ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 3, March 2003) -

*My View from the Back Room*


Carol Borzyskowski
Winona Public Library Associate II
Winona, MN

Meetings, you say?

I have often thought about all the meetings that executives, and managers attend. Meetings seem to be such a big function of their job. And they are, but here my febrile brain takes a giant leap and declares THAT IS THEIR JOB. The day to day mundane operations are delegated out to the support staff! So, one of the good things about being a lowly support staff person (and yes, that is a contrast in terms) is the fact that I have very few meetings to attend. I just work. In fact, quite frequently it seems like I drudge.

The only meetings I usually attend are the occasional staff meetings. I imagine that somewhere in a parallel universe there exist a place similar to this library--but not this library of course-- where the meetings are productive and meaningful, and one comes out of a meeting knowing more than when one went in, and this would be a good thing.

However here in this library, we mostly sputter, shuffle papers, and try to keep awake during staff meeting. I frequently compose poems in my head and let my mind float among the dust motes caught in the slanting sunrays reflecting on the glass topped table we are sitting around. Anything meaningful and affecting policy is usually determined in the back room, or on a whim by whomever is/was in charge at the time. Then the rest of us just have to deal with the consequences.

Things might change now that we have a new director, and he seems to think we might actually want to be communicated with and kept up to date with current events affecting the library. Imagine that! I may not have to bring in my Turkish prayer beads to amuse myself anymore. I might actually have need to jot down a few notes.

About attending meetings--and yes I am getting to the heart or premise of this column-- for some reason I am now heavily involved in them. Meetings, I mean. Suddenly I find myself on the Union Negotiating Team, and I am on "Team_Policy" regarding our consortiaís switchover from the Old DRA Classic System to a new Dynix system. It also turns out the "Team_Policy" is supposed to attend "Team_Bib" and "Team_Circ" meetings. All of which means time away from my desk and my daily duties. Wow, just like a big-time manager I thought.

In fact it has been enlightening. I am gaining a whole new perspective on my job in general. The union negotiations are not going well. Minnesota is in financial trouble, and this filters down to the city level. And when our very own State Auditor classifies LIBRARIES as NON-ESSENTIAL, and the State Library powers are being cut and slashed, well folks, we donít find ourselves bargaining from a position of power.

Our union (AFSCME) is clerical, and not rough and tough to begin with. BUT, the City Manager brought in his hired Big Gun whose only stance is NO!, CUT, and TAKE IT OR WALK, and we are left hanging in the wind. Plus I have to leave that meeting, all despondent, and come back to my overloaded desk and do all the stuff I normally do. I donít have an administrative assistant, like the people who usually attend meetings all the time. I am the person delegated to.

I have no idea when we will have another Union Negotiating Meeting but March is the month when things really start to heat up on the platform switchover. As we move closer to changing to the new Dynix system we have a weeklong series of meetings. Again, it appears that "Team_Policy" is required to attend every meeting, everyday, all week. I am pretty excited about that, because I will actually get to learn first-hand what is going on, and I will get a feel for how I am going to have to change to do my job. But, with the budget cuts, there is NO overtime, so I have to take a day off in there somewhere.

After the week of meetings we should be able to start training staff (more meetings) on how to use the new system, which is going live--- PRAISE THE HEAVENS! --- On September 2nd whether we are ready or not. Did I mention, the daily work that will be waiting back at my non-essential library desk, for the "discretionary" (the City Managerís word for us non-essential employees) employee if no one has any free time to pitch in and sort things out for me?

My whole meeting experience has really broadened my outlook and given me some valuable experience. What is most important to me is feeling that I am getting needed information directly. For instance I actually get to help set policy for all the libraries in our group. Amazing, and here I am with my BA in English, and I get to help set policy. I appreciate the chance to serve on the committee and go to the meetings, as the outcome will directly effect my job and how I do that job. In fact the same thing goes for the negotiating team meetings, how close can you get to deciding how things are going to effect your job?

I hope to be able to help convince the general public that libraries are vital, and they need us. And more and more I realize how vital support staff is to operating a library. I mean we take what we have, are given, or can snatch back from those who want to close us down and offer an ESSENTIAL SERVICE to the public who are blithely unaware that we are not. We donít delegate, we do!

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