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Check Out: How I Got Started Working for the Library
When most of you walk into the library, you feel it's nice, quiet and the people are so helpful. Everyone also assumes that everyone who works at the library is a librarian. And, the one thing that people love to tell me when I work for the library: "You have the most easiest job in the world." Let's get a few facts straight: yes, I do work at a library but I am not a librarian. I am a branch clerk, the person that's at the front desk who checks out your stuff, discharges your stuff, answers your reference questions, takes abuse and receives praise from the patrons. Clerks are like the first line of defense in the library, the front line because we are the first people the public sees coming into the library. I've been working for the Cleveland Public Library altogether for 11 years and I've been a clerk for 10 of them.
Most of the branches I've worked at were loud and rowdy as hell. And, working for the library is not the easiest job in the world. If you don't know or haven't figured out, anything that involves working with the public is never easy. I deal with people from all walks of life with enough multiple personalities that would even make Sybil scream out, "Shit! These are too many personalities for me to deal with!" They can be the nicest people you've ever met or some of the biggest assholes on the planet. Some are the most intelligent people, some people who think they are the most intelligent but are some of the dumbest people in captivity. I'll admit, I'm coming off as a bitter, burned-out, jaded veteran but I wasn't always this way.
I first started patronizing the Cleveland Public Library's Rice Branch when I was a little kindergartner attending Harvey Rice Elementary School in the late '80s, which was right next door to the library on the corner of East 116th and Buckeye. Also, it was two blocks away from where I lived growing up. My kindergarten teacher Ms. Rasse would take my class and I to the library for story time. We were always greeted by Miss Strong, the librarian, every time we came into the branch. She was a short, genteel older African American woman that wore huge glasses with these heavy-tinted lenses; the lenses shaded both her eyes. She was barely taller than us little five-year-olds. In my five-year-old imagination, I thought she could see anything with them. I had never seen anybody wear glasses that huge.
When I first stepped through the doors of Rice, I felt like I was in another world. All of this information was at my disposal. When she would read the books to us, I saw myself traveling to those places and going back into time. As the theme song for "Reading Rainbow" sang, "I can go anywhere!" This planted the seed in my mind that there was a world beyond the environment I grew up in. Besides reading us books, she would put on these little cartoon short films in the meeting room on the film projector. The meeting was small, it looked more like a conference room for a hotel than a meeting room for a library. I felt like we were a special group of kids because we got a chance to get out of school and go somewhere while my older brothers and the rest of the kids were stuck in class. Plus, we would get out of school early everyday at 1:00 too! Dude, life was good!
My mother would take my older brother Joe and I to the library to check out books on a regular basis as I got into my preteen years. Sometimes we would enter drawings that the library had during the summer. We didn't win any of those drawings. As we got older, we would request many CDs as we could along with some books. My brother and I would record our favorite songs from the CDs to make our own mix tapes. I felt like the library was my own free record store...hell, it was my only record store. As I started getting into my teenage years, I started going to the library less and less because I ended up doing the thing that all teenagers do: I got a part-time job.
I started working at Orban's Flowers in April of 1998. I was happy that I got job so I could start earning my own money but there was only one downside. I started working as soon as I got out of school for Spring Break. When you're 15, working a job is the last thing you want to do on your Spring Break. I applied for the job two months earlier, but I had to get my work permit before I could start working. When I first started at Orban's, I liked working there. It was a loose working atmosphere: nice boss, cool and funny co-workers, listen to the radio and hide out every now and then. But, after working there for over a year, being in a flower shop all day can be claustrophobic for me, so I would escape to Rice. Miss Strong had since been long gone from the library. There was a whole new core at the library. But, there was something new at the library, something that I had never seen before: a computer. Seeing that computer seemed like a whole new world opened for me after watching it on the news.
I would spend my lunch break on the computer surfing the Internet. There were a few times that I stayed on the computer so much that I would be late coming back from my lunch break. Along the way, my best friends Casey, Dewan and I made Rice our hangout, our social club. Along the way we befriended Julian, he was the page at the branch. He would go around the library putting up the books, movies and CDs back on the shelves for the public to check out. I got very interested because after four years working at Orban's, I was ready for a something new. Dewan applied for a page position at the library and got the job in 2002. I applied in 2003, but I didn't hear back from them til a year later.
Mr. Reid, the head page supervisor, interviewed me for the position. I was in my Sunday Best for the interview because I wanted to dress for the job I want, not the one I already had. I felt like I had the swagger of a man who stepped straight outta a GQ cover. I got offered the job in 2004, I wasn't going to take the job at first because I felt that too much time had passed that made me lose interest. But, Dewan chastised me, "You asswipe, you went through all that and not to take the job?! You better take it!" I couldn't argue with my boy so I reconsidered and took the job. Now, I was working two part-time jobs while I was a student at Cuyahoga Community College (aka Tri-C).
After I completed my background check, I started working at the Main Branch located in Downtown Cleveland as a page. There are two branches in one: the Main Branch (the old building) and the Louis Stokes Branch (the new building). I started out my orientation in the basement in Shelf Division. It was located in the basement of Main, and it felt like it because it was underground and invisible. Mr. Eberle and Mr. Acree, the assistant page supervisors, trained me on how to sort the books that by the Dewey Decimal System and the LC (Library of Congress Classification). I spent my first couple of days learning how to sort the books by those filing systems on the book trucks. After my orientation, I was assigned to the Literature Department, the busiest department in Main. Never-ending book trucks filled with books, long pages of the send item list. Being in that department was tough, along with taking a Saturday morning math class at Tri-C (which I eventually dropped), Eberle transferred me to the Fine Arts Department.
Fine Arts was more of my pace because it was more laid-back and not demanding as Lit. Less work flow, shorter send item list and a little bit more quieter. My supervisor wasn't over back watching my every move, that was a huge bonus. Sometimes while i was shelving the books, if a particular book piqued my interest I would quickly skim through it. But, after several months, I realized that I didn't want to be a page forever. I wanted to be a clerk sitting behind the desk checking people out and assisting them with whatever they needed. But, in order to even apply for any library clerk position I had past the typing test. 46 words per minutes, 30 minutes to take the test. Every Friday during my lunch break I would go on the 10th Floor to take the typing test. I thought I would past that test with flying colors because I took a typing class in high school. Boy, how wrong I was; I failed awfully the first time...and the second time...and mediocre the third time. But, the fourth time was going to be the charm. I would not accept failure as an option this time. So, I went back to the 10th Floor that fourth Friday and I passed the typing test, it felt like I was a champion. I thought I would be becoming a clerk in no time.
But, getting a part-time library clerk job would be a tougher challenge that I thought. Over the next year, I went on constant interviews for at any branch looking for a part-time clerk. My first interview was for the part-time clerk position at Rice. My mindset going into the interview was to be cool, confident and collected. That went out the window once the interviewed started, I was nervous as a pastor at a strip club. I was being interviewed by the branch manager and another manger at another branch. I stuttered over my answers to their questions, and I was looking out into space instead of looking at them. I kept on getting rejected for clerk jobs left, right and sideways. In the summer of 2005, I applied for the part-time clerk position at Sterling. I had mad confidence at the interview, but I wasn't sure that I was going to get the job because I had been rejected for many other positions.
One morning, I ran into Dawntae Jackson, a new Human Resources recruiter, at the RTA Rapid station on E. 93rd. After we said our "Good Mornings" to each other, she told me "Come by my office today. I have something to tell you." I was anticipating over what she wanted to tell me like a teenage boy anticipating the first date with the girl he's been trying to hook up with for a long time. Later that day, Dawntae called me in Fine Arts to meet her in her office in Human Resources. "I brought you he to tell you that you got the job at Sterling. Congratulations", she announced to me. I was ecstatic as went back over to Fine Arts with some swagger in my walk and a new beginning was on the rise.