Monday, September 15, 2014

Big Box Library

A lot of nonsense talk happens during break and lunch, like discussing the special pay check twice a year that has fewer deductions, my mom being peeved that I refuse to marry her banker (who took 12 days to call me back, which is only excusable if you’re comatose), my marriage plans (“When I marry I’m serving my guests $5 foot longs!”) and sugar babies on Dr. Phil.


Dating an older man is completely fine; being paid to “date” anyone is either outright or borderline illegal. Just don’t tell that to the young woman who said when she needs money she tells her sugar daddy, “my purse is thirsty.”

My purse is always fully hydrated, thank you very much.

So, one person jokes I should find a sugar daddy, another says he wants a sugar momma, and I ask, “What happens if my sugar daddy and your sugar momma meet each other and run off together?” Our sugar people hooking up and becoming diabetic together is almost as horrid of a thought as a sugar daddy trying to touch me.


Then sometimes the talks are serious, which upsets me because I should really only have serious thoughts when I’m being paid for them.  We wondered, should we encourage people to go to library school? Those who just graduated don’t all have jobs. Those with jobs aren’t always full time, and the library has been on life support since, I don’t know, 358 BCE? Maybe earlier.  Someone we knew wanted to attend library school and while you don’t want to break the person’s heart, is it any better to delay breaking their heart only to throw it out the window along with their bank account? (Talk about a thirsty purse.) So, where are libraries going? What do we want to be? It took a bit of navel gazing, but I finally figured out what I wanted us to be…


Libraries are in a panic trying to figure out how to ensure our survival. Change is necessary. However, when I attend conferences and see what everyone is doing I sometimes feel we’re offering everything short of surrogacy services and chiropractic adjustments. While I wouldn’t mind the latter for myself, you have the draw the line somewhere before drug-free childbirth. (Pain killers are your friends!) How much are we doing because we truly believe and how much of it comes from fear? What would we do with libraries if we weren’t afraid anymore?

What would you do if fear left the building like Elvis?

What are we doing because we’re passionate about it? What are we doing because it’s smart (saving for retirement)? What are we doing because we’re desperate (finding a sugar person)? What are we doing because we’re putting ourselves on sale and undervaluing our services? Are we focusing too broadly? Are we adhering to our core values or are we creating needs that didn’t previous exist because we believe the public will become dependent on them and thus keep the funding going? What are we doing that’s not really paying off and will hurt us in the long run?

Are we doing so much we're turning into Taco Town?

(Enjoy your 15 different flavors!)
Yes, we want to remain viable, yet we also need to be sustainable. Becoming the go-to place for everything sounds appealing in theory, but we already have a place for that…


What comes to your mind when you think of Wal-Mart? Is it high quality? Customer satisfaction? Happy employees?
Not exactly.

And that's a tame picture. As for the other pictures...

...I won't even link to those.

Wal-Mart is the place I go to when the last four stores didn’t carry what I need. There’s just something so freaking depressing about going there. I’m not sure if it’s being greeted by senior citizens who should be enjoying retirement instead of standing 3.5 straight hours for minimum wage, the listless customers, the fact that it has the same hours as hospitals and fire stations, or the bad lighting. Visiting Wal-Mart doesn’t inspire me, unless by inspire you mean remind me to wear nice clothes and fully fund my side retirement fund. (Another break talk is a librarian explaining, “I fund my Roth because I don’t want to be a bag lady.”) Wal-Mart has everything , it’s everywhere, it makes a lot of money, yet it has the worse customer satisfaction ratings, it pays its employees low, and it’s known for badly dressed customers.

On the other hand, Costco does things differently. You can’t get gas at midnight. You can’t run to it on Labor Day because you forgot mustard. It may seem like it has lots of products because your cart is full and you owe them $600,000 when you stopped by for detergent and toilet paper, but they only have a few thousand items. They specialize in treating their employees well, stocking high quality products by the pallet load and cheap hot dogs. Yet when we leave, we’re pretty happy. Sure, I may have to send someone to wait in line before I finish shopping, but we’re happy even if we have nowhere to put the 50 gallon drum of mayonnaise. They pick what they’re good at and keep doing it, trying new things while dropping some of the old, always maintaining their core products but keeping the overall number of products around the same 4000 so as not to overwhelm you.

And we’re happy for it.

I want the library to be that place.

(Hold the mayo.)