Public Library Etiquette

by admin on April 10, 2013

I’ve been working in a public library for years now and while some people are great, I’ve noticed more and more people just having really bad manners. I’m hoping if people are willing to post this helpful list more library patrons will start to behave themselves.

1: Before coming to the library – take a bath! I’m always shocked at how many well dressed people with expensive cars (my branch is actually in a ritzy neighborhood so we get many of the upper crust) come in smelling like they just played 30 rounds with Arnold Palmer and bathed in gin. BO doesn’t stand for Beautiful Odor. It stands for BODY Odor. The 60s are over. You’re no longer the hippie you once called yourself. Stop smelling like one.

2: ALWAYS have your library card at hand and ready when you want to check items out, renew items, put things on hold, etc. That includes transactions over the phone. Now my library system is a county wide which means there’s almost 40 libraries connected. Unless it’s a private library in a tiny town, there WILL be at least one if not more people with the exact same first and last name as you. So yeah, looking you up by name is NOT an option. It has to either be your library card or your driver’s license. Period.

3: Clerks are not librarians. We are there to check in and out books and handle the money. I’m actually not suppose to answer reference or computer questions nor am I suppose to leave the desk. So when I send you to the librarian, don’t stand there staring at me. Also don’t call me lazy. If caught helping you by someone from HQ I could actually get in trouble for doing the librarian’s job. I’m not lazy, I’m sending you to the person you need.

4: CONTROL YOUR CHILDREN! I don’t know who that idiot is that claims it’s wrong to discipline children or tell them no, but stop listening to him because he’s wrong! Your children will grow up to be perfectly well balanced adults if you tell them “No! Stop ripping pages out of that book!”

5: I’m sorry, but I’m actually not allowed to accept your invitations to your church. I could get in trouble. Besides, not everyone in the library is a Christian. I mean, I’m Jewish!

6: We’re not suppose to talk religion or politics, actually. So please stop.

7: Our martial status, if we have children, etc is really none of your business. (I’ve actually had people who try to force me to have children. One patron actually said to me “Go to a bar and trick a guy into getting you pregnant” and that “children don’t need a father” IN FRONT OF HIS WIFE AND KIDS! Another when I informed her I can’t have children because usually that shuts people up – and it is true, I’m barren – started trying to convince me to go get medical help. If I want kids, I’ll adopt, thank you very much. And that’s just my experiences. We have other staff members who have been bugged about who they’re dating, when they’re going to get married, etc.)

8: We really don’t want to hear about your or you family member’s medical problems. Please just take your books and stop talking about anal fissures.

9: Yeah, actually we are allowed to have our hair colors like purple, green, etc, and have visible tattoos and piercings as well. So – shut up.

10: You might know your child is autistic, but I don’t. I’m not a psychic baby sitter. Please don’t send your child while you’re gabbing about shoes on your cellphone outside and then yell at me when your child does something like put $20 in the Friends’ box. No, actually, it’s NOT my job to keep an eye on your kid. Autistic or otherwise.

11: See the sign that says you have to smoke 20 feet away from the door? Yeah, 20 feet is a lot further than right outside it.

12: If I’m obviously busy, don’t come up to me saying, “You’re not busy.” (Yes, that’s happened.)

13: If I’m helping someone else, don’t start yelling at me “Isn’t anyone going to help me?!”

14: Don’t yell at staff because you returned your items a month past the due date/sopping wet/chewed by your dog/stained with wine/whatever. You’re the one responsible. Not me. Yelling and screaming and cursing at me is not going to get you out of paying.

15: While we don’t shush people anymore, please take cellphone calls outside and try not to yell and curse.

16: Due to the Freedom Of Information Act we CANNOT stop patrons from looking at LEGAL porn – UNLESS another patron complains. So if you see porn on the computers complain RIGHT THEN. Don’t call me two hours after the fact when the offender is long gone yelling about how if I don’t call the police you’re going to.

17: Maybe in other countries it’s different, but in America we DO NOT keep a record of everything you’ve checked out UNLESS you’ve paid a bill on it. The second those items are checked in they are erased from your record. And no, the government CANNOT see your record any time. They have to get a subpoena and even then we’ll fight it. No one protects your privacy like the library. SO DO NOT KEEP ME ON THE PHONE FOR 15 MINUTES GIVING ME A LECTURE ABOUT HOW THE FBI CAN SEE YOUR RECORD! BECAUSE THEY CAN’T!

18: Keep phone calls brief and to the point. I have other people to serve. I don’t need to hear your life story as to why you need your book renewed. Just tell me to renew it and give me your library card number.

19: If I tell you I can’t renew an item (one week only, it’s on hold for someone else, already at max renewals, etc) don’t yell at me and tell me that I “will renew it and waive all fines because you NEED the item.” Just accept it and move on.

20: For story time, make sure your kids aren’t picking their noses or like one little boy did, randomly sticking his hands down his shorts to pull out his penis. Also don’t push other little kids off the bench. They were there first, lady. (Yes, a grown woman forced a little girl to give up her seat.)

21: Did I mention don’t yell at me? I do my best to be nice and professional. I don’t talk back or get mean or snippy. But yet people scream and yell because of THEIR mistakes. I’m so sick of it. I’ve lost my temper exactly one time in all the years I’ve worked at the library. A woman called just as we were closing and started screaming at my coworker. So loudly and shrilly that my coworker was actually in pain from it. She was constantly pulling the phone from her ear because of this woman’s voice. The woman refused to calm down and give us the card number so we could look up the problem and kept insisting we look up by name. I finally took the phone from my coworker and told the woman off and to call back when we’re open. I’m sorry if you have over $200 in fines. But maybe you should try not checking out 50 books then returning them so far past the due date they’re considered lost! It’s YOUR fault. Not our’s. SO DO NOT FREAKING SCREAM AT US! Frustrated Library Clerk 0409-13

 

{ 147 comments… read them below or add one }

jen a. April 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

I’m surprised by all the negative comments. I don’t know the OP, but I just kind of took this as her getting things off her chest. It can be pretty cathartic, and I doubt she’s like this in her everyday life. She’s ranting on a post on the internet instead of roaring in frustration at one of her customers.

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The Elf April 11, 2013 at 7:22 am

Barbarian: It’s called the First Amendment, and porn is covered under that. Because it is government run and taxpayer paid for, a ban on these sorts of materials and access would be inappropriate. If it was a privately owned library, it would be different.

School libraries, since they are intended to be used by people under age 18, would logically have filters. Public libraries are intended to be used by everyone, and all information is free. Therefore it isn’t limited.

Before the computer age, you could still get porn in the library. Many libraries maintained subscriptions to the tamer magazines like Playboy. They were usually on the upper shelves in the periodicals section. You could also find sexually explicit fiction on the shelves and non-fiction books and reports of studies on sex. While not intended to be titillating, those non-fiction books and reports can be no less graphic. If you didn’t know about it, it was because you didn’t go looking for it!

Honestly, I’m less disturbed by the availability of porn than by someone who has no problem using a public library computer to view it. Talk about TMI! I don’t want to know what your kinks are! Do that at home!

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Serena April 11, 2013 at 7:29 am

OP, you really should consider switching lines of work. I worked in the customer service industry for 20 years as a restaurant manager. I started out as a naive 20-something who honestly believed that if you were nice and respected people, they would respond in kind. Since then, I’ve been humiliated in front of my staff, screamed (yes, screamed) at, had food thrown at me, had my intelligence insulted more times than I could possibly count, been bullied, been cursed, been made fun of, seen how people from my hometown behave when they don’t recognize the person with whom they’re dealing (quite educational, mind you), had to apologize to customers when THEY were in the wrong, and oh so many other things that I couldn’t possibly list them all here.

I got ulcers. I couldn’t sleep at night. I hated my job. I hated my LIFE, because my job had become my life. And eventually I realized that I no longer like people. Get a different job, right? Well, the money was good and I was good at it. Besides, once you’ve managed restaurants for 20 years, who’s going to look at you for anything else, right?

Well, just as I was about to move to Montana and start writing my manifesto, I saw an ad for a company that works with individuals with disabilities. On a whim I responded. I heard from them the next day. That was a year ago and I have not once muttered “I hate this job” under my breath–At my last job it was an hourly occurrence. I love my job. It has meaning for me; and while I still occasionally have to deal with the public, it’s no longer the burden it once was. So put yourself out there and see what’s available. There’s no point in torturing yourself with a job that’s making you crazy one minute longer than is absolutely necessary.

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Rap April 11, 2013 at 9:38 am

“And about #10, as a mother of a child WITH autism (not autistic…autism is something she has, not the definition of WHO she is),I find your rant in entirely bad taste. What does the child having autism have to do with anything??? The parent was acting boorishly irregardless of her child’s special needs. ”

Probably because when the OP didn’t act as the babysitter and stop the kid from putting a ton of money in the charity box, the parent got angry and mentioned/implied/out right stated that the child was autistic and the OP should have done something above and beyond their position as library clerk to assist with the child, because unlike the *other* children, their child has special needs. Trust me, people do this all the time.

I’m genuinely surprised by the number of people saying the OP should just find a different job. Maybe if people treated the OP with manners, it wouldn’t be so difficult to do the job?

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Anonymous April 11, 2013 at 10:57 am

@Barbarian–I agree that the library shouldn’t be used as a “daycare for unattended children,” but I think twelve is a rather high cut-off. Instead of arbitrarily banning kids under a certain age, I’d rather see the library require all its patrons to conform to certain standards of conduct–being quiet, sharing the resources fairly, not making a mess/cleaning up after oneself if participating in an arts and crafts class or something messy, being considerate and not blocking the stacks, etc. I don’t think it’d make sense to ban a ten-year-old who comes to the library and reads quietly, but allow a group of rowdy teenagers who crowd around the computers for hours listening to inappropriate songs on the Internet. Also, another thought–when I was in elementary school, we were taught how to use the school library independently for research long before we were twelve (that’d be about grade seven in Canada), but the school library was somewhat limited, and we were often encouraged to use the public library. I had parents who could drive me to the library on weekends when I needed to go, but some kids don’t. Also, some parents don’t think it’s necessarily good for kids to be shuttled everywhere. If I ever have a child, I’d probably encourage my hypothetical, future child to walk/bike to the library, the park, the swimming pool, etc., independently, after first teaching the appropriate behaviour for those places. I know this isn’t exactly “etiquette-related,” but kids do a lot of hard time, where they’re either kept at home/inside, or only allowed out under the watchful eyes of an adult, simply because they have yet to reach X age. I think this is wrong. I know blanket policies are easier to enforce, but they exclude a lot of people unnecessarily.

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Mae April 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

While I agree that if people treated OP with manners, her job wouldn’t be so difficult, I think we all know that that is not going to happen. It seems that her job is causing her a lot of stress, which is not good for her health. Maybe a change of jobs or a vacation would help. I get 3 weeks vacation a year and believe me, I need each and every one of thos days.

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Lisa April 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

To clarify a couple of things based on my understanding from what I learned in library school (and the pros can weigh in if I’m wrong on anything) . . .

Re: Porn. Libraries *can* install blocking software, and some do, particularly school libraries or if a library has separate computer stations for children/teens. Those libraries that do use blocking software often will unlock the block for adult patrons. Because the problem with blocking software is that it is rather indiscriminate. It not only blocks porn, but also blocks legitimate sites for information on sexual health, identity, etc. I used to work in an office that used blocking software and violated it about two dozen times in a single day while trying to fact-check a story (for work) on sex education.

Re: Book histories. So the U.S. anti-terrorism legislation (sorry—can’t remember the specific name right now) that passed shortly after 9/11 allows U.S. law enforcement agencies to access your library records on demand. Librarians, most of whom are staunch defenders of civil rights, were not pleased. One way that they get around the law is to not keep records; the government can’t access what doesn’t exist. Again, different libraries have dealt with this in different ways. Some just don’t keep the records, period. Some keep all records, period. Some allow patrons to opt in to keeping their check-out history; others offer an opt-out option.

One last note: Librarians can sometimes seem difficult or unhelpful or even “unreasonable”—not letting you access your records without proper ID, not blocking porn, not ejecting the crazy homeless guy with terrible BO—because they are doing their darndest to protect your civil rights: your rights to read what you want, think what you want, participate in the democratic process, and so on. Just something to think about the next time you face some rule that feels like it is just there to make your life difficult.

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MichelleP April 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

@Rap, you’re absolutely right, people should treat the OP with manners. All people should treat everyone with manners. But as someone who has worked in customer service for years, and been a human being for even longer, that simply doesn’t happen. It wouldn’t be difficult to be in public service if everyone treated everyone with manners. It would also be a perfect world, and let’s face it that isn’t going to happen.

If the OP cannot handle the everyday problems of dealing with people she should get another job. I would love to work at a nice clean desk job like a library rather than my customer service jobs of the past.

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Jenn50 April 11, 2013 at 11:37 am

Rap, you, and the OP are correct that people should behave better and treat people with dignity and respect. I just think that this submitter needs to develop a thicker skin, if they plan to continue in a job requiring contact with the public. Their post includes ranting angrily in all caps about things that they think everyone is “suppose” to know, which a large consensus of this readership was surprised to learn. In fact, much of the information that OP considers standard and common sense seems specific to one particular library, and not generally true of all or even most facilities. Based on the sheer anger expressed here, I suspect the OP is not doing any favours to her customers or her own mental and physical health by staying in her current job with the attitude she has. If a little small talk , and dealing with people who don’t smell nice is so troublesome to you, customer service is not for you. If you’re going to stay in this line of work, you’d probably find it helpful to develop a repertoire of phrases to redirect people who ask questions you can’t/don’t want to answer, as well as things to say to people who are breaking the rules. Rather than seethe, you could say, “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to take your child to wash his/her hands now; they’ve been picking their nose.” Or “I have to ask you to take that call outside. We require quiet in the library.”

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Bottle Green April 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Lisa @105 – I used to work in a library in one of the several Middlesex counties in the US, and we didn’t have any blocking software installed because, when we tried it, no one in the library was able to access the library’s own website (since it had “sex” in the URL).

There’s just a lot of generalizations here (NO library in the US keeps patron records?), and a lot of these issues, while potentially irritating, could be prevented by the OP herself (why did you STAY on the phone for 15 minutes, if you’ve already done all you can for the patron?).

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Rap April 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Jenn50, to a point I agree with you, I’m just surprised that the knee jerk reaction on this one is customers are gonna do what they want and OP needs to accept the bad manners or get a new job.

I’ve dealt with the public. If I did the “Ma’am take your child to wash his hands, he’s been picking his nose” to today’s parents, I’m sorry but I can assure you that parent would running to my boss with how affronted she is that her child is being singled out and insulted. Likewise asking someone to take their phone call elsewhere. Heck, just this weekend I was in a grocery store and the woman ahead of me was asked to stop talking and finish up (the cashier was ringing her out and a line was forming and the cashier was very polite) and the woman blew a gasket and demanded to see a supervisor. I could, if I wanted, write up a similar list of complaints about my job (My list would start with “Please don’t argue with me over answering your id questions”) and it would be dripping with vitriol depending on my mood… but it doesn’t mean I’m servicing my customers badly at all – it means I’m frustrated. The OP is frustrated because yes, the OP is dealing with a lot of bad manners where she can’t play the cold cutting “What an interesting assumption!” game. This kind of thing gets written when you reach a boiling point. It’s not necessarily indicative of how the OP treats people.

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Ergala April 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

My son has Autism and to be quite frank the section about it irritated and offended me to no end. Putting a $20 bill into the donation thing has NOTHING to do with Autism. It has to do with kids being kids. They don’t understand the value of money or that once that $20 goes into that box it is gone forever.

NOW, do you want to know what kind of thing is really annoying? Waking up at 6am to get your 7 year old son with Autism off to school. He refuses to get dressed, is yelling so he wakes up his 3 year old brother. My husband is still asleep because he just got home from work 2 hours prior. I wrangle them BOTH, try to get my 3 year old to cuddle with daddy in bed while I drive my 7 year old to school. Drop him off, hurry back home and find my 3 year old has decided to make himself breakfast….a breakfast of mustard and rice milk. I get that cleaned up, make him a real breakfast. Throw in loads of laundry while my son is hanging from my legs screaming “I WANT THOMAS! I WANT THOMAS!” over and over and over.

Husband wakes up, make him and our son lunch. Manage to get the kiddo ready for preschool. Get him there, go home and clean, organize, get supper somewhat ready to be cooked for that evening and make my husband’s supper to take to work. Kiddos come home. Husband leaves for work, I cook supper while monitoring my oldest doing his homework. Tell him to clean his room and listen to 99 excuses as to why he can’t. Serve supper, get nothing but complaints. Give them their baths, more complaints. Tuck them into bed and proceed to place BOTH back in bed until 9pm. They fall asleep, I crash and pass out only to be woken a few hours later by my 3 year old crawling into bed with me as usual. Not one single Thank You. You deal with BO…I deal with poop.

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Rap April 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

“could be prevented by the OP herself (why did you STAY on the phone for 15 minutes, if you’ve already done all you can for the patron?).”

Because hanging up on a customer is a firing offense? Because even if it’s not a firing offense (it is at my work place) the customer calls back and can legitametely tell your boss that you hung up on them?

I work in phone customer service. Let me assure you, if *you* can’t hang up, and the customer isn’t satisfied that you’ve done all you can, you do have have to sit there until they get tired. And if they cuss you and call your mom names, you’re not allowed to fight back, and then yes, some of them even laugh at you and tell you how they can call you whatever they want and the second you say anything other than “yes sir!” they will demand your supervisor and demand you be fired.

I totally see why the OP isn’t hanging up.

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Rachel April 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm

OP doesn’t necessarily need a new job, but does need a new method of coping with stress. Everyone deals with annoying stuff no matter where they work, that’s why stress coping mechanisms are so incredibly important for our health. A mild anti-anxiety med might help, too, they’ve done wonders for me.

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Brian Katcher April 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Makes me proud to be a librarian.

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EchoGirl April 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I don’t mean to take this off-topic, but Rap, while I get what you’re saying, many autistic people actually do prefer to be identified as autistic because of a sense that “with autism” makes it seem like you can separate the autism from the person without changing who they are. I wouldn’t call myself a “person with Jewishness” — I’m a Jewish person. I’m also an autistic person. Just so you know that isn’t always a bad thing to say or offensive.

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Anon April 12, 2013 at 2:32 am

Customer service sucks. It’s much the same no matter where you work if you have to deal with the public. I’ve seen people be ridiculously rude to our poor local librarians, actually yelling at them and calling them names. I’ve dealt with much the same in my own hospitality and retail work. I understand the need to vent, but OP, you probably need to either find a new line of work or find a way to deal with the stupidity. Try and have a sense of humour about it if you can.

Sounds like the rules for libraries are a bit different across the pond though. I’m in Brisbane, Australia and we have a city-wide library system here (dozens of branches all sharing a collection, if you’re a member of one you’re a member of them all and can return books to any branch or request books from other branches for 55 cents). The librarians here most definitely can look you up without a library card. You can even borrow without one provided you give your name and correct address. We don’t have seperate clerks and librarians either, just librarians who also take the money for fines and check out books if needed (mostly they like people to use the self check out system, but they have to waste a lot of time with people who can’t figure out how to use it even with the instructions on screen in huge letters).

Re. kids at story time, yeah they’re going to pick their noses and other unsavoury stuff sometimes. They’re kids. Parents can (and should) tell them not to when they see it but they’ll never stop it altogether. Best get over it.

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Din April 12, 2013 at 3:29 am

OP, we all have frustrations with our work; I wouldn’t trade mine for yours. :D you’re a great person for working in a public library, hang in there! Have you considered starting your own Tumbler or blog? I think you’d find a great audience, and feel better getting this stuff off your chest more often. I hope you keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby!

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Kris April 12, 2013 at 7:05 am

I shared this with a good friend of mine who works at one of the local libraries in town and his response was to chuckle. Not because he thought the OP was wrong in her points, but that he knew exactly how she feels. As Rap pointed out, unless the OP is told directly she can hang up on troublesome callers, she has to stay on the phone. That’s true of about 70-80% jobs that include customer service via phone. Doesn’t matter how abusive they are, you have to take it until they decide to end the call.

Same goes for the patron that comes in and wants to try and talk your ear off about aliens, gov’t conspiracy or whatever is on their freak radar for the day.

Are all patrons bad? No. Are many of them? Yes.

I’ve seen people try and weasel their way out of fines, or complain about how they still had to pay $30 bucks because amnesty day only took $45 off the amount owed.

From people urinating on the second level balcony to snorting drugs in the bathroom, there are all sorts of things that will drive a library worker or volunteer batty.

Parents with out of control children? Same as anywhere else and god forbid you tell the parent to do something or politely correct their precious little angel.

And remember folks its no just the OP who has to deal with people like this, its the other patrons as well. Patrons like the ones described would try the patience of a saint. If everyone who reached maximum vent stage left their customer service related jobs, society would come to a standstill.

OP as someone who frequents the library often, and also works with the GP, you have my sympathy.

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SJ April 12, 2013 at 10:27 am

Weird.
I’ve never done any of these things to a librarian, but I’ve had plenty librarians/clerks tell me things that were too personal, ask me things that are too personal, and make comments/assumptions about the books I’m checking out.
Not a criticism on library workers, just interesting that I’ve had the opposite experience. Maybe I need a library worker like the OP!

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PrettySticks April 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

I agree with you Rap – all the suggestions that the OP should just “get another job” or “get into another line of work” are a little bizarre. Because it’s just that easy in this economy! I worked retail, bartending and waitressing for years when I was in school, and it sure wasn’t because it was enjoyable and fulfilling; it had the flexible hours I needed to take classes.

More specifically, with regards to #3, it didn’t seem as though the OP just expected people to know that clerks are not librarians, nor did she mind when she was asked questions she wasn’t allowed to answer. She just found it upsetting when she directed them to the librarian for assistance, and got called lazy in return. Heck, maybe I’m giving the OP too much credit, but I don’t picture her pointing wordlessly or saying “I won’t help you,” but rather saying “I’m actually just a clerk, but the librarian at the reference desk should be able to answer that question for you.” In my experience, any customer that would call an employee lazy is not going to be placated by an extensive explanation of the relevant job responsibilities. They want the clerk to help them, and help them now, and walking fifteen feet to the reference desk is unacceptable.

Also, while many of these items are related to customer service in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were especially prevalent in libraries. I work administration for a performing arts organization, and, very weirdly, people that have received free tickets for one reason or another are much more likely to complain than people who have paid. Which is not to say paying customers don’t get upset, obviously, but the entitlement from those who have been comped is at an entirely different level. It’s really an odd phenomenon. Maybe the same thing is at play here – since the library is free, rude customers act even more entitled than they act at, say, the grocery store.

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amyasleigh April 12, 2013 at 1:26 pm

jen a. writes (post #101): “I don’t know the OP, but I just kind of took this as her getting things off her chest. It can be pretty cathartic, and I doubt whether she’s like this in everyday life. She’s ranting on a post on the internet instead of roaring in frustration at one of her customers.”

I had the impression that a dim view was taken on eHell, of posts which are purely “ranty and venty”, as opposed to addressing a bad etiquette situation with view to seeking ways to improve it. Or maybe in this respect, things are different in the “blog”, and the “message board”, sections…

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Bridget April 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I’m sure I’m not the only one to say this, but I lost the sense of humor right about #8. If the OP hates absolutely everything about providing customer service, perhaps she should find another line of work. Almost any job dealing with the public has to deal with stupid people and situations and she seems unable to cope with the stress of it.

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Bayou April 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I swear this could have been written by someone I know! The thing is, the person I know who would/could write this rant doesn’t keep these thoughts only about her job. She rails and rants against people for the BO, questions about her hair color, cell phones, men not holding doors, baggy pants on men, etc all the time. It’s not satirical and it’s tiresome to listen to all the time.

So when I read this, I could only imagine that this is how the OP feels all the time about people. And while I get it that people are annoying, it makes me sad that so much of her time is spent listing out all the transgressions she sees (real or imagined or related to her).

As for the porn thing, I believe it was a Supreme Court ruling in the late 90’s that said that since public libraries are funded by public money, they can’t limit what someone searches for on the computer. Private libraries can, however. And people use public computers for all sorts of weird things. I watched a young woman do her taxes on a public computer with all her documents spread out in an internet cafe. A crowded one, at that.

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Meghan April 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I had to chime in on this post, because, unfortunately, some of the OP’s information is simply incorrect. The Freedom of Information Act has literally nothing to do with what libraries can block. FOIA is a federal law that details how people can get information from the government and (to some degree) what information is available. Libraries absolutely can block sexually explicit content, as obscene content is not protected by the First Amendment. Many libraries, particularly those serving children, do use blocks. As others have mentioned, sometimes the software blocks harmless material, but there’s no U.S. law preventing libraries from blocking porn. (Yes, I’m a lawyer. I had to fact check.)

Further, many libraries do keep records of what patrons check out. I use a public library that’s part of a huge system, and I can see everything I’ve ever taken out through their online system. No opt it, it just exists. And I appreciate it, as I can go back and find the name of that author I liked, or the title to that books so I can recommend it. While working in customer service can be very challenging (I did my stint in retail – I can tell some stories), remember, the patron doesn’t work there, so you can’t expect them to know everything about your system (like who is and isn’t a librarian). While expecting people to be polite, clean and appropriate is not too much, getting angry when they aren’t helps no one.

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Anonymous April 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm

>>Maybe the same thing is at play here – since the library is free, rude customers act even more entitled than they act at, say, the grocery store.<<

I see it as the opposite–the library is free. The only cost involved is two dollars for a library card, which can theoretically be your library card for your whole life, provided you don't lose it. After that, you can borrow all the books, music, and movies you want, and use their computers, for free. That seems like a pretty good deal to me. Also, as a side note, our library has a few separate rooms for events, so they don't interfere with people reading/studying in the library. So, the way I see it, if the library is giving me all this awesome free stuff, then I feel like I should be appreciative, and NOT throw a fit if my favourite movie isn't available, or if they don't have a book I want, or whatever. After all, in order to keep the library (mostly) free, a lot of the jobs there are done by volunteers, who are giving their time and energy out of the goodness of their hearts.

Anyway, I have a spin-off question. I recently joined a steel pan drumming group, which is also free. I try to contribute as best I can, by arriving early to help set up the drums, and helping to take them down after rehearsals are finished. Also, our teacher says I'm pretty good for a beginner. However, there are people in the group who think nothing of blowing off rehearsals, and purposely scheduling other commitments that conflict with rehearsals, and coming late, or leaving early, or not coming at all. As a result, our teacher has cut rehearsals from two days a week, to one, and when the group gets together, the "serious" people are often held back by the slackers, and the sporadic-attenders. Needless to say, I'm a little annoyed with the situation, but I kind of feel like I'm in the wrong to feel this way, because the drumming teacher is giving his time and energy without expecting payment, and the church where we rehearse is giving us the use of their gymnasium for free, so is it entitled of me to feel like I'm "losing out" by having the experience diluted by fair-weather drummers, because drumming is a free activity, and I should technically be grateful that the group even exists at all?

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Uly April 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Treeang, as an autistic individual, I find person first language abhorrent and insulting. I am not a person with femaleness, I am not a person with lefthandedness, I am not a person with white ancestry and American nationality, I am not a person with atheism, and I most certainly am not a person with autism. My gender, handedness, ethnicity and nationality, religious beliefs, and yes, autism are not just little unimportant parts of me that you can take away and get the same person. They are huge, important parts of my identity.

Plus, nobody ever pulls that person first nonsense on good or neutral traits, only on those things they think are bad. The very use of that artificial grammatical construction is stigmatizing.

You can use that language if you really want to, but please – don’t tell other people to do that. It’s not universally accepted as polite, and it certainly isn’t gods gift to human discourse.

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Anonymous April 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

>>Plus, nobody ever pulls that person first nonsense on good or neutral traits, only on those things they think are bad. The very use of that artificial grammatical construction is stigmatizing.<<

I don't know. If someone said that I was "a person with brown eyes" (for example), then that wouldn't be stigmatizing–it'd be okay to say "person with brown eyes" or "brown-eyed person." Or, when I was in university, I had a colleague who was in a wheelchair. It would have been offensive to have called him a "wheelchair person," or a "crippled person," so the term we used was "person in a wheelchair," but we only used that term when referring to people in wheelchairs in the abstract, because, when talking to or about our colleague, of course, we just used his name. He also played the trombone, so of course, "person who plays the trombone" and "trombonist" could be used interchangeably without risking offense, but that's because brown-eyed people and trombonists generally aren't treated like second-class citizens by ignorant people, the way people in wheelchairs, or people anywhere on the autism spectrum may be. All of those people are just that–people, and individuals. Some may find person-first language offensive, and others may prefer it. So, it's not really possible to say that X or Y is always offensive–I think it's probably best just to ask the person in question which term they prefer.

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Library Dragon April 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Bayou wrote: “As for the porn thing, I believe it was a Supreme Court ruling in the late 90?s that said that since public libraries are funded by public money, they can’t limit what someone searches for on the computer.”

Correct, the CIPA ruling included the guidance that filters be turned off at the request of an adult for legal purposes. No to child porn, but there are many other sites that are NSFW.

I’ve also had to cover with my staff that just because patron A thinks something is porn doesn’t make it so. Yes, Patron B might like to look at women bodybuilders wearing next to nothing, but it’s not porn. We also cannot control patron writing swear words in their emails.

As for just using your name to access your account, sorry, no. We are the only family in the state with our last name. DIL is the only person with her first name. Her sister, who missed DS and DIL’s wedding due to being in jail for stealing bras, has tried to check out DVDs under DIL’s name when I’m out of the building. Sorry, no library card or ID, no checking out.

Another incident was a woman who wanted to “be reminded what she had checked out.” a common request. She didn’t have the card number. She could give name, address, phone number, date of birth. A staff member pulled up the account and was about to give the list of books when she realized the pattern. The books dealt with an abusive spouse and getting a divorce. Staff member said, “Sorry I have to have the account number.” I called the patron’s cell number and asked if she needed the book titles. Much longer background and visit by patron and police, it was the husband’s sister “helping him out.”

We are currently having to deal with our current batch of missionaries bothering patrons. Please tell us immediately. It makes it easier to handle.

Yes, we get inundated with personal info. But, we may be the first place that day actually being helpful and not giving an automatic “no”.

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Frustrated Library Clerk April 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

In the one case the mother actually said to me “My son is austic and doesn’t understand money and YOU should have been watching him!”

I had no idea he was austic, I had other people to help, she was outside gabbing on her cellphone the entire time, she’s the one to gave him $20, and somehow *I’m* at fault?

And for the record another day when I had the freedom to help him, I found out he can understand money if you take it slowly.

As for those who say I need a thicker skin – you’re not the one whom for 13 years have had people yelling at you over their mistakes and had to keep a calm exterior. I’ve had to deal with women who return books sopping wet then tell me how they’re 54 years old and never damaged a book for 15 minutes. People who let their children climb shelves, throw books, and even hit people and say that “Telling a child no is wrong.” People getting all up in my buisness over my womb. People trying to drag me into religious or political rants that put my job at risk. People who think just because they pay taxes they can yelling “MOTHERF**KER” on their cellphone in the children’s section. Or people who return their items stuck together with chewing gum.

Oh, and there’s the psycho computer people who’ll actually follow you around the library demanding you help them when you can’t. Such as demanding you throw other people off for them.

So please don’t tell me to “grow a thicker skin” cause it’s thick enough already. As for getting another job, I’ve been working on that for awhile but in this craptastic economy it’s not that easy.

All I want is for people to own up to their mistakes, stop picking their noses, stop expecting me to watch their kids, and realize we’re human beings, not machines.

I’ll tell you this, outside of work I treat anyone who’s serving me with a great deal of respect. I don’t yell at retail workers. I don’t blame them for my mistakes. I try to say “Please” and “thank you.” And I certainly don’t bug them about having kids.

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Joni April 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I didn’t get the impression that OP was complaining about library patrons looking up porn; rather, he/she was complaining about those who complain about library patrons looking up porn.

If I was at the library and someone else was looking at pornographic websites within eyesight of my children, I don’t know that I would say something right away, because if the porn-user overheard me it might lead to an ugly scene. (Yeah, I’m nonconfrontational like that.) I could see making a discreet comment *later on* to a library employee along the lines of ‘you may want to check the browser history on that computer, right there’ which of course would earn me the OP’s wrath.

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Library Dragon April 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

@Joni
At many libraries the staff are unable to check browser history once the patron had logged off. When the session times out the software we use wipes that. That way if you are paying your bills, filling out a job application, etc., with personal info it’s not there for the next patron to see.

Many libraries also use a software program (ours is called Deep Freeze) that after restart of the computer brings back to our configuration. The cookies, downloads, etc., are gone. We can tell that someone has used the computer, but not what was looked at.

The best option is to approach a staff member and quietly say you have a concern that you would like to discuss. Then in a neutral area we can discuss what you saw. Waiting doesn’t give the library staff the chance to solve problems.

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The Elf April 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Anonymous: “So, the way I see it, if the library is giving me all this awesome free stuff, then I feel like I should be appreciative…”

I agree. But over the years I’ve been astounded that many other people don’t think so. If they pay for something, then they expect to get what they paid for (reasonable). But when it’s free, it’s not like they expect to get what they pay for (nothing, so anything is a bonus). It’s that they expect MORE. I don’t get it either.

You could also make the argument that libraries aren’t free – they are government supported. Therefore, any taxpayer has paid for the library.

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Anon April 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Yeah the bugging people about having kids thing is bad enough coming from family members let alone strangers. People who do this aren’t thinking it through. If the person you’re talking to badly wants children and can’t have them then you are just rubbing salt in the wound.If they don’t want them it’s just really annoying. I used to have people ask me all the time at family gatherings when my husband and I were going to “start a family”. What finally got them to stop was me pretending to cry and leaving the room. Probably not E-Hell approved but all my beandipping hadn’t worked, nor had asking them politely to knock it off.

OP yeah, in retail I used to get the “you should have been watching my kid for me” too. *sigh* Sometimes people seem to think that shops or libraries are daycares and that the staff there will mind their kids for them.

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NostalgicGal April 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Anon and OP, for a number of years now, some bookstores (a few chains are now out of business, but they used to have places you could sit and read a book off their shelves, etc, making it customer inviting/friendly) and some toystores would have people drop off their kids and head off for a day at the mall, go to a movie, etc, and leave the kids in the store. One bookstore at the mall I lived near, had found an 8 year old girl wandering aimlessly and sort of hovering near those that were sitting and trying to read, and had food or drink. Um, her mom had dropped her off here and was going to be back for her in another four or so hours… she’d been there for nearly two. And no, didn’t give the child any money or a store giftcard so she could buy some food for lunch… oh, her mom did this a few times a week, dropping her off at the bookstore or one of the toystores…. Some stores changed policy to if they find an unaccompanied child they will call Social Services and the Police and the parental unit can deal with trying to get their ‘abandoned’ child back. (and posted signs as you entered, that unaccompanied children would be considered ‘abandoned’) And yes, many people were totally incensed as they couldn’t do free childcare. Um, what if some predatory type was in the store? They could walk off with the kid…

I agree, the universe doesn’t owe anyone childcare, you had it, you take care of it… and. I think it should be SOP, if the kid isn’t with a parent, and a page doesn’t turn up the parent, call the authorities. By the same token, the kid does any damage, the parent is responsible and going to pay for it. The learning of boundaries and manners doesn’t destroy a kid’s spirit!

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Enna April 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

I think the poseter has had a a really bad day at work. I work with the general public too and one day it was so busy and had so many catty comments my blood pressure must have been sky high. I know what it’s like when people get the hint about things. As for bringing up medical issues: I think the OP doesn’t like it when people go on and on: there’s a saying “I maybe a medical secutary but I don’t need to know ALL your alimanets”.

I think having blue hair or a tattoo is quite different from smelling – not washing is unhygenic.

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Library Diva April 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

@Anon 123: “is it entitled of me to feel like I’m “losing out” by having the experience diluted by fair-weather drummers, because drumming is a free activity, and I should technically be grateful that the group even exists at all?”

I don’t think it’s entitled at all. I think it’s just a case of mismatched expectations. It’s hard to say whose: yours or the fair-weather drummers. I think you should raise your concerns with your teacher while you’re helping to set up or take down the drums, and see where the conversation goes. Maybe you’re the one in the wrong: maybe this really is just a drop-in thing, and your teacher can suggest a more serious group that would be a better fit for you. Or maybe it is the fair-weather drummers who are in the wrong, and the conversation might (at best) make the teacher feel more empowered to crack down a bit and ask people not to come if they can’t commit to x many rehearsals, or will at least make you feel better in knowing that you did what you could about the situation.

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Shea April 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Coming in a bit late here, but I get the aggravation of working with the public. I really do. I’m a librarian, and I’ve worked in a public library. It was lucky to be able to find a job in an academic library, which is where I really want to be, but there’s plenty of crazy here too.

I do desk duty a couple hours a day, even though, yes, I have an MLIS. We all do. I worked on the reference desk at the public library too, so while it may be true that at the OP’s library, librarians don’t work the desk, it’s not true everywhere. Patrons shouldn’t be faulted for not realizing that the clerk isn’t a librarian; most people don’t even know there’s a difference between a library clerk and a librarian, and are shocked to realize that we need a Master’s degree for this job.

I don’t enjoy some of the interactions I have with our patrons (just this morning, in fact, I was quite literally yelled at by an elderly professor, because we do not have the journal he wanted in paper form, only electronic. It took me awhile to calm him down enough to help him find the article he wanted, and he fumed the whole time) but that’s what happens when you work with lots of people every day. Some of them will be crazy. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to rein in their kids, not be nasty, not yell, and have a basic level of hygiene (though at a lot of public libraries, homeless people often come in, and frankly I think they deserve a bit of compassion if they don’t smell like roses, as long as they behave themselves).

Anyway, I do get where the OP is coming from, but I agree with previous posters that this came across as less of a “how to behave properly at the library” article and more of an angry rant, with a few points that may not even be accurate everywhere (re: librarians at the service desk, etc.)

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Anonymous April 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm

@Library Diva–Funny you should mention that. The drumming teacher agrees with me that fair-weather drummers screw up the group, but his wife (who also plays in the group) says that I’m in the wrong, and if we told people to get serious or get out, we’d have no band. However, the teacher and I have found a solution, of sorts. One day a week is going to be “big group” practice, and the other rehearsal day is going to be for soloists and small-group work, for people who want to play some extra music beyond what the core group does. Our first small-group rehearsal will be this coming Thursday. This is a good thing, because we have a performance coming up in about six weeks, at an early-summer waterfront festival, and we’re supposed to play two or three sets, so this way, we’ll have enough music to fill that time, the serious drummers will be challenged, and the more casual drummers won’t feel pressured to commit beyond their comfort level. So, even if the OP’s problem isn’t solved now, mine is, sort of. :)

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Mabel April 17, 2013 at 6:55 am

This was funny in a horrifying way–because I’ve seen ALL OF THIS at the public library in my city and other places I’ve lived. The truth is, some people just act like animals when they’re out and about.

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Ashley2 April 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Number 7 on her list is both scary and disgusting that people have these points of views about men and children….

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lnelson1218 April 20, 2013 at 2:58 am

Honestly I didn’t read through all the comments, however, the one question that I found myself asking was did we work at the same library.

Any (minus the cell phone issue as I was pre-cell phone days) thing that the OP mention basically did occur during my 12 years as a part-time clerk.

The worst being that a woman complained about me to the head librarian because I wouldn’t go up to every patron in the building to check if they were carrying the video she wanted for her son. I won’t get into the fact that her son (I shutter to think what kind of adult he turned into as he should be in his 20s now) could have been one of those rug-rats who often gets posted here.

Again while most patrons are polite, friendly and some of the regulars were often great to chat with, there were certainly enough rude, ungrateful, “never my fault” patrons as well.

Working at a library was a great experience for me. I loved it. Didn’t like the nasty patrons, but most of the staff was a job to work with.

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Kimberle April 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm

haha somebody needs a vacation but everything she said is true. you just learn to live with it. and i think people are taking this a bit too seriously it’s a rant. we all know the public is not going to change.

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Librarian April 23, 2013 at 3:56 pm

You tell patrons not to scream at you. I wish you had taken your own advice and not screamed at your readers. The all-caps sentences and exclamation points throughout this piece are screaming in written form.

I work in libraries because I actually enjoy meeting all kinds of people and helping them find what they need. Every additional day that someone like you who hates the work sticks around is one more day that you are doing a disservice to patrons, libraries, and yourself. I genuinely wish you luck in finding work you are better suited for.

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David Wright April 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Very late to this party, but I just have to add to the chorus on this one. I’m a dedicated public service librarian – I think I’m pretty good at what I do – and there is not a thing on your list that a.) I’m not very familiar with from my own work, and b.) is anything more than the most minor irritant to me. I am far more concerned by colleagues who have the attitude you seem to exhibit in this piece, than by anything short of physical violence or stalking coming at us from the public.

If I knew you, I would take you to coffee and in my most empathetic and avuncular fashion, suggest that perhaps working with the public is not your true calling. I expect I might have similar advice about checking yourself w/ colleagues, because at a guess I’d say the snark doesn’t stop with the public. Look – you have one life to live. A lot of choices to be made, but one of the most important ones in my experience is whether you will be kind, or not; generous with yourself and your life, or not. Libraries thrive on kindness and generosity. Lives do to. Stop keeping score.

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David Wright April 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm

“Lives do toO,” obviously.

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