Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Garbage Has Come to Rule My Life

Before I became a branch manager, I lived in a blissful world wherein I didn't think about garbage very much. I tried to remember when trash day was and take out the bins. Occasionally I would see a documentary or news special about filling up landfills and worry about our planet. For the most part though, trash was a very small part of my world.

Not now. Now, it is a huge part of my world. Hardly a day doesn't go by when I am not writing an email, having a phone conversation, or answering a patron complaint about garbage. And this is the story of how a nice librarian's life went to the dumps.

Before we opened the branch, there were about a thousand details to work out. Many of them I expected, the librarian type things (shelf end signs, ordering book ends and book carts) and those I dispatched with grace and professional surety. Some of the others took me by surprise. (Don't get me started on the weekly emails from the electricians with technical reports that appeared to have been written in Greek. I've saved them in case anyone ever asks me about the electrical system in this building). And that is how I found myself one day having a meeting about garbage pick up.

The meeting had all the usual suspects: the head of facilities for the library, the solid waste removal representative, the project manager for the building construction, and the head of janitorial services for the city. Oh yeah and me, the librarian. Binders were laid out and options were explained. I nodded like I understood. And then came the killer moment where everyone stared at me.

I stared back. "Great!" I said with cheerfulness, "So which one are we getting?"

"It's up to you," explained the head of facilities for the library.

And then we all stared at each other in complete confusion as it dawned on me that these four men, all specialists in buildings, maintenance, and garbage, expected me, a specialist in books, to make this decision. I had thought (well, really I had hoped) that this was merely an informational meeting, not an Elizabeth-make-12-rapid-fire-decisions meeting. (Opening a branch requires rather a lot of the second type of meetings.)

So there were choices. We could have a dumpster. We had a paved pad to put a dumpster on. But we would have to build an enclosure around it due to the new city ordinance and there was a lot of concern that people would come by and fill up our dumpster with their household trash. Or we could have those large rolling bins for trash and recycle and put them out on trash pick up day.

I carefully reviewed my choices. I reflected on that if you told me the square footage of the building and the demographic make up of the community (all information I had), I could tell you how many books you needed and what type of collection to build. Cheerfully I would rattle off number of children's books versus adult materials, media materials and computer needs, seating and furniture needs. How big should your meeting room be, your staff areas, etc. All of this would require some thought, but I knew how to work that out. I had a master's degree and everything to prove it. Garbage? I had no idea how much garbage this building I had just designed would be.

Desperately, I did what all good librarians do, I sought more information. By that, of course, I mean I tried to pressure one of the facility/janitorial/building type guys to make this decision for me. No go. They were wily and resisted all my efforts to get them to even commit to recommending one over the other. Eventually someone finally said that they thought rolling bins would be a better choice because of the aforementioned issue with dumpsters getting filled.

Aha! This is true. People do illegally fill up dumpsters not their own. Rolling bins! (At that point I was willing to act on even the smallest scrap of information.) After a bit more unsuccessful wheedling for advice on sizes and quantities, I chose two of the biggest sizes (which automatically came with a recycling bin) and we were off and running. Silly naive me even thought that would be the last I'd think about the trash. I was ready to leave the meeting.

But how would the trash cans get to the curb? This was the next big point of discussion. Couldn't janitorial just take them out? Janitorial only fully cleans our building three days a week, the other two days they just do the bathrooms. Garbage day was one such day. But if they were here to do the bathrooms, how much trouble would it be for them to wheel out the trash cans as they leave? (Janitorial comes in at night after library staff has left.) Then my staff would wheel them in first thing in the morning. Eventually all agreed this was the most logical course of action.

This post is currently ridiculously long, so I will tell you further tales of garbage later. I think I need a tag for this, perhaps facility maintenance woes?