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Librarian Day in the Life Day 1

I decided that with the unique circumstances in Cedar Rapids right now, this just might be the best time to record my daily activities for the week, so that I can have a record of at least part of this hectic time, and so that everyone out there can have an idea what's going on in our city. I, like several library employees have been helping out other city departments as we recover from the catastrophic flood in June. Throughout this experience we have received numerous compliments about our helpfulness, which has given us something to get excited about, even if it will be at least a year before we're back into our main library building again.

Today I'm working for the City Code Enforcement office on their customer service phone line. In the weeks since the flood I've spent a few days in the Code Enforcement office working on and off on the phone line, doing random tasks, and filling in for the electricians' secretary (another displaced library worker) on her day off. Most of my time, though, has been spent in a satellite office of code enforcement helping with flood contractor registration. As a service to help citizens trying to rebuild, the city set up a registration process for all contractors wanting to work in the flood affected areas. This way all contractors working in the flood affected areas should be properly licensed contractors, and hopefully this will prevent homeowners being taken by scammers.

All of that was basically to say that I've been working in different areas of code enforcement, but I haven't spent much time on the phone line, where you basically have to know the answer, or at least the correct person to direct people to, for every possible building, electrical, plumbing, zoning, and code question. Being a bit of a peerfectionist, especially when it comes to customer service, I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed, and glad that I just came off a three day weekend with my best friends. I'm pretty sure I would have already been on the verge of tears by 10AM. As it was, I couldn't wait for lunch.

For the first hour, I basically just tried to get myself reacquainted with all the various rules, regulations, and procedures about rebuilding in the flood area (the most common questions we receive). The phones were all still turned off from Friday (when there were only two people available to answer phones), so I didn't have to take any calls right away. However, then I got put on one of the two phones that was on & answered calls for roughly 30 minutes straight.

The most common calls today were about the damage letters sent out to homeowners last week. Basically, the city has to send out letters to home owners in the flood affected areas estimating the amount of damage to the home. However, these are only estimates, and so we have several homeowners calling in mad about their estimate, generally because they think it should be much higher.

In general, a lot of people are overwhelmed by this disaster and seem to be calling us in the hopes that we will take as much of the decision making process out of their hands as possible. So a lot of what we have to do is trying to clarify the rebuilding process for homeowners and break it down into smaller more digestible chunks that they can deal with. Six weeks out, we still have people who haven't even entered their homes yet, because they're overwhelmed by where to start.

I tried to start listing the types of calls I was getting, but they were so varied, it's hard to quickly summarize here.

One of the recurring frustrations I dealt with, though, was people who wanted to speak to a specific person in the office on the phone. Because we have so many people coming to the office in person, anyone who knows anything useful is generally busy helping those people, so they generally aren't answering their phones, and aren't always keeping up with their voicemail, something we get to hear about on the phone lines all the time. Today I had a man demanding to talk to the man in charge of our whole office about his damage letter. I tried to explain that if he brought it down to our office with a contractor's estimate of what the repairs would cost, that we could get his situation straightened out, but he seemed bound and determined to yell at "the guy in charge of this mess" and anyone who kept him from doing so (actually he apolgized to me several times for getting upset with me, but he still refused to listen to me when I suggested other ways of resolving his problem).

The strangest call I had today was from a lady whose elderly aunt was sneaking into her structurally damaged house to rescue food from the freezer weeks later. Apparently she reasoned the food was okay because it was still sealed, and like many of the elderly that I worked with in a previous job, she just couldn't stand to see food go to waste. So not only was she entering a home that was unsafe, but she was doing it to rescue food that's questionably safe at best.

I'm glad that I'm only doing this for one more day, and yet I feel guilty for not wanting to do more to help out the city during this stressful time. Still, the better way for me to help the library is probably to go back to the library where I can answer people's questions at the library. At least there I'm working for a different department than the one they think should be buying out their house, so they're less likely to yell at me. Even though I know it's nothing personal, I still really prefer the job where I don't get yelled at.

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