As I sat around waiting for the policeman to take everyone’s statements after Wednesday’s car accident, I found myself reminiscing about the days when I still worked. No, I wasn’t contemplating my years at CT&T or even my days with various banks in both Canada and the US. This time, I was thinking about what was probably the first job I ever held: as a Page at a public library in Toronto. This was one of those rare times when colleagues, management, and environment combined to perfectly form a family as they did at the Library.
I started the job two days before my 15th birthday and was thrilled that I would be earning my own money at a job that seemed to suck far less than working at McDonalds or delivering newspapers. The job of a Page is to basically do everything that everyone else (aka PS1s, managers, actual librarians etc.) feels is beneath them or are too busy to do themselves. In addition to the obvious sorting and shelving of books, we also did “shelf reading” (aka putting books back in their proper spots after annoying patrons put them back incorrectly), calling people for reserved books, getting books ready to be shipped to other branches, and lots of other nonsense.
What made this job great, as I mentioned, was the people I worked with. Most of the pages were around my age, give or take a year, so we were all dealing with the same things. Whether it was in my department or on one of the other floors, quite a few Pages also went to my school which meant that I wasn’t the only geek wandering around in a pretty blue kilt for four hours after class let out.
My friends and fellow pages hung out during non-work hours, wrote songs about how much we “loved” our work (to the tune of the theme from “Animaniacs”), made a non-library related movie, which I still have on VHS, and, most of all, we grew up together. There was a lot of inter-department dating and, from what I understand, one couple even got married a few years ago and moved to Vancouver.
Being a page isn’t what one would call “difficult” or “taxing” work but rest assured that we all worked pretty darned hard – most of the time. The job offered us fairly flexible hours when we needed time off for March Break trips to France, to study for exams (I think we all know that one wasn’t me), or needed a little OT so we could pay for formal dresses, university fees, and all the other things we always thought we were too broke to pay for.
As a nerdy kid who liked to read, I also enjoyed the benefit of having access to books as soon as they came out. Since part of a Page’s job was to help label new paperbacks before they got shelved, it also meant that we could sort through the good ones and read them before they got “public” cooties on them. We could also check the system for new books before they were released and ensure that ours were among the first names to get copies when they finally arrived.
The two best book related benefits, however, made me very happy and started me down a path that has kept me far, far away from libraries ever since. Since we all left through the employee’s entrance we would “borrow” reference items for our projects and papers. And best of all, on those books we did legitimately borrow: we didn’t pay overdue fees! You’d think showing up at a library 3 days a week would mean that I’d have no excuse to not return a book on time – early even. Not so much. I was forever returning books late because I’d forget when they were due, or that I had them, and once I had those two parts under control, I’d just plain forget them at home. Since people in the Real World have to pay overdue fines for this crime, I haven’t really been a big library user since those days. I’m special and deserve to have my fees waived, dammit!
Another great thing about The Library was that we also had really cool bosses who dealt with our goofing off and silliness with an aplomb that I can only hope that I emulated when I eventually became a manager many years later. Of course it wasn’t all fun and books, when Little J was unable to get financial aid to attend the University of Toronto, our boss Steve-O co-signed his loan from the bank. When my fellow page and friend, Jennifer, died in a car accident, it was our team of managers who held it together as we dealt with a reality few of us wanted to face.
My last day at The Library was the day I left to move to Halifax to attend university. To send me off in style, Steve-O seated me on a book cart and literally pushed me out the front door.
I’ve visited since then to see who is still there and say hi but it isn’t the same. I’m on the other side of the counter now. Moreover, I know that I’ll never again have a job quite like that. My jobs since then have been great and have each taught me more than I could ever tell you (although I'm sure I'll try in future installments of 'da Blog), but nothing will ever again be like that first job where friends and co-workers and co-conspirators were all the same person. I miss you guys…
What can I say? Your first time is always special.