Desk Set with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy is classic American romantic comedy that simultaneously introduces a changing technology with the changing roles of women. The title of the movie was His Other Woman in Great Britain or in Spanish His Other Wife.
Either of those titles might have worked in the United States, but Desk Set is more mysterious with a deeper meaning. Think of Desk Set as opposed to the Jet Set of the same era. The terms are diametrically opposed. Desk Set impales upon the mind the image of the office workplace, imagined in the bustling downtown of the city, as in the opening scene and reemphasized with green drab, book cluttered office space of Federal Broadcastings reference. Jet Set implies the fantastic world of the elegantly dressed socialites at the airport, suitcases at the ready of adventure. In Bunny’s conversation with her boss, the up and coming executive, Mike Cutler, her declining of his request to go with him to the airport with the following “all the people flying away and me just sitting here” underscores the juxtaposition of the two classes. It is again illustrated as she drags her suitcases home, cramped into a coworker’s already brimming car because the pouring rain has left the city void of taxicabs, and she is only going home instead of to where her suitcases promised she would be, left out of the Jet Set once again.
It is easy to associate the character of Bunny Watson with the pinched prudish stereotype old maid librarian. The severe hairstyle complete with pencil and bobby pin skewered bun, tight high neck suits cinched at the waist to lock tight, and accentuate her naturally lean bony frame. Her razor sharp intellect, quick-tongued wit and encyclopedic memory for detailed information and its location further promote the stereotypical librarian.
Throughout the movie, detail after detail is punch carded information fed to the audience for digestion. Miss Watson, is older, the head of reference. She has been working at the Federal Broadcasting Company so long her philodendron has grown to an enormous length. Later is it revealed she has been working there for eleven years, seven of which she has been romantically involved with Mike. She has all but given up on marriage, although Mike teases her with his possessive sexually assuming actions and speech saying she has “sexy green eyes” and that they will have “lots of fun”. It is not certain if he was always her boss but he is now. It is by her intelligence that he later is promoted to the west coast Vice-President. He proposes, kind of, so he again assumes they will finally marry, with her transferring to the west coast so she can continue to take care of him professionally.
The supporting characters of Miss Peg Costello, Miss Sylvia Blair, and Miss Ruthy Saylor also support the librarian stereotype through its phases. Each lady is introduced with a phone call to reference. Miss Costello answers with her name establishing her spinsterhood. She is Miss Watson’s contemporary and has watched Bunny Watson deteriorate into the familiarity of an old coat. Her status as an older single woman is perpetuated throughout the movie “I don’t like cats. I like men and so do you”. After all librarians like cats and cats will keep spinster roommate librarians from being lonely in there old age.
The librarian as a decent woman is twice underscored when Peg remarks on the older gentleman’s automobile circling the block saying “if I’d been any other type of girl” and Bunny’s answer that her experience has led her to believe that person was probably only looking for a parking spot. Smithers’ wife circling the building six times later repeats this scenario. However at this time it is used to show the clandestine nature of the sexy femme fatal lurking beneath the cool closed reference librarian exterior. Peg is what Miss Blair and Miss Saylor will become unless they happen to marry as Mildred Kittinger has succeeded in doing. It is only through marriage that they will escape the reference department.
Dina Merril plays Miss Sylvia Blair. Her character is as elegant and refined as she actually was in real life being the daughter of E. F. Hutton. Her true socialite jet set status as opposed to the depiction of the desk set librarian is pure ironic genius. She is younger than both Miss Watson and Miss Costello, but not so young as Miss Saylor. She too is introduced to be a Miss at the beginning by answering the telephone for reference purposes. Throughout the movie she is portrayed as quiet and unassuming. But if you look for it there is an underlying tow of sexuality. As Richard Sumner lets down the tape measure from the balcony she flirts with him. His tape is floppy and loose. Later Mr. Sumner has her help him take measurements, she replies with her measurements and now the flexible steel is firm and upright as she hold the tip in her hand and they look into each others eyes. The librarian as seductress is subtly introduced.
Miss Ruthy Saylor, young new hire with an eagerness to learn and thankfulness for the opportunity to do so. After all there is not much work out there that is available for the young single girl. She too is introduced as Miss as she answers the reference telephone in answer to a department store wanting to know her status on the strapless velvet dress. She is the young single woman starting out in the world, on the very beginning of her husband hunting.
Even such minor characters as Miss Warner and the elderly lady that wanders about, perpetuate the librarian image. This t elderly lady although not directly related to reference, is model of the company logo and she has gone from being a young vivacious attractive goddess to a shuffling dusty remnant like the books on the reference shelves.
The movie integrates the cultural iconic librarian stereotypes so smartly, convincingly and consistently that this is what makes the movie as appealing as it is.
Library staff is obligated to follow ethical and legal standards other industries may not have to adhere to. However, the workplace is the workplace and there are ethical and legal standards that must be met across all industries.
Take the issue of privacy. There is a lot of debate in the library world about patron privacy. More generally the privacy of personal emails or phone calls from workstations and while using workplace property is being discussed. This is not the privacy issue I want to address. The privacy I am speaking of is something more delicate, more private, and possibly more hazy than either of those privacy issues. This issue of privacy relates to the individual taking time off.
We all take time off work or I would hope we do. When we take time off, it can be for a variety of reasons. It could be that there has been a once in a lifetime trip planned that will keep someone out of the office for 2,3, maybe even 4 weeks. Or someone may be taking a trip for a week to visit grandma. Or maybe the opportunity to escape for the long weekend has landed in another’s lap just a day or two before. On the other hand, there are seasonal illnesses, unexpected injuries, other medical reasons that create an absence in the workplace. There are deaths in the family and births. Maybe someone is to serve on a jury or a grand jury. So my question is, what expectation of privacy do we have when it comes to taking time off? There is a right to privacy here and how does it apply?
In answering that question it must be taken into account that we are people, who, more often than not, care about the people we work with. We are enmeshed in their lives to varying degrees. Familiarity develops with time because of proximity and a shared purpose. When though does concern for a coworker step over the privacy line? Consider the following situation.
A person takes time off because a family member is ill and needs to care for that person. Through permission or self revelation staff know why the person was to be absent. Time goes by. More time goes by. The expected return date goes by. Many are wondering, some among themselves, why the person is still gone. “Does anyone know what happened?” and such questions are asked. No one hears. So using common knowledge a coworker searches the internet looking for answers and finds out that their colleague has not returned because the person they were going to help in their illness has tragically died.
Instead of keeping this information private, or waiting for a supervisor or human resources to share this loss, that same person then proceeds to inform all of the other coworkers, person after person of the death and of how their clever research precipitated that information. Although, there has been no official notification from management or human resources, staff are now organizing a sympathy card, and memorial. Management does nothing to reprimand this, and participates in the discussions of how sad and what to do. The several people that feel a line has been breeched, do mention the fact that, this knowledge is really unreleased private information that should be respected. But the planning goes on. At some point the person returns and is gracious and thankful for the kindness shown.
What is right in this situation? Was it right to research this individual? Was it right to share the information? Would this person have a grievance?
“And even if there is no specific law, a right to privacy can be based on the legal common law concept of having a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” (Gross, 2012)
Libraries and librarians strive to promote uphold both the right to intellectual freedom and the right to privacy. “Intellectual freedom as a concept in librarianship means freedom to think or believe what one will, freedom to express one’s thoughts and beliefs in unrestricted manners and means, and freedom to access information an ideas regardless of the content or viewpoints of the author(s) or the age, background or beliefs of the receiver” (Dresang, 2006).
I don’t have the answer. I suppose the answer lies in the individuals themselves. It does cause me to think twice about how to behave. Does that person have a grievance that could be filed? Or is this just the reality of living in the information age? I would say yes. I would say no.
Dresang, E. (2006). Intellectual freedom and libraries: complexity and change in the twenty-first-century digital environment. Library Quarterly, 76(2), 169-192. doi:10.1086/506576
Gross, B. (2012) Basic privacy issues in the workplace. All Business. Retrieved from http://www.allbusiness.com/labor-employment/labor-regulation-policy-employee-privacy/7869527-1.html
The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg
The author exemplifies the conditioning of habit and its disruption in this book, The Power of Habit. He illustrates the strength and the fragility of habit as illustrated in the example of the routine political demonstration disrupted by the absence of street food vendors. At times Duhigg stretches his analysis to fit his theory, forcing the story to fit the premise, as in the case of the Rhode Island hospital. Here it was not habit but fear that primarily determined behavior. Target uses purchasing behavior and analysis, as a demographic to merchandise, but it is not habit that determines a pregnant woman buys vitamins, or the grabs the new dvd during checkout, it is convenience. Overall though he puts forward a theory of cue, routine and reward that feeds our habitual behaviors – the conditioned response of Pavlov’s dog, as the basis for habit formation.
Understanding behavior and habit within public library staff, can improve the workplace environment for staff and the public. Staff is used to interacting with resources, collections, materials, procedures and each other in routine fashion. Work-arounds are habitually used instead of finding a solution. For instance, the time clocks may differ in three locations, but this is well know and used to manipulate the recording of the workday. However, if the time clocks were synchronized, this would break the habitual lateness of employees. Allowing communication patterns with customers or staff that negatively impact the self and the workplace could be improved by recognizing the habit loop of cue, routine and response. Acknowledging habit in customers would at least be reason for pause when considering changes and the impacts of those changes on the routines of customers.
Overall Duhigg convincingly brings forth a discussion worthy of attention. Habit abounds in work and life. Understanding habit and human behavior, using that understanding with integrity and wisdom has the potential to transform individuals, families, organizations, and communities.
FA:14 LIBR:200-19 TASH Blog #4
Do they (library staff) use resources and services provided by libraries or other information organizations?
Library staff naturally uses library resources and services. To quote Bivens-Tatum, “We’re library users, too, but we’re so familiar with our libraries that we overlook the flaws, workarounds, and frustrations.” This applies not to just when we are serving our communities, as implied by the author, but when working within the departmental structures of the library and with its internal resources. Talking with co-workers, and researching the interior of my public library workplace again and again underscored this sentiment.
On the public side, the catalog may have cataloging errors, such as “Animal House the dvd is in the system under ANI while Animal House the Blu-ray is under NAT for National in the extended title of National Lampoon’s Animal House”, as exampled by AC. So we experience using the library differently than our community, knowing that a cataloging error may be the cause of Animal House being absent from the Blu-ray collection under A and instinctively look then under N.
Much of the cataloging is outsourced and this outsourcing is likely the culprit of such cataloging discrepancies. So while public service desks work around this in their way, technical services must accept this as a normal part of the flawed system and correct the records in retrospect.
Articulating the user experience of library staff is more difficult than it would seem because of this familiarity. This is our profession, information. Using it and generating it is part of us. So many times information is findable but not readily accessible, disorganized in various SharePoint discussions buried in a department sub-sites or recently updated webpages. The water cooler or the telephone becomes the information source many instances.
Yet information sources are part of the interior life of the community. Gimlet reports are run for statistics on reference transactions. Baker and Taylor is searched, as is amazon.com for availability of replacement or new items. Reader’s advisory sites such as GoodReads, Novelist, HarperCollins and other publishers send our reviews and lists in email subscriptions. Other information is gotten from ALA, Booklist and other vendors providing training and education.
So, briefly this is a small glimpse of the backside of information services in a public library.
Do they (library staff) create their own information sources and services?
Yes, there are countless ways that public library staff creates information sources. In the graphics department, SL says, “The program guides take months of planning and collaboration. Marketing, Childrens’ Services, Adult Services and the NV community all contribute staff time and talent to make each edition a success.” This is then used by both the staff and the community as an information resource for library programs and services. A board packet is sent monthly to all staff and is published on the website. Binders with genre and age appropriate reading lists are made to help both staff and public. Cheat sheets for the new technology and their updates are constantly revised, as is the staff phone directory. Brochures, bookmarks, pamphlets, banners, signs, policies, procedures are all information sources generated and used by staff.
How does library staff’s perceptions of information services correspond with the user experience theories covered in the lecture and readings?
It was interesting how the spaces were used in particular. It was right on the mark. Many times there will be twice as many teens surrounding a table for four or squeezed into a conference room. Cords stretched across the floor are a common. Although it is unusual to have people sitting on the floor it does happen during peak study sessions such as midterm and finals. The desks as barriers issue is being addressed. Partitions were taken down at the self-checkout so that books could rest on the counter. Computers were rearranged so that gaming could become interactive for the teens. As staff we experience this along with our customers.
In respect to the library staff as an information community, staff’s use of library space is dictated by established policies and procedures. To this I mean that library staff uses the spaces as intended as part of work performance.
Bivens-Tatum, W. (2010). Imagination, sympathy, and the user experience. Library Journal, 8. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2010/11/ljarchives/imagination-sympathy-and-the-user-experience/#_
AC and SL NPL.