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


{ 148 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin April 10, 2013 at 11:07 am

Having worked at a public library in a prosperous Southern California city, I can verify that most of the clerk’s comments were right on. It amazed me how rude and demanding many people were. That is not say that many (or most) patrons were not polite, appreciative and a pleasure to serve but the entitled and rude people stand out.


Lisa April 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

OP: Get into a different line of work; dealing with the public isn’t for everyone. And please, calm down, breathe, take a walk, do yoga, do something to relieve your anger.


Lynne April 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

#17 is not true. It depends on your local/regional area; some library systems do keep a record of all materials. Some don’t.


The Elf April 10, 2013 at 11:26 am



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

Is why I no longer patronize my local library. When I was a kid, I was a huge library patron. Part of that was because they had air conditioning and my house didn’t, but mostly it was because I love books. I’d peruse the shelves, get lost in encyclopedias, find new subjects to read about, and settle down in one of the comfy chairs to read my selections before I checked out. I got to know the librarians, who often recommended books to me. Thanks, librarians, I never would have discovered Frank Herbert and hard sci-fi without you! Then I went to college, where most of my library time was devoted to research.

After college, I tried to re-establish my old library habits, especially since I was flat broke and just getting started in my career. Somehow, in just the few years of college, libraries became noisy community centers! And I hated that. My quiet book sanctuary was gone! Replaced by this place that happened to have books, but also had all sorts of multi-media that drew people that had no clue about being quiet, plus community events, which would be nice if only they were in a separate area. Then you have the cell phones, which people don’t think to turn off. Then somebody thought the children’s section should be in the center instead of off to the side, so it was lots of child noise echoing throughout the place. You can’t help the kid noise – it’s the nature of kids – but that’s why my old library had a children’s library room off the main library.

I periodically go back to see if things have changed, but they haven’t. Until they do, I’ll buy my books or borrow them from friends.


amyasleigh April 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

OP — I’m in the camp which feels that on the basis of your post: you don’t belong in a job which involves dealing with the general public. People are, largely, uncouth / boorish / unhygienic / clueless / not very bright / inconsiderate / ill-informed; but in my perhaps Pollyanna-ish view, not — in the majority of cases — malicious. I feel that the greatest requirement for those who serve them on a daily basis, is — within reasonable limits — patience and forbearance. Admittedly, I haven’t worked in a job such as yours; but I’ve realised that my patience-and-forbearance capacity was insufficient, and sought other employment.


MichelleP April 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

I used to frequent the library near where I live; as a single mother I didn’t have the internet at home until recently. I treated the librarians and clerks with respect, was always quiet, and never used my cell, don’t smoke, etc. I have to say this was a bit over the top. I have worked customer service my entire adult life, and everything this post described is simply a fact of working for the public.

I saw the librarians at the library I frequent to have a rather easy job. The clerks did all the work. This may not be true at all libraries, I know. But I resented the one librarian carrying on conversations with the patrons and on personal phone calls herself while telling other patrons to be quiet. I knew her vaguely as I live in a small town, but didn’t like her attitude. The others were very pleasant and helpful.

OP, sounds like you need another job.


The Elf April 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

This is half legit complaint, half rant. I get the rant – I don’t like doing customer service for a reason. It seems that if you throw “free” in there, customers seem to really feel entitled to it and act even ruder than normal. That’s probably why some library patrons act so rudely.

But the complaint part? It all follows a common theme – be aware of how your actions impact others. If only more people were!


Lynne April 10, 2013 at 11:32 am

#16 is also not universal. Policies vary widely.


LibraryPatron April 10, 2013 at 11:34 am

I can access my (American) library account online and look at a complete list of every item I have checked out since becoming a member of that library system. So yeah, I imagine the FBI could get ahold of that, and perhaps has, since my husband does top-secret work for them.

I am not remotely paranoid about it but the fact remains that the record exists.


Snowy April 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

3) Most people don’t realize this! They assume if you work in a library, you’re a full-fledged librarian. However, in some libraries, clerks *can* help you find materials, use the computer, etc. I’ve worked in libraries in two different systems, in three different capacities–cataloger, part-time opener/bookkeeper, and a volunteer shelver–and in each case I was allowed to help with simple things if I was capable of it. Someone comes up to me with a call number? I can help them find it. They need help with the card catalog? I’m allowed. So this is going to vary based on your local library system–and the competence of your non-librarian workers.

The one thing I wasn’t always allowed to do? Check out books! I was eventually able to do that when I was the opener, but just then. (And it was my favorite thing to do!)

4, 10) I don’t know when people decided the library was a day care center, but it can make it a terrible place to be. One library I worked in was adjacent to a high school campus and after 2 pm each day, it turned into the teen hang out center, complete with sodas fizzing, loud swearing, playing rap music on the computers, etc. (Luckily we got a new head librarian who was pretty awesome with the teens and worked with them until things got a lot quieter.)

17) At least one of our local systems does, or at least did, keep track of what you’d checked out.


Allie April 10, 2013 at 11:55 am

I’m surprised you have not included any food-related anecdotes/advice. A friend of mine was a library clerk for several years and is now a fully-fledged librarian. One funny story she told me was about patrons who bring food in the library. There is a fairly strict policy as food attracts pests and pests damage the books, but of course they will turn a blind eye to very discreet patrons. Perhaps someone nibbles a small chocolate or granola bar and properly disposes of the wrapper with no harm done. However, she told me once when she was working in the children’s section a family of adults came in, sat down at one of the little kiddie-sized tables and began consuming a large zip lock bag full of hot-buttered corn on the cob. Imagine that. Perhaps they felt they could get away with more in the children’s section. I don’t recall how they reacted when they were asked to refrain from consuming hot-buttered corn on the cob in the library : )


Yarnspinner April 10, 2013 at 11:57 am

Wow. OP, I sympathize, I do, but you are making ME look like a little ray of library sunshine and everyone here knows I’d jump ship if I only had another job to go to. Some of your points amaze me:

-at my library, sadly or not, library support staff are on the reference desk and they are expected to be able to help people find information unless it is something so arcane that only a librarian can create a search strategy. We used to send our support staff to programs called Effective Reference Performance in order to make sure they knew how to conduct a reference interview or at least be able to get the patron to the right spot for information (this doesn’t always ensure the patron will get there, BTW, but we try)

-Yes, folks, please, we beg you, complain as soon as you see porn appear on the screen, don’t wait three hours and then tell us. Mr. X’s right to porn really does end with your right not to feel icky about it. (Indeed, we just banned a guy who was filming porn off our computers–filming it, folks, not downloading it to a CD. Ick.)

-You would really hate my library regards the body odor issue. We are in a depressed area and our patrons are at least half homeless and one third or more mentally ill, add that to the fact that many are raised in families ignorant of hygiene and you have a perfect storm…honey, it stinks up here! But you know what? Some of these people, even the delusional ones, have bigger and kinder hearts than WE have and we worry enough about them when we don’t see them for a while that we have been known to hunt down their social workers and ask about them.

-Okay, while I was typing this, I had to stop and call an ambulance for one of our patrons who suffers from complications due to diabetes and colostomy issues. Believe it or not, it was one of the pleasantest exchanges I’ve had–between me, the patron and the EMS on the phone, we were kind of laughing and teasing each other. We have to treat these things with humor or we will all end up crying. Maybe you need to inject some humor into your day, OP.

-Your marital status and child bearing is your business and you can relay this to patrons as you wish. I have no problem telling someone that my sex life is absolutely none of their business.

-Agree with you on the anal fissures. Patrons have felt compelled to share with me the quantity and quality of their flu symptoms. I have been known to put my hand up and say TMI!!!!!

-Agree on the library cards. It seems to me that the public I serve comes in, gets their library card and then goes home and tosses them in the corner. To the previous poster who noted that there are only a few people with his name in his area, you are fortunate. At this very moment I can pull up a list of approximately 25 people who all have the exact same (unusual) name and would need to look at each and every one in order to find out which one is you. Add to that the fact that we have dozens of people named Smith, Gonzalez, Rivera, Pereirra, Jones, Jacobs, and so forth and it’s a real treat when people who KNOW they are coming to the library leave their cards at home. Even more of a treat: people who come in and ask us to look up their card number under their maiden name when they know they have a card under their married name. I really, really am with the OP on this one…it is a major frustration, especially in a library where ID theft runs rampant. (Our patrons steal each others cards in order to get around our computer use system.)

-The long drawn out phone calls. You know what? I am of two minds on these. But I have to leave the desk and so will be back to address more of these later.


AS April 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I do agree with some of the points that OP raised, especially the ones about not controlling your kids, or giving TMI about medical details.
But the OP seems to have WAY too much attitude and unnecessary sarcasm. You don’t quite seem like the person I want to deal with while in the library. And yes, like other posters have said before, lot of the things you mentioned are true for any service industry dealing with customers directly. If you work in one, you just have to get over it.

If I am carrying 20 books in my hand, I don’t want to take my card out because I might drop it someplace, even if they are in a basket. It is easier to spend a few seconds taking the card out of my wallet than scramming through the library floor, or into every single place. I’d be quite peeved if the library “clerk” rolls his/her eyes just because I didn’t have my card out.

I didn’t know that in America libraries didn’t keep account of everything that you have checked out (#17). Because in the community library I go to, I can see my history for up to 6 months. And I do live in USA.

Have you ever tried telling patrons that you are a clerk and cannot answer reference or computer questions? Because I doubt most people would know that. A simple statement saying “I am sorry, I cannot answer your question (or am not allowed to answer reference or computer related questions). I’ll send you to a librarian” should suffice. No one is supposed to call you lazy on your face; but you can’t expect people to just know all the rules.

The same goes with reporting X-rated contents (#16). Have you tried explaining nicely to customers what you wrote in the paragraph?

Some people do some small talk / chit-chat with people who they deal with. If you don’t like it, you don’t always have to answer it. Your points # 5,6,7,8,9 and 18 all seem like attempts at small talk. There are polite ways of ending a conversation. The patrons usually don’t mean bad, and some people in customer service don’t mind it. Patrons aren’t psychics either to know whether you like small talk or not.

The boors in #12 and part of #20 (the mother who pushed another child to make her child sit) are awful, but they seem to be one-time occurrences. There is no need to generalize based to them. There are boors all over, and unfortunately you have to deal with them.
Also, in #20, you said that parents should make sure that children don’t pick nose, etc. I am not sure if parents get to stay with their children at story time, but if they don’t, it is hard for them to stop what a child suddenly decides to do.

If you want to stay in customer service, maybe you should open your mind and see that not everyone is there to annoy you and some people might just not know the system. And please cut them some slack.


June First April 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

My empathy diminished the further I read down.

One point I thought was interesting: Your response that you can’t have children. When I read that, I thought, “I don’t know you. I don’t need to know that.” So I thought it was funny that your next “rule” was about how you don’t care about others’ medical issues.
I’d suggest you just answer personal questions with, “I’m sorry, I don’t talk about that at work.”

Also, people can’t dictate your hair color or your number of tattoos…so therefore you can’t dictate their shower schedules. It’s really a similar issue.


Lilli April 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm

This rant just reeks of condescension. The OP of this is hoping to have the Etiquette Bandwagon gang up and take her side, however she/he does not realize that they sound rude, petty, and entirely unsuited to be working in the public if this is their attitude towards their job.

I work in customer service — the front desk of 2 large hotels — and I deal with thousands of people each week. I don’t always deal with the nicest or most kind of people, but my attitude is positive because I love my job, I love the people I work with, and I love the experiences gained for having met some of these people. Furthermore my attitude is this — don’t complain about your job. Even if you don’t love it, appreciate it. In this economy there are at least 15 people standing in line behind you waiting to take your job. Appreciate what you have, be an adult, and be graceful in the way you handle things.

Another thing that stuck out to me — “we’re not supposed to talk about religion/politics”. If that is the case — which I have NEVER encountered; my librarian is awesome at discussing and steering me towards anything I need — why not just end the conversation with a firm “I’m not supposed to talk about my personal views here at work, however I can direct you to some great reading material on the subject.” and call it a day? Refusing to engage people who come to the library for a public service makes you look very ignorant and out of touch.


Lilli April 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm

And another thing I forgot to mention — kids will be kids. Kids pull out their genitals, kids pick noses, kids make noise, kids get into shenanigans. It’s a part of being a child and not entirely avoidable. We’ve all been there and razing the library of all heretical parents who don’t clean their kids hands of every micro-booger is insane. I sincerely believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the OP has absolutely NO business working in the library or any customer service oriented job. It’s frightening to me how one person can have so much bitterness and so many complaints.


jeab April 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Sorry, but I read this misanthropic rant as a sign that the OP is in the wrong job. I use the library on a very regular basis and it has never been explained to me that the people at the service desk cannot answer ANY reference questions ever (for fear or losing their jobs, seriously?) I was a doctoral student who used the library daily at one point and now I wonder how many people I accidentally got fired.

I get it; you’re not technically a trained or certified librarian. You’re a customer service representative, I suppose. In which case, I really hope you have better interpersonal communication skills then this post suggests. I have worked in customer service myself in an insurance setting — where the vast majority of people only call because they are in a massive emergency (e.g. their kid is in hospital in a foreign country or they just got diagnosed with a terminal disease, etc…). There were plenty of times that I could not answer every single question (because I didn’t know the answer, didn’t have access to their information, or didn’t have the right professional licensing). So I would explain that I had to transfer them to the correct person but I NEVER once thought that they were idiots just for asking me. If I was manning the desk or answering the phone, that made me the most logical person to ask — no?

I also suspect that people asking you about religion, politics, kids, etc…are mostly just making small talk, especially considering you are probably a person they see on a semi-regular basis. You don’t ever make small talk with the receptionist at your dental office, the regular cashier at your grocery store, or your mailman? I totally agree those are awkward topic choices but I highly doubt these people are going home at night and spending hours pondering your fertility choices, so get over it.


mstigerlily April 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

#3- at my local public library the people checking you out ARE the librarians. Actually, there’s usually two or three at the circulation desk and only one at the info desk!

#1- where I used to live, [neighborhood library] was a major hang out space for homeless people. Some of the patrons could get pretty…. rank. However, it was these same patrons who were usually quiet, polite, and kept to themselves, unlike some of the “less underprivileged” patrons.


Calliope April 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

It’s never occurred to me before that the person quietly checking out my books at the library is on the verge of boiling over with rage, as this OP seems to be.

I will say that past coworkers of mine who were eager to rant about customers the way OP did here were often the subjects of customer complaints. These same coworkers also seemed to encounter more rude and belligerent customers than the coworkers who let things roll off their backs did. When you hate your customer service job this much, the customers can tell.


Ellen April 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Sounds like your library patrons (and you) could benefit from a written short-list of policies to be handed out. Many of the ones you cite (such as no listing of books previously checked out, or the ban on discussing religion/politics, or accepting invitations to a house of worship) are not obvious or well known. Indeed, some of them may be specific to your library system, rather than US libraries in general.
For example, I live in a small-to-medium sized US city, and I can access two years’ worth of my reading history in my Patron Record (though it is possible to opt-out of this feature).
In addition, my county library system complies with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, and with state law prohibiting “public display” of obscene material, so web filtering is the default.
I also wonder how it could be legal for your employer to monitor or discipline you, if you choose to attend a house of worship suggested by a patron. I get that people pushing their religion is presumptuous and rude, of course it is, but “get in trouble?” How? Why?
Perhaps handing over a paper listing some of these policies, rather than trying to argue/explain, would reduce your stress level when dealing with unreasonable patrons.
I am really sorry you have so many people who yell and scream and just generally don’t know how to behave. I also recommend to you that invaluable E-Hell phrase, “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”


Cerys April 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The fact that the first thing on the list refers to bodily odour suggests to me that the OP really doesn’t like working with the public at all!


technobabble April 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I’m a little surprised that people are allowed to watch porn in the library. Moreover, I’m very surprised that there are people out there who feel comfortable watching porn in the library…


Katy April 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I agree that many of these things are rude, the tone of this letter is the same I’ve heard from people complaining about their jobs in retail, or fast food, or basically anything that deals with the public. The problem with working with the public is that you do get the rude or callous on occasion. You work through it, and don’t let them get you down.
I understand frustrations at the library. I take my daughter to story time every week. There is often a parent who refuses to control their child, and lets them come up and block the group of kids sitting and looking at the book, or lets them steal things off the felt board, I guess just lets them be disruptive and/or destructive which annoys the kids who are sitting nicely and waiting turns. I’ve seen parents show up at events that require a reservation without one and loudly demand to be let in. Quiet in the kids section is a thing of the past. But the librarians and clerks are very polite about it. You can’t be rude to customers, or they’ll be rude back.


Bottlecaps April 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Most of these are general etiquette rules that people should follow anywhere in public, not just in a library. That said, OP, I really feel for you. Working with the public really can be a nightmare, even for those of us who are wired to do it. That’s the downside of working with the public – for places like libraries, stores, restaurants, and any other public facility to stay afloat….well, it takes all kinds. It really makes me sad to think that people act like this out in public anywhere – let alone a library!


Rebecca April 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Some of these are interesting… I never knew there were different types of library employees and that not all of them could answer your questions. Good to know.
One question, let’s say you did want to accept an invitation to someone’s church, why would you not be allowed to? Why does your library care what you do on your own time?


Tricia April 10, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Wow..Just, wow.

I agree that this sounds like a rant vs. an etiquette lesson.

I think most of these things apply to any job or situation. So to sum up:

1. Please don’t smell.
2. Please don’t be inappropriate.
3. Please watch your children.
4. Please do not be rude.

I think we can all agree that people of all walks of life, professions, races, genders, nationalities, etc violate these etiquette rules. I can attest this is not specific to a library.

The part where the clerk expects that library patrons will know and understand the specific librarian rules is not that fair. Anyone in any industry follows specific guidelines/rules/procedures that the general public is not aware of. It is the clerk’s responsibility to inform and she shouldn’t be upset if patrons don’t know the rules upfront. (the patrons should then accept the information graciously).


StephM April 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm

@Chris: Unless the two are on the same side, political/religious discussions can get heated very quickly. It is much easier to discourage the conversation from happening in the first place, and it gives the employee an easy out: “Sorry, but we’re not permitted to discuss politics/religion.” Some people will not accept “I don’t wish to discuss this” and it is hard for an employee to walk away if the patron will not drop it. Not to mention an employee cannot offend (intentionally or not) a patron if they do not talk about it.
I imagine the same basic principles apply when it comes to church invitations. Easy out, no offense given.


Seaboe April 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Re #16: I don’t think FOIA means what you think it does. FOIA is a very short law (1 section, although multiple pages) that dictates what information the government has to give you when you ask for it. While I’m sure you’re correct about viewing porn and complaints, the law you’re probably thinking of is the First Amendment.

Re #17: the reason the majority of American libraries no longer keep check out histories is to increase patron privacy. It might be nice for you to look up all the books you’ve checked out for the past 6 months, but do you really want your boss, a stalker or the police being able to do so?


Angel April 10, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Wow, that’s a long list. Other than control your children and don’t freaking scream at us (lol) I’d say you’re expecting a lot for working in the customer service industry. I would LOVE to put up a sign telling customers to take a bath. That’s awesome. Also don’t stop at the bar before you come to our store. But alas, I’m afraid our customer base might drop considerably if we were to do that.


Another Lisa April 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm

This is just one big long rant.

OP, I’m sorry you’re having a bad day but not wanting to be invited to religious services and being offended by people asking about your family planning issues have nothing to do with library etiquette.



Rap April 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Yes, this is a bit of a rant but at the end of the day, these are examples of poor etiquette. Being in customer service, you’re expected to put up with more discourtesy than the average citizen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not being treated rudely. Unfortuneatly, far too many people out there really believe “the customer is always right” is some sort of carte blanche lifting of basic decency. And *many* people know that if they make a scene, the boss will give them what they want. I’m sorry, but the OP is right on a number of these issues. People should be watching their kids, autistic or not, in public places, places like libraries doo have rules that everyone is supposed to follow. It is rude to walk up to someone who is obviously doing something and say “you’re not busy”. It’s rude to evangilize or talk politics to employees who aren’t allowed to actually engage in the discussion.


Jo-Ann April 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

This posting is a rant, and is, frankly, ugly. I’m sorry I read it, actually. I’m sure the OP has complaints; we all do in customer service. But if you’re that tense and angry, believe me, you’re giving off that vibe and making the situation worse. Truly, you need to find another job where you’ll be happier.


ekphoro April 10, 2013 at 2:33 pm

reading this list made me uncomfortable. not because i violate any of the list, but because it seemed so- accusatory. i didn’t know there were non-librarians working in a library. sometimes my child becomes rowdy despite my best at intervening. he’s never put his hand down his pants, but he’s two and maybe someday he will and what if it’s in a public place? i certainly didn’t know about the legal pornography rule, and i might be someone who’d call later rather than addressing it in front of other patrons.

after reading this list of unposted, arbitrary rules, i’m a little more reluctant to go at the risk of upsetting someone as on-edge as the OP is. there was no gentle suggestion to this list, there didn’t seem to be any patience or understanding. sometimes people don’t know they have body odor. i also know that a lot of my clients who struggle with mental health issues or who have developmental disabilities frequent the library because there tends to be a greater threshhold of patience there . i would hope that whoever works with them would be understanding if they didn’t have their library card out in time. or if they asked personal questions (which could be easily deflected).

as another poster noted, working in the public service field exposes us to a myriad of people. that’s why i’m in the field myself. i, too, don’t see where the etiquette suggestions come in, and instead only see a list of rants at behavior that i (as well as others, apparently) didn’t know were intolerable.


nk April 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I like that No. 18 of this long, rambling list is lecturing people to be brief and to the point.


AIP April 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I’m based in a library as well, although I’m not a librarian. The only thing I have to add is: *supposED to*.


Lisastitch April 10, 2013 at 4:22 pm

As a general rule (and there are always exceptions), librarians work at the information/reference desk, and have a master’s degree in information/library science. Their expertise is in helping you identify what you need, and then helping you find it, whether it’s a reference book, circulating materials, databases, on-line, or suggestions of good books to read.
The clerical staff handles everything related to the circulation of library materials, including making library cards, checking materials in and out, pulling materials to fill holds, dealing with overdue/lost materials, and reshelving materials. At our library, the clerical staff is subdivided into clerks, who work at the circulation desk, helping patrons directly, and pages, who are out in the library reshelving materials. While a lot of our clerks have college degrees, it’s not required.
Our clerical staff has been given some permission to answer questions, but always with the caveat of reminding people to check with the librarian if they don’t find what they need. In a typical example, a patron asks, “Where are the dog books?” The page shows the patron the 636 area, which are informational books about dog breeds and dog training. It turns out that the patron’s child read a really cute story at school about a dog named Biscuit, and the patron wonders if it might be a series. (Yes, and they’re in the children’s easy readers).
OP, I’m sorry that you’ve run into so many bad patrons. I’d say that 90 percent of ours are great, and the other 9.9 are good. But there is the .l percent who are major pains.


Lisa April 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I’ve worked in a number of jobs that required interacting with the general public, have volunteered at a public library, and attended library school. So I empathize with the OP’s frustrations. But I agree with some of the other replies that perhaps the OP needs to consider a career change—or at least a shift in perspective. It seems that a good number of these items could be addressed to some extent with signage (2, 4, 10, 16), brochures (3, 16, 17), or better communication skills (most of the above). Of course, there will always be people who can’t be bothered to read signs or think that the rules don’t apply to them, but at least you would have something to point to when you do have a problem with someone. And it would probably impress your supervisor if you (calmly) brought up that there are some common situations that you face and offer to create the signs and brochures to help.

With some of the others (esp. 8, 10, 18), it seems like a little compassion for the other person could go a long way. People come to the library for lots of reasons: to get information, to get out of the house, to try to distract their children for even a little bit. They may be facing a scary medical situation, desperately lonely, or at their wit’s end because they have a child with a disability and it has just been a very long and frustrating day. And I know that when you are having your own long and frustrating day, the last thing you want to do is listen to a stranger’s lengthy story or deal with someone else’s misbehaving kid, but if you can plaster on a smile and try to reach out with compassion, you may make that person’s day. And you’ll certainly improve your own karma.


Anon. Librarian April 10, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Some of these vary by library system. For example, depending on the software used to manage your account, at some libraries you can save a list of books you have checked out in your account *if you opt in.* It’s opt-in only because of our concern for your privacy, as the OP mentioned. If you opt in its starts from things you check out from that point on, and you can opt out and delete it all at any time, or delete individual items from your list. But it does depend on the software.

Also, we can look you up by name over the phone if we ask a bunch of questions like your name and address to verify your identity and make sure you are the right John Smith.


LawGeek April 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

OP, everyone who works with the public has to deal with stuff like this. I work the pro bono desk at the courthouse, answering questions for people who are getting evicted. You can imagine the characters and situations I deal with. It never even occurred to me to post a rant about it. That’s life. I collect my amusing anecdotes, roll my eyes at my coworkers, and move on.


Rachel April 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm

As a librarian, I have to say OP, YOU are the reason why Library workers get a bad rap. Get a different job and free your spot up for someone that has the ability to work with the public. Belch.


schnickelfritz April 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm

This is a little off topic, but dealing with office/public. I was an Admin Asst to Exec VPs. In a very large dept. When a random employee, would approach the desk, where a manager, director, VP, is giving me explicit instructions, editing, heads together, revising for a big, high-level meeting. There were a few clueless employees, who would frequently approach my desk – and would stand there, like a little child, waiting their turn. Now, I am distracted, in my periph. vision, wondering if the building was on fire.

What could be so urgent, that they could not pick up on the tone of business, swapping out charts,.etc., as I am receiving instructions on last minute details/changes, to hand-outs needed in 10 minutes. This dept. has specific weeks, board meetings, everyone was aware of, monthly. You see this person in line behind your boss. They are clueless. What is so important, now, to be so distracting. Did an important number change, to affect the big presentation? When the boss/instructor is on their way back to their office; the clueless employee: “I just wanted to tell you, I left you a NOTE, I just opened the last case of coffee/glue sticks; there are donuts in the lunch room, we changed the date of the office baby shower three weeks out, I just notified maintenance and copied you about the lightbulb burnt out… etc. These mindless creatures, would wait up to 5-10 minutes, distracting, to tell you something, so trivial, that they already left a note for! These same people, would arrive in your office doorway, when you are on the phone, obviously in the middle of a business conversation. And just stare at you and wait. I learned to look at them, and swivel my chair, and totally ignore them. You work three cubicles away. Come back in five minutes, to tell me you opened the last 500 pack of sugar. Unless a conversation is obviously winding down “OK, buh buh, thank you for your order” – do not hang around and distract your co-worker. Office etiquette is one subject that needs a manual. Interrupting, to tell you they copied you on an e-mail, that maintenance has been called on the soap dispenser. Sometimes I wonder, if they are just eavesdropping, to hear what management is relating. We have interns that have better office etiquette than 40 year olds.

Whew. I just had to put that out there. I feel better now. And to all, a good night!


waitress wonderwoman April 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Wow. And I thought waiting tables was tough. 😉


Treeang April 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I have to agree with much of what has been said above–this are all customer service issues that anyone dealing with the public probably encounters. People may not be regular patrons and have no idea of the rules that you have (who you can ask for help, etc.) and may just be trying to be pleasant. You seem to have the attitude that they should all know exactly what to do, be completely organized and meet your every expectation, even when you haven’t exactly delineated them. Perhaps you should watch the Doctor Who episode Silence in the Library and see how those librarians deal with the rules (they even talk about body odor!).

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. And if you have never had to manage the behavior of a child with special needs, perhaps you shouldn’t criticize. We are often doing our best and cannot control everything they do. I have often taken my daughter into the library where she has a meltdown and I have to convince her to leave. Not always easy…especially with my other children in tow. Am I supposed to never use the library?

I wonder if compassion and clarity might go a long way into helping your situation. Policies and Guidelines posted right up front in a customer friendly way might help us poor schmucks who don’t know every rule to meet your expectations. Perhaps you could try assuming that you could be the person who lightens their load by being helpful, kind and polite to the person who is really having a crummy day. It might change your perspective.


shaw April 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I’m surprised that this was posted as an etiquette thing of the day.
Here is some old news: people can be rude, have poor judgment, act entitled, and this is anywhere.
Also, I smell like BO right now because I did a ridiculous trial workout with my sister and sweated like a beast. Then I ate a donair. I would have no problems going to other public places reeking of BO-donair if it enabled me to get stuff done while I was out and about.

I work in a cancer hospital as a nurse. We have limited private rooms and many many people think they are entitled to these. The reality is these rooms are for the extremely ill/dying patients or patients that require isolation. One family member actually barged in a private room and asked the patient why they deserved this room over her family member who we moved to a semi private room to free up this private room for the palliative patient. (I’m in Canada, rooms are covered by health care, not paid for by the patient just to put that out there).

Anyway, the other thing I wanted to post about is the names. A poster Chris said he/she didn’t know anyone with the same name as him/her. I used to work cleaning up duplicated medical records, generally of the same person where two or three files had been created on several visits. It was amazing to see how many people existed with the exact same name, same date of birth and occasionally the same spouse’s name.


Toni April 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I have worked in a bookstore for many years. I have seen many of the situations you describe, but your rant makes it sound like everything you listed happens ALL THE TIME. You do not belong in customer service.


Mariam67 April 10, 2013 at 10:18 pm

While I agreed with the majority of this I thought it was a little tacky to mention the money status of people who come in with bad body odor. It sounded like the poster was implying that poor people are more expected to practice bad hygiene. Wealth has nothing to do with it, there are smelly and non smelly people from all classes of life.


abcd123 April 10, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Dealing with the public, you should have been trained how to handle most of the situations you mentioned.
Anyway, I’ve read about how high school students pranked their librarian who was not very nice.
It was March and suddenly everyone just started checking out lots of books until there were very few books left. Come April 1, everyone returned the books. The library was shut down for a week because of that.


Barbarian April 11, 2013 at 12:32 am

OP lists at least 2o complaints and does not mention a single positive thing about her job. If you have work you enjoy, you’re able to weather negative incidents a lot better and not let them get under your skin.

Overall, I think computer technology would make both the librarians’ and the patrons’ library use easier. You can search sophisticated databases of catalogs, check out what appeals to you without too much human assistance if any. Then you go the library and you can pick up your selections with an automated checkout. We are blessed with a beautiful new library. It’s not like the library of our youth. It has a coffee vending machine. People of all ages do all sorts of activities side by side without bothering one another too much. It has the purpose of being a place for teens to study, socialize, or do other things in rooms off to the side.

I do not get how OP said in #16 that they can’t stop patrons from accessing porn. All the school computer facilities block it out. Before the computer age, pornagraphic materials were either not available or kept out of sight of the public. Why would the Internet be any different? Libraries are places where kids go. If cities can prevent bars and sexually oriented businesses from setting up within school zones, I would think the same applies here. Yes we have freedom of speech but our tax dollars support the library and to some degree dictate its content.

I can only agree with OP that libraries should never be daycare facilities for unattended children under ager 12.

Nearly every library I’ve heard about has policies that state that the personnel can call the police if under age children are on their own after an hour-that is a safety issue. Unfortunately there are people who will leave young kids in parks, malls, etc to get some time on their own and they are not willing to find a babysitter.


Beat.Your.Heart.Out April 11, 2013 at 1:19 am

To AS and similar posters:

In my experience, precious few people actually want to work in the customer service industry.
People do it because it’s the only source of income currently available to them.

Also, to the OP, would it be possible to put up signs informing people that you can’t leave the desk, and to please ask a certified librarian, etc?
People may not see the sign, but at least if you can point to it, it would save explaining, and if they became angry you could pass the blame on to some faceless policy, rather than having patrons rage at you.


Marozia April 11, 2013 at 4:24 am

WOW! I know we have our share of nutcases in Perth, but our libraries (and I go there a LOT!!) don’t seem to have these problems.
I once lost a library book, admitted the error to the library and paid my fine. I didn’t yell or scream, nor did I get a lecture from the librarians about lost books costing money.


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