There are times when it seems that the people in the high echelons of Oxfam have just not quite thought through the introduction of a new system.
So what probably seemed like a good idea in a senior managers’ meeting sometime, has turned our shop into a bit of a walking disaster area.
So, as I am quite het up about this, I will explain.
(If you want to go away and fume about your own organisation’s inability to make sure the people – in our case not even paid – at the coalface have an input into decisions which directly affect their day-to-day working lives, feel free.
But if you are lucky enough to not face these issues, you can feel smug and gently superior as you read through mine.)
Regular readers will know that however hard it may be to hear, we do have to throw away a lot of books.
Either they are in such bad condition no one would pay good money for them, or they are in fine condition but no one wants to buy them anyway – please read last blog for more details.
And if you read the last blog, you will know we were facing a re-cycling sack shortage.
So, I was very pleased on Monday when the man turned up to take away the full sacks, and leave us some empty ones.
But he didn’t leave sacks, he left a pile of flat-pack boxes.
So, I called the re-cycling contractor who said, and I paraphrase, –
‘sacks are so yesterday, we are now using boxes.’
That was news to me.
Now if you think about it, which I am sure you don’t unless you are a fellow Oxfam book sorter, sacks have big advantages for volunteers but are not good for the ‘health’ of books.
You can hold a sack in one hand and put in all sorts of shapes and sized books with you other hand, tie it up, put it in the pile of sacks and get on with the next one.
And if you have just had a hip replacement, for example, you can drag a sack but can’t drag a box.
But every book in a sack is likely to be bashed about and come out at the other end in a pretty sorry state of repair, whereas books in boxes are protected.
Then again, if you have a flat-packed boxes you have to make up each one with the requisite tape to make sure it is strong enough, and then pack it with books in all the right size and shape to fit in – then you have to lift and move it.
That is fine if you get one or two bags of incoming donations during your shift that you can gently sort through and enjoy the symmetry of making a range of book sizes fit together.
This, in Oxfam terms, is the equivalent of gently dead-heading the roses around your beautifully manicured lawn.
In fact, most of the time book sorting is more like desperately digging your way out of a big hole while people are throwing more and more earth in it – and on your head.
Or more accurately, a deep but very narrow hole.
Our sorting space is not much bigger than a phone box – if you are old enough to remember those – through which you have to preserve access to a fire exit, the toilet and the lift which, in case you are thinking otherwise, is just big enough to move books, not people.
And I know there are shops with even less space.
I am not sure how many of the high echelons who decided this plan was such a good idea, have spent a shift recently in a busy bookshop, with confined space and a lot of incoming donations, sorting the wheat from the chaff…….
Now, to be fair I understand one of the motivations – as explained to me by the man I spoke to at the re-cycling company – a necessary explanation as we had no other advance warning or explanation.
There are books we sack which would have some value – say paperback fiction which is not in a good enough state for us to sell at £2.49 but if you have a shop where they could go for £1.00 or 50p, I am sure they would sell.
And so I can understand a system which says, ‘please put into these brand new boxes, some books we might stand a chance of selling in other circumstances than your shop.’
We could do that – and it would gladden the heart to give those books another chance to raise money for Oxfam.
But the rubbish – the damp, the bedraggled, the scrawled over, the out date of legal text books, the Readers’ Digest condensed novels, the Which Best UK Hotels Guide 1985, the guide to Chatsworth House 1991 – give me a break.
Am I supposed to spend time making up these brand new flat-packed boxes to fill them with those books, so someone else somewhere can throw them into a sack?
How mad is that?
And what is more the re-cycling company has printed firm instructions on their lovely flat-packed boxes, they only want nice books, in good condition, that they can sell.
So, I asked the re-cycling man, what were we supposed to do with the rubbish books.
‘Oh,’ he said and this is not a word of a lie, ‘ I don’t know. I guess you need to put them in separate boxes and label them as rubbish.’
Now, boxes of books are heavy. I am not sure what the average age of an Oxfam volunteer is, but I can say that I am not surrounded by the gilded youth of Petersfield.
So, these boxes will hardly often be full because volunteers can’t lift that weight.
So, more lovely flat-packed boxes will have to be ‘built’ and most of them will only be half full.
Apparently after complaining, we were told we may get a large bin from the council which we will be able to use for rubbish books – when and if though, is a question.
These big bins need someone to hold open the lid whilst someone else puts the books in.
Obviously you can’t leave the till unattended and so you will need one person on the till, one person holding the lid of the bin open and another putting in the books……..
And the council charges for bins.
Anyone else thinking – for goodness sake just give them some sacks?
In the vain hope that someone in those high echelons, maybe the very nice Trading Director gets to hear the plaintive, exasperated, desperate cries from the shop floor – or more to the point, not the shop floor but those many of us who are behind the scenes trying to cope with this system – I say this:
I quite understand the need to get as much money from our donations as possible – and we know that money raised in Petersfield is to help people with a whole lot more to worry about than boxing books.
And there is a system which could work:
Please supply us with some boxes and some sacks.
We will fill the boxes with books that have potential for sale and we will fill the sacks with the books that no one will want to buy.
And next time, could someone just ask us for our ideas of how to make the system work better?