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How I Went From Managing 16 People to Supervising One Inanimate Cart Full of Damaged Books

library cartA couple of years ago I was one of the library’s rising stars. When I was offered the job of managing one of the library branches, I was told that my particular skill set was perfect for what was needed.

“So they all have to do whatever I say?” I asked.

“Well, not exactly. Your job–”

“Anything I say…wow.” I couldn’t wait.

I was a horrible manager. Everyone did what I said, but they did it reluctantly. When I made them dance, I could tell their hearts weren’t in it. When I demanded that they open windows that were actually sealed shut, they got annoyed by it. I insisted that the women grow beards and that the men wear those wooden shoes from Holland, but I couldn’t get anyone to buy into the culture of awesomeness I envisioned.

I was much better at pitting them against each other, screwing up the schedule, and then trying to buy back everyone’s good will with fatty treats. I could lead–but the actual tasks of managing were about as fun as being locked in an outhouse.

“Josh, here’s a spreadsheet for you to fill out.” Pass.

“Josh, read this 63 page PDF about budgets.” Hmm…

“Josh, how would you like to be on the committee that will determine whether we can announce that we’re thinking about forming more task forces which will evaluate the performances of the workgroups?” What?

“Josh, we’ve had reports that your staff have been eating each other.” This is America. Everyone loves a fatty treat. Let them be.

Bad to worse

Things came to a head after one year. A patron suggested that the pants I was wearing were not flattering to my figure. I seized him by one foot and threw him up into the ceiling fan, where I hoped he would disintegrate into crimson mud and mist. Unfortunately the ran was revving at an inadequate RPM and he crashed onto the reference desk, landing on top of a stack of Walker: Texas Ranger DVDs.

Unfortunately, the man was okay, but disc 3 of season 4 suffered an irreparable crack. The DVD began to skip at the exact moment that hoodlums begin shaving off Walker’s beard with a knife to finally reveal his identity.

I was in disgrace, so it was no surprise that a week later I was told that my skill-set was needed elsewhere. I would still be in a supervisory role, one better suited to my mercurial temperament and savage bearing. I would be tasked with finding an appropriate amount of carrots and sticks to help this troublemaker blossom.

Try and make it work

“Here she is,” said my new manager. Yes, I suddenly had a boss again.

I looked at my employee. “This is a cart,” I said.

My manager nodded. “Yes, she’s one of our best carts.”

The cart was brown.

“How am I supposed to get this cart to do anything I say? It can’t even hear me!”

“Make it work, Hanagarne,” she said. “We’re counting on you. Then she was gone and my eyes began to adjust to the dim light of the back room I had been shunted into. I felt like an incredibly handsome Phantom of The Opera, but just as isolated.

Determined to strut my stuff, I got to know my new ward.

The cart

The mending cart was approximately three feet tall, four feet wide, and the shelves had a depth of perhaps eight inches. The shelves were slanted at a 25 degree angle. The color was, as I said, brown and, depending on whether I decided to do my work at my desk, or in the call center, the grain of the wood ran southwest or northeast. It had four wheels.

This cart served a crucial purpose: when books were damaged, shelvers placed them on the cart. My job was to look at each book and make an evaluation. If the book could be taped back together, I would withdraw some scotch tape from a drawer beneath my desk, tear off an appropriate length of the sensibly-priced adhesive, and place it on the book, refastening the pages to the binding.

Sometimes the books needed glue, though. In these instances the tension ramped up immeasurably. I would reach into a separate drawer and take out some glue. I would squeeze and appropriate amount onto the are of the book that needed attention. Then I would take a bone cutter–the name for the butter-knife-looking-thingy they gave me–and smooth down the surface, making sure that no bubbles were trapped beneath the cover. It was like the tension of the recently deceased program 24, but multiplied by 24 orders of nerve-wracking magnitude.

Sometimes one of the wheels would squeak. I would have to make split-second decisions. Do I reach into my desk, take out an appropriate amount of WD-40, and spray it on this wheel? Or do I keep pushing the cart, hoping that everyone in the library is suffering from an appropriate amount of hearing impairment?

I had to take it on case-by-case basis every single time.

At night I would flop into my bed, often falling asleep in my clothes. “You’ve changed,” said Janette. “The adrenaline rush of your job is aging you before your time. You are buffeted about about by the roaring winds of infinity.”

“Tell me about it!” I would moan. But I was making a difference. I had it on good authority that it had been eons since someone had kept the cart from overflowing for this long. I forgot to mention that. Sometimes there would be so many books on the cart that they would be in danger of falling off.


Sometimes I would awake from fever dreams, screaming as I saw the cracked Walker, Texas Ranger disc etching my fate into the moldering wood of the mending cart.

Why it is worth it

I do the jobs that nobody else can, and thusly and hencely, I reap the rewards that others can only dream of. Why, just three weeks ago I was allowed to leave two hours early, just because I had kept the cart so uncluttered, squeak-free, and I always used the appropriate length of scotch tape and an appropriate amount of Elmer’s glue.

Sadly,I am no longer one of the library’s rising stars.  But now, of course, I am the librarian for the entire world. And if you were proud of me before…you should see my cart.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steph September 30, 2010, 12:44 pm

    I am sorry but… I’ve just had a TERRIBLE day and you’ve just… made me cry and laugh! So thank you World’s Best Librarian.

  • Shane Hudson September 30, 2010, 12:48 pm

    Uh… Wow… not much I can say to that really Josh, your an extremely unique guy 😛

  • ATG September 30, 2010, 12:48 pm


  • ami September 30, 2010, 1:11 pm

    How does the cart give you feedback on your performance? 😉

  • Jen H September 30, 2010, 1:41 pm

    Simply brilliant WSL, thanks!

  • Eric | Eden Journal September 30, 2010, 2:11 pm

    I’ve missed you Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne September 30, 2010, 2:29 pm

      Ditto. I owe you 50 cents, by the way. Emailing you shortly!

      • Eric | Eden Journal October 1, 2010, 9:26 am

        HA! I was just thinking about that. I guess that makes me the winner!

  • Mike September 30, 2010, 8:22 pm

    Wow. I have had a miserable day. The day before it was even more miserable, but today is not finished. I shall adorn my wooden shoes and move a few more commas, yet the article brought a smile to my face. “So shines a good deed in a weary world” (Willy Wonka quoting some dead dude). Heaven sent, Hanagarne.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 30, 2010, 8:32 pm

      I am going to put “Heaven Sent” on my nametag. Hope things perk up for you.

  • Jodi Kaplan October 1, 2010, 6:52 am

    How do you do the cart’s annual review? Does it get a raise (or maybe a fresh coat of varnish) if it stops squeaking?

    Thanks for the laugh on a dreary, very rainy day.

  • Jennifer Swan October 1, 2010, 7:41 am

    Josh –
    LOVED this post. I’m actually teaching a management series at work titled: So You Think You Can Manage. This fits perfectly! Not everyone can manage others, it takes a special skill and lots of patience. Thanks for the laugh!


  • Lisa King October 1, 2010, 11:54 am

    Bravo Josh.

    I used to manage a department myself until my skills were needed elsewhere.

    The view is much better from where I’m now sitting.

    Here’s to the wondrous unmanageables!