So I’ve suddenly got a new job; it’s always a shock to walk into a new place of work and observe the staff’s little group idiosyncrasies. This lot are classic old-school librarians and therefore incredible case studies. The whole group is there.
There’s the couple of giggly girls who only talk to each other, studiously patronized by the rest of the staff in general, who enjoy the superior feeling of writing them off as air-heads. Based on the fact that they read fashion magazines at lunch while the other library workers enjoy the odd spy thriller and dipped into Jack Kerouac at university, and could even locate Kerouac for you on the library catalogue if they wanted to. Which they don’t because they don’t like the way you look and they were busy reading the TV guide before you walked into the library and started asking them stupid questions.
The only interesting thing about these two girls is that they are the only normal, sane people who still work in the library. There used to be some others, a long time ago, but they left because of the cuts. Now there’s a motley crew of misfits and obsessives that can be roughly divided into two groups; those that can’t leave as they are unemployable in the real world, and those that don’t want to leave because they are psychotic.
Next in the pecking order comes the rather sad pale, skinny lad who could be any age between seventeen and twenty-nine. He only speaks when he is spoken to, when he is gloomily polite and extremely helpful despite a complete inability to meet your eye. He cultivates a morose, worldly cynicism about everything apart from graphic novels and his passionate hatred of the council. If he ever realized what a cliché he was, he would probably kill himself. He lives with his mum.
The supervisor who irritates everyone and has an appalling sense of humour to match her appalling, hoarse, booming laugh is hated by everybody in the building. A shared loathing of this woman brings manager and dogsbody together, united for once in an unbearable urge to put their fingers to their lips and sternly say ‘shush’. For some reason, perhaps a bylaw set in stone back in the dark ages before the cuts, nobody ever stands up to her. She rolls in late every morning on her bicycle, never does a tap of work, complains constantly about being undermined and/or overworked and applies for promotion every year and never gets it. Her main topic of conversation is her son, who is 13 and has recently been suspended from his fee-paying school for sniffing glue. Her main occupation is shouting at teenagers at the top of her voice across the library to stop eating, drinking, chewing gum or, best of all, to cut out the noise.
The very tall African man who works the inquiries desk is greatly respected by the rest of the staff because he appears to have a social life, a real, proper social life of the kind you conduct outside of working hours with real friends, not just people you work with. This consists of going to places like bars and restaurants in the evenings and then complaining the next day that he feels tired. His colleagues are not overly jealous though; they know that someone who is as polite and helpful as he is to library users will never get anywhere in life. It must be something that he picked up in Africa, he can’t have learnt that kind of tolerance and patience on this continent. The other day he actually looked up a book for someone with body odour, who didn’t say please and didn’t have his library card on him! Everybody knows Andrew Carnegie never meant us to serve people like that. He also loves the archaic library computer system because it makes him nostalgic for the days before Windows.
A very serious woman comes and goes around the reference section, but it was only recently anyone realized she was a member of staff. She has very long sandy hair in a plait and a long, thin face, and is studying for a degree in Russian Literature by correspondence course. She runs the toddlers group in a very quiet manner. She doesn’t like to be touched, especially not by the toddlers. She often spends her tea breaks wandering around putting books back into exactly the right place.
The Assistant Librarian (not to be confused with Library Assistant) is well into his sixties. Actually, no one’s ever asked, but he’s been well into his sixties for so long now that he might just be well into his seventies. He’s very proud of his alpha male status in the building, not realizing he only keeps it by tacit agreement of the rest of the staff. He is the one who unlocks the big oak doors in the morning and the one who closes them at night. He also enjoys telling adolescents off and sharing trivia about the library building and the history of the area to anyone who will listen.
The Head Librarian wishes they would change her name to Library Manager, it sounds so much more modern. She’s new; has only worked in the borough for seven years and so has yet to earn the respect of other head librarians across the borough, despite frequent email communiqués. She doesn’t understand why there’s never enough money or why the staff aren’t excited about their roles. She wishes so much she could modernize the library but her hands are tied. So she mostly sits in her office where she doesn’t have to listen to her staff moaning and bitching, and reads novels which she thrusts under the desk when someone knocks. No one ever knocks. Each time a new temp. is hired to cover a desperate shortage she prays she’s found an ally who will help her get loans up and make her name as the Librarian who changed the face of libraries in the borough. Each time she is disappointed. She comforts herself with the fact that she is the only person in the building with a happy, normal home life and looks often at the framed picture of her smiling husband and their two adorable little girls on her desk. Actually she is wrong here; both the cleaners are happily married with lovely children.