25 June 2009

The E.A.G.E.R. Beaver Award

A sad chapter in the history of our fine organization can now be told. Brace yourself: it's not a pretty tale.

It was 2003, or maybe late 2002, and all employees were sent to training sessions to learn about respecting one another. In the spirit of mutual respect, we were told, a new program was starting up. Inspired by the acronym E.A.G.E.R. (Everyone Always Gets Equal Respect, isn't that clever?), the Administration had reared back and created the "Eager Beaver" award.

(No, wait, it gets better.)

Here's how it would work. There were three "Eager Beaver" awards, which would be sent out to three deserving staffers who had...demonstrated respect? deserved respect? inspired respect in others? The criteria were a bit vague. Each of those staffers would pick another deserving recipient and send the Beaver award along. And so it would go, like a great game of tag, until everyone had received the award.

To add to the fun, each Beaver award came with a little notebook detailing its travels. When you sent someone the award, you were supposed to write the date, the recipient's name, and what they had done to deserve the honor. Everyone who received the award was supposed to share these inspirational anecdotes with those around them. The result would be a positive pandemic of respect.

And the trophy that our administration chose to symbolize how much they respected us?

A stuffed beaver.

Three of them, in fact. In airtight tupperware containers.

I am NOT making this up.

Each E.A.G.E.R. Beaver Award was an actual plush beaver stuffed animal, about half lifesize (as near as anyone could tell).

Perhaps the definitive statement on the whole concept was made by an anonymous coworker at the meeting I attended. (No, it wasn't me.) When the administration proudly showed off the Beaver triplets nestled in their adorable little coffins, the staff's stunned silence was broken by a female voice saying, "Oh, my, what an unfortunate choice of animal."

Unfortunate or not, the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver awards continued for over a year. (One staffer joked that E.A.G.E.R. really stood for "Everyone Always Gets Exasperating Rodents.")

In their travels, the Beavers somehow acquired various accoutrement. One got multiple piercings in ears, nose, tail...any appendage that stuck out. Another showed up with a beehive wig and a tiny cigarette. And yet another one didn't survive his journey: when the coffin was opened, his eyes were little X's and there was a stake in his heart.

After a while, the originator and champion of the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award parlayed her success into a cushy position as Director of a cozy little town library somewhere in the wild of New England, where presumably she was able to watch real beavers in their natural habitat.

Her poor successor not only had to keep the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award going (on life support, as it were), but she had to deal with an increasing barrage of beaver-related humor.

First, there was a letter from the law firm of Castor, Canadensis, and Claustrum. Although this entry is getting long, I feel honor-bound to quote:
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dentis T. Canadensis of the law firm of Castor, Canadensis, and Claustrum.

It has come to our attention that our client, Bucky B. Beaver, has been in the employ of [your organization] for several years without receiving the pay that is legally due him.

We calculate that Mr. Beaver has served at least 5,850 hours without due recompense for his services. At Federal Minimum Wage of $5.15/hour, Mr. Beaver’s back pay currently amounts to $30,127.50.

If you do not remit the above sum in a prompt manner, our firm will have no choice but to begin legal proceedings.

Please note: In lieu of the full sum of $30,127.50, the equivalent in birch and soft pine is also acceptable.

I anxiously await your reply.

Next, a new casket appeared on her desk, with a previously-unknown stuffed beaver and the attached note:
Hello. I am Betty Beaver.

My ex-husband, Bucky Beaver, has not paid child support for the last three years. The no-good son-of-a-gun ran out on me in 2001, and I’ve been looking for him ever since.

Recently, someone told me that he was working for your [organization].

So where is the b*st*rd?? I’m not leaving until I get some answers!

Postcards began arriving from Bucky Beaver, sent from various locations all around the country. Most were variations on the theme "Having a great time, wish you were here."

Eventually I found a source for plush beaver finger puppets and ordered a dozen or so. They started showing up in interoffice mail, each holding a little sign that said "Where is my daddy?"

In the fullness of time, with an upcoming full staff meeting and its associated gathering of the clans, the administration issued a memo calling for the return of the Three Beavers. Then there was another memo, its tone a trifle more pleading. Finally came the personal appeal, passed down through the Managers: where are the Beavers?

To my knowledge, only one of the Beavers was ever recovered in one piece. I believe its remains were cremated in a private ceremony.

And that is the story of the short-lived E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award.

19 June 2009

Team Achievement Award Nomination 2009

I'm sending in the following nomination for the Team Incentive Award. I urge everyone to nominate this team for the award. Use your own wording, or feel free to borrow mine.

I nominate the following team for the Incentive Award for Team Achievement for 2009:

Name: Staff Association

Members of the Team: Too numerous to list

1. Criteria: Teamwork
Description: When AACPL had budget problems, the Staff Association stepped up to fund the Individual and Team Awards. Since we paid for it, I figure we should give it to ourselves.

2. Criteria: Creative Change

Description: When AACPL had budget problems, the Staff Association stepped up to fund the Individual and Team Awards. Since we paid for it, I figure we should give it to ourselves.

15 June 2009

Summer Reading Program 1996(?)

Before the national program, before Sneaks, before the statewide program...even before it was a Club...every year we chose our own theme and had a Summer Reading Program. This year, which may or may not have been 1996 (does anyone know for sure?), the theme was "Be a Monster Reader." (Click picture to embiggen.)

ABOVE: Long before Sneaks, we had the Reading Monster. It was a very computer-literate monster.

This was back in the days when every branch library in our state had a high-tech computer (complete with CD-ROM drive, wooooo) for searching the interlibrary loan system. No, not through the Internet (wazzat?), but on the CD.

ABOVE: A very courteous monster it was. And a good library user, too.

ABOVE: In this long-ago era, children's toys were made of wood. (No, not really.)

09 June 2009

Roast of Marion McFaden

This is the roast I presented at the retirement ceremony for the legendary Marion McFaden sometime in mid-1983. To those who loved and feared her, Marion was known as "the M." For the sake of anonymity, I've disguised the names of branches and people who might still be alive. About one-third of this is exaggerated; the rest, sadly, is all too true. Please note: This was in a simpler time when Branch Managers were Branch Librarians, there were no computers or three-letter branch codes; a time when men were men, women were women, and Librarians were terror-inducing figures who weren't afraid to pucker up and give the whole world a great big Ssshhhhhh!!!


My first exposure to Marion McFaden was in 1974, when I was a green and innocent page at the Airport Branch, fifteen and a half years old, and she was already Branch Librarian at McKinsey. When in the course of my duties I first entered the basement of the Airport Branch, I was confronted by a sign what said "DO NOT CLOSE THIS DOOR -- M. McFaden." Little did I know that this was only the first in a long series of M's signs that would haunt my days.

There were simple signs: "This door must not be unlocked." "Return these scissors or lose your life." And my personal favorite, "Do not drip on the toilet seat." There were authoritative signs: "Anything left in the sink will be thrown out!" and "Refer all scheduling complaints to M. McF." And there were the charmingly M-ish signs: "Godammit, if I ever find out who left these magic markers on my desk, I'll stuff them one at a time down your throat!!!!!" Even patrons weren't immune from such cheerful notices as "DO NOT PUT BOOKS IN THIS SLOT WHEN LIBRARY IS OPEN" and "NO STAPLE REMOVING ON COPY MACHINE. Use Table. Staples have been the cause of THREE RUINED ROLLERS."

M has always known how to take proper action to deal with any circumstances. On her first day on the job, back in nineteen mumble-mumble, she was assigned to help on the bookmobile. Well, in the course of the run it broke down, causing a traffic backup the equal of later lineups at the Bay Bridge. While her supervisor struggled to repair or move the stranded bookmobile, M seized upon the root of the problem and responded by standing in the middle of the road and laughing.

Later came another example of M's ability to do the right thing at the right time. She was in the children's room helping a young boy, when the kid chose that moment to upchuck. M, never one to be outdone, leaned over next to the lad and vomited herself.

I don't want to give the impression that the big M doesn't know how to cope. Indeed, coping is the best thing she does. And she quite often forces others to cope a bit more.

When Esther King needed someone to run the Airport Branch out of an old trains station, M was picked. And run it she did, with the legendary McFaden iron fist. I thinkit was at that time that the grand parade started, as employee after employee fell under that iron fist.

Some lasted only a few days, like the elderly woman who couldn't cope with our cataloging system. "JE's, JP's, one dot, two dots, three dots..." the woman muttered one day while shelving books in the children's room. Shortly after, M was forced to let her go when the woman went on a rampage and started pitching books out onto the train tracks.

Some employees lasted longer. A certain Librarian, for example, who started in children's services and then managed to escape, only to return in a fit of what could only have been masochism. This Librarian is still with us today, although I won't embarrass her by mentioning that her name is Susan B.

And then there was a certain Librarian who lasted several months at the job and then, in a conference with M, asked when she would get time to think her "deep thoughts"....

The train station years passed quickly, with little of note except various tipsy staff members and other minor adventures. Many people don't know the real reason that M left the train station to open the new Airport Branch. Some have speculated that the old branch became too palstered with notes and signs, forcing the construction of a place with larger wall area; but tonight I'll tell you the real reason. You see, M was cleaning one day, and when she finished throwing things out, well, the library was gone. The Administration decided to start over with a more durable building made of brick.

So M started a new hobby: opening library branches. She's opened three of them, you know: Airport, Big City, and McKinsey. As a matter of fact, when Bowie was built it took three strong men to hold her back, so firmly was the habit established.

It was during the Airport years that M began to communicate her philosophy of patron service. One employee remembers a day when the Library received a brand-new information service called Value Line. She spent hours trying to figure out the mysterious charts and graphs, until finally M came to her rescue. "Just learn where it is," she said. "If anyone wants to use it, they'll know how."

Eventually it came time to move on to Big City. The Big City branch is right next to an elementary school; and the little darlings who flocked to the library after school were a constant source of amusement and high blood pressure. Once again, though, she managed to cope in true McFaden style -- even when that involved chasing kids on top of the book stacks with a baseball bat.

There were adventures at Big City -- remind M to tell you some time about the snake in the bookdrop -- and there were also warm moments: like the staff member who used to spend Saturday mornings in a large comfy chair sleeping off the effects of his Friday nights.

In due time, M moved on to the McKinsey Branch. The community thought they were ready for her, but in truth she was ready for them. M always had a special relationship with patrons. Take Colonel Lamb, for example, who took it upon himself to issue a weekly newsletter of his opinions to the whole community. One day the good Colonel presented the library with a box of past newsletters, which M accepted with (I'm sure) her usual squeals of glee. Much later, Colonel Lamb visited and found that his precious offerings were not being maintained in correct order by the staff, and wrote a letter bemoaning the fact. Fortunately the branch had been vandalized recently, and M's soothing reply to Colonel Lamb managed to blame the disorder on the vandals, not us.

And then there was the time when a child was being more than unusually noisy in the branch, and M commented that she'd like to pay someone to strangle the kid. Unfortunately, she made this remark to the child's mother.

M has always had a special relationship with her staff. As a matter of fact, whenever a few of us get together off work time, one name is absolutely sure to come up....

But I mustn't let you think that the big M is all business. She has a fun side, and nobody has seen it better than we who worked with her. Who can forget M's memo on proper patron service, in which she proposed some different -- and honest -- answers to such questions as "Where is the Xerox?" and "What does F mean?"

Then there was the time that M spilled something on her dress, and had to wander about in a housecoat while the dress dried. By the time she returned to the staff room, her dress was gone -- it took her nearly half an hour of shouting and swearing before she found it, hanging from the ladder halfway up to the roof.

This story reminds me of the inventory we took when M was preparing to leave. Here's a partial list of what we found: Two dozen apples, three pounds of cheese, two copies of Winning Through Intimidation, five sweaters, two dresses, three pictures by Pat Batovsky, two tablecloths, a hundred and four receipts from Hutzler's for returned merchandise, and sixteen pairs of shoes.

M was always tolerant of people -- to a certain extent. One thing she couldn't tolerate in an employee, though, was tardiness. You haven't seen anything until you've seen Marion McFaden at 5:06 on a Friday evening, waiting beside the road for the night crew with a big clock in her hands. M was subtle, she was.

A lot went on at McKinsey that M knew about -- and one or two things she didn't. For example, each day started with one question uppermost in our minds: what kind of mood would M be in? We discussed the matter, gave our opinions, tooke bets, and then waited apprehensively. If she entered the back door in curlers and humming, then we knew we were safe!

M has always had a sense of justice. I can think of no better example than the social event, one of many, in which all the participants were supposed to bring some home-made goodies to eat. When one person showed up with store-bought cookies, M refused to put them out on the table.

In May of 1977 McKinsey suffered vicious acts of vandalism that did nearly six thousand dollars worth of damage. After that, the county installed burglar alarms in all of the libraries, and in the years since these alarms have been a thorn in everybody's side. Let me share with you a memo that M sent to Headquarters regarding a particularly bothersome alarm malfunction. This memo is presented exactly the way M typed it.




A while ago I mentioned the grand parade of employee after employee that has worked under Mrs. McFaden, and in a way I was being unfair. I don't want you to leave here with the impression that M uses up staff members the way other people use up kleenex.

As a matter of fact, we were going to have everyone who ever worked for M to this party -- but Madison Square Garden was booked for tonight.

Right now, once and for all, I'd like to put to rest the rumors that McKinsey Branch Library under M was known as "the Death Camp." Just to prove that turnover is no higher than any other branch, we've put together a little list of the people who worked there, as near as we can all remember. You'll see that the rumors are wrong.

First, the Professionals. Alphabetical order would be simplest, I guess. Mary B, Susie B, Susan B, Nancy C, Ruby G, Lois Ann G, Gail G, Sue G, Maryann H, Penny H, Andrea M, Lena P, and Diane T.

Now the Library Associates. Jane B, Carla B, Ann C, Jack D, Kathy F, Stanley H, John M, Cathy O, Lita R, Connie R, Don S, Sue S, Irma S, and Sarah W.

Things have been a bit more calm among the clerical staff. Er...let me rephrase that....

Our clericals have been: Pat B, Lynn C, Beverly C, Sandy G, Jean G, Donna H, Jan J, Kay L, Dee M, Jean O, Dorothy S, Barbara S, Nola S, and Jim T.

In addition, we've had three Custodians: Charle G, Buck P, and Bob K.

And then, of course, there has been a constant procession of Pages: Mrs. Dulaney, Helena, Cathy, Barbara, Margie, David, Clayton, Jan, Karen, Rosie, Tom, Jean, Eileen, Ginny, Mary, Kim, Bob, Bet, Nathaniel, Cheryl, Cheryl, Petra, and Alvin.

By my count, that makes 44 full-time staff members among thirteen positions and ten years. And people say we have a high turnover rate....

But things are not as bad as they seem. A little calculation shows that if M has kept up the same rate throughout her career, there ought to be over a hundred and ten people out there who worked for her at one time or another, in one branch or another. A hundred and ten people who have worked through good times and bad times, and each one of them has learned from M, you can be sure. A hundred and ten people, including among them Branch Librarians, teachers, tour guides, workers in private industry, full-time parents and grandparents, writers, artists, and a lot of people making big contributions to the Library System. For all that we kid her, this is not a bad legacy for M to leave behind now that she's done with the System.

And I know that each and every one of those hundred and ten people wishes her the very best of luck as she makes an equally big impact upon the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen...I give you Marion McFaden -- the M!