Thursday, July 22, 2010

A symptom of a larger problem?

I was working at the Martha Washington public library yesterday, and I had to mail some letters. I figured they'd have a mailbox, so I went to the Information desk.

"Hey -- do you have a mailbox I can drop this into?"

The librarian, a middle-aged lady who looked very tired, looked at the other librarian. She was concerned, or so it appeared.

I raised my eyebrows and tried to maintain my smile. I was impatient. Another crisis had taken me away from the computer again, and e-mail was piling up.

The librarian finally said "we don't have a mailbox you can use here, but there's a drop box down by the road."

Somehow, I figured as much, thanked her, and set out for the road-box.

If that thing was still in use, then people risked tetanus every time they dropped letters into it. Rusted and crumbling, it probably first saw service in 1942. There was no way I was going to drop a letter into it.

Back in the library, I tracked down a different librarian. He too appeared irritated to have to talk to me.

"Can I just drop this into your mail?"

"I...don't think we can do that..." he said, and vaguely trailed off.

I wasn't feeling very smiley, but I tried to keep it light. "Hey, this letter doesn't have the hantavirus or anything. I just need to get it out and on the way."

"To be honest," he said, "I don't know how we'd do that."

I believe he was being honest -- the question seemed to be frying all his synapses.

"Okay," I said, "Let's say you had to mail a letter from the library. What would you do?"

"I'd put it in an envelope and send it to headquarters. They put a stamp on it and it takes about two weeks to get to the destination."

I gotta say -- I wasn't expecting that. It was horrifying. I know that my administrative duties suffer because I'm the only guy in my "office," but damn. They have to send the letter away to HQ so somebody can put a stamp on it? What do they have to do if the librarians need to use the bathroom? Fill out a requisition form for toilet paper? Do they streamline the process so it only takes a week?

This was just one little library in a D.C. suburb, but I suspect it's just a microcosm of the waste and inefficiency in Washington. Actually, when I worked for the TSA, it was a little MORE efficient than this tiny little library with the eco-friendly ethos. I'd have to get ten people to sign off on a press release, but at least I could usually get it done in one day. Two weeks for a freaking stamp, though?



Anonymous said...

Arlington County has much better libraries and librarians than Alexandria has.

Christopher said...

Interesting. I would think that such things are standardized.

I have to be fair, though -- this is a brand new library and it sounds like they hired a bunch of new employees. I keep hearing the librarians say -- to me and other people -- things like "We're still figuring things out around here..."

I guess that could be the case -- opening night problems...