Friday, January 10, 2014

Re-carpeting a library

I've mentioned more than once on this blog about how much I hate carpet.  Specifically, wall-to-wall carpet.  During my tenure as a medical librarian, the library was re-carpeted.  Twice.  The really
memorable one was the first time because all of the employees had to help AND men were brought in from the nearest prison to do the really heavy work.  Yes, we had our very own chain-gang in the library.

The original carpet that was installed when the library was built was a beautiful deep blue plaid atop a thick padding.  Unfortunately the constant pushing/rolling of loaded book carts over it caused the carpet to eventually roll away from the padding and the seams in the carpet to split.  So, it was decided that this time around, we would use industrial type carpet (no padding) that would be literally glued to the concrete floor.  The color our head librarian chose was truly dreadful.  We referred to it as tomato soup because the shade of burnt orange/red looked just like what you see in a can of tomato
soup.  And not in a good way. 

Apparently, using prisoners on work-release was something that the university had done for several projects.  These prisoners weren't considered high risk, meaning there weren't supposed to be any murderers among them.  There was some concern about the fact that the library was mostly staffed by women and these guys hadn't been around women in awhile.  I was in my 20's at the time and had just finished grad school so it seemed a little scary but kind of interesting.

All of the books and journals had to be removed from the shelving.  Then the shelving had to be broken down and moved before the carpet could be installed.  This is where we (library staff and prisoners) came in.  We started boxing up the books and journals before the 'guys' as we began calling them arrived.  We tried to keep things in order as much as possible and, of course, to mark all boxes that were packed.

Not one of our guys. :(
The first thing we noticed when the guys arrived with their guard was that the guard actually did wear mirrored sun glasses.  I kept thinking of the movie "Cool Hand Luke" although there weren't any Paul Newmans in the group. The guard talked to the library staff and answered any questions we had.  We noticed that he didn't carry a gun.  He told us that was to keep any of the guys from managing to get it from him and using it.  I felt better already.  He also told us that this job was like heaven for the guys because they often had to work out in the blazing sun digging post holes, etc.  Being in an air-conditioned building was a treat.

We were divided into groups with a mix of staff and some of the guys and assigned different sections of the library (upstairs and downstairs) to remove the items from the shelves and place them onto book carts.  Most of the work went fine with no incidents.  Some of the guys were more talkative than others.  There was one that everyone called 'Square-Head' -- for obvious reasons if you saw him.  He was actually pretty funny.  He wouldn't say why he was in prison.  One of our student assistants asked him when he was getting out.  Square-Head laughed and said, "Honey, I'm a three-time loser!  I ain't ever gettin' out!" 

Another guy named Dan was kind of quiet but very polite.  He was also huge.  Well over six feet tall and hands the size of baseball mitts.  Apparently he had been a trucker -- a teamster -- before going to prison.  At one point I was paired with him.  He was going to take the journals from the shelves and hand them to me to arrange on the book truck.  I turned around for the first few journals and discovered him standing there holding out what amounted to half the shelf of buckram bound journals between his two hands.  I looked at him and apologized because I knew I couldn't handle that many (or even a quarter of that many) at one time.  We decided to switch and I handed him the journals -- one to two at a time -- and he placed them on the truck.  I had the feeling that I was slowing him down.  Later when an older member of the staff, Milly, was paired with him, we noticed that she was sitting in a chair while Dan did all of the work.  Milly grinned and said that Dan told her that he'd take care of everything and that this work was too much for a lady like her.  Milly was in her 60's and had a strong southern accent.  After her shift (or rather Dan's shift) was finished, she asked me and my friend Shirley, "That Dan is soooo nice.  I wonder what he did?"  Shirley responded with a completely deadpan face, "He killed his mother."  Heh, heh.  We found out later that Dan foolishly agreed to transport drugs during one of his trucking hauls.  According to the guard, Dan was the type of guy who had messed up but just wanted to do his time and go home to his family.  The guard said that some guys would come and go like the prison had a revolving door but the guys like Dan paid for their crime and never got into trouble again.  He said that the guys' last job had actually been digging post holes in the summer Florida heat and that Dan worked like a machine and never complained. 

We did have one incident when the guys were working with us that was kind of funny.  The back door of the library led outside and you could walk down to the clinic where physicians on staff saw patients.  Just outside the clinics was a drive-through area for dropping off and picking up patients.  One of the guys somehow managed to get out and make his way down to the clinics where he was picked up by his girlfriend in the drive-through area.  I never heard how quickly he was found but I suspect it didn't take long.

It was getting close to Halloween when we finished up the carpeting and we wanted to do something to show the guys how much we appreciated their help.  We decided to throw a little party for them in our staff lounge.  We had sandwiches, side dishes, a big cake and bowls of candy for Halloween sitting around the room.  To our surprise the guys didn't seem very interested in the food or the cake.  However, they were stuffing the candy into their pockets.  The guard told us that they could use the candy to trade for cigarettes, etc., with other inmates when they returned to the prison.


The second time the library was re-carpeted wasn't nearly as interesting but it was also a relief because the staff was spared the labor.  An outside company was brought in and they did everything while we just tried to stay out of their way.  We still had a pizza party afterwards just to celebrate the fact that the job was finished.    



  1. Great story! I'm sorry I wasn't there to share the adventure. On the bright side I missed the tomato-red carpet.

  2. Thanks! Yes, that color was not only hideous but you could see every stain, spill, etc, on it.