Stuck on the Other Side of the Desk

I left my job about five weeks ago.  When I was out on maternity leave this winter, I wrote a blog post about my impressions of visiting other libraries within our consortium. In my new city, I am still ultra observant of the libraries we visit each week.  It is part wistful longing to be helping instead of needing, part hyper awareness of the rhythm and flow in case I decide to apply for a job in the system, and part settling into my new role as a patron instead of a librarian.

In any case, I can’t help but use my insider librarian knowledge to compare The Charleston County Public Libraries (CCPL) to the systems I learned in New England.  CCPL operates through the county governance rather than network buy-in, which is apparently a common pattern in the South.  Now that my boy is sleeping regular naps and 13 hours at night, I am actually checking out books, not frantically stopping by to feed or change a diaper.  But, even if I had been checking out books in February, I would have been able to return the items to any member library location then, and it would get checked in and shipped back to home in a three to five day transit turnaround (indeed it would have gotten shipped back to its home no matter where in Massachusetts I returned the book, but not checked in until it reached its home in that case).

Now I still return my books to the most convenient location, but it stays at that branch until it gets checked out by another patron, and again returned anywhere.  This develops a sense of a serendipitous collection, no? Technically, in Library World, it is called a Floating Collection, and though I’m sure staff intervenes and sends boxes among the different libraries for purposes of balance, shelf space, displays, patron holds, repairs, processing, story times, and who knows what else, I can only marvel at how it seems to be one of the only things in the South that functions efficiently.

Exempli Gratia:

    • The plumber came by last Tuesday (nine days ago). He said he needed to run to Lowes to get a part, and the low water pressure problem in the sink would be fixed. Haven’t seen or heard from him since. He lives 3 minutes away.
    • When we first moved here, we didn’t receive mail for approximately three and a half weeks. Turns out, it was here the whole time, but were given the wrong box number by our landlord. He lived here before we moved in.  Who knows how he was collecting mail.
    • Despite the water pressure issue in the sink, we’ve had no problems. We even have a built in filter spout at the sink. But the company’s information we were given to set up our own water account does not serve our neighborhood. Who has been paying the bill for the last 8 weeks since my husband moved in?
    • Getting some decent news on the go in the car is like pulling a baby’s teeth–that is to say, impossible because there is none! The public radio station is a devastating disappointment after being spoiled by RadioBoston. Here there is little participation in the national broadcasts that host the familiar voices, and very little (any?) original content. Opera is on 90% of the time I tune into that station.  I miss those hyperlocal human interest stories.  Even Maine had more content, and the population of South Carolina to Maine is more than 3:1.

CCPL offers Freegal, really interesting programs, loads of story times, rooms filled with toys, vacant computers, ample classes in technology, drive thru book drops, job vacancies that are quickly filled, a one book one county effort, innovative ideas, and centralized management outside of the branches.  My 11 month old son was allowed a card, whereas the consortium we left in Massachusetts only allowed children to have them on their fifth birthday (or once they could write their name).  I can’t describe how happy I am that there is such a vibrant library community in my new city.  I aspire to be a part of it someday in the future, but I have to admit: it is really nice to give my resume a break for a while.  I’m enjoying stay-at-home-motherhood a thousand times more than I imagined, and I credit a lot of that to the fact that if I ever just need to get out of the house and be around adults for a while, we are always close to a branch of the CCPL.  There are things that interest me and my son, and it is exactly the kind of cultural education we both need at this point in our lives.

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