lattes to libraries.

01Sep09

I’ll admit it:  there have been sparse, fleeting occasions on which the daily grind of jerking lattes has gotten the best of me.  In the twenty-seven months that I’ve been at this job, I can recall one or two days that found me struggling to put my apron on.  I can even recollect one instance wherein, just for a moment, I felt indignation toward a customer.  Shameful, I know, but we’re all friends here, right?

I was musing on these ephemeral negative temperaments the other day, daydreaming about finally receiving that piece of paper and starting my life as a librarian.  As my branches of thought grew and intertwined, something occurred to me.  I realized just how much my current gravy train is preparing me for my chosen career.  While this examination is alarming and terrifying for me, it’s ultimately beneficial.  Hey, maybe this whole ordeal will actually make me a better librarian.

The Red-Tape Maze

This must exist everywhere.  Bureaucracy  seems to be the undertow in education, government, business, and so on into infinity.  Learning to deal with it in my current situation has been arduous, but I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to test these waters in a non-professional setting.  At my coffee place gig, I’ve squirmed and fussed at new corporate policies, employment hierarchies, and stacks of forms and logs that seem to do little more than impede my efficiency.  Knowing that I will never be pleased with every decision made by the higher-ups, I’m starting to take this opportunity to practice my professionalism.  If I can perfect this now, I’ll be free to focus on librarying when the time comes.

Working With Others

When I was working at my undergrad library, there was a pretty clear division between the student workers and the librarians.  We all got along, but there were things that remained in their respective groups without question.  This changed during the summer, when I worked more closely with the librarians (not to mention the fact that they outnumbered us).  Joining in their discourse was like the first Thanksgiving you get to sit at the adults’ table.  I was in awe and reverence at the opportunity, so I tried to keep my mouth shut most of the time.

As a senior tutor in the Writing Center, I always felt like a liaison of sorts between the professors, the tutors, and the students.  My fellow senior tutors could tell you what an interesting position this was, because we had to be on everyone’s side all at once.  Discretion was key, and it was a role I reveled in.  I learned a lot about workplace relationships during this time, given the variety of groups that I encountered on a regular basis.

Man, I miss that job.

Moving right along…

At the coffee place, the dynamic is a lot different.  There are about a dozen of us who perform basically the same tasks over and over again in overlapping shifts.  While I might go a week or two without seeing someone, we generally see each other on a regular basis.  If something gets missed, someone else has to pick up the slack immediately, because all of us are there with the same objective.  I’ve found that interpersonal conflict is much more obvious in this situation, and it’s easy to get sucked into it.  Now that I’m cognizant of it all, I’m making an honest attempt to stay neutral.  Again, if I can get this sorted out amidst such friction, it will be a lot easier when I get into a library.  It also has the benefit of improving the climate at work, which is always groovy.

Customer Service

The most obvious and frightening common thread between being a barista and becoming a librarian is that the clientele is virtually identical.  Customers and patrons are interchangeable, which is great in a lot of ways.  Many of my customers are quite alright.  I enjoy our brief encounters, and I genuinely dig making good drinks for these people.

In a lot of ways, though, this is good practice for what might be one of the more frustrating aspects of librarianship.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people forget their manners when talking to someone who is serving them.  While many people come in to make their bad days better, it seems as though just as many come into pass their bad days onto us.  I’m learning to be patient and courteous with these people, something that is admittedly a challenge for me.  I’ve always believed that respect is mutual, but I’m entering an environment when I have to extend it to everyone, whether or not they give it back to me.  My current employment offers me substantial opportunities to practice this.

Of course, there are a number of memorable customers who teach you how to deal with complete surprises.  These have made for some excellent stories, and keep things from getting too stagnant.  I know that these are preparing me for the future, especially after swapping tales with the librarians who have mentored me over the past few years.  I have no shortage of my own memorable encounters.  There’s the porn guy, who used our wi-fi to check out websites that are in no way appropriate for viewing in public.  One woman was deemed “the pooper”, for reasons that you could probably guess, but I’m too much of a lady to explain.  We get occasional visits from a mute man who is decidedly against mobile phones:

And No-Pants Latte, the customer who reached into his pants to retrieve payment:

no-pants

Perhaps all of this is just impetus to keep going into work, but it seems like I might actually be onto something here.  If I start looking at work as additional professional development, I can conceivably get better at both.

Or maybe I’ll just enjoy my time in an environment that’s not quite so serious.

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