A Peek Behind the Shelves at North Scituate Library

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A photo of an open book and mug of warm beverage with the text "Novel-Tea from the North Scituate Library." At the bottom of the image is the text "Rhody Radio" with the podcast logo - the state of Rhode Island wearing headphones.

Katherine Stapp: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio: Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

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Hello, everyone. I'm Katherine Stapp the Reference Librarian at the North Scituate Public Library and the producer of our podcast Novel-Tea. I started Novel-Tea at the beginning of this year, in the depths of winter, as I was missing all of our usual library events, especially our cookbook club. The show has book reviews and event updates for the library, but it was important to me to include something creative.

I started writing a segment called behind the shelves. It's a fictional gossip column with a literary twist. Today, the Rhody Radio team is kindly allowing me to bring you a behind the shelves marathon stringing together the first six months of the story in one place. I very much hope you enjoy it.

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Something that I don't quite understand, but that I know to be true is that a lot of patrons are curious about the secret lives of librarians. This segment behind the shelves is a chance for you to do just that to get you situated, haha, it's funny because situate. Anyway, to orient you, I'm going to be talking about this group of library workers. They're not all from town, but we've all worked together in some way or another. Right now we are all in a club together, which I will get to.

Also, I'm going to change their names to protect them a little bit from the juicier stuff but if you know us, you'll probably figure out who they are. First, there's Sue. She's another reference librarian like me and she's been in the field longest and we all go to her for advice. Actually, we're all her friend above everyone else, probably. She's the convention mom. She knows and likes everybody and everybody loves [00:02:00] to do anything for her.

Then there is Jen, who's a tech services person, which means cataloging basically. She's also a hardcore old school blogger. She's been writing online for 20 years. One of those people who tell you about the fall of live journal. Then there is Megan, who's a little younger than the rest of us. I know she's not going to listen to this. I feel okay saying, we just don't get along. She's exciting to work with in the moment. She's fun to go out drinking with when that's a thing, but she's always moving on to the next project and dropping old ones in people's laps.

Ah, and then there's me, I guess. That's the dramatis personae moving forward with this segment. Since last April, things have been all virtual all the time, which goes for everything, including the cookbook club. I was dubious about running it virtual at first, but it's actually a little more fun from home than it was in the building because we're all a little more relaxed and everyone has whatever drink they want instead of just water.

Every month, we meet up and one person basically takes charge and does a cooking demo for the recipe that they chose and sent for us. We can cook along from our own kitchens or we can just watch and have our own snacks and whatever you want. It's been pretty quiet because rough year but this month was a little exciting because we had two new members, a couple friends who joined together and both of them are men.

That might not sound exciting in this world where women are underrepresented in the media and a couple of dudes are at best a boring intrusion, but this is a library program and women aren't underrepresented anywhere at the library. That's like hooking a whale. One of them is called Carlo and he seemed really sweet, just generally a pleasant guy. [00:04:00] He and Sue actually went into one of our breakout rooms and had a long chat about this new book, about eels that they both loved. I don't know. They missed all the drama about this hair brain thing but the other newbie did, I actually feel bad for him.

Sure, he's a jerk, but he didn't even expect to be as much of a jerk as he was. He was trying to text just his friend, but he hit send to everyone on a message where he just absolutely trashed Jen. I'd say he roasted her, but it was legitimately mean spirited. He went on and on about her setup, her camera, her knife skills, the recipe choice. He even said something about her personal appearance.

It was way out of line. The chat went wild. A bunch of people whispered at me to kick him out and it was a mess but thankfully, Jen was focusing on her demo. She didn't know that anything was wrong until later. Really, it was probably the most stressful for me because I was furiously typing to everybody in secret. Eventually, everyone just let it slide for the evening but in the long run, I think he's made some enemies with the cookbook club regulars.

I have to tell you, Sue herself is a formidable enemy. You may not know this, but no one holds a grudge like a librarian. She has done a dramatic reading of his message for everyone at the library and he is public enemy number one. I wonder if he's going to be brave enough to come back.

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Now, for our little peak behind the shelves. If you remember last month, I told you all about the librarians of the cookbook club and how new guy Bill gravely insulted my dear friend, Jen, while she was doing her demo. Amazingly, he did have the guts to show up again for the February meeting and even signed up to do next month's demo. [00:06:00] He's working hard to get back on everyone's good side.

The jury is still out, but I look forward to seeing how he does. The club will probably be merciless. The other new guy, Carlos, he actually has proven himself worthy. Imagine that there are a bunch of sparkles around my head, as I say that. Let me backtrack a little. Like I said before, libraries all over are struggling to offer safe programs that patrons are interested in. It's a lot harder in the winter. Outdoor stuff is limited, but Sue lives in a town with a great bike path and she is an expert cyclist. She has had some success with biking programs in the summer and into the fall.

She rides just about every day and we had some warmish weather predicted. She figured why not try it out. Now I know this was a bad idea and you probably know that this was a bad idea, but it's easy to get in your own head about a program that's related to something that you love to do. In the end, it was colder and windier than predicted and only Carlos showed up.

Still, the two of them know what they're doing on bikes and they decided to try a ride. Anyway, it didn't go well to the greatest possible extent. She ended up in the hospital, her text about it was funny and sweet. I'm going to share the story from her point of view. She said that this was fine.

We were on the trail and everything was going great. It was cold but after a few minutes hard riding, we weren't feeling it anymore. It was nice and warm and sunny. Every few minutes, we were slowing down to chat about something or another, but then I got distracted and I hit a patch of ice, skid into the ditch, and went tail over tea kettle. She didn't say tail. Anyway, she sent me an ER selfie with her face all scraped up and her arm in a cast and then continued.

Carlo was [00:08:00] amazing though. He went way beyond the call of duty. He helped me back to the trailhead, insisted on taking me to the hospital. He wanted to come in, but the nurses turned him around because of COVID. I thanks him again and told him I'd see him later. Instead of heading home, he took care of my bike, which is trashed by the way, and brought my car home.

He was at the hospital door waiting for me when I got out five freaking hours later with homemade soup so I wouldn't have to figure out dinner. Plus the soup is delicious. Man of the year 2K21, seriously. Now, Carlos is the hero of the group chat. I think there are a lot of eyes on this budding friendship.

Now for our little peak behind the shelves. I don't have anything to report from the cookbook club this month because club didn't happen. A bunch of people lost power at Scituate right at the worst possible time. Not that there's a good time to lose power, but anyway, with so many people unable to connect, we just put it off until next time. I am very sorry to hold you in suspense, dear listener.

However, there is no lack of tea this month, regardless. Jen and Megan both work at a big, busy library with a large staff, a big building in grounds, some branches, lots of resources. I'm not going to say which one for the sake of privacy. A few weeks ago, there was notice in the staff room from their board, talking about how an auditor from CDB Industries would be arriving at the library soon.

He was here to help the board and administration see how well the library was managing changes in the way they work due to the pandemic and to increase their performance and productivity, or as Jen put it, they're hiring someone to come in, do staff evaluations, and probably lay people off. She is, I will have to say furious, but also determined to [00:10:00] kill this auditor with kindness.

The auditor who we've taken to calling Gary Industries instead of whatever his actual last name is arrived last week. As we suspected, he is immediately shadowing staff members, asking annoying questions, and scheduling what he calls evaluation engagements, to talk with everyone about their jobs.

He's strangely pompous. He dresses like he thinks Jesse Thorn's fashion blog is some sort of holy writ. On the hipster side of formal and extremely overdressed compared to the library workers. I should mention that I know all this because I met him when I went to drop something off for Jen. His personality seems to match the style. As I approached Jen's desk, I saw two guys standing nearby.

She and the others all in a social distancing triangle. At first, I assumed that Gary was a patron and the other man was a co-worker because he was looking at Gary with the same customer service mile as Jen, but it turns out it was the other way around. Jen had been talking to the patron about DRM and Gary pushed his way into the conversation and was monologuing about the great financial harm of digital piracy.

When they realized I was waiting, Jen introduced me to both of them, Gary and the patron, Danny. He seemed really pleasant despite his conversation being twice interrupted. On her break, Jen told me that they've been chatting for a few weeks and if it wasn't a way against every personal and professional rule she holds dear, she'd be seriously thinking about asking him out.

They always find something interesting to talk about and share a lot of book recommendations. "Spring has sprung apparently my friends, I think we all need to get out of these libraries more." Anyway, back to the point, Gary is going to be working his way slowly from department-to-department. The environment in the building is [00:12:00] even more dismal than pandemic normal. Megan, who is not hiding her frustration at all, does a really great impression of him. "Oh, I would love to be a librarian and have time for reading again." Hers is better.

He's heading to the reference department next. Jen invited him to the next cookbook club as an example of superb virtual programming for adults. She's also hoping that he'll appreciate that it's a collaboration between libraries. New guy, Bill, is going to be under multiple kinds of scrutiny it seems.

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Now for our little peak behind the shelves. Oh, and I know you've been waiting for this one dear listeners. After much anticipation and much postponement, new guy, Bill, took over the cookbook club to do his demo this month. Since I'm technically the host, even though it's a multilibrary project, I signed on early to help him get set up and make sure all of the technical stuff was working right on Zoom.

Mic's working, camera's working, finding a camera angle. There were about 15 minutes with just us signed in. We didn't find much to talk about, but that's not too weird. I know this is a podcast so you might be surprised to learn that I am not a great talker and neither is he. We said a few pleasantries, but mostly he just got set-up, and after we were sure the tech side was working, focused on our own business.

I can't afford to hold a grudge. I did notice that his kitchen is amazing. I'm seriously envious. He has a five-burner gas range, a huge fridge, an extra oven in an island with a butcher block. He had a green Le Creuset stockpot set-up to do his recipe and he didn't have doors on his cabinet so I got a really good view of all his dishes and gear and everything was painstakingly organized.

Eventually, everyone signed on [00:14:00] and Bill started doing his demo. That thing I said about him not being a talker was not an exaggeration starting out. He gave like the bare minimum. He reminded us he was making caramelized fennel and chickpeas soup with saffron and started prepping his ingredients in near silence.

Two bulbs of fennel dice, small. He held up the fennel for the camera and started finally chopping. Good knife skills, but kind of a dull demo. As the silence stretched on, Jen piped in, "Could you please tell us what made you choose this recipe?" She said, I could tell she was annoyed that he wasn't engaging the club. He paused in his chopping and looked up at the camera like it had never crossed his mind to chat about such a deep and arcane topic.

He said, "Oh, well, when I was first trying recipes for the book, I was cooking for a vegetarian." He started peeling garlic with his fingers while he talked. I knew I would want something that used one of the vegetarian broths. There was really nice fennel at the market, even though it's not peak season. This is just how it worked out. I decided to demonstrate it because it was well-received and one of my favorites from the book.

He turned his head back down to his work but Jen basically ran the demo. From that point, she kept asking helpful-ish questions. She asked to tell us about his kitchen. We learned that he's actually a professional chef who writes and tests recipes for books and magazines, which is why it's worth it for him to maintain such a nice kitchen.

She asked why he was using chicken broth if he made it with mineral broth the first time. He responded, "Because I am not vegetarian." The next question he deflected clearly a little flustered. His veggies were slowly caramelizing and he used his phone to show how brown they were getting, but looked into his main camera. "You have so many questions for me, Jen, are you following a script?" She laughed and said, "Not exactly, [00:16:00] but these are some things we commonly discuss in the club. One must speak a little, you know. It would be a bit odd to silently watch you for an hour."

"I see", he said. A thoughtful look on his face as he added carrots to the stockpot. "Odd for you or for me?" She raised her eyebrow, "For both, I think. Even though I'd much prefer to only speak when I have something really amazing to say, it's better to be polite, isn't it?" That he didn't have an answer for, but he did allow her to keep asking questions as he finished making his soup.

After the meeting was over, I got a text from Sue, "Jude, this is the soup that Carlo brought me when I got hurt." "What?" I replied. "I didn't recognize it until like halfway through making it, but definitely the same soup. Did he make that soup for me? What's going on?" I could only reply with a shruggy emoji. A mystery to be solved at a later date dear listeners.

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Now for our little peak behind the shelves. Big news this week, and I am excited to announce that I have a voicemail to play you from Jen.

Jen: Katherine, I am so angry. Ugh. I figured I'd document the anger over voicemail for you to steal for your podcast. I just got out of a meeting with Gary Industries and after sitting in on the cookbook club, he wants to restructure all of the programs I'm doing. He saw the way I was talking with Bill and thinks that the problem is with my program, not with that monosyllabic jerk. Ugh.

He wants to turn our casual programs into, I don't even know. Preplanned events where everyone is supposed to talk about a certain topic in a certain way at a certain time and bring notes? Has he ever worked with the public? Does he think that we're hosting some kind of Edwardian dinner party over here? The worst thing is, [00:18:00] this whole time, he was treating me like a collaborator.

He kept saying, "We will do this and we will do that and we will make a spreadsheet", acting like I would be really excited and on board with him interfering with my entire job and yours, but mostly mine. He wants to destroy everything I've built here. I have a plan, but I need backup on this. Call me when you can.

Katherine: So I did. I called her and I talked her through the feelings and we decided that the best way to go about it would be to answer with statistics, to prove without a doubt that our program and every other one the library runs is well-planned and effective and to get backing from her boss who ideally would take it up with the board if it got there.

Last week, all the librarians from the cookbook club met with Gary, laid out our side of things and told him that we were by no means going to change the way we were things to break a formula that's somehow working against some pretty terrible odds during this pandemic. It went terribly, amazing? I don't know. Whatever it did, it went.

Gary snapped at the idea of being naysaid and the fact that we had backing from Jen's boss. "What a charming meeting," he said. Scrabbling with his laptop to find the leave meeting button. "I am sure that when sanctioned by the express authority of your excellent board, my proposal will not fail to be acceptable." He was already picking up his phone as his video went dead. Drama, but I think we may have won this one.

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Now for our little peak behind the shelves. I actually took a break in recording to talk to Jen. It's a good thing I did because there isn't really much going on. You've see one cookbook club you've seen them all, but she had big news. Apparently, Bill and [00:20:00] I feel like I shouldn't be calling him new guy Bill after six months of this, so please email me with a new nickname if you think he needs one.

Bill came to her library with a proposal. He wants to write up the Cookbook Club and our collaboration and our libraries for his magazine Lambton Cuisine. He even brought a draft of the article for her to read. They chatted a little bit, and she was really excited. Then she read the article and remembered everything she hates about Bill. "I have struggled greatly with this column" he wrote, "but I can repress my feelings no longer, and I must tell you about a club I've been attending at my local library."

The article was rough, but the plan was there to detail all his negative feelings about library events, how it was below him to consider attending, how a dear friend had to cajole him into attending, and how the home cooks he found there, "Couldn't cook their ways out of a paper bag." He lambasted our book choices, our format, the fact that it's on Zoom, which fair, and the very concept of libraries.

He presented it to Jen as if it were a rave, something that would be a great benefit to the club and her library and her career as if he was doing her some great favor. Jen was, of course, furious and ranting how she had tried to play nice with this guy but he was just beyond niceness. I didn't comment on that but she knows as well as I do that she has never once played nice with this guy since his slip-up back in January, but I just let her rant.

She said he had to know what he was doing, that this was the most backhanded of compliments, that ironic detachment wasn't even in style anymore. I think the exact quote was, "What does he think it is, 2010?" She mentioned that [00:22:00] she didn't even understand why he came to her when all of us were available, if it was because her library near his home, because he was getting back at her for his demo, because he wanted her gratitude or her good opinion?

"After the way he treated me, after the way he's acted every month?" She sort of spiraled after that point. She called him arrogant and selfish, and well, she used a lot of foul language really, but in general the point of everything was that he is the last man in the world she wanted to work with.

When she finished I let it sit in the quiet for a moment. I was angry, too, of course, but I said, "Well, then it's good he left it with you instead of waiting for your feedback because we can absolutely turn this in our favor." She groaned, but I actually think this could be great for us, for library programming in general. Lambton Cuisine isn't exactly Bon Apetit, but it also hasn't had a controversy like them. Showing what we do in our way to that audience is too big an opportunity to turn on. We just have to figure out how to make the new guy play ball. Oh, shoot, I said it again. Next time, I'll do better.

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Thank you so much for listening. If you'd like to hear more from Novel-Tea at the North Scituate Library, you can find us at novel-tea.pinecast.co, that's

novel-tea.pinecast.co. If you'd like to get in touch you can do it through the library's Facebook or Twitter accounts. Our handle on both is NorthSciLibrary. The theme music for this episode is Champ de tournesol by Komiku. Check out the show notes for links to everything I just mentioned.

Rhody Radio is a project of the Office of Library and Information Services and is supported [00:24:00] from by a grant the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. If you'd like to tell the show how much you love them, you can find them on Twitter @rhodyradio and on Facebook @rhodyradioonline.

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