Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beep and Tilt

I think my blog post title sounds kinda like a kid's book. Maybe one about a little truck and a bulldozer. Get it? Beep?

But, in reality, it refers to the way I am now spending my days. Everyone has gone home for the summer. Everyone but me. I'm here all alone in this quiet library, taking an inventory of our entire collection.

All the librarians in my county work an extra ten days to do a variety of tasks, one of which is inventory. We have a little handheld gizmo that beeps the bar codes on every single item in the library. If it doesn't beep (actually beep-beep), we have to tilt it to look at the screen and find out why it didn't beep, but instead gave a rather obnoxious honking sound. Depending on the message, I might have to re-beep, realize it just found something that had been marked lost, or go to my computer and put the item which has somehow disappeared out of the system, back into the system.

It's a little boring, to say the least. And my back starts to hurt. And I can't easily sit on the floor like I could when I started this job twenty years ago. And my hand starts to ache from beeping and tilting, beeping and tilting. But you know what? It's a whole lot better than the alternative.

When I first started working as a librarian back in the ice age, we had card catalogs with actual, paper cards. Remember those? None of my students do. And I had a shelf list with a paper card for every single thing in the library. When I took inventory, I had to take a drawer of cards and match each card to every single item on the shelf. It was absolutely horrible, back-breaking, monotonous work. But I didn't know any different. My children often came to work to help me with inventory, since it was much easier with two. My daughter came more often, since she is older. I'll never forget one time when she dropped a drawer full of hundreds of cards on the floor and they all spilled out. I wanted to cry. Instead, I yelled at her.

You know that mother's guilt? That guilt over every, single mean thing you have done or said to your children? That guilt that you keep in the mother's file cabinet in your mind that is full, full, full of drawers of file folders, each one with a different guilt in it? That file cabinet that comes out sometimes when you are trying to sleep and you agonize over it and think "If only I hadn't...If only I had...If only I never...If only I..." Yeah, there's a file in there about that day when she was trying to help and I yelled at her. Those damn cards.

The electronic gizmo may be annoying. It may be boring. It may hurt my hand and make it ache. But at least I'm not yelling at anyone. And that's a plus for that mother's guilt file cabinet.


sarah said...

Oh yes, I remember spending a couple of days there with you and Liz as well...hope you get out of there soon and get to enjoy your summer!

Elizabeth said...

I just did an ad for one of my clients that sells the scanners you are using. I had to search high and low to find a picture of an old school (pun intended) card catalog to show an "old library".
Also? I vividly remember dumping that drawer out. I don't really remember being yelled at, but I do remember being upset with myself for doing it.

Anonymous said...

from the purple chai:

They give us no summer time, and as a result, we haven't taken a good inventory in years. Ah, the shelf list, there was something comforting about it, no? Also, we had a firm rule that anyone -- ANYONE -- who dropped a drawer with the rod out (we had kids file for us) would be the one to re-file everything, even, I would tell them, if it took until they were little old high school seniors. Never happened. (But I don't know what I would have done if it had been one of my kids helping me.)

Lucy's Mom said...

We ALL have that drawer full of Mother's guilt. Just can't be helped. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Be easy on yourself. I try to cut myself some slack, but it's not easy. The "if only...." syndrome is hard to break.