Library manners

How about we act like we are in a library – everywhere? Restaurants. Home Depot. The shopping mall. No matter where you are, act like you are in a library. This will make for a saner world.

Speak softly. Nobody needs to yell to be heard. You don’t have to whisper, but yelling isn’t cool. Find a middle ground.

No running. Unless you are at a track meet or are being chased by a bear, there is no reason to run inside a building.

Share – don’t act like everything belongs to you. This applies to material items, as well as the road, as well as public space, as well as at a buffet. Leave something for someone else.

Keep the space tidy. Don’t leave a mess.

There is no need for music or television noise everywhere. Silence is OK. Why do restaurants have to play music so loudly that you can’t even hear your dinner companion? Why do doctor’s offices have to have the TV on news, or talk shows, or other things that are stressful? You aren’t feeling well as is – why add to it? If people want to be distracted (if silence scares them) they can turn on their iPods and plug in their headphones. But for those who don’t want the noise, there is no escape.

Treat everybody who helps you with respect. I worked many years in retail before going to work at the library. They are very similar – but with a major difference. The same person who would be brusque with a clerk at the gas station is nothing but smiles to the library worker. I came from working at a Jo-Ann’s craft store, where I would ask people “How are you?” all day long. They’d answer, but not reciprocate and ask me how I was doing. Then I got hired at the library, and patrons initiate the question. Here’s a shocker – to do what I do only requires a high school diploma. Librarians have master’s degrees, but I’m not one. But does that mean that the public thinks that people with degrees should be treated better?

“How am I doing today?”

A regular patron came in recently and said “How am I today?” The clerk at the desk replied “I don’t know, how are you?” The patron then said “Works every time!”

He wanted her to ask him how he was doing. This is entirely backwards, and very needy. It is a sign of a need of external validation, at a minimum.

I heard this exchange from the back room and thought it over in case he decided to use this line on me. Luckily, he did the very next day.

When he said “How am I today?”, I replied “Only you would know that.”

This stumped him. He mumbled something about how I was supposed to ask him how he was doing. I pointed out that the normal way of doing things was for him to ask me how I am doing, and then after I answer, I would ask him how he was doing.

I told him a story of when I worked in retail. After many years of various retail jobs, I got tired one day of constantly asking people how they were doing and them not asking me. This is normal in retail. You are treated like a machine, a non-person. You are a means to an end. You aren’t really there to them.

That day I started answering for them. After I asked, and they replied, I waited a bit and when (not if) they didn’t ask me, I would say “And I’m fine too, thank you!” This confused them. Some would say “But I didn’t ask you.” I said “Yes, that’s the point.”

I explained to this patron that it is rude to not ask the other person how they are doing, and to only care about yourself. It creates an air of higher and lower.

So then, I asked him how he was doing and he said he was OK.

Pause.

Then he said “Notice I didn’t ask you how you were doing.”

Yes. I noticed. Now I know that he doesn’t do this out of ignorance, but willful neglect of basic courtesy.

This explains a lot about him. It shows how terribly broken he is. I wonder how he was raised. I wonder what would twist someone into being intentionally rude. This isn’t thoughtlessness. This is on purpose.

Now, there are certain people who get too familiar, too close. They assume they are my friends when they don’t even know my last name. Certain people insist on telling me what books I should read, not even knowing what I like to read. Some people even went so far as to insist that I had to have children when I got married, not understanding the family history that I’ve lived through.

Plenty of people are too personal at the library, but then some are too impersonal.

This is why the self-check was such a great thing. People didn’t have to come to us. They didn’t have to treat us like ATMs. If something wasn’t working right, they only had themselves to blame.

This is always an interesting job. If you are a people-watcher, it is the best job ever.

“Child-care provider”?

It is questionable when a patron says she is studying for an “early childhood education” degree so she can open a daycare, yet she shows no kindness to her four year old daughter.

Toddlers cannot sit still and entertain themselves for an hour (or more) while their parent uses the Internet at the library. The mother (who is young enough to be confused for her sister) does not bring anything for the child to do, and speaks through clenched teeth to her daughter if she does anything at all other than sit still. If she speaks to her child at all it is with angry tones.

Perhaps she is a single mother. Perhaps she has no family around to help out. Perhaps the only way she can attend school is to use the public computers at the library, with her daughter beside her. I’m glad she is trying to get an education so she can support herself and her child. But there are many different career options available. The one she has chosen does not fit her temperament. I highly question her capacity as a child-care provider when she does not show any capacity at providing care for her own child. If her future customers knew how she treats her own child, they would never trust her with theirs.

I’ve noticed that people are usually on their best behavior in public. If ignoring or growling at her child is her best, then I’d hate to see how she is at home.

The card catalog is gone. Get over it.

I checked out a lady’s grandson today, and then she lost her mind. He was 7, and had three picture books. I should have known from that alone that something weird might happen. These are way beneath his reading level.

I gave him the books and gave her the slip that tells when they were due. She looked at it and said “I hate this.”

It could have meant anything. Maybe the books were due when they were going to be on vacation. Maybe she thought he should have checked out more than three. It could be anything, so I said nothing. Better to not give people ideas about what to hate.

She continued, shaking that slip of paper “You have to keep up with this. You can’t just look in the back of the book.”

I said nothing. I’m not responsible for these new-fangled computers. I’m not the reason we use them to check out books. I can’t fix it – and more importantly, I don’t think it is broken.

I said nothing, as I am wont to do when people are venting. Often saying something only makes it worse. Often, they just want to be mad, and I’m a nearby target. It is one of the dangers of working with the public.

She wandered towards the door, continuing to mutter. She looked back at me, with my stunned face, and said “What – you don’t remember that?” Of course I do. I grew up in libraries. I’m a lot older than I look too. I remember back then. I also know now.

Now is better.

I said “You can renew online – and you couldn’t do that before.” It was the first thing I could think of. She scoffed. She rolled her eyes. She left.

The way we have it now is better. I wasn’t working in the library system then, but I’ve heard the stories. Getting books from another branch was very difficult. Having a hold on a popular book meant the librarians had to keep a long list and check people off. This is impossible with a 21 branch system, with thousands of circulating items.

These days, you can check out and return at any branch. These days, you can check out 100 items. These days, you can request and renew items online, any time of the day – even when the library is closed. You can even download an ebook, and audiobook, a movie, or an album.

You couldn’t do any of that before “in the good old days”. The good old days weren’t even good. This is a lie we tell ourselves.

People were really upset when we got the self-check computers. “I’m computer illiterate!” they’d howl. “This is going to put you out of a job!” they’d screech.

They learned. We kept our jobs.

They were really upset when we did away with the card catalogue too. But they like being able to order books from other libraries. They like being able to know if the book is on the shelf or checked out before they go look for it, too.

Computers can make things easier. It is people that make things hard – on themselves. Adapting to change is the most important life skill that can be learned.

And for the love of all that is holy – don’t yell at the clerk behind the desk. She can’t fix it. She didn’t even cause it. You’re only making her day harder by your need to complain.

Poem – taking my leave

It is a little like death,
this leaving.
I’m telling all my favorite patrons
and they say
“It was nice to know you “
as if I’ve said
I’m dying,
or moving to Minnesota.

They ask
“Is it closer to your home?”
“Is it a promotion?”
“Is it something you want?”

Some don’t catch the use
of the
passive
tense.
I’m being transferred.
It is a subtle difference,
but a difference
none the less.

They need someone
who is experienced
at this new-to-me
tiny branch,
someone
who knows
the rules and can stand
on her own.
Someone who is strong.
It is a complement
that they have such faith
in me.

But it is still hard,
after 14 years.
I grew this place.
I grew in this place.
I decided where everything went.
I created the flow.
I shaped it.
It shaped me.

I take my leave of this place.
This is the last time
I’ll walk in the park.
The last time
I’ll get the bookdrop.

I’ll be back, sure,
to fill in,
to catch up on hours
so I can get the weekend off.
I’ll teach a bead class.

But it is like
having a house
and planting a garden.
When you move,
someone else tends the plants
– or not.
Someone else does the repairs
to the bathroom tile
– or not.

It is a letting-go,
this leave taking.

It is a bit like death,
and being reborn.

Expectations

I’m being transferred to another library. It was unexpected, and I wasn’t really given a choice. I’m grateful it is close to my home and in a safe part of town. I have to rearrange my life-schedule to fit around this. There will be a lot of people I’ll no longer get to see. But, there will be many new opportunities to learn and grow. With the bitter is the sweet. I’m coming to look forward to this new opportunity. It will be a challenge since there are only three people working in that branch, and we will work every Saturday. In order to get the weekends off I’ll have to take vacation time or work extra (at my old branch) to make up the hours.

I find that I’m expecting a going away party. I am dropping hints for the kind of gifts that I would like. And then I realize this is really super rude of me. A gift that is given under duress is not a gift. And if I expect this to happen and it doesn’t happen then I will be really hurt. It is better for it to be a surprise in a good way. It is better for them to give me a gift of a party freely and out of kindness and love and respect then give it because they think they have to.

Everyone else has gotten a going away party. Well, except for one recent person who we almost wanted to give a going away party because we were so glad he was going away.

I’ve been there for 14 years. I was hired 10 days before the branch opened and so I helped establish the order and routine of how we do things in my department. Not only do I know the history of the branch but I have created the history of the branch. I think that deserves something. I don’t want a plaque or a memorial but I would like for my service there to be acknowledged and commended.

This is very small of me.

And perhaps I’m expecting too much of people who didn’t choose to work with me. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of coworkers and expecting them to be friends. Perhaps they don’t see how much I’ve done to create the stability and the flow of that department. Perhaps they will only notice it after I’m gone.

Things we found in books

A bus pass.

Rolling papers.

Boarding passes.

Plane tickets.

Gift cards.

Pieces of toilet paper.

Gum wrappers.

Grocery lists.

Family photographs.

Birthday cards.

3 x 5 note cards with study questions on them.

Outgoing mail.

List of errands or chores.

Envelopes with fine money and a note with their library card number inside.

Handmade and store-bought bookmarks, some of which are very old and obviously cherished.

–Medical stuff–
A sonogram.
Doctor’s appointment notices.
Prescription.
Medical test results.

–Money–
Biggest bill was $20.
Checks made out to the patron.
Checks that have not been cashed that are made out to the patron.

–Three dimensional things–
Pens.
Nail files.
Hair ties.