7.13.2011

trials of a student librarian: in which i confess to practicing my alphabet

In addition to writing a large portion of the final report for the "Private Eyes" research project, I've been stressing over something else - something I decided not to share, until today. I finally have an interview for a page position at the Mississauga Library System, something for which I've waited for two years. I didn't want to tell anyone, because I was actually worried I might not pass!

When I decided to make this career change, and decided that my first preference was to work in Mississauga, I learned that one way to get started was with a job as a library page - that is, shelving books. It's the bottom of the rung of the library ladder, but it would be a foot in the door - after a certain number of hours, I'd be able to join the union, and I'd have access to internal job postings. I'd also meet other library people, have another small but steady income source, and there'd be a flexible schedule that would work with school.

That simple plan immediately hit a major obstacle. Just as I started school, the Mississauga Library System closed five branches for renovation. (It was necessary to close them all simultaneously, rather than one at a time, in order to receive federal stimulus money.) So staff was shuffled among all the opened branches, and there was effectively a hiring freeze for two years. Lucky for me I attend school part-time; I could afford to wait.

Since then, I've kept in touch with some librarians and some managers in the Mississauga system, and I've kept watch as each renovated branch re-opens. Finally, as of this past June, all the branches are open, jobs have been shuffled and re-shuffled, and at long last, I received a call with the date of my interview for the page pool.

I knew that applicants for page positions must pass a shelving test, but I was surprised to learn how difficult the test would be! I must correctly order 60 books - 30 fiction, 30 non-fiction - in six minutes. And the shelving must be perfect: I must score 100%.

I was really taken aback by this. No mistakes allowed? In only six minutes?? I was very nervous!

There was no way I was going in cold. First I found some Dewey practice sites online (like this one) to get the hang of the numerical system. Sure, I've used the Dewey Decimal system all my life to locate books on library shelves, but that's different than actually thinking about how to order similarly numbered books. I used these practice sites when I had downtime or while taking writing breaks, until I was sure I had it down.

Next, a librarian friend - scoffing at the idea that I needed to practice at all - clued me in on the most efficient shelving technique. First, he said, separate fiction from nonfiction. Then group the nonfiction by first number (100s together, 200s together, 300s, and so on). Then you're ready to shelve. I probably would have figured that out myself, but it's nice to have an experienced person give me the 411.

Then, Allan and I devised a practice plan, and yesterday, we tried it out. We went to the Central Library in Mississauga. Allan collected 30 books from different nonfiction areas, and timed me while I ordered them. We did that twice. Then we went to the fiction area and did the same with 30 books from those stacks. (Allan didn't think we needed this part, but I wanted to check my time.)

Today I am happy to report that one can indeed correctly organize 60 books in under six minutes. You have to be organized, and you have to work very fast, but it can be done. Whew!

So while I've been writing the Private Eyes report, in the back of my mind, I've been stressing about the page interview. Yesterday's practice run was worth everything in the world: now I can write with a clear mind, and I can go into the test with more confidence.

How's this for timing? Final deadline for report: July 23. Interview for page pool: July 27.

18 comments:

Stephanie said...

Oh what good news! All the best to you in the interview Laura. I understand completely the desire to make more concrete the task at hand. That added confidence and experience in applying a system of organisation is so important.

All the best. I am sure you will demonstrate with ease your exceptional skills.

M@ said...

I probably mentioned to you that I was a library page back when I was in high school. And that's exactly how I did it -- separate F from NF, and then group the books into smaller groups.

For NF it was sometimes better to group them into different groups -- I think the 800s and 900s often had more books, and the 0-300s were often underpopulated. For F, I would typically group them into smaller alphabetical groups too: A-D, E-M, N-R, and S-Z, something like that. I would also keep an eye on the Ms, because therein lurk the Mcs and Macs which would screw up a good shelving pretty easily.

All this to say: I doubt I ever put 60 books in order in 6 minutes in my entire three-year career as a page. I was so horribly slack! I did a lot of reading and wasting time. And I wasn't the worst page by any means: my predecessor had been fired for being too slow.

Good luck with the test! I'm sure you'll hit 100% in 6 minutes without a problem.

laura k said...

Thank you both for your confidence!

I doubt I ever put 60 books in order in 6 minutes in my entire three-year career as a page. I was so horribly slack! I did a lot of reading and wasting time. And I wasn't the worst page by any means: my predecessor had been fired for being too slow.

My librarian friend said, The big joke is, once you're hired, no one cares. I don't know if that's true in Mississauga, but I doubt pages run around trying to shelve 60 books in 6 minutes!

For F, I would typically group them into smaller alphabetical groups too: A-D, E-M, N-R, and S-Z, something like that.

Yes, I did that, too...

I would also keep an eye on the Ms, because therein lurk the Mcs and Macs which would screw up a good shelving pretty easily.

...and we also checked the stacks to see how Mc, L' , and De[space] or Di[space] are done.

laura k said...

The only writer I could think of with L' was Madeline L'Engle, so we went to the YA section to find some of her books. :)

allan said...

As L said, we did NF and then went downstairs to the F section and did those. She did not have to first separate F from NF - and then separate into smaller groups. (I would have thought doing the separating would eat up too much time, but it does seem to work well.)

At the risk of undoing her confidence, having a pile of 60 books and having first to separate F from NF -- I don't see how that can be done in six minutes. (Am I allowed to mention your practice times from yesterday?)

I don't remember: Will the test have all 60 books thrown together? Or will they already be divided into 30 and 30?

laura k said...

At the risk of undoing her confidence, having a pile of 60 books and having first to separate F from NF -- I don't see how that can be done in six minutes.

Ouch.

Will the test have all 60 books thrown together? Or will they already be divided into 30 and 30?

We don't know.

Honestly, I don't think separating F from NF can take that long. And maybe I won't have to.

It's ok to say the times if you want. I don't remember them offhand.

I could have gone faster on the fiction. I didn't have a clear system.

allan said...

The first non-fiction was 3:06. And the next round -- in which I deliberately included a bunch of books from one small section, which would be more difficult -- was 3:20-something, I think. Fiction was 2:15-2:20. We figured both were done in about 5:30. And everything was correct all 3 times.

Since NF and F are not shelved together in a library, I am guessing that there are 2 parts to the test. 30 and 30.

laura k said...

Since NF and F are not shelved together in a library, I am guessing that there are 2 parts to the test. 30 and 30.

This is what my notes from our phone call say:

Shelving test
60 books
30 fiction
30 nonfiction
6 minutes

That's all I know!

johngoldfine said...

Libraries, not falling behind in the new Stakhanovism. Never would have guessed.

I was touched to imagine you and Allan working together, practicing for something that means so much to you.

Alphabet: not that I have ever been likely to have been stopped for DUI, but sometimes I imagine trying to recite the alphabet backwards or recite it leaving out every third letter or whatever the cop field test is for drunkenness. I would definitely fail.

Truth is, sometimes to remember which hand is my right, I have to make a vestigial salute to the flag, just the way I learned in kindergarten, and to get to a sequence of letters in the alphabet, I pretty much have to begin at 'A' and quickly sing my way up to PQRS or whatever, just the way I learned in first grade back in, good god, 1950.

laura k said...

Ah, true confessions! When thinking about giving directions, to tell right from left, I imagine picking up a pen. And I only recently stopped reciting pieces of the alphabet to get JKL and PQRS straight. I don't know how it happened, but in recent years, I can now do this without having to recite the surrounding letters. Thanks, John - now I know I am not alone!

laura k said...

I was touched to imagine you and Allan working together, practicing for something that means so much to you.

Thanks for saying that. I am pleased to say this is our MO. When we were both writing professionally, nothing left the house without the other person editing it - a shared skill we learned over time. We are a good team.

laura k said...

^ process

That's the word I was looking for, not skill.

Soon all I'll be able to do is alphabetize.

Amy said...

That does sound hard but also sort of fun. Do you have to memorize the Dewey decimal system or can you use a cheat sheet? I hope the latter!

I have to look at my hands sometimes to be sure if left and right. (I have a scar on my right wrist.)

Amy said...

Or are the numbers on the books??

I love how you and Allan study together also. We aim to be like that, but sometimes we end up just making each other nervous.

And most importantly, good luck!!

laura k said...

Thank you, Amy!

It's not a cataloguing test. That's a skill of another order entirely. It's just putting the numbers in order, and in the case of fiction, putting the letters in order.

laura k said...

It might be fun if there weren't so much riding on it. The need to be perfect is nerve-wracking.

Amy said...

OK, I was wondering how anyone could memorize those numbers out to the fourth or fifth digit!

It sounds sort of like the bar exam in the sense that you have to memorize for the bar exam, but as a real lawyer you would never rely on your memory alone to give a client advice.

MSEH said...

True Story. My very first real job was shelving books at the public library. When I came back to the circ desk, having shelved the first cart of books, my supervisor didn't believe I could have done it right and went to "read" the shelves to see. Yup, all in order, and neat, too. That was the perfect job for me, really... ;-)