It was probably my second week in my first public library job, and my branch manager was wearing a very nice suit, holding a toilet plunger and marching towards the public bathrooms. “Never be a branch manager, Jennifer. That’s my career advice to you--never be a branch manager.” It was advice he frequently gave to anyone who would listen, usually while rushing off to deal with an issue, dragging a shovel, a toilet plunger, a garbage can, a ladder, or something along those lines.
While I didn’t follow his career advice, he still taught me a valuable lesson--most libraries are in buildings, and buildings have issues. Sometimes there are big issues (Flash floods! Earthquake damage! Fire!) Most mostly it’s the mundane (clogged toilet, broken door, someone threw up).
Sadly, not being a branch manager doesn’t make you immune. (Once, when all the managers were at lunch, a fellow children’s librarian and I were left to deal with the mess when someone tried to flush a shirt down the toilet.)
So, here’s my advice to everyone who works in a building:
1. Know who to call, and when. There are probably maintenance staff or facilities people to call when something happens. But they probably don’t work 24/7 and the people you call when the sidewalk didn’t get shoveled are probably different from the ones you call when a pipe bursts.
Related--know who’s in charge (of your branch during that shift, of your system that day, and of facilities in general).
2. Know where your keys and supplies are. You know there are sandbags around here somewhere. You know the branch has a toilet plunger somewhere. Oh good, the HVAC people are here to fix the heat! Now where’s the key to the mechanical room? (Or, as a colleague once experienced, where’s the mechanical room?) These are all important things to know before you need them. (That day someone tried to flush the shirt down the toilet, we couldn’t find the plunger. We ended up fishing it out with a coat hanger.)
Related-- do you know how to refill the soap and paper towel dispensers? Where’s the extra soap? Where’s the soap dispenser key? (Yes, they have keys).
Also related--know where your fire extinguishers are and how to use them.
3. Know how to turn off the water. Pipes burst. Water mains break. Know how to turn off your water. Also know how to deal with electricity and water. Did something flood and now the copier is in standing water? Do you have outlets in your floor for people to plug their laptops into near seating? Know how to keep yourself safe. (Further reading. )
4. Know where your fuse box is and which fuses control which parts of the building. Not just to keep yourself from electrocuting yourself during a flood, but you’d be surprised how many things will suddenly start working again if you flip the fuse a few times.
5. Know how to unclog a toilet. I mean, this is just a good life skill anyway, but a necessary librarian one--you never know when someone will try to flush a shirt.
Jennie Rothschild is branch manager with Arlington Public Library and her views her do not necessarily reflect those of her employer. Maintenance issues are her least favorite part of her job, but reader's advisory is her most favorite. She blogs at Biblio File, tweets @kidsilkhaze and likes to do crafty things while binge-watching TV shows everyone was into a decade ago, because she's forgotten all the spoilers. She just started The Wire.