How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Wonderful World of Sorting

Today I'm featuring our first guest post ever on Kelsey's Notebook! Please warmly welcome (with comments and Google+s!) Rachel H., a lovely young lady I'm pleased to call friend both in person and online.  She has an enviable job ... read on to find out what it is!*

I feel a silence. Or maybe I could call it “apprehensive stillness.” No matter the name, it continually teases my ears with faint whispers and receding echoes as I swipe my badge to clock in, stride across the empty hallway, and bound up the yellow stairwell to Level S1. A familiar scent of coffee and fresh popcorn wafts through the air, and when I open the door to S1, the comforting clang of books-on-metal reaches my ears. It’s the only noticeable sound around me. Black carts line the hallway—a few loaded with books or DVDs and ready to shelve, but most empty and waiting to be filled. Through the sorting room’s open door, I can see today’s conveyor person quickly skim through a book before placing it on a metal grey shelf. For ten or fifteen minutes, this semi-silent atmosphere pervades, and I savor it. Books and dust, metal and coffee, the occasional high-pitched beep—all these sounds and scents embrace me as I mentally prepare for the day ahead. This is my world. This is my home away from home…and as the clock strikes nine, I shift into action. My friends, welcome to the Fayetteville Public Library.

My official occupation is Library Page II. My job includes shelving all library materials, such as books and DVDs; assisting patrons in finding those materials; shelf-reading (or, making sure books are shelved in the right order); and helping the conveyor person and librarians with miscellaneous tasks. From time to time, I can also function as “the conveyor person,” which I’ll talk about later. In a nutshell, Pages are the groundhogs of the library, but we’re absolutely essential—especially in a two-story library that processes thousands of materials a day.

Although we work in almost every part of the library, the sorting room is our home base. Its walls are lined with shelves from top to bottom, and the conveyor belt, surrounded by 3½-foot-tall bins, juts out into the middle of the room. Like many other libraries, we have an automated conveyor belt system that carries materials from book-drops (one inside and one outside the library) down into our sorting room, where they’re electronically checked in using RFID technology. The conveyor then sorts each item into a separate bin—either adult fiction, adult non-fiction, children’s, adult audio-visual, children’s audio-visual, teen and misc., overflow, holds, and rejects. Holds are items that patrons reserve to check out for themselves, while rejects are mostly items with dysfunctional RFID tags, items that belong to another library, or personal items.

After the items have been sorted and loaded onto carts, it’s my job to re-shelve them in the library. Shelving is pretty simple. I look at the item’s spine label, which tells me where it belongs. For example, adult fiction books only have the last name of the author on it, while adult non-fiction has a Dewey Decimal number above the first three letters of the author’s last name. All children’s books have a “J” on the top of the label. Anyhow, shelving itself isn’t the interesting part. The interesting part is something I call “the paging experience.”

The paging experience includes a number of things: tired feet, aching back, squeaky carts, the slowest elevator on Planet Earth, creepy patron questions, homeless male stalkers, unattended pet dogs, forgotten children, stolen DVDs, tipped carts, crammed bookshelves, sticky picture books, and so much more.

First things first: I believe that all pages should be offered premium chiropractic insurance. We’re always standing, bending, and going up and down the stairs, and sometimes it seems that every book goes on either the top or bottom shelves. (Just for the record, my arms, my toes, and my head have all been hit by falling books.) Even in comfortable shoes, feet still get weary . . . Moreover, carts can get heavy. Heavy enough for skinny girls like me to look silly trying to wrangle them across carpeted areas.

But to continue, I have gotten over the squeaky cart thing. If I pick a rebellious cart that gets to whining, I just laugh it off and keep on truckin’. Everyone just feels sorry for me anyway.
However, I am both proud and embarrassed to state that I have tipped 2 carts in my life (if you don’t count the oversized art books that fell off my cart right in front of the reference desk). The first time wasn’t bad, but the second happened as I exited the elevator, creating a massive book pile right in front of the elevator door. That. Was. Mortifying.

As for those “creepy patron questions, homeless male stalkers, unattended pet dogs, forgotten children, stolen DVDs,” they occur alot more than you’d expect. We actually call the police at least once every two months. Don’t get the wrong idea about our area, though. Talk to any page from a good-sized public library, and you’ll hear the exact same thing. It’s all a part of the experience.

On the flip side, when assigned a conveyor shift, my job is to make sure materials come in smoothly on the conveyor (i.e., not on top of each other), monitor the conveyor belt for book jams, deal with rejected items, unload bins as they fill up, load materials onto carts for shelving, and answer the telephone. It takes good management skills to keep track of everything, but depending on the season, conveyor shifts can be hectically busy or mind-numbingly slow. Summers filled with children’s reading programs can run me like a madman, as each mommy dumps 50 picture books down the book-drop and teenagers return 20 DVDs at one time. On the other hand, winters can see the sorting room empty and the conveyor person twiddling their thumbs for four hours straight. What’s more, because of our library policy about machinery, conveyor people aren’t allowed to leave the sorting room unless another trained page can watch the conveyor. So during those winters, running the conveyor is like babysitting a rock.

Now, despite my attempt at humorous complaining, I absolutely adore my job. I’ve been a page for over three years now and, for the time being, I can’t see myself doing anything else. When shelving, I get to hang among the books, keep up-to-date on the latest bestsellers, and inconspicuously people-watch. And nothing can beat the radiant smiles from a little third-grader who I helped to find a book about feeding pet rabbits. I also love my conveyor shifts. I get complete control over the sorting room radio, and if there’s a jam on the conveyor belt, then I get to use the walk-talkie!! If things are slow, then I can sit down (what a luxury!) and lose myself in a book.

For me, going to work is almost like coming home. Even when I’m shoving the heaviest cart or politely feuding with a confused patron, I feel like the library is where I belong, where I’m supposed to be. When I clock out after a long shift, I’m tired but satisfied because I’ve worked, not only with my hands and my feet, but with my heart. And, honestly, it’s a really good feeling.

Rachel H.: “I am a confirmed physics nerd, avid dancer, obsessive Anglophile, buoyant optimist, and very slow driver. I live snugly in the present, appreciate the lessons of the past, and await the future with smiles. Life is so very beautiful..."


  1. Thank you, Alicia!
    Yay, Rachel! It seems like a lot of people really enjoyed your post. : ) I know I sure did.