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Library Services at Elsewhere University: A Guide and Compendium

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Pages fall under the jurisdiction of Circulation Services, the most concrete and visible department in the library. Most student pages work the day shift, and are paid an hourly rate by Campus Services's payroll. They are part of the non-academic staff union, with all the protections that entails. There are some work experience placements where hours worked may be traded for course credit, for favours, for knowledge, or as part of the payment of a geas, curse, wager, or other obligation. Work experience students are not paid an hourly rate, and will be limited to supervised shelf-reading on floors three to six, and pre-sorting the shelving carts.

Applications for student positions can be dropped off with the administrative assistant on the eighth floor (getting safely to the eighth floor and back again is considered to be the first part of the application process), submitted electronically through the library's website (navigating the deepest corners of the library website and emerging without losing small fragments of your short term memory and forgetting what you were there for is considered to be an alternate first step to visiting the eighth floor), or delivered to the bees in the rooftop garden by whatever means necessary. Kindly note that carrier pigeons do not fare well. Students enrolled in undergraduate library science courses, or with prior library experience, may be considered for part-time term circulation clerk positions.

Day shift student pages are always sent out in pairs, and will sign in and out together at the beginning of each shift. They are expected to wear closed-toed shoes, and fill their pockets full of salt packets and library-issued paperclips before leaving the circulation workroom. Most of the shelving carts are steel, and like all shelving carts in libraries everywhere, tend to have a mind of their own that can only sometimes be attributed to the one wheel that won't stay straight. The carts have their share of dents, scratches, and mysterious arcane markings that may or may not be graffiti. If your shelving cart locks up and refuses to turn down a particular aisle, or through a certain doorway, pay attention.

For safety reasons and to promote a culture of professionalism and public service in the library, headphones are not to be worn in public areas. While working in back rooms and offices, headphones worn in one ear may be permitted. However, if you find yourself using your headphones to block out unsettling noises in your general vicinity, consider contacting a supervisor or other senior staff member on shift to report the disturbance. We are all responsible for maintaining a healthy and safe workplace. If the oozing signs of the great ichor beast infestation of 2003 had been caught sooner, the third-floor carpet may not have needed to be replaced quite so soon.

Day pages are encouraged not to wear non-medical adaptive lenses while working. There are some things in the library that it is safer not to see. Night pages have already seen it all.

Night shift pages shelve throughout the library. Officially, this covers floors one to six, sub-basements one and two, and special collections including the ninth floor. Unofficially, the books on floors ten through twenty-three also need attention. An accurate system may yet be devised for self-shelving books, but it would not be a very safe system. The pages keep order by walking the boundaries as much as by putting the books back in the proper spot.

None of the student pages are ever assigned to shelve on the seventh floor. Instead, the seniormost person working in the circ department is tasked each night with taking up the full shelving cart and leaving it outside the elevator with exactly two-thirds of a cup of the real coffee cream from the staff fridge, always in a ceramic mug, a shot of Bailey's in a saucer, and whatever button B9 on the vending machine by the fourth-floor study carrels has chosen to dispense. Often, it's a chocolate bar with a wrapper in a language that you swear you used to know. Other times, fresh flowers that are just as familiar and maddeningly undefined and unnamed, sealed in a 750 ml pop bottle. One night last winter, it was a small jade carving of a salamander. In the morning, the empty cart is always waiting in the exact centre of the elevator.

The cart for the seventh floor is one of the only remaining wooden shelving carts in the library. (There is one more down in Bibliographic Services with the cataloguers, and a third up in Special Collections.) Most days, this is unremarkable, but there was one morning last spring when the morning circ staff opened the elevator to find that the seventh floor cart had sprouted into small branches, bearing tiny white flowers that smelled like a cross between hawthorn and lilac. By sunset, the twigs had grown brittle, and the floor was littered with petals, and by closing, all traces were gone, except for the sprig that still sits on the Circulation Manager's desk. She keeps it in an old-fashioned ink bottle, inherited from her predecessor, and the brnach has started to put out small tendrils and shoots. Eventually, it will be transplanted to the rooftop garden. There is a reason for all of this, but it is not a secret that can be shared.

The Circulation Manager (commonly known as Circulation) oversees the circulation desk and staff responsible for check in and check out, the pages, membership services including fees and fines, co-ordinates wards and security for main-floor entrances and exits with building maintenance, ensures the borders are patrolled, an efficient and effective workflow of materials is upheld throughout the library, and a high standard of customer service is maintained by her staff throughout the library.

She has conversations with freshman pages about appropriate footwear (it's admirable when those who have come back... different still show up for their scheduled shift, but barefoot is not acceptable for safety reasons while working), ensures to the best of her considerable abilities that no-one loses their arm in the book drop abyss, comes in after-hours several times a semester to arrange staff meetings by seance for the night pages, and co-ordinates and heads up the search parties into the Deep Library on a regular schedule that is posted by the photocopiers and study room sign-up sheets.

She wears a chain of linked paperclips wrapped twelve times around each wrist. It looks whimsical. The paperclips look like everyday cheap steel wire. It is neither of these things. One wrist is iron, and the other is silver. The number of paperclips vary. Rumour has it when she was on the bargaining team during the last round of union contract negotations, at the end of it all she'd gained a handful of coloured paperclips on the right (iron) wrist, and the number of silver paperclips had dipped by half. But the negotiations didn't go to arbitration, and the library didn't lose any staff--none of the day pages have vanished en route to their shift between the dorms and the library since.

She values efficient workflows and common sense, good customer service, strong coffee, the protective power of an iron-tipped javelin of indeterminate origin that's stashed behind her office door, and keeping all beverages in containers with a lid while working at the circ desk. There are rumours that she has eyes in the back of her head. (She doesn't. She just borrows other sets of eyes as needed.)

The library diviner has foreseen that there will come a day of sacrifice where, gaunt-faced and battle-worn, she will be down to a single chain of paper clips around each wrist, facing down an unseen foe with a broken javelin--or there will not.

There are three senior staff (one library tech, two full-time clerks), nine part-time clerks on the desk, and nine in the back. The pool of student pages is a shifting total.

The library tech in circulation is responsible for the scheduling, for training the pages, updating policies and procedures, acting as shift supervisor, arbitrator and sentinel as needed, and ordering supplies. He's a relatively new grad, and is still getting used to the ins and outs of the job and the library. He's braver and more resourceful than he thinks he is. Last Sunday shift, he broke up two make-out sessions, called Campus Security to deal with a third incident that had gone rather further than making out, and informed a large, wet black horse that was dripping on the marble floor in the foyer that offering rides to students is considered to be soliciting goods and/or services and prohibited by library policy.

Circulation staff in the back process returned items that arrive through the book drops, intercampus mail, and dropped off on the library doorstep in the dead of night in a padlocked trunk or in a wicker basket swaddled in blankets embroidered in a script that twists and writhes when you try to read it. There is a whole new level of blasé to odd-things-found-in-books when a bacon bookmark is positively mundane, and some of the more archaic items may actually take off a finger. Safe work practices on material handling, ergonomic workstation adjustment, and rudimentary cursebreaking are part of the core training for the position.

Circ staff need to be fast, efficient, detail-oriented, and have the focus to not be lulled into a false sense of complacency by often-routine work. A logical mind with just the right sort of twists, and you can untangle the oddest errors in the circulation records. Enough experience, and you can tell when something's off with a book just by the feel of it in your hands, whether it's the subtle swell of water-damaged pages, or the lingering pins and needles of a forbidden tome returned without its library-issued protective envelope from special collections.

The main book drop has affectionately been nicknamed the abyss, partly due to its often-unending nature, and partly because of the strange treasures that will surface from its depths on occasion. Crumbling manuscripts and scrolls with no library markings appear regularly, as do engraved stone tablets, elaborately beaded woven cords, and silk fans. Pre-Cambrian fossils appear to be in vogue this fall, dropping in with the overdue reserve material at a rate of two or three a day. Items such as these that are returned in error from other libraries are placed on a reserve shelf waiting to be claimed for a period of no less than one lunar month before being moved to the lost and found.

The self-checks are temperamental. There are rumors that they've developed artificial intelligence and are conspiring to recruit the photocopiers next. It will still take one of the clerks on the circ desk, however, to troubleshoot your missing book that you swear you returned (shelf checks for claims-returned items are entrusted to the night pages) and waive your overdue fines (temporal shifts are mapped at the beginning of each semester, but have been known to ebb and flow, often in correlation with the phantom trains' unfathomable schedules), figure out why your card and PIN won't let you into the aggregated database searches for journal articles (often the price is too high to be paid for database licenses).

The circulation desk staff are the keepers of the Lost and Found. There is always the mundane detritus of water bottles and mittens, forgotten notebooks, and iron washers plaited into lanyards for the campus rec centre. Sometimes, there are more arcane items. This week's finds include: a small linen bag stitched in red thread, full of yellowed bird bones and a smooth, round river rock; a perfect replica of an original NES Gameboy, carved in petrified wood; a string of twenty-seven broken mood rings, hung on a leather cord; and two kilograms of an unidentified substance that looked like marijuana but smelled like raspberries, which was turned over to campus security for further investigation.

There is always a stash of plastic beads in one of the drawers at the circ desk, along with a mixed handful of coins and dried leaves, keys to several filing cabinets and doors that no longer exist, another labelled key that will actually open a door that doesn't exist, date-due stamps that continue to appear like talismans though the library hasn't used paper cards and stamps for sign-outs since the late eighties, and the one little-used lower filing cabinet drawer that is sometimes full of handwritten overdue notices from seventy years ago, sometimes opens on a swirling, screaming void, and occasionally contains green moss, mushrooms, and a faint bioluminescent glow. Don't eat the mushrooms--they're a protected variety making a slow comeback from the brink of extinction. Don't drop things into the screaming void--that's just inconsiderate.

The circ clerks need to be fast, accurate, have a head for multiple policies and procedures, the good judgement to know when to follow the rules, and when to bend them. They need to know when to turn a blind eye to the seven-foot thorn-crowned figure frowning at the book return, and when a faint whisper behind them while unjamming the photocopier is cause to whip out the emergency salt box from behind the desk.

As everyone in the department will tell you, Circ is the life-blood of the library, and keeps material flowing through its vast and beating heart. The Library would grind to a stagnant and useless standstill without the Circulation Department.