The clock strikes 2 PM, and my co-worker, wearied from being on the phone explaining how to download eBooks to a customer and getting yelled at about overdue fees, quickly logs off the computer, rushing away to hide to the safety of his cubicle before the phone rings again. I survey the room like a queen presiding over her kingdom, and in a sense for that brief hour in the workroom, I am. I am the only person this hour who sorts through the problem bin and finds out why the AMH (our automated book drop) is not checking the item in properly, resolving the issue and making library accounts accurate again. I am the person who keeps the bins from getting full, emptying them regularly so that I don’t have to listen to the machine’s angry, insistent beeping reminding me to do so. I am the restorer of order, taking random assortments of books from the materials bin and putting them in their right place on the shelving carts, organizing them either alphabetical, Dewey Decimal, or Library of Congress depending on what section they are going. Anyone who calls our branch in those 60 minutes will have their questions answered by me. I am the overseer of the AMH, and the workroom is my domain.
Sometimes, this level of responsibility is not too arduous. The machine is quiet, save for the hum of machinery. Even, the phones are silent; there is no one waiting to hear me stumble over the library name because I forgot what branch I’m at again. On shifts like that, I find myself reviewing policies or discarding old books to pass the time. Other times, the room seems to explode to life, and I must keep everything from descending into chaos. The deliveries from the other library branches arrive, hundreds of books waiting to be checked in and either returned to the shelf or put on the holds shelf for customers to pick up. Carts are scattered across the room, and I weave around them as I organize the co-workers who have arrived to help me process the deliveries and tame the AMH back into submission. It almost seems like a dance we all know the rhythm to as we seamlessly change places between stations to make sure everything is checked in and put in its proper place. (Okay, I occasionally run into people, but that’s the ever-present clumsiness coming into play.) Or perhaps this hour an upcoming children’s story time means that all our tiny customers are returning their picture books, and I am inundated as the machine squeaks and creaks, the conveyor belts feeding me books from both directions. Sometimes, I have particularly needy customers who call me on the phone, and I end up spend 20 minutes asking questions, digging through shared library files and account information to find an answer. Often, I find myself explaining policies to disgruntled customers in seven different ways until they get it or hang up on me. But mostly, I tell people when we close and renew their books, thankfully.
I sigh with relief as I rest the phone in the receiver and turn to decipher the reason the AMH is making a clunking noise. I notice that a paperback book has gotten caught in the rollers, but I quickly rescue the distressed book before it is damaged by the relentless thrust of the machine. I scoop up a DVD from the problem bin but open it to find that the customer has forgotten to return the disc. I am just finishing filling out the incomplete item form and contacting the customer when I look towards the workroom, and my eyes behold a wonderful sight. My co-worker, my rescuer – here to relieve me. Oh, blessed shift change! I log off, grab my water bottle and my notebook, and glance at the schedule to see where I am supposed to be next.
Welcome Desk. No rest for the weary today, huh?
I speed walk the distance from the AMH room to the front desk and put on my best customer-service face and smile at the customers clamoring around the desk, hoping to be helped sooner rather than later. Here we go.