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international librarian of mystery

Monday, August 23, 2004

Working for two

Since I stupidly claimed to think that cataloguing was 'stimulating and challenging' when I applied for my current job, I've been seconded into the cataloguing team to cover a gap while one of the old pros - Mrs Strathsprey - is away on maternity leave (she's at least in her late 40s, and this will be her third child, the other two now being in their 20s! There's a whole other story there, I'm sure, but I know nothing of it, minus some fascinating innuendo and tea-room speculation: perhaps another day...).

So, for three mornings a week I'm stuck out the back, doing the thankless task of cataloguing our new books. It's quite good in that it's uninterrupted, and easy to get into a rhythm (especially with my discman on), but quite bad in that it's actually very boring, and even nailing down a dewey number to 7 decimal places no longer gives me the the same satisfaction it did when I was bit of a cataloguing ingenue.

And to make matters worse - Norma (the girl? woman? she's my age - surely I can call her a girl?) - who they've got to do the other half of Mrs Strathsprey's shifts is, for the want of better words: totally useless and awesomely lazy. I thought I was lazy, but, for about three months now I'm pretty sure she hasn't done any work, at all.

Mrs Kambaa, head of the cataloguing department, has a well-laid out 'to-do' list we have to work our way through each week. Things get shifted and prioritised, and sometimes there is work that pops up that isn't on the list, but, I'd say at least three quarters of our total workload does show up on the list, and I'm doing all of it.

I mean, I'm a procrastinator with the best of them, and I'd be lying if I said wasn't this very moment writing about the problem of slacking off at work while actually slacking off at work. But the way I've always worked is that if someone gives you a list of tasks, the trick is to turn what are (realistically) 15 five minute jobs into (believably) 15 one hour tasks. I figure there's some sort of unspoken agreement between employers and highly-skilled-but-underpaid professionals (like, for example, librarians), that allows this sort of give-and-take to go on. But it's the slacker's end of the bargain to get through at least their two or three hours of designated work a week, and not leave it all up to their ever-so-slightly-more-industrious co-worker to rein in the slack.

So yes, I came in this week, and even after two afternoons of uninterrupted time to herself in our shared workspace, nothing in our cubicle area had even moved. The book I had left open for her to complete cataloguing remained open, a sheen of dust over its bibliographic details page. I logged on to the system and clicked through her IE history list. Aha! She'd spent most, if not all of last week browsing around fancy dress sites, playing an online game, checking her hotmail, and (god, no) spending a lot of time on OldFriends and NZDating.

There are, as far as I can see, several solutions to the problem...

1) Dob her in. Tell the boss. Fink. Her Out.
No, not cool, is it?

2) Tell her to pull finger.
If I wasn't so passive-aggressive...

3) Instead of just ticking off each item on the to-do list, also add my initials to indicate that it was me that did the work.
Ohhh, yes, this is far and away my favourite. If, as I suspect, she's fallen out of the habit of looking at the to-do list properly, it could be days before she's onto my little scheme.

The downside to all this is, of course, that once management click onto the fact that I'm doing the work of two, they'll realise that I can do the work of two. Norma will probably get a demotion to permanent shelving or returns or some other library penance job, and I'll be kept on secondment, doing the same hours but the same amount of work.

God, no-one ever told me it would be so tough being competent!