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?


I was shopping at Hobby Lobby a few years back. There was this weird area that was kind of behind a counter. It kind of looked like the area was just for staff, but all the paint brushes were there. There isn’t anything so special about paint brushes that they need to be controlled. I don’t think there are lots of shoplifters who go for paint brushes. So perhaps the area wasn’t off-limits after all. I asked permission to go behind the counter and the clerk told me that was fine. He kind of looked at me funny, wondering why I asked.

I was in an area that looked like it was for staff – but I didn’t look like I was staff. I had my purse slung across me. I had a shopping basket next to me. And most importantly, I didn’t have on the vest that every Hobby Lobby employee wears.

In a short amount of time lady stood behind the counter that was behind me and said loudly “Ma’am!” I knew what she was trying to do. She thought I worked there. She was trying to get my attention. I ignored her, hoping she’d notice the purse, the basket, and the lack of vest. I had nothing that indicated I worked there. Nope. I was wrong. Louder she called. “Ma’am!”

Not “Excuse me.” not “Do you work here?” nor even “Can you help me?” She barked at me, like I was her servant. Her voice was shrill and sharp.

I got up, slowly turned around, and faced this bleach-blonde twenty something standing with her mother, and said simply “I don’t work here.”

Oh, she said, and walked away.

I wanted to speak on behalf of all retail employees everywhere. We are not your bitches. Don’t yell at us. Don’t treat us like dogs. We are people. We are here to serve you, but we aren’t your servants. You don’t have a right to yell at us.

But I didn’t. I’ve been trained well, to keep my opinion to myself. Lots of retail does that. Having a psychopathic, narcissistic manager will do that.

It is very stressful working retail. Somehow people assume that if you are working behind a counter it means you are beneath them. They treat you like you are stupid. Maybe they get a rise out of putting you down.

The library is a lot like retail, but it is nicer. People assume that you have a degree to work there. To do what I do, no. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement. But I am happy to have people treat me better, usually. There is still some retail “she’s behind the counter so she must be beneath me” attitude going on, sometimes.

I remember a time at the end of a transaction I said “thank you”. The guy got really angry and said “You are supposed to say ‘have a nice day'”

No. I’m not. There isn’t a script. If there was, he’d understand that it was time for him to exit stage right.

I don’t say have a nice day because it is trite. I don’t like it when people tell me that. I said “thank you” and it doesn’t even make sense for me to do that. I helped him. The library doesn’t make any money from people, so it isn’t like we need to say thanks. I said thanks to be polite. But he jumped on me.

Weird. If people want good service, they need to not be mean. I expect that in his mind, he gets shoddy service everywhere he goes. You get what you give.