This 'n' That

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


A little more than two decades ago, May 20, 1990 to be exact, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion article entitled, "Library Sweatshop:  A View from the Bottom" in its Sunday Book Review section.  The article was written by Ron Kelley, a former library assistant at the Southern Regional Library Facility located on the UCLA campus.  Mr. Kelley's hypothesis is that working in libraries, specifically the Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF) brings on an "accumulation of tension, stress and subliminal (or blatant) animosities (that) "make libraries increasingly unpleasant places to work."  Or what this writer has come to call a culture of cruelty.  Mr. Kelley places the blame on the way in which libraries have been transformed into "technical-service departments (i.e., computer rooms)" that have created "self-centered, antisocial, uncommunicative personality types..."  He surmises  that the SRLF "can expect, on an unprecedented scale, a morale problem."

Wednesday morning, May 22, 2013, during a called staff meeting of all SRLF staff by the building manager, it was announced that a coworker, a library assistant, had taken his own life.  He had apparently leaped to his death from the top of UCLA's Boelter Hall.  The announcement was met with sudden gasps and brought one staff member to tears.  The emotional distress was deepened further by the mystifying admonishment made by the same building manager the previous day, Tuesday afternoon May 21, 2013, that we were to call 911 if Reynaldo Quitos was seen on the premises or on campus.  No other explanation was given.  With no other explanation of why one of our coworkers would commit suicide, Mr. Quitos had been employed by various libraries at UCLA for over twenty years, comments about his unfortunate death were unsympathetic at best:  "He had his problems..."  "It wasn't anybody's fault except his own..."  Thereafter, we were given a somewhat circumvented explanation of  Mr. Quitos' death and what had occurred in the few hours before his sad demise.  Staff from library human resources was in attendance to offer counseling, if necessary.  But the question(s) of what led Mr. Quitos to take his own life hovered like a blinding night time fog.  Why had he climbed to the top of Boelter Hall to jump to his death?  It was and likely continues to be a mystery to many of us who worked with him.  Could it have possibly been attributed to work place bullying?

This writer had been acquainted with the 47 year old gentleman, small in stature, jovial, who had been known for his infectious laughter.  Approximately two years before his death I noticed a change in his personality. He had become quiet, sullen, someone who avoided conversation, eye contact with others in our work place.  Curious as this writer was about this change in him, I kept my distance for fear of being too intrusive.  However, during an impromptu conversation with him, I learned that he had suffered from several financial and emotional setbacks.  After he and his partner became estranged, he lost the condominium the two had shared to foreclosure.  His car was repossessed.  Finally he was forced into bankruptcy.  All of which brought on a mental breakdown and depression.  Mr. Quitos went on to say that he was in the care of a psychiatrist and had been prescribed an anti-depressant.  Hence, the reason(s) for his personality change.

A consistently productive above average employee, rumors abounded after his death that he'd had several verbal confrontations with supervisors and a coworker who eventually attempted to terminate his employment at the SRLF.  Whereupon, Mr. Quitos felt compelled to plead with them to spare him his job.  There may or may not have been other incidents that put those in power positions to resort to what took place a few hours before he took his own life.

What is factual is that shortly after noon, Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Mr. Quitos was arrested at his desk, handcuffed and escorted out of the building by the arresting UCLA police officer and two of the arrested man's immediate supervisors.  In the mind of this writer the arrest is what led Mr. Quitos to believe he had only one way out of a degrading and humiliating situation.  Coupled with his financial struggles and fragile state of mind, what else could it have been?

Common human decency might have prevented him from making such a tragic choice.  A work place environment is often a reflection of those in leadership positions.  I sense that my deceased former coworker received no compassion or sympathy from those in supervisory positions at the Southern Regional Library Facility.  A UCLA police officer in attendance at the called library staff meeting informed us that Mr. Quitos had been arrested for theft.  Theft of what, when, how, and why?  Rumor had it that he had stolen a coworker's souvenir Los Angeles Dodger t-shirt, which was supposedly captured on a security camera.  Tantamount, in my opinion, to an armed drone attack on an ant hill.

If an employee begins to display signs of distress, of being troubled and acting in a manner he or she has never acted in the past, why not have a civil conversation with that person?  Endeavor to comprehend the cause or causes.  Suggest or offer assistance with finding appropriate counseling services.  Harsh confrontational lectures, reprimands and threats of job termination are not always productive or correct responses to difficult employees.  It is no better than bullying and does nothing to assuage a complex, difficult situation.  Better to make a positive effort in saving a troubled employee's livelihood and possibly his or her life.