As promised to my donors, I am recording the details of my volunteer service from Alternative Spring Break this week.
I spent my week volunteering at the Wayne County Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH). The Library wanted to consolidate all of their policies and procedures into a password protected website. This would serve multiple purposes including training new employees, allowing policies and procedures to be hyperlinked to one another, giving them a space in which only one copy of the policy and procedure manual would need to be updated in order for everyone to see the changes, and a more accurate accounting of updates.
I started on Monday, March 3 and because I was staying in the Southeast Michigan region this year, I commuted. The library is closer to Monroe than school and I could park on site so my commute was about 45 minutes one way. I drove from Monroe to Westland (the library is located near the border of Westland and Inkster on Michigan Ave). About the time I got to Canton I realized that I was still freezing cold. Because I had already promised a week of full-time work to this project, I won’t be able to take my car into the shop until next week. We did check the fluid levels to make sure nothing vital was going to break. Next week I’ll commute to school with Scott and drop off the car at the mechanic. I was glad for the days that had sunshine this week because it helped warm the car somewhat.
I got to the library with no other incidents and realized I was not that far from where my friends used to live in Garden City. This meant that I didn’t even get
lost! Upon arriving, I met the Regional Librarian, Vanessa. She gave me a tour of the library and introduced me to the staff. I spent that day organizing the pile of paperwork she gave me to add to the online site (identifying duplicates, trying to determine what the most recent versions were, etc.). The library is dependent on the help of volunteers following massive layoffs and furlough requirements several years ago. The volunteer on my first day was also a patron of the library. As she worked, her companion dog laid down on a little rug next to her workspace. Before I knew it, there was (not so) soft snoring drifting up from the floor behind me.
I finished that day and drove back home to Monroe. I quickly came to realize that the chair I had been assigned at the library did no favors for my back. I was stiff and had some back cramps by the time I got out of the car again. So I stretched, drugged up and was in bed by 8:30 p.m. So exciting, my life, I’m tellin’ ya. The rest of the week is past the jump.
The next day (Fat Tuesday, paczki provided by Vanessa), I continued to add new pages to the website. Due to staff turnover and fidelity loss, the electronic versions of many of the policies and procedures were available only in paper format. That meant an awful lot of typing for me as the week continued. The other librarian at the library had a day off on Monday, so I got to meet her for the first time on Tuesday instead. She told me the story of how she came to be a librarian at the LBPH over lunch. It was quite interesting and if you get a chance to talk to Sue ask her about it. As we talked, she was quite passionate in her appreciation and love for the work being done by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), of which the library is a part. She said she thought this was the best money the government had ever spent. She gets testimonials from patrons often about how much the service means to them and how it has changed their lives. It was nice to be a little part of that for this week.
However, while we were changing lives, I was also slowly mutilating my back with this chair. I tried to adjust it, but it wouldn’t go anywhere (up, down, tilt, nothing). So, trying to avoid the back cramps of yesterday, I made a point to get up every 1 to 2 hours and walk down the hall, or go walk the length of the parking lot a couple of times. By the time I got home, it was back to the Aleve and stretching. I ate dinner and fell asleep in my chair while waiting for my computer to boot up so I could do some grading. I decided to throw in the towel and go to bed early again that night.
Wednesday was more of the same, although I was getting excited at the prospect of a shrinking stack of paperwork. Much of the work that I was doing was hampered if I thought too hard about the contents of what I was typing. This made for quite repetitive work. Not unexpectedly, it made me wish I was playing video games. In that setting at least the repetitive work comes with pretty graphics, haha. So I continued the grind and tried to keep my brain from twisting into knots as I nested lists 3 and 4 levels deep (my dreams should be a parade of unordered and ordered list tags). Today the volunteers came in a group. They were adults with a variety of developmental disabilities. This library has a much different feel than other libraries in which I’ve worked. Because most of the materials are received and distributed by mail it feels like a distribution warehouse to some extent. A lot of time is spent verifying returns and prepping orders for shipping. The volunteers help do that verification by checking to make sure the cartridges are in the right cases, etc.
Thursday was when I found out that staff were still on furlough days. They are unionized and contract negotiations aren’t until summer. So furlough days will remain until at least August when the current contract expires. I finished adding the last of the policies and procedures today and then started to go back and catalog what was there, as well as clean up my log of anomalies and missing things that I had been keeping track of in a Google doc shared with the Regional Librarian. Today was the first day that I really noticed how quiet the library was. I was very tempted to pull up Pandora, but the speed at which regular web pages load decided me against it.
Finally, on Friday, I cleaned up everything I had loaded into the site after conferring with the Regional Librarian about preferences for architecture and style details for the finished product. There were still some job duties for which there was no procedure available, but I was able to populate the majority of the site with the policies and procedures. I made some suggestions for additions that were not in evidence as being planned in the new policies such as professional development and employee evaluation. The site architecture was interesting because they wanted the final product to be in chunks relatively related to the job duties for
staff. This made for about 7 menu categories, but like anytime you try to impose arbitrary organization in a hyperlinked world, the reductive quality of the menu had
me shuffling pages several times and linking across multiple subjects when necessary.
Now my experience is done and I feel like I made a difference at that library. A small difference yes, but I was able to get one of those nagging to-do items into a much closer state of completeness for the Regional Librarian. It will hopefully also save time as they bring in new interns in the near future. As always I enjoyed my Spring Break, regret that I didn’t have more time “off” and wouldn’t trade a minute of it. Thank you to everyone who was so generous with their space and money in sponsoring or promoting the donor campaign. I couldn’t have done this without your help for the last two years!