Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sometimes you forget...

...that your average customer isn't insane and self-absorbed. I think this is true not just in libraries but in most service jobs. I was recently at a fast-food restaurant with my boyfriend, and it turned out they were out of something he wanted. The cashier apologized profusely and clearly expected us to get very upset. She was shocked when we said, "No problem, it's not a big deal, and even if it were, it's not your fault." My boyfriend, who is a teacher and has never worked a service job, was baffled by her behavior, but it wasn't really a surprise to me. People flip out about things I can't control at the library all the time. Or, at least, it feels like all the time, because the one person who has a meltdown over the same policy fifteen others have accepted with equinamity sticks in your mind a lot more than the others.

Sometimes this leads you to behave strangely, just like the very nervous cashier at the fast food restaurant. Today I was sitting at the desk and noticed that there was no chair in front of one of the library catalog computer stations, but there was an extra one over by the internet computers. I walked over to the man whose computer it was sitting by and proceeded to scare the heck out of him by whispering, "Excuse me, sir, are you using this chair?"

He jumped about half a foot in the air and then said crossly "No. This is the one I'm sitting in." He was clearly upset to have been surprised and disturbed, but what I had been trying to do was prevent a meltdown--"My husband was sitting here, he leaves for just a minute and you take his chair away?! What kind of bull---- is this!?" or "Can't you see my [invisible] friend is sitting right there!?" Instead, my attempt to avoid a really bad customer interaction produced a moderately bad one.

Well, you can't win 'em all, I guess.

The DVD story

Listen up, because it's really complicated.

There are (at least) two noteworthy things about our library system:
1. Items 'float' from library to library--if you borrow something from Branch A and return it to Branch B, it stays at B until someone else requests it.
2. My branch is the poorest branch i.e. has the population with the smallest Netfilx saturation and the least discriminating literary tastes

This means two things:
1. Our print collection is kind of crummy.
2. Our DVD collection is AWESOME.

Search the catalog and find a movie where we only own one copy, and 99% of the time it is at my branch, which is great.

We have a table at the front of the building filled with popular and new DVDs. This is good in that we are recognizing our patrons' tastes, but bad because there is a cart behind the desk that the circ staff uses to refill the display throughout the day. The cart is the smallest kind we have and I'd say holds about 100 DVDs if you pack it as full as humanly possible, which the circ staff always does.

Now, our regular collection of movies on the shelf at any given time is about 1,800. So having 100 DVDs hidden behind the desk isn't so bad at face value. Except that they fill the little cart DIRECTLY FROM THE RETURNS BIN. So in effect the 100 DVDs in highest demand are kept behind the counter at all times.

Someday I will have my degree and not be a lowly reference assistant,and I will stop this madness!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Today I spent a long time talking to two boys (brothers I think) who wanted horror movies. I suggested all the classics from my own teenage years and earlier: The Ring, The Exorcist, Scream 1, Scream 2, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs. They had seen them ALL. Finally I found a few things for them, including "The Raven" (which is apparently about a serial killer who brings Edgar Allen Poe's horror stories to life so I guess maybe I am introducing him to literary things?).

Then one of the brothers came back and asked, "Who can watch PG-13?" I told him that the library lets you check out whatever you want and it's up to you and your parents to decide what is appropriate, but no, he wanted to know the what the MPAA rating meant. I told him it meant that people 13 and over could watch it but that parents might want to think before letting a younger kid watch it. "Oh good, so I can watch these," he said, indicating his pile of mostly R-rated DVDs.

"Do you have any other questions?" I asked as he was scrutizing the back of one of the cases.

"Yes. What's 'nudity'?"

Ask not what your library can do for you...

Just kidding. Totally ask that.

But also, this blog presents: Things that you can do for your local public library for almost no effort or money:

-Donate the recent bestseller you bought to the library collection as soon as you finish it. I guarantee you the waiting list for the library’s copies are is at least a month long.

-If your library has a place to provide feedback, take five minutes to actually tell them what they need to improve. Actively collecting user input costs staff time and is a difficult process. You are saving the staff a lot of effort.

-If they gave you a cheap pair of ear buds on your last flight or you picked up a free flash drive at a trade show, bring it to the library. A single pair of headphones or a flash drive for someone who doesn’t have one can prevent a huge patron meltdown, but most libraries can’t afford to give them out unless the supplies are donated.

-Write a book or movie review for your library’s review blog, if it has one (if it’s a big library it probably does). It’s a struggle for the diversity of the staff’s reading taste to match the diversity of the community’s reading tastes, so new contributors are almost always welcomed.

-Take that pile of books you are planning to resell to a bookstore for 5% of their original price to the library instead. Their Friends of the Library will sell them at a book sale (probably for 5% of their original value) to raise money for the library.

-If you read and write a language other than English, ask a library staff member if it’d be useful to them for you to spend an hour translating some of their signs into that language.

-Bring the pile of superfluous pens and pencils cluttering up your drawers to the library. The information desk probably gives out writing implements, and if no one donates them either the library has to stop making them available or money to buy them comes out of budgets for actually interesting things like books, movies, and library programs.

-Go to the library and get a library card, even if you have a home internet connection and a book-buying budget so you’re not sure how often you’ll use it. Statistics about membership and visits are the most powerful weapons libraries have in the battle to get funding from the city or county governments that oversee them.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


We have a regular in the children's department who knows how to search the catalog but not how to read the results he finds. His favorite materials are ones on WWE wrestling, which are checked out, lost, or out of place like 90% of the time, so it's kind of soul-crushing to work with him. He is always finding items in the catalog and asking hopefully where to find them in the library, and we almost never actually have them. Today he came up to me and said in a library whisper, "I found the library on the computer!"

I didn't ask anything about the fact that library website is the homepage when you open Internet Explorer. I'm just excited that he seems to be learning.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Oh dear (part two I think)

Today I had to tell a woman that she couldn't have her (non service-dog) puppy in the library, and I found a book on search engine optimization on a returns cart that was pre-Bing.