March 7, 2003
Reaction Journal #3
NOTICE: Use caution when reading this write-up. Do not back up – severe brain damage. You are warned that every time you see the word “anyway” begin a sentence, it means that Author has decided to get back on-topic after spouting nonsense of significant length.
Last week, on March 1, I had the unique pleasure of taking a field trip to a library that I could actually find. The Packer Engineering Library is located a few blocks from the AMC Cantera theater, which I have been to more times than I will be admitting to during the course of this discourse. It is a little bit unusual that Packer Engineering has a small apartment complex to share the parking lot and driveway with; don’t these people get paid decently enough to be able to afford a place more than ten feet away from where they work? On second thought, they probably don’t need any more than that; I hear most engineers are single. They talk in acronyms and will file for divorce if you call them in the middle of debugging. Anyway, Packer Engineering is an interesting little place, I’ll give it that much. Upon walking in, you get the feeling that the main entryway is a rather bland office space, though they have attempted to spruce it up by putting up a portrait of the company’s founder on one wall. I don’t remember his name, and "What’s-His-Face" just seems a little disrespectful, so how about Seemingly Random but Probably Highly Influential Distinguished Gentleman, instead. Deep down, though, the place never really will get past the office-space atmosphere . . . miniature blueberry muffins were about the extent of the food set out for us. Evil muffins. They know nobody will touch them, so they’re plotting a hostile takeover.
Anyway, believe it or not, we may actually get to hear something about the actual library today. The class was greeted by Sara Tompson, the director of Library Services at Packer Engineering. According to the handout (see “cheat sheet”) she gave us, she coordinates the library staff and oversees the reference and research efforts. The library is located at 1950 North Washington Street in Naperville, and the phone number is 505-5722. If you’re an Internet junkie, or just plain lazy, then to hell with the actual library; take a tour of the site at http://library.packereng.com/newpages. The library itself has over 6,000 books, nearly 500 journals and 5,000 standards, codes and specifications. There are also 428 vertical files, 62 CDs, 64 videos, 27 audio tape sets and about a dozen deceased spiders. In total, there are over 12,000 catalogued items. The emphasis of the collection is – hold on to your hat, Grandma – engineering! There are people who actually find these things an interesting read . . . you have been warned. They may come after you with a blueberry muffin if they spot you.
Nobody to date seems to have any idea what the size of the building is. Apparently, that’s privileged information, and . . . oh, it’s 1,300 square feet. The staff work areas and cubicle-like offices are about the same size as that, provided you move the decimal backward three spaces. Dilbert was lurking in the shadows, I’m sure. Since the organizational pattern of this paper is best described as “schizophrenic,” we are now going to talk about the technology available at Packer. This is not referring to the various labs, which we only walked by; there looks like a lot of fun stuff down there, though. Hey, nothing says fun like slicing your friend’s eye off with a laser. What we did learn, however, is that there are a lot of business, legal and engineering online resources available via DIALOG and Dow Jones Interactive, among others. There are about 120 total employees at Packer, but only three or four work in the library. What's more, rumor has it that only a handful actually work at all. (We are just kidding, of course.) It is generally not open to the public, mainly because the public has neither the interest nor the mental capacity to take in all the super-technical info. Basically, however, someone comes to the library (or contacts them) to request specific information or research be done; if a large architectural structure collapses somewhere, for example, Sara and her team have someone sent out to analyze it, gaze at it with a concerned expression, etc. I understand they’ve been getting calls for a few hundred years now regarding a certain Italian monument that, due to serious design flaws, only appears straight to those who are cockeyed. Unfortunately, back then, Packer didn’t have Sara Tompson around to tell them to get to work; there were just a bunch of people wandering around the office, grunting and whacking each other with clubs. They got the call about the Tower, and historians estimate that their response roughly translates to “We’ll have someone out there in seven to 10 business days” (or “Your call is important to us. It will be answered in the order received”). Actually, the main clients are attorneys and insurance companies.
Ms. Tompson explained to us that the main goal of the library is to “provide the right information at the right time for the right price.” This sounds like a bribe to me, but nevermind. What also is interesting is that she stated that the library really has no real budget. I’m not sure I understand that, but if she can get away with it, then more power to her. The library selection policy is, simply, “on an as-necessary basis.” The collection management is basically just weeding out the outdated or unused materials. Makes sense. Speaking of dates, the building was built in 1962, and interestingly, it still has all the original carpeting in the offices. Or at least it looks like it. The hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by appointment. Within Packer Engineering – a part of the Pader Group, actually – the boss is simply the CEO, though I didn’t catch his name. It may be Dr. Packer, however.
As for the seating in the library, the chairs are thoroughly uneventful; there’s your classic metal folding ones, and then there's the soft cushioned ones. There are probably a dozen or two in there. Now as for where you can find all the various things: Don’t be ridiculous. Sara’s desk functions as the only sort of possible reference desk – or any other kind, for that matter – there is in there. Water fountain out in the hallway, bathroom down near the office suite also down the hall. The library is a tiny little place, so I’m not going to even bother going over where each individual area is. Just walk in and see everything; the books and all the other types are right there. You don’t get books checked out by the conventional method; you check them out yourself. But the library staff doesn’t entirely trust everyone, so there’s a strategically-placed sign-in sheet. Use it or face the wrath of Sara (and the cost of the book).
Is there much else to talk about? I would have no reason to use the library even if I were eligible to do so. I think the public library will suffice, and it’s closer. I think the best part of the library, however, is Sara. She seems thoroughly competent in every regard. The only thing that I would be worried about is the size – if I were claustrophobic, I’d probably go crazy. All in all, though, I liked the library, especially how small it is. I get the impression that it's the sort of place where there would be very few distractions. The only thing left is this Handy List of Terminology we might find useful:
1. “A number of different approaches are being tried” translates as “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re moving.”
2. “An extensive report is being prepared on a fresh approach to the problem” actually means “We just hired three guys... We'll let them kick it around for a while.”
3. “Developed after years of intensive research” is another way of saying “It was discovered by accident.”
4. “Modifications are underway to correct certain minor difficulties” equals “We threw the whole thing out and are starting from scratch.”
5. “Preliminary operational tests were inconclusive” is akin to “The damn thing blew up when we threw the switch.”
6. “Test results were extremely gratifying” means “It works, and we’re surprised as heck!”
7. “The design will be finalized in the next reporting period” is how engineers say “We haven't started this job yet, but we've got to say something.”
8. “The entire concept is unworkable” more accurately translates as “The only guy who understood the thing just quit.”
9. “We need close project coordination” really means “We should have asked someone else.”
And remember, watch out for the blueberry muffins! They’ll bite if you don’t.