Thursday, May 21, 2009

ON BOOKS ~ Working the Stacks...

We have lived in our town now for seven years and I have been a loyal patron of our local library. Because of the tiny check that I sent them about five years ago I also got onto the Friends of the Library list which sends me e-mails asking me to be a good doobie and help work all the various events from year to year. I read them, think to myself how nice it is to live in a town with such a strong sense of community and goodwill, and then hit the delete button. But a month ago I was either in an especially good mood or not quite awake when I read the latest request for volunteers to work the semi-annual library sale, because I zipped a little reply right back agreeing to help out without giving it a second thought. I am a lazy Bumble after all - this offer was a bit out of character for me.

After responding to the volunteer request I was told to show up the last day of the sale when the library opened and that I wouldn't be allowed to handle any of the cash. I thought perhaps this was part of the volunteer hazing ritual to weed out the riff-raff. But it seems they just didn't want to bother with any of the newbies any sooner than they needed to. Myself and this other woman were the only two who hadn't been present to work the sale previously so we were given the grand tour as the gates opened.

We were told to maneuver around the patrons and pick up after them - putting books back where they belonged, re-stocking the vacant spots from the reserve boxes of books below, and answer questions about the prices or where genres were located. It reminded me of when I worked at Shoe Town back in high school. Always having to go through the racks and straightening the shoes, putting them back under the right sizes, and filling the empty spaces. I hated that job. And to this day I can't go shoe shopping without unconsciously straightening the racks.

To make my task more interesting I found myself trying to select books that I thought would be sure sellers from the reserve boxes and gave them prominent placement on the tables. I would look at the various patrons around me and try to fill a space near them with a title that seemed to match their personality. My little sociological experiment didn't work all that well since no one was biting. At one point I found myself putting "The Shipping News" in the hand of a young father and telling him to just trust me.

I noticed as I kept circling the space and working the tables that my fellow newbie had planted herself firmly at the Childrens book table and wasn't budging. It seemed to me that the reserve boxes on the floor did a fine job in keeping the little ones occupied at their parents' feet so no real organizing needed to be dealt with there. After stopping by for a visit I soon realized that Ms. Newbie was using her organization attempts as a pure cover for searching for titles that all her grandkids would just love to have. She just about had a heart attack when I mistook her secret stash for left behinders needing to be put back in circulation.

Her deviance gave me the idea to just go ahead and pull out all those great titles I had seen in my travels and set them aside for myself. It sure beat hiding them all and trying to remember where I put them later, like you do with that perfect dress at the store that you can't afford until it goes on sale. I asked the people in power (the ones allowed to handle the cash) where I could keep my books. They were happy to put a little HOLD sign on them and everything.

When I bumped into the coordinator over the Biography table I mentioned to her how I had just recently been to another library sale in CT which did a bag sale on the last day to minimize the amount of stock left to donate or re-box for another sale. I was very abruptly told that method did not work because everyone just waited to come until the last day. Now, to me, it seems that perhaps people would want to come on the earlier days to have the best selection, and that on the last day people would buy more books than intended just because they had an empty bag in their hand. But coordinator lady told me that the bag concept "didn't work for us." Been there, done that, don't question my authority, newbie.

As we entered the final hour of the sale, I was pulled aside by the coordinator who said they had a special job just for me. Uh-oh. In my experience, that is a method of getting someone out of the way who is doing more harm than good without hurting their feelings. My special job was to go through and pull out all of the excessive duplicates and put them aside to get a head start on boxing things up. So my fast and furious pace of restocking was completely stalled out by staring at cover after cover playing my own personal game from hell of Concentration. The silver lining was that it gave me a better opportunity to find books I wanted to buy - and Ms. Newbie had to leave her Childrens table and make the rounds in my absence.

At the end of the day it was a good experience and one I'll probably sign up for again. I doubt they'll ever let me have the cushy job of sitting around collecting cash, but at least I'll have the added perk of book shopping on the job at bargain rates.


Sandy Nawrot said...

This sounds like me working the Book Fair. It is a little different, because I can reorder, but I do have a stash! I obsessively reorganize, reshelve and I'm always on hand to recommend. So do you get to handle cash next time?

Missy said...

You are so funny! I would have done the same thing...prowled around and picked out books for myself! It would be too hard to not want to.

Have a great weekend!

stacybuckeye said...

That sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon. You were a shopper with benfits!

Jenny Girl said...

This is too funny! I would think librarians would be nice people. I know you deal with the public, but it's not working at Macy's on black Friday :)

Glad you enjoyed some civic duty and found some good cheap books to boot.

Lynn said...

Well what could be more fun than a used book sale? Unless, of course, it's a used book sale with all kinds of colorful characters as co-workers. I love your experiment of pulling out books you think the prowling patrons would like; sorry to hear it didn't work. But I'll bet it made the time go by faster.