Saturday, May 29, 2010

How the library works

The reason the library was so keen to have me stay is because they are working with four TA's this term in total (the library needs about 20 to function correctly) of which one must guard the computer terminal at all times and one must guard the course reserve.
I put this in my first post as part of the list of things that motivated me to create this blog. It is admittedly confusing to someone who doesn't know our library, so I thought I'd explain this in more detail with today's post.

The library has your typical Reference section, open-shelf section, and some computers with internet access (called the Computer Terminal Room for historical reasons). Like most college libraries, it also has a Course Reserve (which keeps copies of several books under closed-shelf space because the management considers these books shouldn't leave the library) a Hall of Thesis (where graduate and undergraduate theses are stored), and several Study Cubicles which can be lent to students in groups of four. (The list goes on, but I just need enough to get the explanation down.)

The library has a firmly established hierarchy with a director at the top, heads at each section, and employees under them. Also assigned to to the library, but out of the hierarchy due to being assigned by subcontractors, is security and maintenance personnel. (The subcontractor deals with the whole campus, but the few that are in the library are stationed permanently there.) At the very, very bottom are the TA's, short for Teaching Assistants. (Yes, we know there isn't exactly classes to be taught in a library, but the name is more of a payroll-enforced thing we have to deal with.) When I started working in the library in 2006, TA's were basically payed 47 US cents per hour (we're that low on the ladder).

TA's are fixed to their "department" (apparently, the folks over at accounting have the library as a department ) and can be moved freely only within that department. (They usually aren't, since that may imply having someone who's doing a TA for, say, Calculus, can be reassigned to doing it for Spatial Geometry –which he/she probably hasn't seen, especially if he/she is still interested in teaching Calculus.) For the purposes of the library, this means that a TA can literally be one minute trouble-shooting an internet connection, and the next minute be reshelving books in the Course Reserve.

The library requires at least one person to be at the Course Reserve at all times, because the Reserve is behind closed shelves (there's a physical barrier between the visitors and the shelves, meaning only authorized personnel behind the barrier can take the book off the shelf and give it to the visitor).
One person must be in the open-shelf section at all times as well, but not because these books need attention or the visitors get lost; but because the open-shelf section is the only way to access the Study Cubicles. Each cubicle has a locked door, to which the TA's hold the keys, and they can only give it if the Cubicle is going to be used by four or more people to study (apparently, they were open in the past, and this led them to be frequently misused, in some way).
Lastly, we have the Computer Terminal Room, to which access is not restricted, but must be registered. In the event that there are more visitors than computers available, it is the job of the TA on shift to allot time to each of them and inform them when their alloted time has expired. Since this "more visitors than computers" situation may happen at any time, there must always be a person at the Terminal Room as well.
This, of course, does not include the reshelving of books in each of these areas. The TA in the Reserve might be able to reshelve the Reserve's books if nobody comes asking for books, but none of the others have that option.

So there you have it. The Library must have at least three TA's working at any given time function at the bare minimum. (Ideally, you'd put at least two in each area; take the Reserve: one person retrieves a book while the other one listens to the next visitor's request.) Including me, the library is working with four TA's total, whose shifts are spread out over several days. Therefore, only when all the shifts overlap (and this happens for about 3 hours on Monday) can books be reshelved, or a service must be sacrificed. The result?
over the course of the week, not a single book was reshelved, leaving me over 500 books to sort through.
 My four hour shift, such a big block on my schedule, doesn't come even close to being long enough for the task at hand.

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