In my office, there is a magical door that transports me into a strange, cold world, populated by a species who live in semi-darkness for most of their lives. It is an intimidating place, but I have to go there, as that's where the books are kept.
Sometimes I wait until after sunset, when the cacophony of noise is replaced by an eerie silence and I can enjoy hunting for first editions without risking being crushed under the wheels of a forklift truck. But most of the time, I have to enter the warehouse during working hours, negotiating my way around huge stacks of boxes as if I am part of a giant Tetris game.
Once I've found what I'm looking for, I climb the metal staircase that takes me back to warmth, sunlight and silence. I feel grateful and guilty.
The warehouse is another world. It is cold, dirty and uncomfortable, with a noise level that seems to reduce ordinary conversation to a series of shouted expletives. The staff are a mixed bunch, but most are young lads who have barely started shaving, but still seem to have at least one child.
Two weeks ago I was given the go-ahead to expand my department and recruit two extra members of staff. I already have three brilliant graduates who barely required any training, so I decided to advertise externally for two more. Unfortunately, the word got out in the warehouse and I have received several internal applications.
I know why people are applying. They see my department as a "cushy number" and I suppose it is. We have chairs, windows and heating, which are something of a luxury in my workplace.
Unfortunately I don't think anyone actually knows what we do. The nearest someone came to the truth was describing our work as "data entry" (which was an improvement on the person who asked me what fiction was), but it still fell short of the mark.
It's a very awkward situation. I don't think I'm being that fussy, but I would like someone who can spell, knows that George Eliot was a woman and doesn't keep asking me to translate Roman numerals for them. But regretably there aren't many people in my building who tick any of those boxes.
It's strange, because most of the people I work with seem bright, funny interesting people who could be perfectly capable of doing a fairly straightforward job like valuing and writing about antiquarian books. Why are they leaving school without the skills needed to do this?
Sadly a lot of the external applications haven't been any better. Take this extract from a covering letter I received recently:
"i am currently avalible for immidiate start and have a good knollage of authors and different type of books which i think would be good to bring to the team and be a big help with the job."
Given that the job description asked for a high standard of written English, this sentence was quite breathtaking. I was tempted to write back, advising the candidate (in the kindest way possible) to at least use the spellcheck facility.
Most of the other candidates weren't much better. Is this the legacy of Tony Blair's "Education, education, education" policy, with its "literacy hours" and SATS tests? Who, or what is to blame?