Sunday, January 4, 2009

Margaret Mead

I occasionally feel like an anthropologist at work, a visitor from the distant land of Rational, observing the strange customs and beliefs of the Elderly Volunteer. I learned something today that cemented that feeling.

It all started this morning when I was informed by two of the Friends that I was to tell P (the other librarian) not to go into the booksale room and take the books that N (the woman who runs the monthly booksale) had brought in. Apparently he was taking boxes' worth of books out, and N works very hard to bring those books in, and it's their only source of income.*

Heh. I can't say for certain that P** isn't going and taking entire boxes of books, but I'm pretty darn sure he isn't. And I'm not either. I do go down and take books out of donations that other people have made, but in those cases, the person has donated the books to the institution as a whole, and in that case, the library gets first dibs.

What this is, of course, is a rehashing of the old conflict over whether donated books should go to the library or the booksale. Because according to F, the (senile) president of the Friends, the library has plenty of books, and therefore they should go to the booksale. The fact that the library might occasionally benefit from new books, and donations are my only source of new children's books doesn't signify. It's a fascinating example of how a friends group can get so caught up in their activities that they actually wind up attempting to compete with the very organization they were formed to support.

Anyway, I was talking about this to R, one of the museum workers who talks more to N than I do, and decided from what she was saying was that this was simply yet another repetition of a constant theme from these people instead of stemming from a new incident. But I also learned something absolutely insane:

The incident I linked to above where N was so upset about books being taken from the booksale for the library was over a couple very nice Julia Child cookbooks that I had cataloged but hadn't personally acquired. I was under the impression at the time that my boss had seen them and decided they were too nice to sell for fifty cents and took them for the library. But no. Apparently R had BOUGHT them, and then donated them to the library. N was terribly upset about books that had been paid for, because they ultimately ended up in the library. And today when R was down at the booksale buying some books and mentioned that she might donate some of the books she was buying to the library after she had read them, F's shocked response was "You can't DO that, can you?"

This is so insane that all I can do is stand and gape in befuddlement. Yes, once R has bought a book, she owns it and do anything she wants with it, including burning it for heat, tearing out pages to use for toilet paper, or *gasp*, give it to the library. I don't know why they spend so much time with their knickers in a twist over the idea of a library acquiring books, but they can tie them into an entire Boy Scout manual full of knots for all I care. My boss, the person who actually runs the museum, says I get first crack at the donations, so that's that.

My method of dealing with them this morning was to use my patented Smile Noncommittally and Nod approach. If things come to a pass where that's not enough, I'll calmly explain who the donations actually belong to when they're donated to the museum and library (here's a hint: the museum and library, not its support group). And add that one great way to get me to stop taking donated books is to give me money to buy books. To actually do what they were formed to do and support the library, since I don't think I've seen an example of that since I started working there.***

*This last is what is technically known as a Gigantic Lie, and I don't know what she was thinking when she said it, or how she had the nerve to say it to me as I stood surrounded by the pens, greeting card, stationary, t-shirts, charms, informative booklets and bookmarks all for sale with profits going to the Friends, not to mention the basket for the fundraising raffle (brought in at the open house in December, one of our several fundraising events) not twenty feet away from me. If she really wants me to believe they survive on the twenty bucks a month the booksale room brings in, I'm a little insulted at her opinion of my intelligence.

**As an aside, I'm really not sure why they assumed P was taking the books and not me. Unless it was their passive aggressive way of telling me to keep my thieving hands off their books.

***In fairness, they do quite a lot and we appreciate having them. It's just all the support they give is to the museum, and I get a little tired of being treated like the entryway to the museum rather than an actual important part of the organization.

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