“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.

Friend or foe

“Since we are friends, you can…” (fill in the blank as to whatever rule they want me to break.)

I’m friends with a lot of patrons. I’ve met several great people while working at the library. Heck, I even married a patron.

I’m friendly with a lot of other ones, in part because that is part of my job. Some of them confuse “being friendly” with “being friends” though. They ask me to bend or break rules, to make exceptions for them, because we are “friends”.

We aren’t. If we were really friends, they wouldn’t ask me to do something that could get me fired. Like waiving their fines. Like not changing their address to their new out-of-county address. Like not using their ID or their library card to access their account.

Friends don’t try to get friends fired.

I’ve been a people pleaser throughout my life, and I’m learning it doesn’t do me any good. “People pleaser” is the old way of saying “codependent”. I felt like I needed to do whatever they wanted me to do so they would like me. Fortunately I’m getting over that. If they get angry because I won’t do something that is illegal or unethical or just plain against the rules, then they aren’t the kind of people I want to associate with anyway.

Conversations that aren’t mutual aren’t OK.

I was going out into the stacks to get the paging slips the other day. I passed by a patron who likes to talk at me. It isn’t really with me, because it isn’t really a two-way conversation. He has some interesting things to say, but I have a job to do. I’m not going to get it done by talking (or listening) to everybody who comes in.

When I’m at the front desk I’m kind of trapped. When I’m in the stacks I can walk away, and I do. I’ll listen for a bit, and then I have to go.

This patron said “How come you weren’t there to greet me when I came in this morning?” He’s old, but he’s not an old regular. He’s been coming in for about half a year. We talk sometimes, but he’s not my friend.

This happens a lot.

He’s said things like this before, and I think he thinks he is being funny, but there is some entitlement going on here. He thinks he is special, and that he deserves special treatment. Note that he didn’t say “I’m sorry I missed you when I came in this morning.” The emphasis is on him getting greeted by me, not on us seeing each other. It isn’t an equal relationship. He is higher, in his mind.

I said I was at the chiropractor and then the dentist. I didn’t have to tell him any of that, but I don’t mind. It isn’t private. It wasn’t like I was at the gynecologist.

So he says that chiropractors just treat the symptoms. I say “Not this one”. I used to think chiropractors were quacks, but this one has changed my mind. These realignments are healing me.

Mental problems can cause physical problems. Most people say that you can fix the physical problem by addressing the mental (emotional) problem that caused it. I’m starting to think it works both ways – that the mental (emotional) problem can be addressed by fixing the physical problem. I’m working on the mental (emotional) problem too. I’m thinking of it like I’m digging a tunnel through a mountain, but I’m working at it from both ends. I’ll get it completed in half the time this way.

But I didn’t want to get into any of this. I didn’t have time or the desire to have a deep conversation with this guy. He never changes his mind anyway. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s right, because he’s older.

So I walked away after he disagreed with me, while pushing my cart. I obviously have something I’m doing. He crooks his finger at me, and waves me back. I came back a step closer, but that was it. He continued with “Chiropractors just fix the symptoms” and I repeated “Not this one” and I realized that this was going nowhere.

I turned and walked away.

He might be mad, but he has to understand that I’m not there to be his audience or his student. I have not entered into a contract with him that says I’ll hang on his every word. Plus, I don’t like unequal relationships. If the opinions and feelings of both people are not equal, leave me out of it.

I didn’t ask for that conversation. So I felt no need to continue it. Years ago, I would have stayed, out of a sense of politeness or duty. I would have stayed, and felt trapped. I would have hated it too.

How’s the weather?

I notice trends while at work. After you’ve seen the same thing over and over, you have enough data to formulate a theory. This applies to big things and little things.

Where it applies to the everyday is mood. I can read the emotional temperature after about twenty patrons. The mood will go on for the whole day. If people are easy to deal with in the morning, they will be easy to deal with in the afternoon and at night. If they are cranky and difficult, they will be that way all day too.

I mentioned this to a new coworker and he and I have started asking each other “How’s the weather?” when we are changing shifts at the front desk.

Some days the answer is “Sunny with a few clouds.” Sometimes the answer is “Overcast with a chance of hail.”

On Monday, it was “sharks”. People were very needy and difficult.

Now, people who are able to take care of themselves don’t come up to us. We have several self-check machines, so the average person with the average library transaction does not have to come up to us. This means we get problems all the time, by the very nature of why we are there.

The issue is the nature of the problem compounded by the temperament of the person.

Seeing so many different people with so many similar temperaments is really useful. It lets me know that my bad or good mood isn’t just mine, but it is something bigger. Perhaps it is something “in the air”.

I’ve not tried to figure out the whys and wherefores of it yet. I’m just glad to notice a trend and realize that it is not just me. There is something else affecting our moods.

Tuesday, it wasn’t “shark” so much as “goldfish”, except for the children. They were extra wound up and cranky. Really young children are usually cranky around 3:30 every afternoon. They also are cranky right before a thunderstorm.

Yes, I know sharks and goldfish have nothing to do with the weather. But the idea still works. Perhaps “How’s the water?” also works. The metaphor isn’t the issue, but the idea is.