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 I recommend it be withdrawn from the collection anyway because it basically purports to be a science book and is 20+ years old.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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Great book?

A kid asked for the book below today. I'd never heard of it but apparently as well as having an awesome cover it's won a lot of awards. It's The Platypus Police Squad: The Frog who Croaked.


Tax day 12-2

This post is full of typos but it was so busy I didn't have time to pay much attention to typing!

Do you need help to print? No never mind we figured it out.

Older man: "I'm returning this book. It's overdue. We were out of town, and my daughther called the library..."
I don't want you to waste your time here, you'll have to take it up with Customer Service eventually so you may as well not tell me the story.

What is my PIN? How do I get onto a computer? Can I print from any? I have a picture but I want to make it bigger, how would I do that?

Audrey Hepburn stops by to say hello and ask if I am "ready for Easter" (she is very religious). She asks this about every Christian holiday and as a non-Christian I never know how to answer this.

I know it's last minute but is there any chance you can help me find tax forms for Kansas? I lived there part of the year and here part of the year. This turns out to be a long thing and I am so afraid of giving tax advice and the patron (or me) getting burned! She's really nice though. At the end she asks, "There isn't going to be anyone helping this late, is there?" I give her the phone number of anotehr branch where the AARP volunteers are today but I don't know if they do state returns especially because Texas has no income tax.

I'll be with you in just a moment, thanks for waiting--but they walk off. A coworker checks on them later at least.

My mom wants a book, can you help her find it? It's the new John Wayne bio, we put her on the waiting list. I also check the son's card to see if he has any more CDs on their way. She and her son are always really nice.

Get the Kansas tax lady on a computer so she can do her own research. She's excited.

Phone call: Do you have the form you need to get a tax extension?
I can't, officially, tell you that this is "the form you need," but it sure sounds like it.

Kansas Tax Lady has a meeting with one of our...staff members? volunteers? I don't even know because our branch manager is so horrible that she never bothered to introduce this person even though she is apparently here like 10 hours a week. I know she does something with grants but I don't know what and I have never, to the best of my knowledge, seen her.

Do you have the form for an amended tax return?

Coworker: "I don't know how into cooking or not into cooking you are, but I thought you might want to see this book about vegetarian slow cooker recipes." I'm not into cooking but it's nice that she remembers I'm a vegetarian so I feign interest. She also says "Tax season isn't as bad as it used to be. We used to put a box of the extension forms outside overnight on April 15 and they would all be gone by the next morning."

Mom and toddler son at the copier, someone is saying "stop, stop" over and over again in a high, whiny voice. I assume it's the son, but looking over I see it's the mom.

Form 2210, 2 copies, and 1040-V, 2 copies. The latter I don't know why we don't have because it's the thing you have to send with your check, so the IRS really ought to let us order it. I read off the title of the former to make sure it is the right thing, but when I ask "Does that sound right?" she says "I don't know, but it's what I have written down, so just print it anyway."

Meet the mysterious grant lady for the first time. She is looking for Kansas Tax Lady so I infer who she must be, but she doesn't introduce herself. Maybe she has to remain as anonymous as possible to avoid inadvertently revealing her secret superhero identity.

All the patrons have their phones turned up so loud today! One makes the same noise mine does when I get a text message and I briefly fear that somehow I accidentally brought my phone out to the desk with me, even though I am wearing a skirt and don't have any pockets.

A little science fair bean plant is on top of the ready reference collection. I ask my coworker about it and she says she found it forgotten at the print release station last night and is hoping someone will come looking for it today.

Phone: Power Play by Danielle Steele. Add her to the waiting list but it's not too bad--10 people, 5 copies.

"I had a library card but I think I lost it."
"If you go over to Customer Service they can get you a new one."
"Is it a dollar?"

An email comes out that they are changing the city's website, which contains the library site, at 4 p.m. this afternoon. I work until 9 p.m. so it is probably going to be a long evening.

Our copier doesn't take pennies, can she give me five of them for a nickel? The exchange goes smoothly but I am moderately stressed out just out of habit because this lady goes from civil to shouting at you at the drop of the hat and it's very hard to see it coming. She makes me very nervous.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New favorite website


A sample from March 2nd:

A woman walked into the library with a bundle of blankets in her arms and a staff member noticed some fur poking out.
Staff: “Ma’am, I’m sorry, we don’t allow pets in the library.”
Woman: “What? Oh, him?”
A New World Capuchin monkey, dressed in a diaper and a onesie, popped out of the bundle.
Woman: “I don’t even think about him!”
The woman checked out her books and left with her monkey.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Little boy: "Where are the books about birds?"
Me: "Do you want books about a particular bird, or a book with lots of different ones?"
Boy: "Real ones."

Also a man came to the adult services desk and wanted to know if we had any information that would help him figure out if his 'Stradivarius' violin was genuine.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday fun

Patron I have never seen before has a gallon jug of milk with him at the computer, 1/5 full. It's capped and, well, he is sitting in a public library with a gallon of milk and a giant eccentric beard, so I leave the situation alone.

Tax forms from 2012

"I'm still new at this. How do I check a book back in?"

Woman asks other patrons: What are these magazines? Do you check them out or buy them? Not interested in my help. She is intruding on them trying to get work done so she gets my 'help' anyway even though she doesn't want it.

Girl asks for the movie "Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 3," have to break it to her that that doesn't exist.

Only Sane Fan stops by, chat a little about Game of Thrones and sci-fi.

I think I just saw a guy take a picture of a book on display--like people do at bookstores so they can later go to Walmart and see if it is cheaper there, but where is cheaper than the library?

The police come! Looking for a suspect of some kind but whatever incident put him on their radar, it didn't happen in the library (well, not just now, anyway).

Lady with heavily-accented English wants the movie "Charlos Guez" i.e. "Charlotte's Web." Discover the fabulous subject heading: Swine‡vJuvenile films.

Side effects

Side effects of working at a public library information desk:
  • You are tempted to approach a lost-looking person at your favorite store and ask if they need help finding something
  • You have to repress (or sometimes fail to repress) an urge to shout "walk, please!" at children running by in malls
  • You develop a particular look, pheremone, or other secret signal by which a certain type of person knows you are the best person to ask for directions when they are lost in a new neighborhood
  • When a friend asks for your opinion on a book or movie, you tell them what it was like instead of whether you liked it
  • You sometimes catch yourself glaring at loud teenagers or at people talking on their cell phones, even in places where they have a perfect right to do so
  • Trained to look up from your computer and greet people approaching the desk, you find yourself making a lot of accidental friendly eye contact with strangers in your peripheral vision in coffee shops and restaurants

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hard to explain

  • How a scanner works
  • That phone with a curly cord is a real phone, I know it doesn't look like the smartphones you are used to
  • You can't check your email on a computer that is for looking up library materials
  • The fact that the computer is slow does not mean it is not working
  • The self-check machine doesn't care how you orient your books because it is not actually scanning them
  • Where the 'file' button is on Word 2013--it's too small and too close to something else that is blue, apparently
  • You must walk in the library or I WILL KILL YOU

Will you be my friend?

This semester I am taking a class on "information ethics" as part of my library degree. In case I wasn't already extremely primed to think about ethics, this class has made it so I am considering ethical tensions constantly. I am planning to post about a few of my biggest conflicts so I can get advice from the intelligent, talented, and beautiful readers of this blog.

Don't worry, though: Patron eccentricities will continue to be topic number one.

Issue #1: Being 'friends' with patrons

If you are a longtime reader of this blog you will know that every library staff person has her fans, some of which we are happier about than others (My Only Sane Fan, clearly identifiable by her intense smoker's voice, deserves mention here). Usually the concern is keeping the patrons from thinking you are their best friend and as a result they expect to be exempt from rules or get an infinite amount of help when other people are waiting--give Mr. Take My Card an umbrella and he takes a mile, write back to one email from 'Audrey  Hepburn' and now you are her personal consultant, etc.

Making exceptions for known patrons, while tempting, is pretty clearly an ethical infraction, and not too hard to avoid. Even though I know the Retired Police Officer, I make him give me his ID for ransom when he wants to borrow the Consumer Reports just like anyone else. I give every unfamiliar person one chance to bring back the 20 cents I loan them, just like I trust that (most) known patrons are good for the money. Little things like this are pretty simple, but there is a larger question of whether I should treat my relationships with frequent library visitors as relationships or as a series of discrete interactions (SDI from here forward). Considerations:

Library policy, the American Library Association ethical code, etc. says that a cardinal feature of a reference interaction is confidentiality--the librarian won't tell anyone what information you wanted and won't be nosy about why you want it. In fact, the real message is you should not just pretend not to care about what the patron is searching for, you should work to actually not care about it as far as you can. Basically, if the patron starts seeing you as a person, they will be embarrassed to ask the things that they need to know but wouldn't want anyone, especially a stranger, to know they need to know. The promotion of confidentiality argues that treating your job as a series of SDIs is a better approach than treating it as a collection of relationships. A patron who knows your name and how many pets you have, and who knows that you know her name and how many pets she has, is probably going to be embarrassed to ask for help finding books on house foreclosure. By being friendly with this patron, you've lost your 'exempt' status and thus you are less helpful to her.

On the other hand, you can only pretend so effectively that you don't remember a patron, especially if you don't want to seem hostile or rude. After seeing someone 15 times in a month, it's hard to act as though you have never seen him before. Besides, even if you succeed, he is likely to feel like you are being rude or strange--to think things like "How come this woman has no idea who I am? I talked to her for 10 minutes yesterday and it's as though she doesn't recognize me" or "Is she pretending not to know me because I did something to offend her?" Especially because regular commercial establishments consider it good customer service to recognize repeat customers and greet them as such, it seems especially odd when the librarian who helped you find books on dog training two days ago (you told her all about your new puppy!) acts as though you are a totally stranger.

It's a complicated issue since some patrons want you to have a sort of friendship with them, and others would prefer to be completely anonymous. As far as I can think of, there's no way to tell which is which. Am I missing something? And if not, what is the best balance between the relationship approach and  the SDI approach?

Weird book finds of the day

Empty Promise: The Growing Case Against Star Wars by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Our computer system, which is only about 10 years old, claims that this book circulated once and only once, in 1989.

German Small Arms, with note in librarian handwriting on inside cover: "mildew noted 8-92." Eew!

And, my personal favorite and a keeper, TANK VERSUS TANK.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A question I like

Some librarians hate it but I actually usually quite enjoy the 'reader's advisory' question: "Do you have any good books?"

Bonus #1: The reader came back to the desk to show me the book she'd picked out

Bonus #2: She stopped by again on her way out to say thank you.

For whom it may concern: She choose Pretties by Scott Westerfield.