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.

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