars, kooks and drunks called at all the hours we were open and the most interesting people came past the desks every day. There were a couple of brothers we called Heckle and Jeckle who were never apart and made the same jokes every day. In History we had "the Prospector, the Pacer, the Cat in the Hat, the Rubber Man,  Madame Fifi, and Peterson the school teacher gone mad. The regulars were stinky and crazy but more entertaining than scary. The librarians were exceedingly eccentric and very often brilliant. The closest these folks got to a computer was the punch cards that sat in sleeves of circulating books. After dinner for late shifts in some departments there was a distinct whiff of spirits and mean the liquid kind. At the center, Central was really one helluva fun place to work. It was not the flashy destination it is today but the place had a deep and abiding beauty, despite the scuffed up surroundings. Some day I may do the decades behind the desk at "dear dirty" justice but on this oddball anniversary I will just give twenty things I learned.


I. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I haven't hit the finish line yet but I know I don't look much like the photo at the the top of the page. You hit the wall, you keep going and you have your creditors to urge you on to greater glory.

2. "It aint my wife and it aint my life so fuck you" may have been uttered by an illiterate baseball player but it works at LAPL too.

3. No matter how bad it looks now it can get a lot worse and you can adjust to whatever that is.

4. It really is a better job than the private sector, trust me because I worked in the private sector and it isn’t so great.

5. If you are ambitious, go to that private sector. Do it now.

6. When you least expect it something great will happen but pretty girls/boys don't want you, they want the reference book.

7. No matter what people say when they leave, you will never hear from them again.

8. There is nothing on this job that is more important than your kids or significant other. Go home if they need you. Also text them or make calls within reason. Yes, that is against the rules...see #13

9. Call in sick at random and go to Disneyland or the race track or lay in bed half the day. No one will really notice or suffer that you were not there that day.

10. Be nice to all library staff and especially branch librarians because someday they might be your boss or the person that hires your kid.

11. Try like hell to be kind to patrons, it is not their fault they are really are clueless about a lot of simple stuff.

12. Participate. While you might feel silly wearing a Cat in the Hat hat you will thank yourself later.

13. Ignore most rules, make up your own. It works, I have done it for 34 years.

14. Training is 95% earnest attempts at making the job easier but you forget after a few days.

15. Go out to eat, leave your library and maybe have a drink. Let it go, enjoy at least your late shift dinner hour.

16. If your supervisor takes themselves serious, go somewhere else, they are not going to change.

17. Tell co-workers they are good, especially if they are good.

18. Speak to groups, eventually it gets easy and fun.

19. As horrible as it sounds, go to Guild meetings occasionally.

20. Say something ridiculous to a patron or co-worker every shift.


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