Tale #1: In Which an Elderly Patron Unintentionally Tries to Destroy a Computer

Elderly patrons are very sweet people who very frequently bring me food, tell me how much they appreciate the library’s presence in the neighborhood, and small-talk about their favorite mysteries and true-crime books. They’re pleasant to be around—unless they want to use a computer. I am convinced that grandkids are inherently evil people who tell their grandparents to “just go to the library and open up an e-mail account—it’s free and so simple.”

Of course, the free part gets them to the library in swarms, and, of course, they don’t want to take part in the library’s free Internet classes, because … well, in the words of one elderly patron, “I don’t need a class, because my grandkid said it was simple, and you can just show me the basics.” One such elderly patron came to the library not too long ago with such ideals. Strangely, his trouble was not so much opening an e-mail account as it was using the print card.

Print cards are pesky little things librarians institute for the sake of harassing patrons and discouraging them from printing anything. Often, it works, but this little old man was persistent. I showed him step by step what to do to print, and he was doing pretty well. He seemed to be paying careful attention: he hit the print button like a pro, walked to the print station like a king. Then he screwed up—big time. At the print station, another patron told me some teenagers had just said the “f” word to her five-year-old son and then ran off to the boys’ room, where she was pretty sure they were up to no good. I told the elderly gentleman to hang tight and I’d be right back to help him.

I learned in just a short time that expecting him to hang tight was a mistake. When I returned to the man, he looked hopelessly confused. “It didn’t work,” he explained, frustrated. “And it won’t give me my print card back.” I walked to the print station and stared for several seconds at the card reader. I studied it from several angles but did not see his card. “You’re sure it didn’t come out?” I asked. He nodded, but then pointed at his computer. “It’s in there.”

I looked at the computer, confused. He pointed at the floppy-disk drive and said, “I tried pushing the button, but it still won’t come out.” I kneeled down and immediately saw the print card wedged deep inside the floppy-disk drive. I had seen paper clips, scrap paper, and pencils inside the floppy-disk drive, but this was the first print card.

I went to the workroom to get out some tweezers, and when I returned, the man was gone. I never saw him again.

Tale #2: In Which a Patron Decides to Record the Internet

Because I work in a small branch library with only a dozen or so Internet terminals (all of which are very close to where I sit), it has become a habit to do my best to ignore what patrons are viewing, so as to ensure their privacy. Last week, however, I noticed a woman sit down at a computer and pull from her small handbag a video camera. She logged in to her e-mail account, turned on her recorder, and proceeded to record messages that had been sent to her inbox. Using a video camera in a city building without prior consent from the city is not allowed, but I let her do it for a few minutes, more for the sake of personal amusement and curiosity than anything else. Finally, after about five minutes, I became bored watching the woman, so I approached her and explained that she would have to get city approval if she wanted to use her video camera in the library. She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, I was finished anyway.” She stuffed her camera back into her bag, looked suspiciously around, and left in a hurry.

Tale #3: In Which a Patron Has a Little Too Much Fun

There are different types of Internet users who visit the library. There’s the casual user, who uses the library’s Internet service perhaps once a month; the regular user, who uses it every day; the college user, who comes to the library only when their school’s lab is full; and many other types, which I’ll leave out for no real reason.

This final tale involves what I would describe as a regular user. I rarely saw him doing anything on the computer except sending and reading e-mail. He was quiet and never asked for help on the Internet. Then one day, as I was helping a younger patron find a book for his state-report assignment, the man came to me seeking help with printing.

When I got to his computer, I saw a picture of an overweight, fully nude Caucasian woman holding a jar of peanut butter. I told the man that this kind of material went against the library’s Internet usage policy. I have had to explain this policy to several patrons who have used the Internet terminals to view pornographic images, and every time, the patron does one of three things: they act embarrassed and apologize for their actions, they nod and quickly leave, or they try to defend their actions by saying that they are a taxpayer and can look at whatever they want to on the computer.

This man, however, explained quite seriously that, “I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to look at pornography on the Internet.” I nodded and pointed at the large sign above the computers, which stated clearly the library’s stance on this issue.

The man nodded and asked if he could still print the picture. I said no and added that, because he’d abused the library’s policy (a major no-no), he would now be banned from using the Internet. He nodded; then, to my surprise, flipped over a computer printout of a nude woman; and left with no further comment.

I did not bother asking how he was able to print the other picture without help.