Friday, 4 August 2017

June // Library Clerk

I’m getting a PhD and to get through a few months with no funding I recently picked up a part-time job as a clerk at my university’s business school library. This is an elite US university, so the business school is grossly overfunded and the collection at the library is awful (14 copies of Freakonomics, I kid you not). As most libraries, one of our services is hosting a computer lab, which my boss informed me was initially open to the public but soon “too many homeless people were using the printing” and so was reduced to just university members. This is obviously fucked up!

Further, although I was told that anyone with a university ID can access the lab, in practice it has turned out that the service staff (people who do janitorial work and who work in dining or parking) do not have computer privileges nor some loaning privileges. This university has endless money — $115 million was spent on a new dining hall last year — and has been involved in two ugly union-busting campaigns and some really foul labor practices in just the past two years alone. One incident involved a dean hitting a parking attendant with his car, calling her a racial slur and then driving away. This employee would not be able to use the computer or printing services at our library, or even take out a book, and the dean would. I expect despicable behavior from the university on most fronts, but in the case of a library — what should be the most public of public goods — these exclusionary, punitive and highly classed and racialized policies seem particularly grotesque.

To correct them, I’ve been letting anyone use the computers, giving them a temporary log-in and my own printing code in case they need it. It’s all on the university’s dime, which gives PhDs unlimited free printing (a rare act of generosity that of course isn’t extended to the most essential workers on campus). I’ve gotten a few looks from a colleague of mine for all this, and I really would love the opportunity to discuss it with her — ideally, all of the clerks would be subverting these policies, but a few of them seem like "company men," so to speak. In any case, I’m also working on a way to loan books to workers without the proper credentials, perhaps just checking them out under my own account.