This week, the children’s librarian and I were on all fours trying to secure a shelf. The little metal gadget that was supposed to fit snugly in the adjustable shelving holes had instead made the hole larger. As a result, the weight of the shelf was continually pulling the gadget out of its hole. After a brief conference, we wrapped a layer of electrical tape around the tiny nub of the gadget, increasing its size just enough for it to fit snugly. At least until we replace the book case. “We’ve MacGyvered another one,” my colleague sighed as we assessed our work. I thought, I wonder if people would see us differently if they realized how often what we do is “MacGyvering.”
From 1985 to 1992, the action-adventure television series MacGyver ran on American television and became a pop culture icon. Angus MacGyver, the handsome lead character, would creatively solve a myriad of problems, often freeing himself from impossible situations, with the general detritus found in his setting and perhaps some duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. This skill prompted a new slang term that means, roughly, to improvise in crisis situations with household items The series has become so entrenched that CBS is planning a reboot in the fall. But for those of us in library land, I suggest we have been “MacGyvering” for more the past twenty years.
I have long held the conviction that dental floss and duct tape can solve almost any library problem, at least in the short term. We have used dental floss to securely hang pictures, as well as display items and signage. We’ve used duct tape for emergency repair of everything from toilets to book drops. But even without these two miracle tools, librarians are famous for their improvisations.
In an average month, we might use a coin as a screwdriver, tissues and tape as a bandage, paper clips as a variety of small tools, and pipe cleaners or even rubber bands as hangers. We’ve held our staff refrigerator together with book tape, moved heavy furniture across the room with the help of card board sliders, and tilted book cases sideways to serve as display shelves.
Considering all the improvisation and brainstorming librarians are forced to do on a day-to-day basis, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for us to change our names to “MacGyvers.” What would the world do, if we changed our name? I am willing to bet that all of you reading this have had these moments. I think it would be fascinating to hear your MacGyver tricks, too.