Friday, October 20, 2006

Life at the whiteboard face.

One present I received for my recent oh-no-not-another-one-already-birthday was the offer of some teaching work at a college here. Like all colleges in this country it is known by its initials, which can be pretty confusing for the outsider, particularly in Dublin where the 't's and the 'd's can often sound the same in the local accent.

Discretion being the better part of valour and to avoid confusion with other institutions using similar permutations of the same three letters I will not name my current employer. We shall know it merely as 'XXX'.

I want to write about it for a number of reasons. First because it typifies the 'fur coat and no knickers' ethos of much of life in modern Ireland and second because my anger management counsellor suggested that writing might be a more adult response than arson.

I am now about to enter my 5th week of teaching and to date I have yet to receive a library card (always useful for compiling reading lists etc) or access to the college computer system (again often useful for teaching purposes). These lacunae in my academic toolbox have not occurred for a lack of effort or interest on my part. Quite the contrary. I have tried on a number of occasions to procure said items but have been faced with responses ranging from the baffled that I should be after asking to 'I don't know who you are, but it's not my job anyway'. These responses have invariably delivered by smiling faced colleens, hereafter referred to as kind fairies or troll-maidens, depending upon my mood at the time of writing.

In the second week of term my contract of employment arrived. On the strength of this I was able to procure a staff card, although the kind fairy in the office of people who possibly work here, maybe (otherwise known as HR) wasn't sure if I could be trusted with a token so powerful (it opens the portals of Car Park No2 apparently). I asked about library and computer facilities. 'That's for your department to arrange' she said and dismissed me with a wave of her wand.

I went back to the department and asked another kind fairy about library facilities. 'You have to arrange that with the library' she said and she too dismissed me with a wave of her wand.

I have worked in lots of different places of learning over the years and a good guide to how suinstitutionsons see themselves is in the location of their libraries. In colleges which regard themselves as vested in education and the transmission of knowledge the library is nearly always at the heart of things. Right in the middle and as near to everything as it's possible for one building to be without breaching the laws of physics. In places which see themselves as in the business of producing duly certificated young people for the white collar labour market, libraries tend to be pushed out of the limelight and tucked as far down one end of the campus as it is possible to go. No prizes for guessing which kind of establishment XXX is.

As the crow flies, from my department to the library is about 300 metres. Unfortunately, the XXX campus was not designed by crows but by some coked-up bastard off-spring of Richard Rodgers and the eejit who designed the new Port Tunnel 4 inches too low for most of the lorries that will use it. What should be a short stroll becomes a major trek past grey steel and reflective glass edifices the size of aircraft carriers which cannot be cut through and have to be walked around.

These are the kind of modernist 'statements' which would induce apoplexy in Charlie Windsor in two shakes of an architect's tail. What the statement might be I'm not sure, possibly something like "Be humbled before us, feeble human' or words to that effect.

Some hours later I arrived at the library and was greeted by another kind fairy. No my staff card wasn't any use. I had to fill in a pink form and carry it back to my department where someone would have to sign it. I could then return it to the library. Its forbidding portals would open before me and I would be granted the awesome power to borrow books!

I retraced my now weary steps back through the architectural graveyard to my department. I handed over the pink form to yet another kind fairy who looked at it, looked at me and then disappeared into the back office. She returned with another, less than kind, fairy, who interrogated me regarding my purpose and my lineage as if asking for library facilities was an attempt to inveigle her into a criminal conspiracy. Eventually after all my details had been confirmed, I was allowed to return to the library, pink form in hot pink hand.

The first kind fairy at the gate of the library had been replaced by another, who definitely had more than a hint of the troll-maiden about her. She looked at the form and said 'The elf who takes care of this has left for the day. I'll pass it on to her and you should hear in a year or two.' (or at least that's what I think she said)

I left sore of foot and heavy of heart and abandoned my planned quest to the far reaches of the campus where lies the enchanted kingdom of Computer Services.

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