Patrons in the hands of an angry librarian

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“I thought libraries were quiet places,” said an acquaintance of mine, who has not visited a library in years. Possibly not ever.

How very wrong she is. Libraries these days are vibrant places. We encourage people to talk in normal voices. We let kids go crazy in the children’s room. We bring loud, raucous entertainers to our theater. Obviously we shut the doors to the theater, because you generally don’t want to hear live music acts when you’re cramming for your Econ exam, but the point is that modern public libraries no longer resemble the deathly-quiet sanctuaries of times past.

Hey, you want quiet, then go in the Quiet Study Room. Or just come by in the evening. It’s always dead then.

Weekends, now, weekends are busy. Even on Superbowl Sunday, which apparently today is, the library is hopping. People come in to get books and movies, or to hop on the computer, or to listen to lectures or attend classes or programs. People of a young persuasion come to play with toys and listen to stories. People of a homeless persuasion come to stay warm and pass the time.

I like this. I like that the library is a vital (literally: vital) part of the town. From a starry-eyed perspective, it makes my heart glad that folks can find entertainment and information and community in a cultural institution. From a shrewd perspective, I like the job security. Public uproar would be intense if the quality of the library were to degrade.

The only bad part of working in a public library is that I have to work with the public. Most of the time I am really quite pleased about this. Even when I feel completely neutral toward a patron, it makes me happy help out with a reference question. When I feel favorably toward a patron, so much the better. If I can find a good book for a person who’s been nice to me—well geeze, that just makes my day.

But then there are the less desirable members of the public. The problem with opening our doors to everyone is that everyone comes in. Weirdos, creeps, serial killers, malfeasants, jerks, and assorted riffraff manage to find their way into the library. Actually I suppose the serial killers don’t, if they’ve been found guilty, but serial killers who are on the loose can waltz right in. Shameful, isn’t it?

Have I mentioned that I am a weirdo magnet? I am a weirdo magnet. (Possibly I am a magnet for serial killers, but I am still alive, so possibly not.) It’s because I’m too nice. Or to be more accurate, it’s because I seem too nice. If I encounter someone I truly dislike, I will engage in a private fantasy inspired by “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This eighteenth-century sermon by Jonathan Edwards features some really appalling imagery, with the bad guys dangling by a thread just above the gaping maw of hell. Powerful stuff, really violent. I completely disapprove of scare tactics as a means of religious recruitment, but for the purposes of internal revenge fantasies it really hits the spot.

On the surface, however, I am likeable and good-natured. It’s genuine with most people, a complete sham with the ones I dislike, but no matter what, I am going to seem pleasant to every patron I encounter at the reference desk. I find this approach goes a long way toward staying employed.

Because I am pleasant and approachable, I invariably draw the weirdos. I suppose I also draw the perfectly normal people, but it’s the weirdos who home in on me. (“Look at the nice lady, she’s not calling the cops! She must really like me!”). Also, I have big boobs. This attracts whichever weirdos were not pulled in by my seemingly pleasant attitude. (“Look, she has big boobs! She must really like me!”).

And, just in case I manage to not lure in the weirdos with my sweet personality and oversized gazongas, I have another safeguard, i.e., my job title. Now it happens that I am the youngest librarian with the least work experience. There are some younger folks in other roles—shelvers and technical assistants and so forth—but of the so-called professional positions, I am the baby. By dint of my job title, however, I sometimes float to the top of the hierarchy. On weekends and evenings, when administrators are scarce, I am usually the Librarian in Charge—meaning that, when patrons misbehave, I must act as the negotiator.

It is my suspicion that the malfeasants, uncaptured serial killers, etc., convene each year to determine exactly when to descend upon the library. “Let’s wreak our havoc when that young girl is in charge,” they say. “She won’t know what to do with us.”

Idiots. Their plan is backfiring. I have now garnered so much experience with them that I have ascended to Master Diplomat. The police call me in when they need a hostage negotiator. The Secretary of State is sending me to the Middle East to establish a viable Palestine.

Anyway, I’d tell you all about my high-octane confrontations these past few weeks, but I foolishly decided not to talk about individual patrons when I established this blog. Clearly this was a mistake. It’s true that I am protecting people’s privacy, which is all well and good, but consequently I am unable to reveal the juicy details of my job.

Don’t worry. When I abandon librarianship for a career as a sexologist, as I promised to do last week, I will violate the hell out of some privacy. I will reveal the lurid details of people’s sex lives because, let’s be honest here, you’d much rather read about that than anything else I could come up with.

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12 responses »

  1. O great! Now I’m going to feel self-conscious approaching the desk when you are on duty. What are you seeing as I approach – kindly avuncular academic, uncaptured serial killer (I like books about serial killers by the way), or one of the other types you listed?

    Reply
  2. "Avuncular." Great word. Doesn’t get used enough. And it’s perfectly okay to read books about serial killers. I myself have Helter Skelter checked out right now.So, as yet, I have no reason to file you into my categories of undesirable patrons. Likewise, you’re still safe from the "undesirable customers" file at the bookstore. Just go easy on the academic thing. Slightly eccentric academic is charming. Full-fledged hardcore academic would be scary.

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  3. If I ever overplay the academic card you have permission to smack me with your fedora.

    Reply
  4. Wouldn’t you rather I just berete you?

    Reply
  5. Berete me! Absolutely not. Being a reader of hard-boiled detective stories I insist on the fedora. I can’t imagine what Mike Hammer would do if faced with a "deadly" berete.

    Reply
  6. Obviously what I need is one of those women’s hats that comes with a hat pin. Then I’d have easy access to a murder weapon… okay, just now I did a bunch of research (read: I googled around for ten seconds) and discovered that flappers sometimes wore hats with hatpins. I see no reason why I shouldn’t go about dressed like a flapper. Possibly I should take it a step further and actually become a flapper. I wonder if there are many career options for professional flappers these days? I need to look into this.

    Reply
  7. eleemosenary archvist

    Let’s hear it for Cultural Instituional Refugees. Margaret Mead would love it.heard Cspan report on crack of Dawn broadcast in which dstaff Gov of Michigan announced she’s seeking to ELIMINATE funding for Library system in that frigid bastion of unemployed auto workers;along with massive cuts for cultural programs and wetlands protection;should make the Wolverine State a mecca for those released from Brig at Guantanamo;She was hatless,but probably armed & certainly dangerous.So much for existential yammer. Flappers with hats!yea team! Can she do that? EA

    Reply
  8. E.A.: I’m not clear on the details of your former career. Let’s keep it that way: if you told me the details, you’d probably have to kill me. But I do know that it involved hobnobbing and politicking with important diplomats and dignitaries and so on. Your in-depth experience with international politics is evident in your proposal to send the Guantanamo leftovers to Michigan. Brilliant! I love it! With no industry, libraries, or natural beauty, Michigan has been rendered completely useless and I’m embarrassed to recognize it as part of the Union. Why not put it to good use? And the chappies at Guantanamo would probably see it as an improvement over Cuba. Probably.

    Reply
  9. eleemosenary archvist

    for an interesting look at convivial,collegial life amonst contemporary expat lit loving folk in uplifting surroundings;try first two sites that come up under Liz Beaupied.Tavira book shop owner.first is group at book signing in sunny Algarvian town Andalaucia site is compendium of nicely written trav notes.More Updike than Sartre.out-4-now/EA

    Reply
  10. eleemosenary archvist

    for an interesting look at convivial,collegial life amonst contemporary expat lit loving folk in uplifting surroundings;try first two sites that come up under Liz Beaupied.Tavira book shop owner.first is group at book signing in sunny Algarvian town Andalaucia site is compendium of nicely written trav notes.More Updike than Sartre.out-4-now/EA

    Reply
  11. But I don’t like Updike…

    Reply
  12. eleemosenary archvist

    Apropos being considered junior staff.One needn’t be discouraged by crass comentary of certain personnel whose obvious ignorance of common courtesey protocols prompt them to pass the Reference buck to more congenial collegues.Perhaps the culprit suffers from prenatal trauma syndrome. Eyes on the horizon.Smile & carry on. Copies made. Bus on time, too! Ciao-4-now

    Reply

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