End of an era

After 14 years, yesterday (Thursday) was my last shift on the circ desk of the Arnett Branch. Tomorrow (Saturday) I have to do an outreach with the Books by Bike trailer. It will be my last day with Rochester Public Library (RPL).

With some sort of cosmic symbolism I can’t yet figure out, the manager who hired me into RPL those 14 years ago, and who has since retired, came into the library today to pick up a book. Our conversation bookended my career with the library.

No, I remain employed, and remain employed by the City of Rochester. I’m no fool. I’m switching departments so that I can change my work schedule.

Three years ago I lost my flex-time job. Since then, I’ve been unable to find a second part-time job that

  1. I’m qualified for,
  2. that seems like I’d enjoy doing it,
  3. that I can reach reliably by bicycle in the winter, and
  4. that didn’t interfere with my work schedule at Arnett Branch.

Hardly a month has gone by without something coming along. I get the interview, but something about the job doesn’t work out. Generally the schedule, if not that, then the location. Or they hire somebody else.

I’ve also been two years on waiting lists for subsidized senior housing. It would cut my rent by $300 a month and largely negate the need for a second part-time job.

In the meanwhile, I’ve gone through all my savings at a time of life when one should be socking away as much as possible. It’s only three years before I’m eligible for reduced-benefit Social Security, six years before I’m eligible to draw from my state pension, 7½ years before I’m eligible for full-benefit Social Security, and 11 years before I can no longer save for retirement.

Pushing out retirement to age 70 in 2027 is currently my goal. I’m healthier than I was in my 20s, I’m happy, I enjoy working, and I need the savings. So why not?

But it can’t be done on a single part-time job, and afternoon and evening part-time jobs are far more plentiful. Something had to give, and my job with the library was it.

Around the first of the year I applied for a clerical position with the Fire Department. Never heard a thing. About a month ago, I got a phone call. Would I be interested in interviewing for a clerical position with the Parking Bureau? Turns out, there was a retirement in the Parking Bureau and rather than advertise the opening, City HR simply sent over the rejects from the Fire Department position I’d applied for.

One of the rules is, always take the interview. So the next morning I interviewed. The position seemed doable, the location is fine, the hiring manager seemed decent and it pays a bit better than the library. The job is in the morning through the lunch hour. I decided that if offered, I’d accept.

The Friday the hiring manager promised to make the decision by came and went. No call. In the City, you get a call if you get the job. No call? No job and you’ll get a letter confirming that in around a month. I figured no job, and I’ll get another rejection letter for the file.

Then I went on about my business.

Well, it wasn’t quite that. There were a lot of emotions involved that weekend. And on Monday I had to tell everyone that I’d gotten no call.

Then on the following Tuesday, I got the call. I accepted.

Put that way, it sounds very different than how it felt. I love my job at the library. It’s the first job I’ve ever held where I look forward to going to work. Fourteen years is the longest I’ve ever held a job. I like the rest of the staff, I like (most of) the patrons. The only gripe I’ve had about the library is that in seven years of budgets, nobody could get me one stinkin’ hour a week so I’d have my full 20 hours.

Sure the summers were tough, when we’d have as many as 500 kids registered for Summer Reading, and the place became the de facto neighborhood day-care. The solution I found last year—taking a day off every-other week—took the edge off sufficiently to get through.

I’ve done amazing things there too. I get Excellent Customer Service awards so routinely, they’ve become ho-hum. Three years ago I won the Director’s Choice award, chosen by the Director herself from among the 500 or RPL staff, for “Providing exemplary service to residents of Rochester and Monroe County and making a difference in the lives of many”.

I was a member of the team that won the Rochester Regional Library Council’s 2015 Public Library of the Year award. Of course, I was a member Books by Bike project team, and we got the Outstanding Team Award for that last year too.

I was one of only 21 people in the entire county library system selected to work on the five-year plan. What an eye-opener, and what a pleasure it was to work with 20 smart people dedicated to mapping out the best future for our library system.

As an outgrowth of that, I found my voice in the library system. I spoke for those without a voice. By joining the debate on several key issues, I was responsible in part for eliminating hold fees for kids and teens during summer reading. With the start of the new fiscal year this coming July, late fees will be eliminated for kids and teens, and hold fees reduced for everyone from $1 per title to only 25¢, (but still free for kids and teens during Summer Reading).

Heady stuff, having policymakers listen to what I had to say, then acting upon it. Who ever would have thought?

But what I found more satisfying and am most proud of was buying the DVDs. As a clerk, I’m not really supposed to manage a budget and do purchasing, but we don’t have an A/V librarian, and I offered.

What happened is that I did such a good job, that in a report run last summer, 480 of the top 500 circulating titles at our library were DVDs. Yup. My purchasing was directly responsible for 96% of the circulated titles, and I did it with only 22½ percent of the total book budget.

For these reasons and more, I absolutely hated the idea of leaving the library. (Not the least of which was sharing laughs daily with co-workers and our patrons.) But financially, I had no choice. When you run out of choices, it’s easy to do the right thing.

My goal became to leave on the best of all possible terms. I want a place to come back to if the situation changes, or at the very least, after retirement. Shelving books two or three days a week just to get out of the house sounds nice.

I had no idea what leaving a job on good terms means. I’ve never voluntarily left a job before. At least not on good terms. I can do getting shit-canned. I can’t count the number of times I was shit-canned. I’ve let my temper get away and have quit in a huff. There’s not a single previous employer who would take me back, and I don’t blame them.

Leaving on good terms preserving the possibility of return? Totally uncharted territory.

Making it up as I went along, I worked my tail off these past two weeks. I went through everything at work, cleaned out the deadwood, reorganized all my stuff, even made all new file folders to replace the ratty ones I’d been using. I documented several parts of my job that nobody’s been cross-trained on—supplies ordering, DVD ordering, and DVD processing.

I even ordered all the DVDs through to the end of the fiscal year, eight weeks away. And went only $210 over budget. Easily covered by other surpluses.

Well that bit seems to have knocked the socks off everyone. They don’t know how they’ll get along without me. “Like this,” I said. “I wrote it all down for you.”

So when I locked my cabinet for the last time Thursday, everything was shipshape for my co-workers to handle things in the interim, and for my successor in about a month. Better organized than I kept it for myself, and no unfinished projects or crap lying about either.

On Saturday I’ll pull the Books by Bike trailer in the Little League parade for their season opening, then park it for a last time, leaving my badge and my keys on my boss’s desk.

I told everyone I didn’t want the usual going-away party at bar or restaurant. That left open something at work. I arrived at work early on Thursday to take down my bike rack and clean out my locker. The table in the lunchroom was overflowing with gluten-free cookies. There was a card and gift as well.

First there was a coffee cup engraved, “Arnett Library Guy Bruce Wilbur”. For the “Library Guy” story, see this YouTube video from 2012.

In the cup, two rolls of quarters labeled “RPL Holds Kit”. Yep, 80 holds under the new 25¢ rate that I helped to implement. Those effing quarters are the best gift, since I’m also giving up the free holds benefit enjoyed by staff members. (I’ll have to start paying late fees too.)

On Monday morning, I start at the Parking Bureau. I’ll be working in the section that administers the ramp garages and permit parking areas of the city. And it administers the bike lockers in the ramp garages.

This is not without some anxiety. There’s the usual “What if it doesn’t work out?” worries. But also, it’s been 16 years since I’ve had to be to work before mid-afternoon. That’s going to be really different. It’ll be back to cubical-land, but that’s offset by floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows right outside my cubie.

There is potential for indoor parking in my cubie on nice days, but the office is carpeted. I doubt dropping slush all over it would be well tolerated. First thing, I’ll get myself on the waiting list for a bike locker in the garage.

And as I wrote almost two years ago in the entry about chapters in life, I’ll turn another page and get on with the story.

One Response to “End of an era”

  1. Stasi Says:

    We’ve never met but I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your post. (I found a link to this on Bike Forums.)

    Good luck with your new endeavor. I’m sure you’ll knock ‘em dead!