Saturday, December 27, 2014

Conspiracy day

Today, callers want to know:
  • "What can you tell me about criminal optical labs? You know, how they grind the lenses to make you cross-eyed or so that you can't see. People are dying every day. It's the master crime."
  • "Can you tell me the contact information for Eric Davis of Warp Drive Metrics?...He has a contract with the Air Force. You have one of his books at the library...because teleportation is a science now, NASA has colonies on other planets."
Whenever a conspiracy theorist has a 'question,' they always do at least 90% of the talking. It's hard to believe that they don't want to tell you things more than they want you to tell them something.

Bonus: That book the second caller mentioned? It's Secret journey to planet Serpo : a true story of interplanetary travel by Len Kasten, and it is classified in our library as 001.9, "Controversial Knowledge" rather than 629.4, "Space Travel."

Double bonus: Do a Google Search for "dewey decimal 00," and this is what you get on auto-fill:

I'm surprised the conspiracy theorists think we might be their allies.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Some good, some bad

Today one of our regulars came to ask me for help with ebooks. He said "Do you know anything about Overdrive [our ebook provider]? I've never used it before. I checked this book out and I don't know how to download it." The book he had checked out was Kraken by China Miéville. A recommendation I wrote for that very ebook was posted earlier this week on the library homepage. Coincidence? I think not.

Wandering the stacks, I found just the front and back covers of Samsung Galaxy S4 for Dummies, no innards. Apparently someone has figured out which part of the book sets off the alarm at the front door. Seamus the Boss of Security is on it--I'm sure the book is long-gone, but maybe he caught the perpetrator on camera.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I don't have enough information

Only five minutes after we open, my friend asks me if I can come down and cover the first floor desk for her for a few minutes so she can make a phone call. No questions. I come back upstairs to Reference and ask my coworker "Did I miss anything?" First he says, "Nope," but then spots Seamus, the Boss of Security, listening earnestly to an agitated patron. "Oh wait, maybe."

It's my turn to answer the email 'reference' questions this morning, but there aren't any.

Phone call: Trying to reach Local History, but I don't have the number.
I transfer him, which is scary because Local History is one digit off from my own extension so if I mess up I am the one who gets the voicemail and has to explain my mistake...

A patron says the printer won't print because it 'says I don't have enough information.' Actually, it won't print because she didn't put enough money in the printer, which is what it is saying. At least the former is true, though.

Caller: I went through a box of my old things lately, and I found something that needs to be returned. But the address I have for them is 15 years old. I don't want to send it to the wrong place. Can you see if you can help me find an newer address for them?
How thoughtful! I actually confirm the old address based on newer information. The ideal outcome.

Can I borrow a scanner and a pen?

Guy with big headphones who I see a lot but am not sure I have ever actually helped with anything more challenging than giving him a computer pass. "Hi! How nice to see you! You are my favorite liberian!"

Do you have 11x17 paper for the copier? (No, sorry.)

Lady who is already really overwhelmed by computers and she hasn't even sat down at one. But she comes in from the elevator side of the room so my coworker gets that one. Not sure if I am envious or relived. Yet, anyway.

How do I log off the computer? (You'd be surprised how often this comes up.)

Can I help you?
I need to scan my card to get on a computer.
You can just sit down at any of the ones that are available and type in your number.
(How can people be so sure about how things work, and so wrong at the same time?)

Scanner returned.

Email Reference: Yes, we DO have old issues of the local newspaper you are looking for!

Will the copy machine take pennies? I need a solid nickel.

A text-to-speech issue about a website that 'won't accept my password.' See where it says 're-enter password'? You have to enter your password again there.

Do you have a piece of paper? (Yes)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Results have often been disastrous

Today I am working on a book display called "Amazing worlds," which features some of the most interesting premises in fiction. I've been trying to add to my list by doing research on out-there scientific concepts that have probably made it into fiction, and I was amused to come across the below in a Wikipedia article on the Fermi paradox (the universe is really big so other life probably exists, but we haven't met it), discussing possible answers/solutions:
"It is dangerous to communicate
An alien civilization might feel it is too dangerous to communicate, either for us or for them. After all, when very different civilizations have met on Earth, the results have often been disastrous for one side or the other, and the same may well apply to interstellar contact.[111"

Mouse over "have often been disastrous for one side or the other" and you see it links to:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Please advise (more ethics questions)

I got an email from the administrative secretary, sent to all staff, saying:

"If you would like to win a food item from the Harry and David Company, please submit your name to this email...This gift is from [a local law firm]."

What? Why would they give us this 'gift'? Do they represent the library? Is it ethical for me to enter the raffle? Please advise, thoughtful readers.

Can I print out the whole forth amendment?

A guy came to the desk to ask this. He actually wants the text of the amendment plus a bunch of commentary on Okay, that is less weird.

Tax forms requested. And so it begins...

Find three abandoned magazines on the shelf: ESPN Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and...Archaeology Today.

Can you help me change this Word Perfect document into Microsoft Word? (Does anyone my age who doesn't work at a library even know what Word Perfect is?)

Patron advises me that the Norfolk, VA library is installing cell phone service blockers in their walls, isn't that a great idea?

Favorite patron of the day asks for a book on "American Pit Bulls," is amazed by the dogs section.

Printer is out of paper.

Coworker: Didn't we have the Consumer Reports Buyers Guide up here in reference? I promised my daughter I would look up drills.

Boss warns her that she is in charge of the building, a dreaded designation for us lowly library assistants. Also warns her to keep an eye out for 'a lady who is really angry about The Count of Monte Cristo.'

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yes, I have heard of that

Today a patron was so amazed that I was familiar with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Just another day at Reference

Security guy: Man, that guy was really out there...I'm going to go make another sweep, make sure he isn't trying to come back.

What do I click on to attach something to an email? "Compose"?

Did you know about this computer? It is saying "Operating system failed."

Can you help me print this? I am about to run out of time! (You have 8 minutes, you LIAR!)

I put in my money twice and it just ate it.

Sorry, the machine won't take this Canadian quarter (Michigan problems).

Phone call: I was wondering if you could help me with a telephone number? Andersen Windows? Thank you very, very much for your help.

Do you have the yearbooks from 1961?

How much is it to make copies?
Fifteen cents.
I only have quarters, is that okay?

I'm brand new at this and I don't know how to get to Google.

Woman, pointing to our main security guard: I'm his ex-wife, did you know that?

Guy with a really, really loud voice: THE COMPUTER! LOOK WHAT IT'S DOING TO ME!

Update on engagement rings

One of the frustrations of working at a public service desk is that you are kind of trapped into listening to people who don't actually need help (at least not help that you can give them), they just want to talk to you. Usually this takes the form of legal and medical complaints, but the form I find the most unpleasant is being hit on. It doesn't seem to matter what your attitude is, what gender you are, or how you look--as far as I can tell, everyone in customer service experiences it at least sometimes. So I am already primed to cringe whenever a patron starts asking me about my personal life or commenting on my appearance. You start being able to see the signs of unreciprocated flirting pretty early in the interaction.

A while ago I wrote a post speculating on whether getting a fake engagement ring would cut down on this unwanted attention. I never actually bought a ring solely for the purpose of deterring flirtatious patrons. However, about halfway between that post and now, I actually got engaged and now have a non-fake ring. And it has made a huge difference in how I am treated. A single example from earlier this week: In an interaction that really seemed to be veering toward creepy, I incidentally gestured with my left hand, not as a deliberate way to draw attention to my ring, just to point something out or hand the patron something. Immediately, he stopped what he was saying and said "What a beautiful ring! Are you married?" I said that I was engaged, and he said "Congratulations! Thanks so much for your help!" and walked away.

This is an interesting time to be discussing this issue because at the last American Library Association conference (or maybe two conferences ago) there was a big kerfuffle about conduct at the conference that some people saw as sexual harassment and others didn't. The recriminations and arguments spilled out of the conference to libraryland in general. Various library bloggers posted about it, some at a more reasonable and high-minded level than others, and eventually a "Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA conferences" was produced.

The debate basically came down to this: people want to feel safe and comfortable and respected at the conference. But librarians are also very much about academic and intellectual freedom, free speech, and providing access and protection to minority viewpoints. Some people argued that coming down hard on sexual language or other controversial speech went against what librarianship stood for as a profession.

As you can see in the Statement, the ALA basically erred on the side of prohibiting potentially objectionable speech. At a private gathering like a conference, the organization has the right to set its own rules, even if not everyone thinks the rules that were chosen reflect what the organization claims its values are. The more interesting question to me is what library staff should expect, and be expected, to tolerate in a regular work setting. Obviously a patron asking if you are single, asking for your phone number, etc. is not at the same level as some of the statements that were made at the conference and is not necessarily sexual harassment. However, it is rare to find an instance of a library staff member who finds being flirted with, asked out, etc. by a patron to be anything other than unwelcome. Despite this, I have never heard a colleague say to a patron: "Your attention is making me uncomfortable. Please stop talking about my appearance and/or asking about my personal life." I have never seen a policy about when this would or would not be appropriate or allowed.

As happy as I am that I am personally no longer the object of much unwanted attention, it doesn't seem fair that my relationship status (and the fact that the fiancé is a bit traditional and wanted and could afford to buy a ring) should affect my job in this way. What about everyone not wearing a ring? Should every employee be issued a fake wedding ring along with his nametag? Do we need to develop a culture where it is acceptable to tell a patron to cease and desist? Or is this unwanted attention part and parcel of working with the public, and something we just have to try to learn to let go?

I expect this issue is much broader than just a library issue. I'm curious about any thoughts other people might have about their jobs, especially if they work in customer service, or if they had a successful relationship that started with someone being asked out at work.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Translation issues

I had a few dispiriting interactions today with a boy of about 10. He is deaf and he was asking me for a few things at the children's information desk.  My elementary school knowledge of the sign for 'bathroom' allowed me to help with one of them, but for the other question he had I couldn't figure out at all what he wanted. Even worse, I didn't know a good way of conveying that a)I didn't understand and b)I was sorry.

I've never dealt before with patrons with whom I have NO common language--I can communicate pretty effectively with people when we have a very limited common vocabulary, but I don't know where to start with someone like this. With someone who could write in Roman script, I would run their question through Google Translate, inadequate as it is, but in some cases the person can't write, I can't manage to convey to them to please write their question down, or the writing is something I'm not equipped to put into a text-based translator on my computer.

Any thoughts, strategies, or resources you can suggest?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tips for getting good service

If you want my best help, don't call me "sweetie" unless you are over eighty years old. Getting angry when I ask you to repeat something over your poor phone connection is also frowned upon, as is shouting at your compatriots and/or having a watch alarm that goes off every five minutes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Computer problems

At the Old Library, the number one computer problem was people not being able to copy and paste. It was such a huge issue that I anticipated it being the number one computer problem here at the New Library, too. However, the biggest one we get here is people who type their search into the search bar, do nothing, and then get upset that they are not taken to the page they want/their search results. Today a woman came up to say:
Can you make the things on my screen [i.e., the pictures on the library homepage] go away so that I can use the computer?

This comes up at least once a week here for some reason--this was also the problem for Flinstones Guy.

Other "highlights" of this afternoon's reference desk shift:

Does the printer take dollar bills?
It should; have you tried that one?
No. Can you just give me change?

An older couple comes in. The husband wants books about "lake boats," ore ships and other commercial boats on the Great Lakes. He is pretty satisfied with the one I show him but his wife is stirring up trouble--his original hope was to find ones he had looked at before, and she wants me to help them locate those, but "He's had a stroke. He won't be able to remember anything about them."

Guy wants to "get his music back" on his reset Samsung Galaxy phone. Can't type, can't tell me what app he uses to listen to music. He claims to have a Samsung account but eventually says, wait, no, that is Verizon. I don't think I have a Samsung account. Who knows how he got any music on there in the first place. While I am helping him, a different phone starts ringing. After my prompting to silence it, he takes a second phone out of his backpack, but can't figure out how to turn it off. His friend has to silence it for him. I have so many questions.

Coworker, answering phone: "Reference department, how can I help you?...He's dead." (hangs up) "That woman drives me crazy."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A service we can't provide

Me: Downtown library information desk, how can I help you?
Caller: Hi, if I tell you about a book, can you tell me whether or not you have it?
Me: I sure can! Do you know the author or the title?
Caller: The title is "Jason and the Argonauts." I don't think I know the author, though...
Me: Okay, I think I see it. Is it a kid's book?
Caller: Yeah? I'm in seventh grade, and I was just reading it at school?
Me: Okay. Do you remember what the cover looks like?
Caller: Yeah, it had a ship on the cover.
Me: Is it blue with purple writing?
Caller: Yeah, maybe.
Me: Well, we do have a copy here. We can put it on hold for you, and if it turns out this one isn't the one you wanted we can see if we can borrow it for you from another library. Do you have your library card with you?
Caller: No, I don't.
Me: Well, did you just want to know whether we owned it or not, or were you thinking you would come in and pick it up soon?
Caller: Well, uh, I was thinking of coming in to get it, but I don't know...uh, how does it work? Can the library email me the book?
Me:, no, sorry, we can't do that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why I work at a public library

Today a man around 60 came to the desk. He said "I have a son, and my son just had a daughter. He sent me a picture on my phone. Can you help me see it?"

So I helped him navigate his phone to open the file and get his very first look at his granddaughter. Needless to say, he was very happy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Know it when you see it?

When someone comes to the desk to tell me that "That man on computer #X is looking at pornography," it is Facebook 90% of the time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Not as exciting as Gangnam Style

At the community college we have an online form that students can fill out to place interlibrary loan requests. It asks for the title, author, etc., and one of the items is "Cited in?," asking where the student found a reference to the item(so that if the information entered on the form does not match a real journal article, the ILL person has help finding the real citation).

Last week a student put that something was "Cited in? MLA Style."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday challenges

Security escorted from the building a man who had been taking drugs in the restroom on the second floor. He started for the stairs, but Barney the Security Guard said "Sir, you're not in any condition to walk down the stairs." Then he wouldn't let the guy push the buttons in the elevator, either. Later Barney comes back to check in says, "Yeah, he had blood all over him."

A woman wants an autobiography (maybe a biography? She says "I know he had a hand in it") by "the journalist Peter O'Reilly," about how he overcame alcoholism. We can't figure out what that might be. Damn.

"This computer isn't accepting mouse commands"--sounds like when a patron says "the computer turned off" when they really pressed the monitor's power button, or a similar kind of problem, but in this case he's actually telling the truth.

Woman wants books about the Bauhaus school of architecture/design, but she can only stand still for about two seconds and she never lets you finish a sentence, so it is very difficult to help her. I turn away for five seconds to get her an encyclopedia, and she's completely gone when I look back.

Help my counterpart process weeded books that are going to the Friends of the Library book sale. I'm not sure that we should really be ripping RFID tags out of books right at the desk; it might give patrons some bad insight into theft.

Librarian hurries out of her office to grab the walkie-talkie and warn security "that guy who you escorted out earlier is heading down to the checkout desk."

Guy who earlier wanted my help getting an "Obama phone" wants my opinion on his resume--I am not a resume expert! I work two part-time, low-wage jobs without benefits, for goodness sakes.

I can't teach an angry woman to copy and paste because she just clicks and clicks furiously and never stops to listen. Grrrrrrr.

My first fan a man who is trying to advertise his photography business on Craigslist. Most of his questions are text-to-speech issues. Fortunately he, unlike many aspiring small business owners at libraries, is not a big fan of  questions like "What do you think I should call this?" "Do you think it looks good?"  and, the worst, "Would you buy that?" Also, he has gmail and I've seen him log into it once unassisted, so he's at the high-functioning end of the technology spectrum, too.

Today he wanted to add a location to his post but he had forgotten how to edit it. Then he wanted to change the title to something more exciting. Then he saw that other photographers have included example pictures in their could be long afternoon for all of us.

Anyway, if you need a freelance photographer in the central Michigan area, you can find at least one on Craigslist.

What I've learned so far

At the new library:

Don't ask people to take their cell phone calls in the stairwell; it has amazing acoustics.

Patrons are going to forget which computer they are on, because the rows and rows of them are identical. Be prepared to suggest this potential explanation as gently as possible.

No one looks at the staff picks shelf up in Nonfiction; otherwise how could the fantastic oversize book on Great White Sharks that I put up there last night not be checked out yet?

The lady who always calls and asks for phone numbers never write them down, just tries to memorize them, so leave that window in your web browser open for a minute or two after she calls.

Keep a couple dimes in the back of your ID badge for when a patron is having a tough time with one of the printer or copier coin boxes.

Just hope against hope that you will never be the one on desk when someone has a problem with the microfilm machine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pringle anger

A man in camo pants, always-in earbuds, a hat, and case? Recorder case? says "Did someone just get off computer 1? They left a can of Pringles." He brings it to me and I throw it away, but apparently it made him mad because he is now really frustrated with everything the computer does (or doesn't do). He keeps gesturing angrily at it and sighing dramatically, but whenever I make eye contact to try to offer help or sympathy he quickly looks away.

Update: Now he waves me over: "I've wasted fifteen minutes! I just want to watch the Flinstones!"

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Breaking Bad Season 6

First floor information desk, 5-9.

Patron is confused/sad that Breaking Bad , season 6 doesn't exist.

I don't want these DVDs anymore, I just needed them while I was on the computer. (She hands me five DVDs and she was only on the 15-minute express computer. What did she need them FOR?)

Loud kids on the children's computers. Aw, I missed these guys over the summer, says my boss. NOT.

Oops, wanted DVD of Tyler Perry's "Temptation," not Blu-Ray.

Can't find where a homeless lady can go to get a free coat--I'm sure I could if she would just wait a little longer while I looked! Crud!

Can you help me find "Grownups" and "Grownups 2"? Never mind, here they are.

Can I get on the hold list for the new "Godzilla"? OF COURSE.

Wants to place a Zane book on hold...on his middle-school-aged daughter's card.

Do you have, like, a list of all the DVDs you have?

Ooh, a *new* patron! Seems to be a rarity at this library.

Oh man, some of Security's incident reports have funny names!: "The Four Mustakeers [sic]," "Splinter from Downunder [also sic]"... Also, they also always say they "advised" a patron about such and such a policy. It sounds so decorous!

Can you unlock the bathroom for me? Times 10. Can I get a computer pass? Times 10.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fairies 101

Today the college is competing with the public library because someone has interloaned "Fairies 101: Learning how to work and heal with fairies and other elementals," but of course a college can't really compete on equal footing with an urban public library.

Security staff reports the following activity: "Put away round tables (that Read to Succeed should’ve put away)in basement hallway due to attracting youths being too loud and horseplay"

I finally get my own computer but it has no software on it, not even Microsoft Office

Man with young daughter accosts couple with young daughter: "Have you ever thought about homeschooling?" Seems to be lurking just to ask this question.

Make a mistake placing a hold and have to call the patron back--his phone is busy for like an hour!

I want to buy earbuds or headphones. Which one has a longer cord?

Do you have the movie "Big Valley?"
Is it a TV show?
It's a Western.
(i.e., yes.)

Same guy: Where are your, uh, National Geographic movies?
Coworker: What kind?
Man: Do you remember when a lion was, like, hunting its prey?
Coworker: Yeah, yeah

Man with guitar case: Uno numero mystico, to mix my metaphors! (i.e. a guest pass for the computers)

Do you have any books about horses? (How sad would it be if the answer to this were 'no'?)

Coworker weeds "Sex, Love and Tractors" from the catalog.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Kind of the goal

Drumroll, please, for my new place of work:

*The downtown branch of a big public library system in the Midwest!*

Previous readers of this blog will know that I have been preparing for this moment for years. I'm very excited. The New Branch has:
-A 50-year-old building with a dumbwaiter
-An ominous basement with 100+-year-old periodicals in it
-Security guards
-A list of 'currently banned patrons' half a mile long.

I love it already. Most of this week has been administrative orientation that repeats things I didn't really need to be taught (Here's how to use Microsoft Outlook, don't give away patron information to random strangers, people are confused by our e-books, etc.). But my coworkers are already starting to fill me in on the regulars. During checkout desk training, the circulation supervisor produced not one, not two, not three, but four patron first and last names completely from memory while she was showing me different potential problems with accounts. My boss, the 'Head of Public Services,' filled me in on a rude and probably disturbed patron who calls in repeatedly with demands like "Go to Google and type in..." My boss: "Sometimes she's rude, sometimes she's abusive, sometimes she hangs up on you...well, that last one is kind of the goal."

In my very brief time on the desk so far:
-Guy comes in: my wife never returned this book, the library sent us a bunch of notices and sent us to a collection agency but we ignored the issue for months and months, now she is being credit reported, can I pay this stupid forty dollar fine?
-Woman wants to know, does each individual DVD inside the same set of a season of a TV series count toward her 10-DVD limit? No, the whole box of them counts as one. She is relieved!
-Old black guy wants Queer as Folk, season 4
-Young white guy in sweatshirt wants a book by an author, John Sun, Solon, Saul, something like that. Does he know what any of the guy's books are called? No. Does he know how the author's name is spelled? Any guesses? No. Can he tell me anything about what the books are about? No, maybe they are in horror or sci-fi?
-White woman wants a DVD, there is a hold list, never mind, she doesn't want to wait. I have never understood this--there is no downside to getting on the waiting list for something except that it takes about five seconds of your time
-Discover you can read the log of security incidents for every single day! So excited!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Be kind, rewind

Dear Readers (who have probably, with good reason, abandoned this blog since there have been no good public library stories for months and there is no clear evidence that there will ever be any in the future),

While waiting to find a job in a Michigan public library I am back where I started out, in technical services in an academic library. For those of you who don't know, "technical services" people are not the ones you talk to if you actually come to the library. Instead, they are the people behind the semi-magical process of making books and other items appear on the shelves for your use. They order new items from publishers, put the barcodes and all the labels and things on the items when they arrive, and of course put the items into some kind of computer system so that people have some way to find out what materials the library has. 

Specifically, my job is to be what's called the "interlibrary loan" technician. That is, if you go to the college where I work and we don't have a book (or a movie or a CD or whatever) that you need, I try to get it for you from another library that does have it. Similarly, I send out things that other libraries request from us. I also help out with miscellaneous other things that technical services does.

It's not as exciting as the public library reference desk, but there are a few bright spots:
-A film professor has requested a VHS tape from another library (I guess he still has a player at home?). Once he returns it and I get ready to send it back from whence it came, I notice that he has conscientiously rewound it for the next user.
-One of our patrons never comes to pick up the three copies of Dumpy the Dump Truck that she had requested.
-I remove an ebook record from the catalog: We no longer have access to Starting a Small Business for Canadians for Dummies.

Anyway, keep your eye on this blog. You never know what might accidentally come through the mail.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


As is not a huge surprise, given that a library science degree is the worst master's degree by employment measurements in the United States, I have not yet found  a new library to report from. However, I can report some conversational bits and pieces during this intermission.

My friend at the old Texas library said that my only non-crazy fan stopped by recently and that she was doing well, although my friend also took issue with my description of her as 'my only non-crazy fan'--"I don't think she's actually crazy, but  I think she has something going on mentally, or rather not going on."

I am interviewing tomorrow for a job at a library in a correctional facility, but not everyone has been equally supportive. My fiance: "I only know one twenty-something girl who might be able to work in a prison, and it's [names a friend of his who is not me]."

I interviewed today for a position as a circulation clerk and they asked me what I would do if a child brought adult materials to check out.
Me: "Nothing; I would check them out to the kid. It is not up to me to decide what he reads."
Head Librarian: "You know when you are talking to a librarian!"

I emailed an email discussion list about prison librarianship for interviewing advice, and one person wrote back: "Murderers make the best clerks."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Last day

Bad news, all: I have had to quit this immensely entertaining job because my fiance and I are moving up north! This will be the last blog post for a while. I hope to start up again by bringing you anecdotes from the great state of Michigan, but library employment markets (and the MI economy) being what they are, it may take a while. Until then, I hope you get some amusement from the archives and a final refgrunt from today--as it is a Saturday before we are closed for two days I expect some craziness.

Someone is having shower? wedding shower? in the program room.

There's a movie called Secondhand Lions?
Yes, with Michael Caine?
I for once beat my coworker to finding it because I write 'secondhand' as one word and she guesses it is two.

A middle-aged man comes in and requests a much of romance novels--Coworker: "That's unusual. Good, I think, but unusual."

Marx Translations Guy calls for two books, The Classical Liberal Constitution by one of my favorite professors from my alma mater, and Plato at the Googleplex. Also says, "You know your library card numbers have enough digits for everyone on the planet to have one, right?" Actually, we have enough digits for every kid in the city to lose and replace one a week for their entire childhoods, which may not be enough.

Send out an email to the adult reference librarians asking them to say goodbye to my favorite patron for me. Maybe she will come in later today? I hope so.

Lady is having trouble with a self checkout machine--only some of them are equipped to scan a barcode on your smartphone, not all of them. When we tell her this she sayd "Well, y'all are still ahead of every other library!" Thank you!

I pulled a ton of gross, old true crime books off the shelves a while ago, thinking I could submit them to be taken out of the collection because no one would want to read them anymore. However, I had to put most of them back on the shelves because apparently they are still very popular. Today I have a cart full of ancient fashion books, but I underestimated the popularity of those even more than I underestimated true crime. Yikes.

Moment of terror as a kid with a lot of disabilities has some kind of a fit, but his dad has it under control and he is okay.

Older brother, younger sister. Sister: "I'm looking for those warrior cat books."
Young adult, Erin Hunter, Y HUN. I don't even need the computer for that.

Old man on the computer I think is playing slots.

Possible future librarian kid, seeing me sorting through fashion books: "Are those the new ones?"
Me: "No, they're old, but people are still using them, so I'm seeing if they need to be fixed up."
"Oh." He absorbes this information earnestly.

Man on our library homepage: "Can you help me? I'm trying to get on the internet."
You're already on it, sir!

Audiobook: Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror. That's the first one, right?

Make a list of of local citizenship classes for a nice woman. Fun!

Can I borrow books from this World Cup display?

A book called Countdown--fortunately he can narrow it down by describing the plot.

2014 reference copy of the Guinness Book can't be checked out, we can find you a 2013 though.

Super-confusing call about some lost items that were returned, compunded by a language barrier. Eventually I give up and pass her case on to a circ expert.

Am asked twice: Where is the book return?

Can you tell me if there is a used bookstore near here and if so, where?

Lego Batman Visual Dictionary (can you believe this is a thing?). Hold is cancelled but fortunately it is just back on the shelf.

Crabby guy who always wears one of those surgeon masks over his face: You've got some guy sleeping back in the corner there? Is that allowed?

Breaking Bad season 1. I was afraid but actually we are down to only 12 holds on 8 copies, not bad at all.

Same woman: The Fault in Our Stars. I think this title is the current record holder for longest wait time in our library system, so she says never mind, she'll buy it.

ACTUAL TEENAGERS want to play the Wii. Crazy.

Needs help saving/emailing.

One of the teenagers: Never mind, this game is lame, here is the controller back.

Don't worry, lone teenager, your little brother would like to play with you instead!

No manila envelopes, sorry.

Can't find her hold--it's under her mom's card.

Printer won't take five dollar bills.

Do you have a section for comedy movies?

The lady said that when my book is here I will know, but HOW will I know?

Shakespeare, any.

Purchase request for the 2013 movie Belle, and where am I in the holds queue for About Last Night and Ride Along?

May I borrow a pen or pencil?

Phone call for Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. Of course there is an intimidating hold list but at least she isn't mad or surprised, just a little disappointed.

Audrey comes to say goodbye and hug me for the millionth time.

Phone call for a Buick repair manual, someone at one of the other branches has gotten confused and accidentally hung up on the patron instead of transferring her, so both the staff member and the patron call at the same time on two different lines, but my coworker and I figure out what's happening in time to avoid telling the second caller (the patron, but only by thirty seconds or so) that sorry, our only copy is being held for someone else.

Do you have a phone I can use?

Can you print me those driving directions you printed me before?

Kid needs help finding Home Alone 2 and a Thomas the Tank movie. Insists on holding my hand. Then he confides "I will need your help eight times...bye" and leaves.

Just curious, what is that construction they are doing outside?

Buick book woman picks up her Buick book.

Soft-spoken teenage regular, holding a book: Can you tell me if this is the first in the series?

Needs help downloading and emailing a file. Never heard that one before!

The copier blares its distress signal.

Printed a bad set of pages from her email's document preview fuction, but she's really a good sport about it. She had a few other printing problems but she was sooo happy when she got her documents. It was a great last patron interaction.

Then again, we're open for seven more minutes, so anything could happen.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What women want (to know)

For some reason every single person I have helped so far today is female.

A patron is horrified by how expensive sending a fax is. She wants her daughter to call Office Max and ask how much they charge, but the daughter keeps showing her our local business referral guide and saying, "Mom, it says right here!"

A woman came to the desk and held her dark smartphone screen to me. Did she find it? No, it's hers? Did she need help using it? No, she needs help with the computer. She turns it back around to look at it, realizes it has gone to sleep, and touches it to turn the screen back on--she's used Google translate to produce an English-language version of her Spanish-language question. Clever!

Old lady: My mind has just gone blank. When you apply for a job, what do they get from your other employer?
Me: A...reference?
Lady: Yes, thank you! I kept thinking evidence, evidence, but I knew that wasn't it. How embarrassing.

Different old lady needs help releasing her print jobs--she was using the wrong card. Message to all kids: Don't let your grandma use your library card, it will only confuse her.

Precocious girl: There is no volume in the teen hub so I can't hear the TV, can you help me?

Same girl: Do you have an DC superhero comics?
She settles on Teen Titans.

Also: A patron turned in $100 in cash that he found with a grocery list! I feel like we should have given him a reward. Or at least the cash if no one comes to claim it.

Do y'all have a color prinnah? An how much is that? Sixy cenna page?

Phone call transcript

If you read nothing else on the blog ever, read this!

This call took place around 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon.

Me: "Hi, this is Emma at Information, how can I help you?"
Me: "Uh...what would you like to know about him?"
Caller: "What's his last name?"
Me: "It's Mountbatten. Would you like me to spell it for you? M-O-U-N-T-B-A-T-T-E-N."
Caller: "When he married Queen Elizabeth, did any of his family move to England with him?"
Me: "Well, I will have to confirm this with another source, but it says here that since they married soon after the end of World War II there was still a lot of hostility between the Germans and the British, so many of his relatives were not even welcome at the wedding, so I don't think that any of them came with him, probably."
Caller: "But he was Greek."
Me: "Well, his father was Prince Andrew of Denmark and Greece, and he was born in Greece, but he was from the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg."
Caller: "So he was German?"
Me: "Well, before he married Queen Elizabeth that is where his titles were associated with, and his mother was German."
Caller: "Well, my mother was from New Jersey!"
Me: "Ok..."
Caller: "Ok. Bye." [Hangs up]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

But it's candy

Woman pointing at our brochure/event calendar: Are these free?
Me: Yes, they are! You probably want to take one of the yellow ones too--that green one is our spring programs and they are almost over.
Woman: I really just need a hard surface. I was just going to slip these [papers] inside here. Do you have a manilla foolder?
Me: No, sorry, I will just look the other way.
The woman took a summer program (instead of one of the basically obsolete spring ones) and then later I saw her walking by with it squashed in her hand!

A man came and wanted to use the scanner, but someone else was using the computer it is attached to.
Man: Hi, I was here earlier and I wanted to scan something.
Me: Our scanner is attached to that computer just behind me, but it looks like someone is using it at the moment.
Man: ...
Me: I don't know if he is scanning or not. You are welcome to ask him if he will switch computers if he isn't scanning. Most people don't mind.
Man: Can you ask him for me?

The following interaction took place entirely in Spanish (mine, of course, broken and full of grammatical errors).
Woman: Do you have an English/Chinese/Russian dictionary?
Me: I'm afraid we don't have one that will have all three, but I can get you an English/Chinese and an English/Russian dictionary.
Woman: Okay.
I show her where those are but she rejects them.
Woman: The one I saw before was in Spanish, and all one.
Me: Well, we can check the Spanish collection just in case, but I don't think there will be one there. I'm sorry.
Of course there wasn't, and if a Spanish-based Spanish/English/Chinese/Russian dictionary exists, we definitely don't own it.
Omitted for clarity:
Señora: Necessito un diccionario de los idiomas rosa, ingles, y chino.
Me (to self): You need a dictionary for PINK, English, and Chinese?
Me: Lo siento, no se que significa 'rosa.'
Señora: RUSSO.
Me: Oh, sorry.

Man with a super-American accent, pointing at the "Guia para localizar materiales en la biblioteca" (Spanish-language Dewey Decimal guide): Are these free?
Yeah, but why do you want one?

Job skills grant. The husband wants to be a pharmacy tech but he can't even turn in his forms for us to stamp on his own or get directions to the place he has to take them next--the wife does the whole thing. The money we were awarded is going to SUCH good use. Also, her son sees people on the computers and whispers something to his mom, who says "You can't play on the computers. All of those people are working." Lies!

I try to print the pharmacy tech family a map to the college but Google Maps freezes first on my computer, than on my colleague's, which I use without her permission while she is up helping someone else. She takes it well.

Nice man who turns out to be a victim of credit card theft: Can you possibly help me? I am a real dummy on the computer. I need to print some forms. It's only a couple but they are really important.

Woman: I am trying to take a driver's ed course but the computer won't let me log on because I already used eight hours of time today.
I give her a guest pass.

Phone call: Do you have books for the HESI i.e. nursing entrance exam? Second time I have been asked for those today so fortunately I know what she is talking about. Our library, like most, is named after an old lady and its full name is the Gladys A. LastName Library. When I tell her what book we have she says "And I can get that at the Gladys?"

Family thinks that something is wrong because this online course they are trying to take took ten minutes to load. No, everything is fine, you are just on Library Bandwidth now.

While I am checking out their issue I see that the man on the computer next to them has an open zip-loc bag of hard candies at his computer. He also has a packet of crackers and some bread.
Me: "I'm sorry, sir, but I have to ask you to put your food away. You can't have it at the computers."
Man: "It's candy."
Me: "I know, but you are really not supposed to have it in the library at all."
Man: "But it's CANDY."
Me: "I know, sir, please put it away."
So he puts it his bag, which is a plastic shopping bag filled with other food, including a can of soup!

Every 10 seconds, to like 10 different kids: "Walk in the library, please!"

Girl: "I just printed two pages."
(This is how about 50% of people tell us they need to know how to pick up their print jobs.)

Woman: "Is it gonna give me more time on the computer?"


Today an older lady insisted that her email address was '' Bonus horror: She was trying to apply for a job as a caregiver to seniors.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Today one of my coworkers showed me a couple of awful books she found in the stacks. They were, *ahem* GOLD.

Recreational Gold Prospecting for Fun and Profit (1998) and The Modern Treasure Finder's Manual (1975).

If you want to see more library embarrasments, you can find a great selection over at Awful Library Books.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Younger brother: I want books about...knights.
Older brother, helpfully/authoritatively: That's what he wants to be when he grows up.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Robot librarians

This is another post about the ethics of being a librarian, specifically the tension between good service and patron privacy. It follows a previous post about whether you should be 'friends' with patrons. This one is about how the ideal reference librarian is a robot, and the second-best reference librarian is a human effectively disguised as a robot i.e. a human with a robot facade.


If we had the technology to replace human librarians with machines of comparable skill, library "science" says that we would. Why? Having to confide your "information need" to another person is an inherent invasion of privacy because we know that that person, being human, is going to judge you and make assumptions about you. Giving the same information to a computer isn't an invasion of privacy because the computer doesn't 'think about' you. The ideal librarian is a very sophisticated machine for getting you information. Any personality or emotion that intrudes as a result of that machine being a human is an unfortunate side effect.

Currently, some level of privacy invasion is unavoidable because robots aren't sufficiently advanced to replace human librarians. Given this circumstance, librarianship tries to limit collateral invasions of privacy as much as possible, basically by making a human behave as much like that hypothetical robot as possible. This is done in two ways:
1. The librarian pretends not to care about you or about why you want the information you do, so even though you are feeding your personal information to a judging entity, you don't feel like you are doing so. I.e., the librarian creates a robot facade.
2. The librarian is trained to believe that it is actually part of her duty not to care, and that she should strive to erase any inclination toward caring from her personality.

#2 tends to be a total failure, because why would you dedicate your career to finding information for people if you weren't interested in information or why people needed it? Unsurprisingly, curious people become reference librarians who are not very good at being uncurious.

In a lot of cases, violating rule #1 is pretty harmless. For example, someone might ask you to add him to the waiting list for the newest James Patterson book, and while you are doing that you notice that the library has already ordered copies of the next one even though it hasn't been released yet. Even though in theory you are supposed to behave as though there is no correlation between wanting the current Patterson and wanting the next Patterson (unless someone explicitly asks you for advice, which is a different story), you say "Hey, I see that the library has already ordered the next one even though I think it doesn't come out for a couple of months. Would you like me to put you on the list for that one too?" Technically, you're putting a crack in your robot facade by admitting that you are inferring something about the patron as a person (you want one James Patterson book so you are probably the kind of person who would like this other James Patterson book), but I've never had a patron who is angry or offended by an offer like this.

However, there are potential cases in which offering unsolicited help might not go over as well. The classic, if hyperbolic, case is a teenager who asks you for "books on committing suicide." The biggest case that gets me, though, and a more realistic one, is when I know what the patron is trying to accomplish but the resources she is requesting are not the most efficient or effective way to achieve that goal.

A common type of this case I see in my library is people trying to win their own legal conflicts without professional help. They come and say "My landlord blah blah blah..." or "My ex-wife blah blah blah..." "...can you get me 'the form' for suing someone/'the book' on tenants' rights" etc. The typical patron with one of these requests is not college-educated (let alone law-school-educated), already under a lot of stress, and often somewhat mentally unstable. She is not going to resolve this legal problem without professional help no matter what printed resources I can give her.

Now, we used to host a legal help clinic for low-income people and I often wanted to tell this type of patron about that resource, but I was afraid to for three reasons:
1. The patron may be offended that I assume he is low-income
2. The patron may be offended that I don't think he is smart or capable enough to solve the problem on his own
3. My library school training tells me not to offer this information unless it is solicited, and that if I do offer it unsolicited I am violating the patron's privacy i.e. breaking the robot facade

#1 and #2 seem like practical reasons to restrain myself, if not very good ones (at worst a stranger will get mad at me, at best a stranger's legal problems will be solved). But the key idea in #3 is "facade." Is a patron's privacy really more respected if I know things about them but just pretend not to? Given that, no matter how hard I try, I will learn more information about a patron than what that person explicitly tells me, wouldn't it be better if I at least used that information to my advantage so that I could provide better service?


Some bad, some good

Today a woman got mad at me for saying that she might want to keep her purse with her because this is a public building and anyone can walk in here, and we have had some thefts. She said "I figured that since it said public library!" and insisted that she could see it so it would not be stolen.

I was fuming about this but then an older man came by the desk to say: "I just wanted to say thank you to the library for letting me access so many resources when I was unemployed and giving me something to do when I didn't have anything. This might be the last time you see me because I got a job!"

Good definitely outweighs bad, but seriously, who gets mad when someone tries to prevent their stuff from getting stolen?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Top five phrases

  • "Let me know if it [the copier, the printer, etc.] gives you any more trouble"
  • "I know we own it; let me see if it's checked out right now"
  • "Do you want me to show you how to print more than one thing at a time?"
  • "I'm afraid we don't have a copy in at our branch at the moment, but we can have it sent over for you from one of the other libraries in the city."
  • "Hi! How can I help you?"


From the One City Over Public Library, where I am doing my 'student librarian-ing':

I was 'observing the reference desk' i.e. chatting with the two reference assistants, one of whom looks kind of like a rabbi to me--he has a serious countenance and a very impressive beard--yesterday evening. About 20 minutes before closing, a girl about eleven or twelve, walking by with her family, darted up to the desk and said, "Excuse me: Sir, I love your beard!" and then darted away again.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The digital divide

In the four-hour period I was on the desk today, I had to explain to two different people that they had to use the same library card number to release their print jobs as they used to log on to their computers. They expected that they could:
Use library card A to log into a computer, then send something to the print release station.
Use library card B to log into the print release station, which would then display the print jobs they sent from the computer in library card A's session, even though there is no way for any technology to 'know' that both cards are associated with them.

People stand at the computer reservation station, which has "reservations only" written on it in inch-high type, for up to 30 seconds, contemplating how to release their print jobs. There is only one button on the home screen, "Make a Reservation."

Teenager has opened a Powerpoint from her flash drive on one of our public computers. She asks me, "so to print this, I just click 'save'?"

Angry woman: "Is there any way you can turn the computers in the computer lab back on!?"
Me: "You can still log into them, blah blah blah, [explain how our computer reservation/management system works]."
Woman: "No, that is not what I'm asking! They are completely off!"
The monitors were turned off.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lows, highs


A book on recovering repressed memories: still circulating. I recommend it be withdrawn from the collection anyway because it basically purports to be a science book and is 20+ years old.

It's my job to count people into storytime, which starts at 7. I click in 5 people with my little clicker and leave at about 7:05. Within the next ten minutes, 7 more people come in.

The Story of the Texas Rangers, published in the 50s, is still circulating.

I am trying to make posters advertising what is in each aisle of the Spanish section but no one can tell me where the computer files with the English advertisements are and I can't for the life of me figure out which font they used.


Two brothers, 10 and 12, are learning how to use the public computers. I take the older brother over to the print release station and for some reason the sign showing a bunch of coins with the word "yes" over them and then a crossed-out penny with the word "no"over it makes him crack up. Five minutes later I take the younger brother over and he laughs about the same thing.

A scheduling error means I get to be out on the desk for an extra hour.

Research Guy, a patron who used to haunt the reference books and who seemed pretty disturbed (I worried he might be schizophrenic) comes by, asks me questions about accessing the library catalog on his smartphone, introduces himself and shakes me hand, and chats in a perfectly normal fashion. He is such a changed man I have some small doubts for awhile that it's not actually him, just a guy who looks like him, but I am pretty sure.