Let Your Psychiatric Disorder Work For You!

Stuffy?  Me???

There are so many stereotypes about librarians.  They are stuffy old women covered in cobwebs, armed with date due stamps, shushing everyone, maniacally hoarding their books and looking suspiciously at those who dare to check them out, etc.  I have to say that some of these stereotypes are not true.  Not all librarians are old, although they all get that way if they stay long enough.  Some of the other things, well, let’s just say the stereotypes often develop from at least a grain of truth.

 Don Borchert, a librarian, wrote a hilarious, yet somewhat frightening expose on public libraries in a big city.  His book, Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library, details his musings about everything from the weird patrons to his equally weird (but lovable of course) coworkers.  At one point he points out that it is really useful when your psychiatric disorders actually help you in your job.  He’s right.  Maybe not every librarian is old (or a woman as Don shows), but most of them share one thing in common.  They’re mental cases.  Here’s some examples:

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

According to the first site I googled (research skills at work!), http://www.helpguide.org/, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform.”  Huh.  What repetitive, ritualized behaviors could librarians do?  I mean, it’s not like we perform the same tasks day after day after day after day.  Oh, uh, wait.  Here’s some of the symptoms:
  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need.
  • Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right.”
  • Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
  • Ordering or arranging things “just so.”
  • Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers.
These books are not straight. 
Someone will pay

Yeah, that’s nothing like librarians!  I mean, just because most like to shelve books in a certain way (all edges lined up on the end of the shelf, sitting up ramrod straight and tight, but not too tight, with the call number showing) means absolutely nothing.  Not even if they have to periodically check on this, dusting and cleaning and straightening books, even if they aren’t in their library, or even a library for that matter.  And when they see that  a book is say, shoved in backwards, or maybe when they start to tumble over, or possibly someone squeezed a book in too tightly, wrinkling the pages or scratching that brand new dust cover, or loosening the call number sticker, or getting chocolate fingerprints on a brand, new expensive book that BY GOD TOOK THEM A LONG TIME TO PROCESS, CATALOG, AND CAREFULLY PLACE ON THE SHELF DO YOU THINK ELVES DO THIS JOB WELL NO IT’S YOUR LOCAL UNDERPAID LIBRARIAN, THAT’S WHO! 

Yeah, no problems there.  But what about accumulating junk?  Well, to really see this in action takes more than just a librarian that hasn’t weeded her collection in a decade or three (O.J. Simpson in the children’s sports hero section, for instance).  To really see massive accumulations of junk, you have to be an archivist.  I work in Special Collections, which is not a collection of books that belong on the short bus, but a different word for archives.  If other librarians have some difficulty deciding what to keep or throw away, archivists literally cannot throw anything away.  Because, as the History Channel so cleverly pointed out – history is made today!

We have rather loose standards for what goes into archives.  Obviously we want materials that are relevant to our university.  But relevant is often implied through degrees of separation.  So we have a book that has nothing to do with the university, wasn’t written by anyone having something to do with the university, but was once owned by someone who had something to do with the university.  Or who had wanted to do something with the university.  Or who donated a lot of money and / or is elderly.  And it just stands to reason that if one copy of such a book is good, then multiple copies are even better.  What if one gets ruined?  We’d need spares!  So we store them all in boxes – in the same place!

I found it!  Hey, where’d
the patron go?

So our archives room is stuffed to the gills with these treasures.  And don’t get me wrong, there are true treasures in there, like yearbooks from 1910, back when it was hard to tell the students from the profs because everybody dressed nicely, and engaged in debate instead of football.  (Yes, there was a time when sports were not the highest priority at an institute of higher learning!)  Also, there’s the old issues of our school newspaper, back when people cared about news, and bitched at each other through editorials and letters to the editor, back and forth, sometimes for six or seven issues in a row.  Basically, it was the precursor to our modern online message boards.  So that’s why there are stacks of newspapers in there – they’re important newspapers, thank you very much.  Not just some uncontrolled mess of regular newspapers stacked to the ceiling.

Our archives room

However, there’s a lot of other stuff in there, stuff that is important, or maybe important, but we just haven’t figured out how to organize it properly yet.  Or where to put it when it is organized.  Or maybe it’s a cart of books that got tossed in there because our “workroom” is also a fancy room where we have luncheons and must be periodically cleaned out.  So it’s difficult to find what we need in there, what with the stacks of unorganized stuff, and the fact that there is no light because light would damage the treasures.  Not that this matters, since there is rarely time for organization anyway.  And when we get a few spare minutes to try, we start having panic attacks, and run out as fast as possible.  Basically, it’s a hoarder’s room, but one that, rather than being forced to be torn down by the city, is actually sponsored by the state.

I can’t say I have these disorders to the extent that some of my coworkers do.  For one thing, sometimes the saving of EVERYTHING (for a while we had some archival thirty-year-old rubberbands in the supply closet, but I threw those out, shhhh) kind of gets to me.  Maybe because it reminds me of my cluttered house.  And while I care about this history deeply, and want it respected and maintained, sometimes I don’t have quite as much enthusiasm for making everything look perfect.  I’m not a perfectionist, at least not in everything.  My motto has generally been “good enough for government work”.  You will find that this does not go over well with most librarians.  There is a perfect, and by golly, you’re going to maintain it or deal with the wrath of your coworkers. 

No, no, no, you’re being
fesitve all wrong!

So I usually go along pretty well, because I’m good at obeying authority.  Though I will admit to a slight rebellious streak.  When decorating the library Christmas tree, we use paper decorations (that have been meticulously saved for years and are ironed out before decorating) that we put on in a specific order.  The swirly paper decorations are smaller, and make good accent and fill-in pieces, so are not to be put on the tree until after all the other pieces.  I was informed of this during a group decorating session.  So when they weren’t looking, I put the swirly pieces up first anyway.  Just because.

So then is OCD the only disorder useful to librarians?  Not in the least!  I’m sure I can find others.  Just let me look up the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  I’m sure we have a copy, in just the right place, sitting up nice and straight.

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