Dispatches From a Public Librarian
For some five years I have worked for a smallish public library nestled cozily between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. This is where most of the observations in this dispatch will take place, although sometimes I do go to other libraries (some even far, far away), and I’ll include those observations as they come.
I came into the library scene about eight years ago. I began as a student assistant at a college library in Fullerton. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I was bored, confused, and didn’t want to get off my parents’ insurance plan, so I enrolled in the Library Science and Information Technology program at San Jose State.
I will update this dispatch on a sometimes-regular basis, and will include stories about strange patrons, strange tales, and otherwise just strange things. The names and description of the patrons are purposely left out, so as to protect their privacy (libraries are real sticklers for this privacy stuff, which is why many have been in a tiff about the Patriot Act, but don’t get me started).
Patron of the Week
It always surprises people to know that patrons frequently verbally, and sometimes physically, assault librarians. This week’s memorable patron was the man who said he’d be waiting for me after work. The man came in on a Saturday to use the Internet. He was middle-aged, tired, but seemingly friendly at first. I assigned him a computer on the other side of the library. Saturdays are usually slow and quiet at the library where I work, and usually I pass time by studying the palm of my hand from different angles. Things got a little loud, however, when the man I had assigned to the Internet began yelling into his cell phone (as a side note, if anyone has ever been asked to turn their cell phone off in the library, it is because many people, while normally quiet in regular conversation, get quite loud when on the phone). I approached the man and I explained that it was library policy that cell phones remain off in the library, and if he wanted to continue his conversation, he’d have to use the phone outside. The man, clearly upset that I had so rudely interrupted his phone call, explained that he was talking with an important Sprint PCS customer service agent regarding his most recent billing statement, and that he needed the Internet to access his bill. Before I could respond, the man turned and went back to his phone conversation, explaining to the costumer service agent that he was sorry but an “idiot librarian” had tried to end his call. No librarian likes to have his or her authority as librarian undermined. It’s not a power issue, rather a simple fact that policy has been disturbed and you don’t mess with library policy and get away with it. Nonetheless, I was in a good mood, so I walked around the man (so as to face him), and I asked him if he’d consider talking in a quiet-like fashion and finishing the call quickly. He said he’d finish the call when he was done talking and not a minute sooner. I turned off his computer and asked him to leave; and that’s when he stood (and also when I realized he was quite tall) and screamed, “you want to see loud” in a fashion that made everyone in the library turn around and look at the man a little frightened. I didn’t think he meant it as a question, so I decided not to answer him, which only made him louder as he asked, “Who do you think you are?” I knew at this point that the situation was quickly getting complicated, and to make matters worse the man really did not have very good breath. I told the man he was being disruptive and he needed to leave the library. I knew he wasn’t going to go out without further fuss, but I still hoped. I returned to the reference desk, and the man of course followed. He asked for my name, and when I gave it, he said he was going to go see the mayor and have my job. He started to leave, but turned back around after only a few steps, and said he would be waiting for me after work and I was going to be sorry. Finally, he left, at which point one of the library volunteers (a high school kid) approached me and said, “that was awesome, I thought he was going to jack you up right in the library!” Later that day I received a call from another librarian at the city’s main library asking if I had had any problems that day with a patron. I said yes, and asked the librarian why. He said the man had come into the main library and filed a complaint against me. I asked if he mentioned coming back after I got off work to beat me up. He had forgotten to mention that. After work, I approached the parking lot with a bit of caution, but the man was not there, nor have I seen him since that Saturday.
The strangest item in the book drop this week was an unlit firecracker. Patrons putting firecrackers in the library overnight book drop does not happen as often as some people imagine. This is only the second time I’ve seen one (although it was the first time I had seen one unlit). The first one destroyed seven books and damaged over a dozen others.
SUGGESTED READSDispatches From a Public Librarian: Dispatch 1
by Scott Douglas (12/12/2003)
Dispatches From a Public Librarian: Dispatch 3: Special Movie Edition
by Scott Douglas (2/3/2004)
Dispatches From a Public Librarian: Dispatch 4
by Scott Douglas (2/16/2004)
RECENTLYAbout the Rough Mud Run
by Sean Adams (6/19/2013)
God’s Little Acre of Diamonds: Observations On Travel Ball in Cobb County, Georgia: The Bird, the Hero, and the Goat
by Stella A. (6/19/2013)
My Addiction to Irony
by Marsh McCall (6/18/2013)
POPULARI Would Like to Be Pope
by John Ortved (2/25/2013)
Monologue: I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.
by Mike Lacher (6/15/2010)
Nate Silver Offers Up a Statistical Analysis of Your Failing Relationship
by Jory John (2/26/2013)