Sunday, June 21, 2020

Library Is Open... But Only To Librarians (COVID Chronicles)

Finally, the lockdown in Malaysia is technically over.

'Technically' because we're still under the Recovery Movement Control Order. Schools are still closed, and entry to public premises is subject to temperature checks, registration, and quotas to allow social-distancing. So there's still a slew of SOPs to follow. Life hasn't gotten back to normal, but has adjusted to a 'new normal' - a term which has caught on everyone's vocabulary and, to be terribly honest, starting to sound increasingly annoying to my ears as the term gets abused as an excuse for everything (together with words like 'traffic jam' and 'technical difficulties').

Yes, for those who know me well or read enough of my ramblings, you can already guess where this is going - yet another rant!

Well, since this is going to be one of those blistering 'no-holds-barred' and 'take-no-prisoners' hit piece, you can either stop reading or grab some popcorn. FYI this piece is the first of (probably) a long chain of stories called the 'COVID Chronicles' - about life during the 'new normal' ranging between dark comedy (like this one) and uplifting inspiration (next one, I promise). I added the cautionary caveat 'probably' because there's a high chance I'll receive a stern letter to cease-and-desist soon enough...


With or without social distancing

Photo by Ivo Rainha


* * *

Okay, enough of introductions. Story time!

So last week, I tried to enter the library, at the university where I work. The lights were on, figures hovered at the counter. Great! BOOKS, GLORIOUS BOOKS, HERE I COME!

As soon as I pushed the glass door, a shout rang out: "LIBRARY CLOSED!"

Oh, is that right? I stopped in my tracks. Another shout from the counter: "READ THE SIGN!"

Dutifully, I took a step back. My eyes furtively traced the many papers plastered on the glass door. True enough, one said: "Library closed until further notice".

I nudged the glass door open slightly again, poked back my head, and meekly asked: "When will the library again?"

The voice barked back brusquely "Waiting for orders!"

I walked away, dazed and confused. But the university is up and running. All staff (including myself) have to report back to duty, every day. So why is the library closed?

My mind ran through a few explanations. I used to be a Junior Head Librarian back at high school (not something that I'll proudly put in my CV). Just to highlight that I know a thing or two about, ahem, libraries (not something I'll put on my Tinder profile).

All learning has turned to e-learning and students are not allowed on campus, so no point opening? True, but other users like lecturers need to use the library too, right?

Maybe they're closed for annual stock-taking? Possible, but the university library never ever closed for this reason, stock-taking takes a few days or week at most (and surely not 'indefinitely'), and in any event, the librarians are just chilling around inside doing nothing.

Maybe they're worried books will get contaminated by our filthy virus-laden hands? Valid concern, but they can easily require users to send back the books at the counter for sterilisation after use (in Japan last year, I actually saw this cool sterilising device at a public library).

Er... rats? Okay, I'm really running out on excuses already...


* * *

Fine, closing the library is one thing. But then why even operate the library then?

So apparently, the library 'opens' every morning, and 'closes' at about 4.00 pm. All the librarians clock in and clock out as usual. They take turns sitting at the counter as usual. They're on duty as usual.

The only difference is that no-one else can enter the library. And no books can be borrowed.

Pretty silly SOP, right? The library is ordered to stay closed, but the librarians are ordered to come to work.

I get it. We need to slowly adjust to the 'new normal' (pfft... that word again!). We need time to get back to our old routine. We have to put SOPs in place before we throw our doors wide open.

Then just close the library. Why waste electricity? What's wrong giving the librarians an extended holiday (not like we do anything much on normal days anyway)? Why not open a few days a week for people to borrow books by request at the counter without entering the library?


Eat, sleep, read, repeat...


* * *

In the end, I managed to get the book I wanted from a (much smaller) private library of an office. And here's a funny irony - a friend who worked at the office dropped by the university library for further research, and got turned away the same way I did. When she told me about her experience, I signed: "I'm actually coming by your office later to get a book". Private library 1 Public library 0...

So that's my rant for the week. Left me in such a foul mood and inspired me to write a comedy skit about librarians. This one's purely fictional, of course. And not directed at librarians personally, but administrators as a whole. Stock up your popcorn, and enjoy!

Scene: Intern in a law firm library. Grumpy-looking bespectacled man on duty at counter.

Intern: I need to borrow this book

Librarian: Please enter this form.

Intern: Sure... *reaches for pen*

Librarian: Hm... I do not recall seeing you before?

Intern: Oh, I just came in this week for my internship.

Librarian: Intern? HOW DARE YOU!!! *snatches pen back*

Intern: Er... what?

Librarian: DID YOU NOT READ THE SIGN? INTERNS NOT ALLOWED TO BORROW BOOKS!

Intern: Oh. Right. They didn't tell us during on-boarding. Anyways, I was just getting the book for my supervisor, Mark.

Librarian: Mark? Mark of the 12th Apostles? Mark Antony? Mark Twain?

Intern: No, it's Mark from Trade and Shipping. Er, senior associate, tall, funky specs...

Librarian: And I'm supposed to just trust you that no-surname Mark sent you? Do you have a Letter of Authorization? Signed and notarised?

Intern: Er, notarised? Are you kidding... Look, he was in a rush...

Librarian: REQUEST DENIED! No letter, no book! Library rules and regulations. Since 1999. Revised in 2003, 2009, 2012 and 2017. But none of the amendments are relevant to your request...

Intern: Er, well, I can just give Mark a call, and he can...

Librarian: NO PHONE CALLS IN THE LIBRARY! RULE 4.67!

Intern: Omo... Er, I'll just zip up and tell Mark to call you... *panicking*

Librarian: CALL ME? Oh, does Mark think it beneath his stature to make a request in person? Perhaps he did not venture to read Regulation 23.47 which clearly sets out the procedure...

Intern: Oh no, I'm sure he would come himself, but just that he had a lot of work this morning...

Librarian: Oh? Are you suggesting that other people do not have work? *half-turns and waves a hand imperiously over the empty library desks and chairs behind*

Intern: Oh no, course not! I'm sure the library gets very busy later in the day... *flashes a weak smile*

Librarian: Most certainly, Intern! Books do not rearrange themselves, see? This is not Hogwarts. No AI robot can climb safely up the step ladder to reach the top shelf...

Intern: Er, yes. Ha ha. I'm sure you're very busy. I better leave... *slowly backs away*

Librarian: HALT, INTERN! THOU CANNOT LEAVE! NOT WITHOUT SIGNING OFF THE LOG BOOK!

Intern: Omo... I didn't see anyone at the counter when I...

Librarian: Hm... I do not see any name in today's column... *squints hard at log book*

Intern: Whoops.... Omo... Er, guess I better get going, thanks, bye... *slowly tiptoes away*

Librarian: COME BACK! ENTERING WITHOUT PRIOR REGISTRATION! RULE 9.2 VIOLATION! MAXIMUM SUSPENSION OF ONE MONTH!

Intern: Omo, omo... *runs to the elevator and frantically punches the button*



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