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?