Saturday, April 05, 2008


I've only just realized that I've never explained PsychoBoss here. That's rather shocking; she was a major factor in so many of my work methodology decisions. So, here goes. I'll try to be as fair as I can. Believe me, if I wanted to be bitchy, I could go on and on and on about the daily weirdness that was my life for four-plus years.

When I graduated with my Master's degree about twenty years ago, I was working very part-time at the place where I'd done my internship. I interviewed a few places and was lucky enough (I thought) to be hired at a small public library about 15 minutes from our apartment. I started in early June.

Six months after I started work, the director went into the hospital. While it was clear that other staff members knew why, I had no clue. It was all very hush-hush. I concluded it must be "girl stuff." To make the situation weirder, the Board (with her direction) asked me to be Acting Director in her absence. I was the newest employee by years, there were two other older and longer-term librarians on staff...but I was Acting as Director on six months of experience, at age 25.

Any bells ringing in your head? They weren't, really, in mine. I was, disgracefully extremely 25, extremely sure of myself, extremely unaware of political undercurrents, and extremely stupid about what the hell was really going on here.

She was not hospitalized for "girl stuff." She was in a locked ward in a mental hospital, on suicide watch. Just before Christmas they started doing ECT to treat her. In January she came home, but wasn't able to work for several more weeks.

In the meantime, it was time to close out the annual budget. The municipal financial person forwarded the budget to the Board, and I was informed that we were hundreds (thousands?) of dollars over budget. The Board wanted to know why, but they were pretty kind: after all, the staff didn't know what the budget was so that must be why it had happened. The short answer was that we had overspent the book budget in a huge way. Somehow. Even though we had ordered nothing while the Director was gone. How had this happened? It made NO sense. And it was embarrassing for me to have to answer this, even if the Board was 'understanding.'

When PsychoBoss returned, she couldn't explain it either, except to say that we'd overspent while she was gone. My confusion increased. I asked questions. I was stonewalled, by a pro. And her attitude toward me generally chilled.

That year after she returned, the children's librarian left to become a Director elsewhere. A new children's librarian was hired and I fell further into pariah-hood while L--the new librarian, who had close to 20 years of experience in the field--became Queen.

Fast forward through disillusionment. Our book budget was 100% spent by the end of March every year. New people who didn't ask nosy questions continued to be elevated to royalty. I was told at one of my annual reviews that I was like a terrier when I had something in mind: I couldn't give it up and the implication was that this was bad. That was the moment when I realized everything she said was code. This was not about my job; after all, reference librarians are supposed to be about sticking it out until a solution is found. This was about my questions about her, the running of the library, etc. Another year, my 'review' was a notecard left on my desk with my COLA.

She was a clean freak: public desks had to be empty before we left for the day. All current magazines were to be retrieved and put on the racks in order and neatly. All shelves were to be "faced" (even edges). She checked. She left us notes when we failed to do everything. No quarter was given. When we complained about Sundays being incredibly busy, that we needed more staff--it was one librarian and 4 teenagers for the three hours we were open--she worked every Sunday for two months as a punishment for us, to prove it could be done. Some punishment! It was a great two months for us! One note--which I still have in my files--left stuck to the in/out board simply read "You are all trying to bring me down, but you won't succeed." (paraphrased) By the time this one showed up, I was photocopying notes and tracking every odd interaction. I called an employment hotline in tears at one point, looking for suggestions on how to deal with the work environment. I was in counseling for a year; thank God Beast had insurance I could work through for that!

Then she announced she hand found another job. She would be leaving! Hurrah. I think the Board asked me to step in again as Acting Director. I thought it over for a few days and turned them down. They asked the librarian who had been there longest to do so and she thought for a long time as well and quietly talked to the other two professionals; we committed to back her with the Board and PsychoBoss when things hit the skids, and she agreed to fill in till a new Director was hired.

The first day that PsychoBoss wasn't there, the support staff mutinied. They flat out refused to accept J, the Acting Director, as any kind of authority. This was communicated directly--"You aren't my boss"--and indirectly--refusing to discuss issues with J or the other librarians. We all had always had fairly collegial relationships, but now the workplace was split distinctly into "professionals" and "circ staff." It was bad. Very bad. We couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on. J talked to the Board about it; they said it was all in her (our) head(s), and things were FINE.

As part of her resignation, the Board had agreed to allow PsychoBoss to continue to organize the bills until the new Director was hired. So, one of the circ staff members would collect all the mail and deliver it to to PsychoBoss who would figure it all out and submit bills to the municipality. Or she would come in and work while the library was closed.

Can you say FUBAR?!

What we figured out rather quickly is that the circ staff was calling PsychoBoss regularly, sometimes four or five times a day, from work, to fill her in on what we librarians were up to. Then, as part of the bills, PsychoBoss would have a conversation with the Board Director that would include a comment or discussion about the workplace as a whole, thus poisoning the Board against us.

Finally, about a month before the new Director was hired, I called the Board President, who was a lovely woman with a heart of gold doing her best to keep the whole hiring process on track and doing all the right things with the assumption that everyone involved was on the same team. We had spoken multiple times over the years and she knew all of us pretty well. I called just before lunchtime, from the Reference Desk, and laid out the whole situation. Loudly. In tears. Sobbing. While patrons browsed the library, and probably looked at me in wonderment; I was crying too hard to notice. She was ... stunned, to put it very mildly.

Within a couple of days, PsychoBoss was no longer paying bills. The municipality had taken that over. I think she had to give up her key (fortunately, it was the kind of key that said NO COPIES ALLOWED on it, so she really had to give it up). She, finally, was out. Of course, the phone calls from our circ staff continued to fill her in on gossip, but her fingers were our of the day-to-day business. Life returned to semi-manageable. The Board hired a new director, someone very different from PsychoBoss in every way possible (though I'm sure that's not why they hired him).

At the end of that budget year, we were a h u g e amount in the red, more than any other year. The following year, I quit and we moved out of state. I heard through the grapevine a few years later that the Board had asked for an audit of the books during the PsychoBoss's tenure and found that there was a great deal of money that was unaccounted for, and some really bizarre places had received large checks that were difficult to understand.

I dunno about all that, except that she continues to be director of the same library she went to just after she left my workplace. Working for PsychoBoss was at once the most educational and the most heartbreaking job I can imagine. Over the years, I've come to understand that some of the issues over which I struggled are part of starting out in a career: high ideals meet the reality of the world. And I have said all along that working with this person taught me a great deal about how not to be a boss. She also taught me that politics exist, and CYA is a great career strategy. Let's see, other things I learned...well, a lot about mental illness, much of which I have omitted from this. Beast has warned be to be oblique.

There were certainly good times: one of my baby showers was hosted at the library, we ate huge amounts of PsychoBoss-subsidized M&Ms, we did a lot of awesome programming and provided great service a very complicated community. I learned how to hire and fire people--that was fun (hah)--even if they were just teenage pages. Although for many years, I looked upon that four-year period as a complete loss not to mention a nightmare, I've come to recognize that situations are what you make of them. Sometimes you have to make a beeline for the exit, which I really should have done sooner, and I certainly would do so now. Live and learn. PsychoBoss no longer haunts my every waking work moment, though I do track her movements on Google et al. ;-)

So, that's the PsychoBoss story. No, I'm not naming names (not a shock, eh?), locations, or dates.

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