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Public Library Etiquette

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


{ 149 comments… add one }
  • Bint April 10, 2013, 3:06 am

    Good grief. Twenty-one long, raging complaints that anyone who works in an office dealing with the public sees pretty much every day? Yes, some people are rude/smell/don’t behave, but half of this seems to come from people clearly not understanding the rules (the porn, the ‘talk to the librarian’ etc) and another half is just making a big, angry mountain out of an annoying molehill. I think you need to get over yourself if this is all you have to deal with, because this post shows no grace and a huge amount of attitude.

  • Sazerac April 10, 2013, 3:35 am

    I’m sorry, OP, for what you’ve been through, but this seemed like less of an etiquette piece and more of one huge rant the further I got into it.

    Working with the public is not for everyone. People can be lazy, stupid, greedy, and sloppy. They can be rude and pushy. They can be nosy and intrusive.

    Those who work well with the public know this and let these incidents roll off them, handling them with grace and dignity. I’m not sure, based on your diatribe above, if you are able to do this – but one thing is obvious, you are very unhappy with your job.

    Life is too short for that level of stress. I hope you are able to find a position in which you are much happier.

  • Puzzled April 10, 2013, 4:19 am

    They obviously don’t live in my area where library branches are closing and some branches have reduced hours to the point that it’s almost impossible to use them. I am extremely grateful that we have any of our libraries available to us, and tend to be extra nice to all the employees because of this. Oh yeah, and we have lots of volunteers too! However, it somehow doesn’t surprise me that you have to deal with this type of rudeness. Entitlement attitudes seem to abound everywhere. Good for you for smiling through it.

  • Katie April 10, 2013, 4:39 am

    “Helpful list”??! You sound terrifying to me. Whilst I have some sympathy, working with the public is, you know, just that. You do have to have some interaction with them you know and not all of them will be 100% perfectly behaved – or mind your rules 100% of the time. Perhaps working with the public isn’t the best fit for you?

  • Kali April 10, 2013, 4:49 am

    “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.”

    Oh, really? I never knew that. My local library system (Birmingham, UK) does. It’s pretty cool to be able to go online and see everything I checked out in the last six months. We can renew and reserve books online, too.

  • Pep April 10, 2013, 4:55 am

    “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.”

    I wasn’t aware of this. I would not be the one to sit there and stew and then later complain as stated above (definitely ridiculous! I don’t agree with the police being called at ALL, barring of course something completely illegal like child pornography), but I would not be aware that the librarians would have to wait for me to complain. I understand now, but I am curious – are libraries allowed to post a sign stating this policy? If yes, is it common that they do?

  • David April 10, 2013, 4:58 am

    During the 1960s/early 1970s my wife and I were both hippies and we still have much of the mindset. We and all our friends bathed and washed all our clothing regularly. While I understand that they didn’t have access to showers and washers at Woodstock, ‘dirty hippy’ is one of those phrases that paints a varied group of people with the same brush.

    Other than that I agree that people should be mannerly in the library.

  • Weirdo April 10, 2013, 5:18 am

    I’m sorry, is this satire? Whoever wrote this needs to calm down. Valid points, yes, but rather over the top and SO MANY CAPS!!

  • Joni April 10, 2013, 6:11 am

    Honestly, it seems like OP might be happier in another line of work.

  • Ruby April 10, 2013, 6:16 am

    I really did not know about #3 (clerks are not librarians.) I pretty much thought everyone in the library did mostly the same job when it came to customer service. The public should be made aware WHY you are sending them to another person for help.

  • Jana April 10, 2013, 6:34 am

    This is more of a rant about how much they hate their job than it is about an etiquette lesson. I feel like I’ve been scolded for something I didn’t even do!

  • Lo April 10, 2013, 6:53 am

    Honestly the two that shocked me the most.

    – 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!

    Who does this!?? I’m Christian and I don’t randomly invite our local library staff or anyone else who is working in a place of business to come to church with me. That’s uncalled for.

    – 7: Our martial status, if we have children, etc is really none of your business…

    Not so much shocking, I get it all the time where I work from other employees, but you’d think that a guy with his family in a place that is considered to be safe, quiet, pleasant, and low-key wouldn’t stoop to such a level. Even if he were joking it’s still ugly and uncalled for.
    My standard response to those asking about my family status, which I have found helpful over the years to address strangers and coworkers, is, “No, we won’t be parents,” delivered in as neutral a tone as possible.
    This is vague without being preachy, self-righteous, or inviting conflict. Polite people assume this means I’m barren and usually drop the subject. Impolite people who push the issue will get the truth in an icy tone. I don’t volunteer “childfree” because the word is loaded. I don’t care much for it either. I’d much rather people I work with assume I’m barren than give me grief for not wanting to be a mother.

  • Chris April 10, 2013, 7:04 am

    You’re upset, and that’s understandable. We all deal with a number of ignorant or flat out stupid people in our daily lives, and especially when we have customer service jobs. That said Miss Frustrated Library Clerk, I feel the need to address a few points:

    2) “ALWAYS have your library card at hand and ready.” While this is a good idea, and the alternate suggestion of a driver’s license/government-issued ID is also good, I’m not sure that your unilateral statement of “there WILL be at least one if not more people with the exact same first and last name as you” is really true. In my nearly 27 years of life I have met exactly one person who shares the combination of first/last name with me. I’ve seen on the internet that there are others, but we appear to be few and far between. In fact to illustrate this point, I work for IBM and have access to a full and complete database of employees globally. There are exactly three people, myself included, which have my last name. Neither of the others have first names remotely similar to mine.

    3) I had no idea that the clerks at the front desks were not librarians. I certainly recognize that they should be AT the front desk, but as they work at a library I would have assumed they were librarians (or in the case of students, pursuing a degree in library science) and that a rotation of sorts existed.

    5) This surprises me. Why would the library system CARE if you accepted such invitations? So long as you don’t try to push your religion on customers or coworkers they really have no business involving themselves in this matter… Granted the library patron has no business inviting you unless you indicate you need a new church…

    6) Again, really? As long as you have a moment or two of downtime and the patron initiated the conversation, why does it matter so long as you remain civil?

    11) Perhaps suggest putting up a few signs designating a smoking area that meets the city/county/state mandated distance away? It helps reduce the number of smokers who are too close.

    16) Another shock, but I suppose understandable.

    17) Yet additional surprise here. It would seem to me that keeping a short record (maybe of the last 10 items) of recently borrowed items would benefit your customers. While it hasn’t happened to me personally, I know some friends and family will return items and realise somewhat later they still need them (generally reference materials for a school assignment) but be unable to recall exactly which items they want. You keeping that information for a short period would be helpful…

    Otherwise most of the advice isn’t so much library etiquette as common courtesy as applied to library-specific situations. All, or most of which, I agree with.

    • Christy March 25, 2014, 3:41 pm

      I just saw this comment and had to reply to the first thing you said, just because it is so weird. When I went to the library to check out some books recently, I asked them to look up my name (I had forgotten my card-I promise I rarely do that) and they found two other women with the exact same first and last name, with the same spelling. I actually ran into both of them later and realized they were relatives of my husband and we all lived in the same town, having moved from the same small town only a few months apart! Small world, huh.

  • Julia April 10, 2013, 7:04 am

    I am forwarding this to my good friend who is a librarian at the main public branch where I once worked in various clerk type positions. I am now at an academic library, which is very different!

    Working circulation is like manning a customer service desk at a store. I had been threatened with “I’ll have your job!” because I refused to break the law by just looking up records without a card or official ID. I would have to say roughly half the patrons were annoying to monstrous, while the other half were civil. I also had part of my hair dyed bright unnatural red, so I was always early for Halloween (*eyeroll*)!

    Oh-and even though the Rules of Conduct sign specifically mentioned proper hygiene, it was never enforced. In defense of some of our regulars, I believe they were homeless. (Others had no excuse!)

  • Esmeralda April 10, 2013, 7:26 am

    Yikes! It amazes me that someplace as benign and wholesome as a library can inspire such rudeness in its patrons. It’s a wonderful place full of books that you’re allowed to check out for free, computers you can use for free, clerks and librarians who will answer questions and point you in the right direction- why would anyone cop an entitled atitude in such a place? From the time I was a toddler, I was taught that we speak in hushed tones in the library, and treat the books we borrow respectfully, and return them on time.

    Hang in there, Library Clerk. Your work is greatly appreciated by the majority of patrons; try not to let these mannerless boors ruin your day. And, next time someone screams at you over the phone or treats you rudely to your face, I hope you are able to politely stand up to them without jeopardizing your job.

  • kramercat April 10, 2013, 7:47 am

    Whilst I strongly agree with most of your points of contention, I find myself rather wanting to go to your branch and misbehave.

    It is a bit disheartening to visit this, one my favourite websites, to be bombarded with the sort of negative venting I used to hear in the lunchrooms and cafeterias of my many places of employment over the years.

    I hear in your tone a level of snippiness and frustration that has built over time to the point of an inevitible blow-up of mountainous proportion. I do hope that I am wrong, and I also hope that you are not allowing your obvious dislike of both your job and patrons to be leaking through while you are at work. I am not necessarily criticizing you – I too have been at jobs in public service where experiences with negative customers have overtaken my ability to react with equanimity and maintain a genuine facade of pleasantness. This was when I would know it was time for immediate removal of myself from the position – either with a vacation or resignation.

    I think that why I felt compelled to respond is that, if this were meant to be just a vent, than I might feel more generous about wanting to read your thoughts. However, you couched your post as something that could be posted to elicit better behaviour from library patrons, but the imperatives, capital letters and overall negativity really make it difficult to think that this is something people would want to take seriously.

    Best of luck to the OP. I hope you have a better day today.

  • La April 10, 2013, 7:54 am

    I think the people in #7 were the rudest, but I may be biased because I am severely tokophobic (on top of other things). Saying these things to me would probably prevent me from working for the day and cause great mental stress for many days afterward.

    Also rude because for the love of pants you DO NOT enquire into the personal lives of random strangers, especially potentially intimate details like that!

  • PM April 10, 2013, 7:54 am

    I wish this list surprised me, but it doesn’t.

  • Mary April 10, 2013, 7:55 am

    What a rant, OP! I’m sorry that you, too, have to deal with the less pleasant part of the general public. Unfortunately it comes with the territory. I’ve worked with the public for a very long time and some folks just assume that an employee is undeserving of human treatment. It’s a pity that you cannot recommend How To Behave And Why to these folks.

  • Katana April 10, 2013, 8:01 am

    Can I add another: saying your computer isn’t working isn’t very helpful. Try saying what it is about your computer isn’t working so I don’t we to ask you a bunch of questions.

    And try working with foreign students who confuse vowels and consonants.

  • AMS April 10, 2013, 8:04 am

    As someone who works in a public library, none of these surprise me but I do think the OP simply needs to come to terms with the reality of working with the public. Almost anyone who works in a public library probably has horror stories to tell. The nice thing about working a public library vs. retail, though, is that at least my library’s administration supports staff and allows them to defend themselves when patrons are yelling or abusive. In retail, it was the customer is ALWAYS right even if they are treating staff terribly. At the library, if they cross the line they are out. A big difference!

    I also do not think the OP should take it out on the public when they don’t know the difference between a library clerk and a professional librarian or library paraprofessional. Not a lot of people realize that in most cases a librarian has a masters degree in Library Science, so even though I am pursuing that degree I don’t take it out on people who don’t know that. And this can be different from library to library. In a tiny, small town library the only person with a professional degree may be the director, while in a larger city it may be the people working at the reference desk and not at the circulation desk. Whatever it is, if a staff member directs you to a particular person when you ask a question, they probably know what they are doing.

  • Mae April 10, 2013, 8:09 am

    Yes, it seems you have some very rude people visit your library. But I agree with the others that say maybe a job with the public is not a good fit for you. Or maybe the mananger of the branch should enforce the rules more stringently or post a few signs (with appropriate wording) addressing the issues you mentioned.

    Part of my job is to answer the phone for our business. I have been told that if someone is screaming, cursing, threatening, etc., it is perfectly acceptable to hang up the phone.

    One thing I have never understood is why rules are put in place for many businesses, but if you complain/are rude long enough, loud enough and to the right person, you can circumvent those rules. If you are going to let someone do what they want anyway, why have the rules?

  • kramercat April 10, 2013, 8:15 am

    I just went back and re-read your post and I would like to rescind my previous comment that I strongly agree with most of your points of contention. I realized that many of them are situations that are easily avoidable by you.

    I will just touch on 5, 6 and 7 as a whole for the moment. Discussions of a personal nature that make you uncomfortable are usually easy enough to deflect with a bit of panache and a strong dollop of deflection. There are enough discussions on this website and forum about how to use the bean-dip technique to keep creamcheese in demand for the rest of this millenium. And clients can discuss religion, politics and family as much as their heart’s desire, in my opinion. That does not mean that you have any obligation to answer or respond to intrusive questions. A simple, “Oh, I don’t discuss my personal life at work, I am sure you can understand and respect that” can be helpful, if a bit unweily. If you get invited to the Church of the Perpetually Peachy, a simple “Thank-you of thinking about me, but I am happy with my own (un-named) place of worship”. Firm and polite will get you the result you need. So what if you have to repeat it ad naseaum. That is the nature of customer service.

    The perpetually intrusive will still find a way to be offended by your lack of forthcoming. So what. Keep the smile plastered on, refuse to answer questions that make you uncomfortable and absolutely make sure that you use no tone or expression that will give the client cause to report you for poor customer service. There still will be some that will complain anyway. It is going to happen, so if you have built a reputation of exemplary politeness in the face of the adversity, the complaints will hold little weight. Opps, I am getting off topic.

  • Sarah Jane April 10, 2013, 8:21 am

    I agree with Bint and Sazerac.

    Post a list of rules in your facility that address the few points you make that are library-specific.

    As for the rest of your concerns…it’s called LIFE. Most service-oriented jobs involve all sorts of people everyday, be they pushy, needy, smelly, clueless, distracted, confused, sensitive, well-meaning, or a pleasure to serve.

    I almost thought this was some sort of troll, if not for the tone of bitterness I noted.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith April 10, 2013, 8:21 am

    Frustrated needs a new job, preferably one that does not involve working with people. Who keeps a litany of complaints running to about twenty categories and spends most of the post telling people to be nice and to mind their manners while basically yelling her way through a monologue? One hasn’t a chance of mustering a bit of sympathy because of the successive volleys of self-serving directives yelled at the public in general and delivered here. I’m guessing the objects of her wrath won’t be stopping by to read over her list and to reform.

  • WildIrishRose April 10, 2013, 8:28 am

    Several of these complaints apply to customers/patrons of other establishments, not just the library. I agree with those who say that perhaps you, OP, are in the wrong line of work. This list of grievances makes me want to avoid my library for fear of offending the staff there!

  • AMC April 10, 2013, 8:29 am

    I would say some of these tips are good for life in general and not just at the library, like supervising your children in public, keeping good hygiene, not yelling at other people for your own mistakes, and not critiquing other people’s tattoos/hair color/marrital status/life choices unless directly solicited.

  • bloo April 10, 2013, 8:31 am

    Is there something about the fact that money rarely changes hands at the local public library that makes Joe Q. Public behave like an entitled Special Snowflake? Because so many services are offered free, does that make people treat librarians and clerks, as well as volunteers, so poorly?

    I used to think of how nice it would be to work in a library. I love books and like people okay. After reading Yarnspinner’s and a few other librarians stories from the forum, I’ve changed my mind about that. I was raised at a time when the librarian would give you the stinkeye for speaking in anything other than a hushed tone. I always put books back where I found them because I didn’t want to create extra work for the employees (maybe because of today’s computerized systems that’s no longer encouraged like at my local). The entitlement listed here is shocking to me.

    It would seem that librarians and clerks are in a similar position to teachers, less time spent practicing their science and more time spent raising ‘children’ (or adults that act worse than children).

  • Heather April 10, 2013, 8:37 am

    I didn’t find the item that I was expecting to see, except a little of it in #8… but maybe it’s different in public libraries.

    I worked briefly behind the circulation desk at my college library–evenings–and what I found was that everyone came along and told me their problems. Generally friends or acquaintances, not strangers, but still–I had SO many of those conversations. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t busy, but I can only imagine what it would have been like if I was. There’s something about being stuck behind a desk in public–I don’t know what to call it, the Bartender Effect or something–people see a captive audience, and people who need an audience home in.

  • A April 10, 2013, 8:40 am


    Joni April 10, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Honestly, it seems like OP might be happier in another line of work.

  • Twik April 10, 2013, 8:49 am

    How exactly can a library enforce a rule that an employee cannot accept an invitation to church from a patron?

  • Buffy April 10, 2013, 8:53 am

    OP…please use the reasearch tools available in the library to check #16. The ‘Fredoom of Information Act” allows citizens to access public records. While it is true you cannot control the porn on library computers…FoIA is not the applicable law. And the overuse of caps is a bit over the top…

  • Lauren April 10, 2013, 9:02 am

    I’m kind of shocked at some of the complaints made by this poster. She sounds very young and immature. One thing in particular bothered me a lot – a lot of homeless people spend time in the library because they don’t have anywhere else to go, which may explain the b.o. problem with some of the patrons. Did this not occur to anyone? What a lovely, kind, charitable person she must be.

    The bottom line to me is that the person who wrote this rant should not be working with the public. She needs to grow up and get some empathy before being exposed to poor unsuspecting people. Do you know how many times I had an older gentleman call me “honey” and act shocked that I didn’t have children? They think they are paying me a compliment, so I take it that way. I usually joke around and say “Kids? I totally forgot to have kids! I’ve been so busy! – So what are you doing later?” This way everyone walks away smiling and hopefully it will make them think twice before they say that to someone else.

    Reading this reminded me of the insane woman who works at the town electric department (we are lucky to have city run CHEAP electricity in this town) who HATES customers. She was late the morning I came in to change my address and loudly bitched about my coming in too early. She would probably love to commiserate with the ranting librarian. To these people customers aren’t their livelihood but a nuisance. They have no idea how to deal with people or diffuse situations so they are just generally nasty to everyone. Judging from the rant, I bet the librarian would love it if nobody came in and messed with her books. What a jerk! She sounds exactly like I did when I had my first customer service position…in high school.

  • Library Diva April 10, 2013, 9:02 am

    As a library lover who is really dismayed by the erosion of the library-like environment (screaming kids, screaming parents, loud cell phone conversations, groups of people watching football on the TV and whooping and hollering, loud music in the cafe), I read this with interest. Instead, it seems more like an angry rant by someone who’s ill-suited to work with the public.

    I invite you to visit notalwaysright.com or retailhell.com sometime, and you will see that most of these scenarios are not unique to the library. It’s just how people act. There’s a segment of the population who either never learned good hygiene or simply doesn’t care. There’s a very large segment that will get angry whenever they’re called out on something they did wrong or can’t get their way. Lots of people lack boundaries. Others are so lonely that the relationships they form with the workers at places like libraries and cafes are the only ones they have, so they stay too long in the line, talking about their cat, trying to find out if you have a cat, complaining about the weather, etc.

    Customer service isn’t an easy job. I commend you for keeping your temper through all of these incidents, but your post sounded so angry that maybe it’s time to consider looking for a job where there’s less frustration to bottle up.

  • akaCat April 10, 2013, 9:03 am

    Wow. There are a number of legit complaints in here, but this list is a little ridiculous.

    You had to know when you dyed your hair and got that visible tattoo that customers would say something, either to complain or ask questions. It’s great that the library allows their employees to have hair colors not found in nature and visible tattoos, but if you don’t want people commenting on them get a wig and something to cover the tattoo(s).

    Mind you, I’m saying this as someone with several tattoos, one of which is on my wrist and never covered.

  • Jenn50 April 10, 2013, 9:09 am

    Good heavens, I’m glad I’m not the only one who found this to be an angry rant! I had no idea that there were different types of employees at the library, but I wouldn’t be rude to someone in that position anyway.

    And I’m probably hypersensitive to this because of my daughter’s autism, but I was REALLY irked by #10. This is clearly snark about a particular person/event and not a helpful tip for the general public. “Control your children” covers this nicely. You don’t need to specifically attack autism. Most people with autistic kids watch them like hawks, so your experience with one person who made a poor decision is an inappropriate thing to generalize.

    Forgive the rest of us for not knowing all the things we’re supposeD to do in your particular library.

  • Mary April 10, 2013, 9:20 am

    I would have no way of knowing that the person helping me to check out my books isn’t a librarian. However, I certainly wouldn’t argue if I was redirected to another person with my question.
    That being said, in our library system consisting of 32 locations in 6 counties, I would guess that only the main branch has “real librarians” on staff. All of the other branches have staff who will answer any questions you have and I’m almost positive none have a library science degree. I’ve seen the job postings advertised and these all are definitely clerk positions.

    I can understand a few of these complaints. One branch we used to go to had an issue with kids hanging out at the library for hours at a time as if the parents were using them as a babysitting service. Plus There was one family that would almost always be there at the same time as us during the summer. The teen girls would always slide their sandals off and put their bare feet up on the couch while they were reading. Drove me insane and their mother never said anything.

  • Wendy B. April 10, 2013, 9:33 am

    While a lot of this is understandable, the rant itself is almost as rude as the people. This isn’t just a “library” problem, it’s a life problem…it happens in banks, in office buildings, in schools, you name it, the rude are out there.

    And I love how since the OP works in a city library the assumption is that ALL libraries operate the same way. They don’t. I live in a small town/rural area. We’re lucky to have one trained librarian at each library, so therefore the VOLUNTEER clerks do as much as they do, including helping you to find books, use the computer, etc.

    No, really, I am the ONLY person in our library system with this first-last name combination. Seriously.

  • Bibianne April 10, 2013, 9:37 am

    Amen, OP. AMEN! (says the other librarian)

  • Cat April 10, 2013, 9:41 am

    I feel your pain. It’s not the job that you hate; it’s dealing with people who have evolved into oafs.
    There are a lot of them out there. The school system has to deal with them too.
    I deal with rude people by being very nice and by repeating the rule until they give up. Then I thank God that they are not relatives and will not be at my house Thanksgiving and Christmas.
    As to those who inquire about your having children, I suggest a sense of humor. “Do you have children?” Answer, “Why? Do you want one?” or “No Sir/Madam, this is a library/media center. You want a kindergarten or elementary school. May I direct you?”
    “I’ll have your job!” Answer, “Great! When can you start?”
    For those who inquire, “Why don’t you have children?” try a fake sob and say sadly, ” I told my husband at breakfast one day to take the dog and go get him neutered. All he heard was ‘…get neutered!'” and he did.
    For religion, pick an obscure one and claim to practice it. I believe Helen Keller followed something called, “Swendenborgism”. I’m not sure of the spelling but, if they have never heard of it, they’ll have a hard time convincing you not to practice it. Your true faith is none of their business.
    Realize you are not alone. There’s a website called, “Not Always Right” about having to deal with rude customers. It’s a hoot-if you’re not the one dealing with these folks.

  • Nikki April 10, 2013, 9:59 am

    Hmm. Wow. Not sure how I feel about this one.

    I’ve worked with the public for going on seven years now (all but one year of my adult life, if you want to do the math), so I understand the frustrations and difficulties completely. I also understand the need to vent, and have done so many times.

    However, some of these complaints are ridiculous. Libraries are a public service, there to serve the people. While that does not mean that they or their workers should be taken advantage of or be treated rudely or unkindly, it behooves any person who works with the public often to remember that the most important rule is PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE.

    We all have our “stinky” days. Our days when our heads are elsewhere. Our days when we’re exhausted and all it takes is ONE MORE THING to get us riled and argumentative. If you work with the public, you learn to develop a stiff spine, a thick skin, a strong stomach and a good heart. If you can’t do that, you’re in the wrong field. Period.

  • Kovitlac April 10, 2013, 10:22 am

    Chris: I’m very much the same way. In fact, absolutely no one in this country has the same full name that I do (my last name is extremely German, and the only folks in this country with it are relatives). Still, I understand that the library has a system that caters to all, and not just to a few who have entirely unique names.

  • Kimstu April 10, 2013, 10:29 am

    @Bint: “…making a big, angry mountain out of an annoying molehill. I think you need to get over yourself if this is all you have to deal with…”

    You could say the same thing to most of the people who post here with complaints about other people’s poor etiquette. I don’t think complaints about some library users’ unmannerly behavior are any less deserving of attention at EtiquetteHell than complaints about, say, the rude thing one’s mother-in-law said or the boorish attitude of the neighbors. “Annoying molehills” in the realm of etiquette are exactly what most of us discuss here all the time: it’s not like ANY of these etiquette violations are somehow crucial to saving the planet or world peace or what have you.

    And cavalierly dismissing somebody else’s OP is what I believe is known in messageboard technical terminology as, um, “threadsoiling” (to use an Ehell-compliant euphemism). If somebody else thought an etiquette violation was interesting enough to submit an OP about, and the Admin thought it was interesting enough to post it, I think it’s safe to assume that plenty of people here will find something to discuss in it. If you think the OP is making an unnecessary fuss (even taking into account that ANY complaint about mere etiquette violations can arguably be considered an unnecessary fuss), then you have the option of just ignoring the post, rather than threadsoiling the discussion for other posters.

  • pdolly April 10, 2013, 10:33 am

    Well that was disturbing.

    Did it ever occur to you that some people might have a medical condition which causes body odour? I can only bathe once or twice a week due to skin conditions and can’t wear scented body spray. Should I just stay at home lest I offend your delicate sensibilities?

    In our library (uk) we can ask any employee for help. Perhaps you could just calmly explain that you don’t have access to that part of the system and are unable to leave the desk due to policy.

    Our computers also have blocks on them that stop iffy material being accessed. Because children use library computers too.

    Completely with you on the kid issue though. I’m not sure which is worse – the parents who ignore them, the ones who scream their heads off at the kids or the ones who beg and plead with the children to pleeease be good.

  • sv April 10, 2013, 10:39 am

    Here’s the thing, OP. What you have just described afflicts every single person who has ever worked with the public. Yes, it can be very trying at times, but you can certainly try to find employment that doesn’t entail dealing with smelly rude people. I have worked with the public for 20 years. My job is at an after hours animal emergency hospital. Would you like to know what upsets people? A sick animal at 2 am when they do not have the funds for treatment. Oh, and often people are drunk/smelly/in their dirty nightclothes or otherwise unappealing, because that is life in all it’s glory. If I let unpleasant people affect me I could never do my job. I see far, far more grateful, kind owners than I do violent or rude ones, and you undoubtedly see many more pleasant patrons than you do difficult ones. It is your choice to concentrate on the frustrating aspects of your job rather than the rewarding ones.

  • Anonymous April 10, 2013, 10:45 am

    I actually mostly agree with the OP. Maybe she came on a little strong, but I’m a member of the public, I go to the public library from time to time, and I know how to use the library politely. Granted, our library makes it easy, because it has a clearly-labelled information/reference desk that’s separate from the check-out desk, and there’s even a separate information desk for the children’s section. Also, there are “no smoking” signs inside and out, and I’m not sure if there’s any rule that you have to be X distance away from the building to smoke, because I’ve seen people smoking under the awning, and nobody seems to get too fussed about it. Inside the library, cell phones are permitted, as are snacks and drinks, but people use common sense–nobody brings full meals into the library, or talks so loudly on their phones that others can’t read/study/surf the net in peace. As for porn, I’ve never seen anyone using the library computers for that, because they’re right out in the open, and everyone around them would know. The last time I was at the library (two days ago), I heard a toddler crying, but other than that, it doesn’t seem to be the horror show that the OP is describing. Granted, she works at the library, while I only visit it intermittently, but in my experience, there’s something about a quiet building full of books that inspires people to be on the “best behaviour.” Maybe that’s just me, because my parents taught me from a young age that the library was a “best behaviour” kind of place.

  • just4kicks April 10, 2013, 10:52 am

    What sort of person uses the public library to watch porn? Gross. I mean adults, not kids being curious? Good Lord, do that in your own home! And no, I’m not a prude, they are called home and personal computers for a reason. I would be very uncomfortable if my kids were browsing the library while people were watching porn.

  • just4kicks April 10, 2013, 10:54 am

    Just to clarify, kids of course, should not be watching porn either! I have five kids and sometimes a misspelled word, or turn of phrase has brought up some very inappropriate searches on Google.

  • NostalgicGal April 10, 2013, 10:55 am

    Many moons ago I worked in a university library. I rarely did front desk, I was mostly relegated to working the stacks (putting away returned materials, and shelving new aquisitions)

    Our biggest issue was FOOD. There WAS a 24hour study area near the front door that had a separate enterance and exit to the outside world, and unless you checked it out, you could NOT take anything from the library in there. Including our magazines and newspapers (they were available during regular hours but they could NOT be checked out). Oh, and the poor homeless guy with a toddler that ended up living in there for about six weeks; we all knew about it and tried to have social services snag him and child and get them some help (I left that job before it ended).

    I did have to do all services you would consider an assistant librarian had to, helping people find stuff, teach them how to use the card catalog (days before computers were more than toys or big huge things that ate papertape and punch chards), and at times work the front desk checking stuff in and out. I had a sort of talent at finding ‘lost books’ in the stacks so I quickly found myself being sent to reshelve most of the time… and I was ordered to dress ‘down’ like a regular patron so I wouldn’t be interrupted while I worked the shelves.

    It sounds like OP needs a vacation… The public can be rude and crude and lewd, and I do agree that things have changed amongst the public stacks. That being said… one thing that some larger libraries went to, was an annual ‘Amnesty Day’ (or week). If you turned in your overdue and possibly ‘lost’ books then, the slate was wiped. (Major City Main Library) did that once, and said they got over a third of their overdue, late, lost stuff back in one week. Some stuff was over 30 years old. They did it the next year and got similar results… it also seemed to improve public relations… OP might suggest that they look into it.

  • Lerah99 April 10, 2013, 11:03 am

    Ah, the joys of working with the public.
    At any given time, approximately 1 out of every 10 people are dealing with mental health issues.

    That means you will see a lot of crazy:
    – You will have people who scream and curse over problems of their own creation.
    – You will have zealots trying to convert you to their religion.
    – You will have people who are so depressed getting dressed was the most they could do – taking a shower as well would be just too much to deal with.
    – You will have people leaving their kids unattended.
    – You will have petty thieves, narcissists, liars, and con artists.

    It can become so very frustrating to deal with the same bad behavior over and over again.

    Working in customer service, here is what gets me through the day with my sanity intact.
    – Be kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting some sort of battle.
    – That horrible jerk? He is gone now and you no longer have to put up with him. But he is stuck with himself 24/7 with no escape.
    – Take deep breaths and think of 6 good things in your life. For example: I have a house, food in my fridge, my parents are in good health, there is clean water to drink, my best friend is awesome, I love my dog

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