Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Responses, Giving canned

Hot sweaty Ball jars So you work in a library. Each day 100's of librarians go to work, wondering what the day will hold for them. No one can ever be sure of what they will end up doing, or if they will want to do it. In my position, I am faced with multiple issues - ones that have ended up on my plate because a) no one else will deal with them b)they are awful situations or c)fairly delicate issues that need to be handled with all the finesse and care they know I provide to each problem I am given.

Somehow, probably because I've said I enjoy dealing with it to many times outloud, I am given the geriatric crowd to deal with. It seems that old people have an amazing amount of time and energy when it comes to writing letters to the library.

I admit, I love it when a letter shows up at home in my cute little brass mailbox attached to my understated townhouse from a dear old Great relative. Somehow, the ones that show up for me to deal with aren't so sweet, even given their provenance.

Who knew that a)bathrooms b)books with provocative photos c)sidewalks could inspire such excitement. I know my own Grandmother can talk about her health for hours, or about the price of recycling in New York - but I had no idea that other elderly people would take an equal amount of joy in the mundane.

Canned food products were all the rage during the war. For several good reasons. They lasted, and didn't spoil. They traveled well. Finally, canned products are easy to store. Where is this man going with all this? You wonder. Some more than others.

Additionally, housewives and gardeners across the country have perfected the art of Ball Jar canning. It's practical, leaves little waste, and provides a deep sense of satisfaction.

Canned replies are just as good. In the past I wrote a light hearted letter of complaint, that offered multiple choices - as people only complain about a few things. This sentiment was not far from the truth - canned answers a.k.a. form letters are really the way to go!

This idea allows the writer to be consistent in replies, fair, and stay on track with library policy.

This also allows me from overkill. So often, I find myself thinking about what I'd like to write, when really all I need to do is dip into the vast wealth that already exists on my G drive - ready to fill in and print.

We are sorry (we = staff, cleaning crew, librarians, directors, etc) about ....then just fill in the blank. Additional blanks are left for citing policy, procedure, and/or plans to reflect on a serious concern. Imagine my surprise when a serious concern shows up. Its like a breath of fresh air.

I have strayed from using canned responses when it comes to thanking people. Somehow, it shows up in the text of the letter that you didn't really write every word. People saying nice things deserve original responses - or at least I think so.
I usually let a "person in charge" sign the letter, whereas I sign all the letters that deal with patron customer complaints.

A few weeks ago, an item was called into question by a patron who believed it mislead the public. I informed him, during our conversation, that he would need to submit a form letter to me, that would allow him to provide me with copious details. I even offered to print it off and mail it to him. He actually mailed it back.

I guess the part of that boring situation above that frustrated me was this: one of the questions asks if they have read any other reviews of the item. His answer "NO". How can you complain about something that has been reviewed, and with much applause? At least lie and say you did. I'll know you are telling a fib, but will give you points for saying "YES".

I also keep an electronic file of all the responses I send. Its terrible, but sometimes all you need to do is change the name, and you have one hell of a presto bango response!

When putting the response into the envelope, I do encourage librarians to use a damp sponge, and not lick the envelope. a)it tastes gross b)you could paper cut your lip/tongue and c)you do not want to provide the customer with any traces of your physical being. G-d knows what they could do with it once they have it in their hands. Think outside the box.

See, its gross, right?

I also have my signature scanned into a .jpg. I can insert that into the document rather than sign it. It's blue, so it looks terrific once I've printed it on our deluxe printer (that can also collate, staple, duplex, and give a manicure).

Moral of this blog: Can it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Neckwear, Librarians and

stylish, n'est pas? I have said it once, and I'll say it again. Neckwear is essential.

I prefer neckwear that doesn't necessarily match 100%. For example, today I wore a mint green gingham shirt with a lavender necktie. Gorgeous.

So, lets review the things people say when I begin talking about ties in the workplace:

"But I work with children"
"My library is casual"
"People will be scared off by me..."
"I can't tie a tie"
"I don't wear ties"

Poor things. If excuses were horses, beggars would ride.

So you work with children. Wear a bow tie, or an ascot. Kids can't grab them and get their sticky, dirty hands all over your precious strand of silk. (and it would be silk, no polyester or rayon.)

Are you sure your library is casual and not you? Check that one out. Studies show that people approach library staff who look like they are in charge. Are you visible? Everyone wears a name tag. Stand out.

Not being able to tie a tie is next to the worst excuse, besides I don't wear ties. We are in the information gathering profession. Figure it out. I bet even the poorest funded library in the United States has a book about making knots in ties.

And last, "Mr. I don't wear ties". Not even I have the strength to deal with you. You are a manly man. Don't forget, you work in a library with lots and lots of women. You are not necessarily in the manliest of fields - (no offense guys, but its true)a neck tie just adds to the air that you are cultured enough to get up, dress (bathe) and come to work to serve the masses of adoring fans. Perhaps you are the cataloger who worries his tie will get stuck in the binding machinery. Perhaps you are the technology librarian who never leaves his office, and it doesn't matter. People still walk past your office. If you have time to put on underwear, you have time to put on a tie.

Yes, I have just made all the people who wear nothing underneath exempt. Sue me. Its my column.

Ladies, shall I let you off easy today? I'll just remind you that nothing says timeless elegance like a strand of pearls carelessly knotted. And yes, they can be faux pearls. Chanel encouraged women to mix the real stuff with paste jewelry too. I'm just carrying on in her fine tradition.

Wear something big, dramatic. No one can see little tiny earrings or tiny gold chains.

I am not advising you to look like a ghetto fabulous rapper either, use discretion.

Scarves are wonderful accessories because you can knot them around your neck, drape them carelessly over a shoulder, or be worn stylishly around the waist. If you have to tie two scarves together to accomplish any of this, buy a larger scarf.

Remember boys, a good knot has a dimple in the middle. Note the illustration.

Moral of this blog: Be knotty at work.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Patrons, Dealing with Elderly

Listen hear, deary Not surprisingly, I am an ardent Agatha Christie fan. One of her most beloved characters is Miss Jane Marple.

Miss Marple contends that people are of a type...meaning nothing can happen without reminding Miss Marple of some similar situation in her village of St. Mary Mead. People are archetypical.

I whole heartedly agree with this sentiment. I seem to meet the same people over and over again. Which in reality, makes them much easier to deal with.

Like Miss Marple, I grew up in a small town. I was observant enough (yes, I've always carried a little black Moleskine - though admittedly, I didn't start using a fountain pen until I was 11)to jot down what I was thinking when in different situations. It helps to be a keen observer of human behavior. I was also fortunate to be surrounded by lots and lots of old people. From these adventures in observation, I learned a terrific number of things. Without digressing into how generous I am, I will share with you a few of these personalities:

The Spinster Aunt: Quit clothes shopping when her husband died. Recounting the past is important, things were better then. Doesn't care for small children. Smells reminiscent of mothballs and rosewater. Sensible shoes, and never ever puts her purse down.

To deal with: Enjoys follow up letters recounting the visit. Enjoys sounds of agreement when in conversation. Use phrases like "Really, its no problem..", or "Let me take care of that for you". Fairly easy to deal with.

The Gardener Grandmother: Enjoys clothes with pockets, and smocks/aprons. Knows everyone's business because she is always in her yard - another keen observer of human behavior. Cusses politely in mixed company, drinks from cups in saucers, not from mugs. A bit earthy, might put left over lady fingers in her purse when no one is looking. Smells of lilacs, and sunblock. Sensible shoes, her purse probably has everything from tissue to a car jack in it.

To deal with: Listen, don't talk. Don't flatter her, she knows what she looks like. Game to share garden cuttings, and mention the neighbors business in passing. Use phrases like "Nice weather we're having" and "So I noticed the _______'s got a new car?...." Knows what she wants, and will ask for it when she wants it. My favorite to deal with.

The Drunk Uncle: Rosey cheeked, and happy. Prone to crying if you are too nice. Often, ready for a nap. Enjoys pants that are pulled up to high, and has a preference for plaids. Usually wears glasses, and keeps the case in a top pocket. Orthopedic shoes, black dress socks visible due to pants lack of length. Smells of bourbon, Jack, or canned beer.

To deal with: Smile a lot. Point out a comfortable chair and get him the daily paper. Find books with more pictures than words, he's come to get away from it for a while. Make sure he knows where the bathroom is. Can be tough to deal with, depending on how much he drank for breakfast.

Grandpa Politics: Clean shaven, perhaps a pencil moustache. Ironed dress shirt, and wing tip shoes. Probably carries a handkerchief in his pocket. Clearly remembers the last "good" President, and will share it. Odd familiarity with local government. Starts sentences with "I remember when..." and "They would have never....". Does not reveal political party affiliation. Smells like Bryll cream and aftershave.

To Deal With: Acknowledge him by name, and nod when he walks into the room. Firm handshake may follow. Don't mention international politics unless you have at least 20 more minutes to spend with him. Eye contact is important. Will tell you what he wants, no need to ask. Challenging to deal with, but rewarding.

Dear Old Auntie : A propensity for flowered dresses, may have a wandering eye. Blue hair, or grey. Must wear glasses to read, often misplaces them. May forget what she is talking about mid sentence. Cat hair on her lapels. Smells like dusting polish and BenGay. She probably hasn't ironed anything she has on, and her hair is out of place. May wear old costume jewelry. Too much lace. Smiles at odd times, or giggles for no real reason. Wears scuffed open toed heels, with stockings. Purse is surgically attached to the crook of her arm.

To deal with: This is the one I deal with first, to get it over with. Coaxing with suggestive phrases such as "...and then...." and "you don't say?" Will have forgotten where she set her glasses down at least 2 times before she leaves. Smile like you are looking at a child.

I'm only 30 Great Aunt: Dresses much too suggestively for her age, make up is evident, because its filling in the cracks on her face. Found "her look" several husbands ago, and kept it. Hairstyle from highschool graduation photo is still well kept and colored. Smells like strong perfume. Shoes look painful to wear, but very expensive. Avoid eye contact, do not smile when addressing her. Will want to talk at length, may strategically say extremely personal things in "passing".

To deal with: Keep talking, and feign getting back to what you were doing. Do not entertain her by giving her the attention she is desperately seeking. She doesn't mind, she's just on her way to flirt with the next person in the room who makes eye contact with her. One of my least favorites to deal with.

Gay Uncle: Immaculate, smells of expensive department store cologne. Crosses his legs, and pinky's up when having tea or coffee. Not a talker, an observer. Mentions wonderful vacations, and has the tan to prove it. Likes nieces and nephews, and always has a peppermint for them. Never puts the host to any trouble, and always brings flowers. Expect a thank you card 2 days later, signed in a neat hand. Black patent leather shoes, black leather belt. Probably a navy sports coat. May have a "friend" who is equally eloquent, who shows up for holiday dinners and important family events.

To deal with: Take notes. He's the one I wanted to be. Delightful to deal with. Knows when a conversation is supposed to end, no awkward pauses. Nice archetype.

Mind you, these are just a few of the "old people" observations. There are so many more. If you can deal with them, you can deal with anyone like them. We do really meet the same people over and over again, its sort of a relief at times. On occasion, I'm put to the challenge of dealing with a type I've never dealt with before, but how exciting.

A new archetype is born.

Moral of this blog: Play it again Sam.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Librarian, Busy as a

Look Ma, no plugI have realized during my sabbatical that I have learned so much since graduating with my library degree last May.

Because I have been away for so long, and many of you have been left to read my archives for months, I feel I owe new readers a recap of what it means to live life properly as a Well Dressed Librarian. Of course there are requirements. I have standards, I am not a common street librarian, and I'd rather my readers not be either.

"Wait" you say, "you are about to give away trade secrets?"

To which I reply "I've been doing it for years, why should today be any different?"

1.) A proper librarian never uses the public rest room. I'd also advise against using ANY bathroom while at work, but not all librarians have steel plated bladders. If you must use the rest room at work, you must only use it to powder your proverbial nose. All other activities are strictly prohibited.

2.) You must shatter stereotypes. No bun heads need apply. You must embrace technology like a lover, find communication with strangers oddly titillating, and have a will to provide information, much like a hooker treats her johns.

3.) You should be able to identify several brands of whiskey from the mere wisp of breath that emits from your patrons. While much of it will not be Jamesons, it could help you a)keep your distance b)understand the level of inebriation you are dealing with c)remind you to have a cocktail party.

4.) Being able to tie a Windsor not, and a bow tie are not things they teach you in Library School TM, yet you should be expected to perform such acts each morning before you leave your well appointed, and decidedly retro-styled a)town house b)condo c)house d)apartment.

5.) If you smoke, you should never smell like an ashtray. This may require keeping altoids in your manpurse, and a small bottle of cologne. This cologne will not have been purchased in a drug store. Of course many people frown on smokers, and you will be required to find an obscure place to enjoy one, maybe three cigarettes on your lunch. Do not associate with the public (read adoring fans) during these periods.

6.) Patrons should be referred to as fans. To achieve Well Dressed Librarian status you must be under the impression that you are a celebrity - which indeed you are - but many do not recognize this. This of course, should only be done while mingling with other librarians, and not directly with the adoring public. This term may also become particularly useful while writing memoirs.

7.)Using, and not abusing, charm. One mustn't rest on their laurels, but as Mama Rose says "ya either got it, or you've had it."

8) Attend conferences regularly. While not quite the same as "making an appearance", it does keep you in touch with the field at large, while making you a more polished person.

9.) Speaking of polish, you should own a shoe shine kit. Nobody likes to see dull boring old boring shoes. A bit of shine makes the world go round. If you insist on suede, you are not exempt. Brush it.

10.) No one believes attractive people are librarians. We must suffer through this. It makes us stronger. It is also amusing to mention in conversations that we have that indeed we are librarians. The looks on their faces makes it all worth while.

11.) No one believes that librarians need a Masters Degree. Why? Because they clearly are not librarians. Have they ever had a reference interview? We are amazingly adept at rooting out the wants and needs of the public.

12.) Holiday & Pet themed apparel are strictly forbidden. A tastefully framed photo of your pet on your desk is fine.

13.) Librarians are often the token librarian among friends. Oddly, unlike monkeys, we do not live or play in groups of others like us. Some do, but then again, some monkeys live alone. We are expected to win at games like Trivial pursuit, and generally be the first to send news stories as forwards to our friends. Much like a respected elder of a tribe, we are approached with requests for phone numbers, odd facts, and waivers of library fees.

14.) They do not teach you in library school that homeless people love the library. Being that we spend most of our days and nights in such facilities, we need to learn to play nicely with them. Affectionate pet names are not encouraged.

Having noted the above, you have a good idea of what you have gotten yourself into. This is not a blog for the faint of heart, or librarians who are not extroverted.

Now on to the answer to the question that is on the tip of each of your tongues - I needed a break.

I took up typing letters to various Great Aunts, indulged myself by shopping for deco aqua colored McCoy vases, and generally took a look at my life. I thought that blogging somehow detracted from my professional life, and made me less illustrious in the eyes of coworkers. I have since decided that was all bunk, and I should lay the path for more genteel up and comers.

I can not live letting people think we librarians sit and write book reviews, tell people where tax forms are, and sit behind a desk all day. Why further the myth? A field where a bulk of the most respected are verging on retirement requires the next wave to take hold of the reigns, and shy of screaming "TALLY HO!" and getting on with things, we must make a mark.

I must make a mark.

So with this, I am back.

Moral of this blog: How becoming of me.