Sunday, December 20, 2015

I can't wait for November 2016

That is when the weird Republicans will stop calling the library to tell me about their favorite politicians.

(Today's guy was a Cruz fan who wanted the phone number and address of his campaign headquarters in Michigan, and was annoyed that I was offering him the national information instead. He commented: "You have to start at the lowest level. If you want to get into Heaven, you don't go to God!")

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday questions

First call of the morning is my boss from downstairs. Can I check for two books and send them down on the dumbwaiter?

Say hi to a coworker from my job at the community college. Oh my goodness, you work here too!?

Second call, a surprisingly interesting reference question: Can you tell me who is the lighthouse keeper for a particularly lighthouse in Michigan? The lighthouse she's interested in is the Grant Traverse Lighthouse, and it turns out they have a program where  you, Jane Citizen, can stay there for a week and be the lighthouse keeper! I don't know if that is at all relevant to what the patron was interested in, but I hope she tries it out. (I give her the contact information for the museum affiliated with the lighthouse so that she can call them and get more information on the lighthouse keeper situation.)

A 7th grader calls. She wants to volunteer at the library but needs help with the application. Among other difficulties, she doesn't know the word 'applicable' and has to spell it for me over the phone so I can identify and explain it. After several minutes, I gently inquire whether she has a parent who might be able to help her with the application. "Oh, I didn't think of that..."

Can you help me find Bitch is the New Black? She has the call number but doesn't know what to do with that information.

The Haunted House Diaries is checked out, but I can show you other haunted places materials. You're really writing a paper on this?

Nicest phone patron (the anti-Mac) calls. All his calls start with "I wonder if you could help me with..." He just wants the phone number of the local UPS store.

Patron comes up: 'I think the guy on computer 39 is very drunk. He is talking to himself and falling over and he's dropped his wallet three times." When we call Security to come check on him, he says, "I think he's petting an imaginary dog." Fortunately, the man leaves peacefully with a police officer.

Angry man: There are three people over there and they came and sat down and all they are doing is just talking!

I can get change for a ten dollar bill downstairs, right? Actually, I think we have it up here.

I put these two books on hold but they're not ready yet. Can you show me where to find them? It's tough to explain to people that there's not someone waiting by a computer screen just watching for holds to come in. We only pull them a couple of times a day! Normal stores don't do anything like this at all ("Hi grocery store staff. Please collect a carton of eggs, a gallon of milk, an onion, and a loaf of bread and save them under my name. I'll be there to pick them up in half an hour.") yet somehow the fact that it takes us, like, hours to pull people's books for them seems to annoy many people a lot.

Is this the right elevator to get back to the main floor of the library? Sorry, I usually go to [small branch library]? Thank you so much, have an amazing day!

Is there a bathroom on this floor? Thank you!

(Why is there a negative correlation between how tough/annoying a question is for me to answer and how pleased patrons are when I help them? The people who ask the easiest questions are almost always the nicest.)

What are the hours of the library through Wednesday?

Are you familiar enough with the scanner to help me scan something in and edit it? (Not how that works, sorry!)

If I highlight something on a website and then print, it will just print the highlighted part, right?

The same conversation about highlighting and printing again, 30 minutes later. Same patron. This time I walk her through how to copy and paste just the part she wants into Word.

Guy searching on a jobs website can't make it show jobs close to where he lives (this is because the website isn't working properly.)

Okay, now I want to copy things from multiple web pages into the same document. Can I do that, too?

Computer virus help for the job search patron. Word help for the printing patron. Neither will come up to the desk; they just keep waving me over as I start to go back to my desk after helping the other one.

Printer troubles.

Can you look at my cover letter? "I'm not any kind of expert on...yeah, I can help you fix your grammar, anyway."

What Is The What by Dave Eggers (love that title) and where is the fiction section?

(As I am doing 'roving reference' i.e. making a sweep of the floor to see what patron misbehaviors are happening and/or what aftermaths need to be dealt with) 'Excuse me, are you one of the reference librarians? Can you tell me if this 'Great Fish Bay' has any other names and what modern day country it's in? And can I get a printout of a map?"

Excuse me, what time does the library close today?

I'm trying to find a book. The catalog says it's here and the call number is 921 Mitner, but your 900s go straight from 920 to 923. Oh no, it's in Biographies, sorry!

Boss from downstairs again: Now can you send down The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

Request Allen Carr's The East Way to Stop Smoking from another branch. Good for you, sir! Good luck!

Can you show me where this call number is? Also, do you have anything about this in large print?

Are there maps of town I can look at?

Did you move the biography of Thelonious Monk?

Do you have The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis?

If you wanted to listen to internet radio here, what are the rules?

Young volunteer comes in in person. Still has a lot of questions about the application. I ruthlessly pass her off to our Youth Services Librarian.

Our oddest phone patron calls for some info on home security systems.

Well, it's 5:45, so Loud Background Noise Woman will be calling any minute now. I'd better get off the blog since talking to her always requires opening a million browser tabs.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Never mind

First, a patron asked me to help him play a DVD from our collection on one of the library computers. I got it started for him, but about 15 minutes later he came back and told me that the movie had abruptly stopped. I looked at the back and, sure enough, it was pretty scratched up. We can resurface a scratched disc, but it's sent to technical services and they get to it when they can; it's not an on-demand kind of service. While I explained that to the patron, I looked up the title of the DVD in our catalog, thinking maybe we had another copy in the collection. We didn't have a physical copy at our branch, but I saw it was available through our streaming video subscription. He hadn't used that before, but I convinced him to try it. To get set up with the service, you have to sign up with your library card number, email address, and a password. At first he said, "I can't do that stuff. You'll have to do it for me," but in a laborious five-minute process I helped him enter his email address, password, and card number. We then easily borrowed the video and were automatically taken to the 'watch' screen. At that point he said, "Actually, I don't want to do this. Can you show me how to get to Craigslist?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Merry Christmas, Library!

A family brought in a Christmas/thank you card and a tin of cookies for the staff. The card was addressed to the library!

(I can't comment on the cookies because they had been delivered hours before my shift and there were none left. The library staff is ravenous.)

The (library) 'science' of elevator buttons

One of our very nice but mentally disabled patrons wanted to go down from the 2nd floor to the 1st so that she could leave the library, and asked me which elevator button to push. The one with the down arrow on it is, of course, the correct answer.

This was one of the times that I thought, "I went to grad school for this!?" It was a good day to see a post from I Work At A Public Library showing a librarian refilling some beanbags from her teen section with Styrofoam stuffing. While she also said, "I went to grad school for this!", the fantastic Gina Sheridan had captioned it "Other Duties As Assigned" which is so great I think it will need to become a tag on this blog.

Closing time

So, apparently my library is doing something illegal. All of our hourly employees, me included, have to digitally 'punch' a clock to record time worked. Every night I work the closing shift at the library, here's roughly how the last several minutes go:

8:50-8:55 Close the library catalog and my email program on my laptop (we each use our own at the reference desk, plugged into a monitor and docking station). Walk around the library and ask patrons who seem to be browsing if they need help. Tidy up the space.

8:55ish: Punch out.

8:55-9:05: Shut down my laptop and bring it back to my office. Bring my coat and briefcase downstairs. Stand around awkwardly while the checkout desk staff help any late patrons, count the cash drawer, grab their personal stuff, and put the cash in the safe.

9:05ish: Leave the library and go home.

See how I clocked out 10 minutes before I actually left work? It will round to 9 p.m. (it rounds to the nearest quarter-hour), so I actually only stay 5 minutes past my recorded clock out time. In addition, to be fair I am mostly standing around during those 5 minutes while other people do work. However, nearly all the staff does this nearly every night. Technically, this is forcing people to work off the clock which is not only icky but actually illegal.

Although I knew this in the abstract, I hadn't really thought much about it beyond a vague annoyance until I read this post on the Swiss Army Librarian, which talked about the importance of providing good service up until closing time. I replied to that post asking whether staff at his library were paid past closing time, and explaining how things end up getting shut down early because staff people want to get out right at 9. His reply to that comment, and other replies, prompted him to devote a whole post to the issue (you can see it here), which generated a bunch of other responses. One of those responses was from a fairly authoritative librarian, who pointed out the illegality of what my library did and suggested that if I had a friend in HR or administration, I might gently mention what might happen if we got audited by the Department of Labor.

Once she said it, the legal problems of our system, as opposed to just the practical ones, seemed really obvious. It's weird to me that the administration of my fairly large public library system don't seem more concerned. Do they think we actually leave at 9 p.m. each day? Do they know what's happening and just willingly take the risk?

What I'm curious about is whether this is a situation that is library-specific or more general. I imagine that retail businesses have a similar problem. I've never worked at a normal retail job, but I used to work at a custom engraving place in a mall. While they made a big deal of getting customers out of the store at closing time (very annoying if you were struggling to make that week's sales quota!), you had to stay after closing to get the next day's engraving done anyway, so they didn't expect you to be clocked out at a certain point after closing time. I was aware that all my counterparts in the other stores were heading out, but I don't know how their timecards worked.

Do you work,  or have you worked, somewhere where this is an issue? How does your workplace handle it, and what do you think?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


How is it that I barely ever catch someone eating in the library, yet whenever I take a spin around the public floor just to check on things, I find a ton of Cheetos wrappers in the trash?

My passion

An eight-ish boy said to me, "Do you have any books about shooting? I love shooting. Shooting is my passion!"

Since his secondary passion is 'cussing,' I tried to get him to read a Western, but the cussing was too old-fashioned and apparently they aren't gory enough.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Today a patron who checks out a ton of ebooks came to the desk to ask: How does that work? How does anyone make money from that? We told him that we have to pay for the ebooks, and he was so surprised.

There was a lot of misinformation and lack of information about the library today--there was a huge 'holiday' (Christmas) open house, meaning a ton of little kids in the library. You would not believe how often people lie to their kids about the rules of the library for the sake of easier parenting!

(Well, if you're a parent, it's probably not such a surprise.)

Friday, December 4, 2015


Any librarians or social service worker readers have tips for working with library patrons who can't read? One of the two people I helped learn how to grow their own pot earlier today was the third patron in as many weeks who is substantially illiterate.

Googling "illiterate library patrons" gets you articles on the digital divide and digital illiteracy (My favorite article was this one on library 'cyber navigators': Googling "patrons who can't read" links you to some interesting text from old books. Searching the Library & Information Science Technology Abstracts database suggests that illiteracy was a way more popular topic in the professional literature 15 or 20 years ago than it is now. Plus, it's mostly pretty specialized--I'm not sure how "Bridging the gap between illiterate older adults and cognitive stimulation technologies through pervasive computing" is going to help me.

Dealing with illiterate patrons is a challenge for a lot of reasons, not just the reason that I am totally untrained and unprepared.

The first problem is that we immediately come up against the issue of what I am and am not supposed to do for people. Also, except when I'm doing a storytime, it's not my job to read to you. People don't ask me to read to them out of books (except people calling for phone numbers, but that we do...), but for some reason it's different with computers. My theory is that it's because we do help people with technology stuff. For instance, I'll show someone how to log on to the computer, how to open Internet Explorer, and how to do a Google search for the website they want to visit. It's no wonder that when they get to the website (which consists of paragraphs of text and a text-based navigation bar along the top) they look at me and say, "Okay, what do I do now?" How am I supposed to communicate to a patron that, if I could teach them to read the website as quickly as I showed them how to navigate to it, I would, but reading doesn't work like that?

Many public libraries offer reading instruction for adults who are illiterate, but ours doesn't. Even if it did, how is a year-long class going to help them when they need to get their form in to social services or they won't be able to pay their rent next week?

I will add this to the long list of things that library school failed to prepare me for, along with helping someone transfer his pornographic videos, dealing with abandoned children, and explaining that a computer doesn't know who you are.

That's the name of the website that I helped a couple print from this afternoon. Article title: "Grow your own pot." Since Michigan is a medical marijuana state, maybe I haven't made myself an accessory to anything...

I didn't mind helping them, as they were a lot nicer than our other patrons so far this afternoon. I had already dealt with our Most Annoying Caller (who I'm going to call MAC for short from now on)--"gimme the number for Muffler Man"--and some guy who wanted more than the allotted three hours of computer time (yes, three hours) and didn't want to hear me and my coworker tell him no. Instead, he just rudely demanded to be told "who he would talk to about that," so we sent him to the first floor so that our supervisor could frustrate him personally.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Coworker: "There's a man asleep over there. And I also saw a chicken bone on the floor. Which is my priority!?"

Winter(?) holidays

As far as diversity and inclusion is concerned, my library is all about good intentions combined with appalling ignorance of other cultures.

Today I had to send an email letting my coworkers know that if they want to put together 'winter holiday' children's book displays, they should stop putting Ramadan-related items on them. In someone's effort to be culturally inclusive, she put books about a holiday that began in June last year and will begin in June next year on that display. When I went to replace those items with ones that were more appropriate, I saw that no wonder she, a 60ish white Midwesterner, had been confused: our children's holiday books are shelved by the point at which they occur in the calendar year, starting with New Year's Day (or Eve) and ending with Kwanzaa. For some mysterious reason, Ramadan books are placed between Hanukkah and Kwanzaa--probably that's when Ramadan fell in the year that the holiday section was created.

I'm not sure how we're going to redo that shelving to accommodate holidays that are on a lunar calendar (ideas, anyone?) but I am sure that I'm going to push for a Ramadan-themed storytime or craft program in June. Attendance is mandatory for all white, Judeo-Christian librarians.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Anytime you want

It's been relatively quiet at the library the last couple of weeks, or at least I've been missing most of the excitement. Today is the first real snow of the winter so it's dead even for a Saturday. I was expecting to get more phone calls, but all I've had so far are a few schedule- or circulation-related questions and the regular call from our Rudest Phone Patron.

Today's first patron comes up to the desk, brandishes a duffel bag, and says, "You can look in here anytime you want. And I have ID if you need it."

I've recovered from my earlier altercation with the man who wanted me to find him a book about the "dreading" of the Nile River and now we get along (I don't think he remembers that incident). I help him find books about building your own computer and he is so happy! He thanks me three times.

One of the regulars asks me, "Where's your partner in crime?" She's gone to lunch, but only after making the security guard promise to stay on the 2nd floor with me unless he gets called away. "I don't think he's dangerous or anything, but that man sitting in the back there is really wound up and agitated and keeps coming up here." When I asked what he was wound up about, she cryptically replied "chess."

An older couple comes in needing to enter some information on the State of Michigan CHAMPS website (my number one website nemesis at the moment). I helped them previously but couldn't surmount the problem that the woman didn't have her password. I was hoping she had located it and come back, but after my colleague helped them for five minutes or so, she came back to the desk and discretely typed to me on our staff chat function: "It's always the same sad story with those two. I've tried helping them several times with that and it always ends the same way."

The man with the duffel bag from earlier comes back with the same message again. I really don't want to know what's in there.

A phone call. This poor woman called the library yesterday hoping to get the telephone number of a teacher who'd mentored her as a kid. Instead the librarian found an obituary for that teacher, from about a month ago. The woman calls back today to get the memorial service information: "They told it to me yesterday but I was just so distraught, I didn't write it down, and now I don't remember it." At least she is just in time to be able to send flowers for the memorial, which makes her feel a bit better. She is very nice and I feel we are getting along, but then she starts telling me about how 'fishy' it is that there is a memorial service so late after the teacher died. "My family was in the funeral business, and I just don't think...."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

As you know, we have had several incidents of drug overdoses recently.... not a great start to an email from the branch head.

Don't worry, the email was only to say that the local fire department had provided us with some guidelines for how to act in those situations.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

I just got out of jail... something patrons say to me a lot, as in:

"Not to get all personal, but I just got out of jail and they had the test waiting for me. But I failed the first time, so now I'm studying to take it again in September. So that's why I need the basic math books."

Friday, October 30, 2015


After going to an fantastic talk at a conference earlier this week that featured the problem 'patrons mostly ask questions with fast, easy answers, so they aren't aware we can answer more difficult questions as well', we actually had some pretty challenging reference questions this afternoon, like "What kind of bird is this in this Youtube video I'm watching?", "How can I find out who the owner of a business used to be?", and a very complicated attempt to connect to the wireless network which involved reading many forum posts and messing with a patron's wireless card settings ("Don't tell anyone I touched your computer, okay?").

Oh wait, I just eavesdropped the checkout desk clerk asking over the radio, "Security, any reason why the fire truck is here?" This is more what I expect from Friday afternoon!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


This afternoon, Barney and Seamus spotted the man who peed in the stairwell a couple of weeks ago and confronted him. Not only did he deny everything despite video evidence--he was wearing the same outfit as in the security footage. The most plausible explanation was that he was blackout drunk when he did the deed and genuinely doesn't remember.

Fortunately (for us), you can still be banned from library premises for things you were too drunk to remember doing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bad books

Today I was trying to fill a couple of displays of books in genres that I don't normally read. In the course of turning to the internet for assistance, I discovered a podcast called Worst Bestsellers. Here's how the podcast seems to work:
1. They mock a bestselling book
2. They suggest better, lesser-known alternatives to the book
3. They suggest which candy you should eat while reading the book

Not only am I looking forward to checking out some of these episodes when I'm not at work, I think recording our own version could make a pretty good library program.

Friday, October 9, 2015

"Zip" code

My boss's mom calls. When she tries to read an ebook she has checked out, all the body text shows up as totally blank--header and footer only. Yikes.

Coworker to patron who is struggling to use the stapler (yes, the stapler): Can I help you with that?

Patron who neither me nor my coworker helped: Thank you!

One of our regular callers (always very rude an impatient) calls for some information about the Houston Texans. He wants the address, and says, "And what's the so-called zip code?"

As soon as I pick up the phone to talk to him, the other line rings and my coworker has to get that one. When I hear her say, "I am seeing someone by that name here in town, but not in El Paso, Texas...oh, I thought you said she was in El Paso" I think I probably got the better deal.

High-level librarian from the admin office comes to talk to me about a little presentation I'm doing for our staff development day. I think we're done when I go off to help someone but later I see she has hung around to ask one of us to call security--she just saw three men go into the two-stall men's bathroom. I haven't heard the outcome of this yet but I am giving 70:30 odds on empty bottles of booze versus drug paraphernalia.

All phones today. Another regular caller wants the addresses of the San Francisco Police Department and a (supposedly) well-known preacher, and then also asks if we have a book called Lord, Let Me Give You A Million Dollars. Not a huge surprise, we don't.

I shouldn't have decided to do a refgrunt today, because of course it is waaaaay too busy.

Spend lots of time with a man needing to fill out a State of Michigan form. This always takes a long time, but in this case it is form tracking his caregiving activities for his brother, and also, he doesn't really read, so it's basically impossible. His wife/girlfriend is there and clearly has a better grasp of both reading and computing. She also seems to be itching to do it for him but for some reason restrains herself.

Help two women apply for a job at Dollar General, fails when it turns out they need an email address, which they have but don't know the password to. They are really nice but smell so heavily of smoke it is hard to breathe while working with them. Then when I tell them we are open on weekends, they say, "Oh, are you going to be here?"

When I finally make it to the desk, coworker says, "I need your help trying to track down a poem that might or might not exist." Again, despite how busy I am, I think I'm getting the long end of the stick.

Another of our odd regulars wants me to print out this picture of a 1999 Popular Mechanics cover for him. Apparently we did this before, but he lost it. I wimp out and don't take up the issue of copyright.

Number for a local plastic surgeon (more phones!).

Security guard comes to give us a printout of a security camera photo of a patron suspected to be stalking children at another branch. I recognize him--that guy comes in here all the time! Oh no.

One of our rare phone patrons who is actually nice, just wants the phone number for a local bank.

Man with a book from the staff picks display: Can these be checked out, or do you have to read them here?

Computer 24 has a virus.

How do I start this quiz on my computer?

More phone number calls. I really wish people would use phone books.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

First email of the morning

"We found a tooth in a Ziploc baggie by the self checkout machines. If no one claims soon we will discard."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bringing your own

Mr. Timmons, one of the regulars I like, brought me and my coworker suckers 'in thanks for your hard work.' He said, "They're from the bank. All the branches have them. Except the downtown one. There you have to bring you own candy. Which I usually do."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why the cleaning staff is underpaid

Two different patrons have used the stairwell as a bathroom this week. Two. In one week.

Come on, universe, I really need a heartwarming patron story like the man getting his first view of his grandchild tonight.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Do you work here?

...No, this desk chair is just really comfortable.

..No, I'm just testing out my 'librarian' Halloween costume.

...No, I pried this badge from the cold, dead hands of a real librarian.

...Yes, but if I can't answer the question you're about to ask me, they'll fire me.

..."work" is a strong word.

...No, do you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

First world emergencies

Today I scolded a man who was listening to audio on his computer without headphones. Apparently he is from the local newspaper. Their offices are just across the street and their internet connection went down an hour before a big funeral procession for a local celebrity was due to pass through the area. He wanted me to make an exception because it was "kind of an emergency."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Today's harrasment

Patron: Do you have any lotion?
Me: No, we don't, sorry.
Patron: No, do you have any?
Me: No, I don't, sorry.
Patron: Really? You don't have any in your purse? Someday you'll get more ladylike...I guess you look like sort of an Indiana Jones type.
Me: I'm sorry I don't have any lotion. Can I help you with anything else?
Patron: A great big hug.
Me: Can I help you with anything library-related?

Five seconds later, different patron: Can I borrow a pen, babe?

Ick, ick ick!

Friday, September 4, 2015


We have caller ID at the library (a mixed blessing) and my coworker noticed that a call that came in this afternoon was showing as a Florida area code. Okay, maybe it's the cell phone of someone who moved here from Florida?

She answered the phone and gave the woman the information she wanted, which was the number of a Papa John's Florida.

Two seconds later, the phone rings again. Again it shows that it's a Florida call. My coworker picks it up. "Hi, do you have any specials?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A new one

There are a lot of veterans here at the downtown library so there's rarely an incident that really gets people excited--someone has always seen it before.

So it was kind of a milestone for me today when a patron dropped a stick of incense into the heating vent and it took us 20 minutes to locate it and get it out. Even my nearing-retirement colleague and one of our longest-serving security guards said, "That's a new one."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A question I wish I'd gotten

What if a patron comes up to the desk and says: “I just need to find out what temperature would be dangerously cold for a Chinese crested hairless dog!”? Find out how you should answer by reading this BookList Online anecdote:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

They told me you know how to work these machines...

said an older woman with brown hair. I never say "yes" to this because you never know if it's a website outside of your control or something else, so all I said is, "Let me see what I can do to help. What is it doing or not doing?"

"It's doing something not kosher!"

Turns out her husband was being asked by some online account of his to do one of those 'prove you're not a spambot by identifying which of these pictures has a horse in it' tests in order to log in, and he was alarmed and confused.

In other news, our new security guard told a guy with an apple at the computer with him that he had to put it away because the library has a no food policy. The man responded, "I'm not eating it!" and the security guard calmly repeated, "You need to put it away, sir." So the man flung the apple as hard as he could into a trash can.

And, in news you can use, a reference question caused me to find out that a law called The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the big three credit reporting bureaus to provide consumers with free copies of their credit reports once a year. If you want to get yours, start at this .gov website to make sure you're going to the real source: (A modern reference librarian's favorite question: "How can I tell if this website is trustworthy?")

Other questions I fielded today:

What is in between the regular shelves and the hold shelf? I think my books are there.

How much money is a roll of nickels? (Follow-up questions: "That's all!?...Where is the nearest ATM?)

Man registering on a website he hasn't previously use: How do I know what my password is?

What language do they speak in the U.K.? Old English?

I also eavesdropped a woman about my age commenting to a stranger in the elevator: "This library is really old!"

Friday, August 7, 2015

We had a Minecraft program tonight...

..and two little girls in pink flower-patterned leggings kicked everyone's asses.

Sugar pills

Today one of our regulars stopped by the desk to inform me that 'the mouse is bad' on computer #3. I told him I would 'look into it' but all I did was wiggle it around (it seemed fine) and then unplug it and plug it back in. We get a lot of hardware complains that turn out to be user error somehow--they say the keyboard is broken because they're using the number pad without number lock turned on, their lack of experience with a mouse explains why the cursor is just shooting madly around the screen, etc.

Similarly, I have also asked patrons to 'please try it one more time so I can see the error message' knowing that the reason they can't get into the public computer/their email account/their library account is almost certainly that they made a typo in their login information. This one I do almost daily, actually.

My first instinct when I hear that something is "broken" or "won't let me in" is that the patron is wrong. That said, I don't want them to feel like I'm not taking their problem seriously, so I have to make up a way to make them feel like I'm addressing a problem that doesn't actually need to be addressed. It's sort of like a doctor giving a patient a sugar pill so that they will feel like they are being treated and get better--the classic 'placebo effect.'

This even happens with non-technology things. I also do searches for things I know I can't find or won't be available, because patrons want to see you doing that, and don't want to be told "This is not something that will be available." Recently, I did a search for books on 'free grants from the government' on our shared regional catalog, just to prove to the patron that there would be nothing because I knew he wouldn't take my word for it. I also frequently make searches for the personal contact information of celebrities rather than just saying "This person is a celebrity. Her personal cell phone number will not be something I can find." These searches, looking at things from a purely rational standpoint, are a waste of both their time and mine. I've been told that my job is to 'help' patrons, but does that mean wasting their time in a fruitless search or telling them, when they are unlikely to believe me and likely to get angry, that the search is fruitless? For better or worse, I usually go with the former.

I wonder whether doctors ever give patients sugar pills not to actually change the patient's state, but simply to preserve their relationship with the patient. They, like me, probably want the patient to feel like they are 'helping' even when no help is needed or possible.

Friday, July 31, 2015

James Peterson

A caller wanted to place James Patterson's new book Zoo on hold. When it told him that our computer system said it was right here on the shelf so it should be ready for him shortly, he said "Well I was there yesterday and it wasn't there. That's why I called to get a hold. Unless there is somewhere else it would be besides the other Peterson books."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A new patron

Tonight a young mom and her three-year-old son came to the library. They approached the desk. She greeted me and then looked down at her son, then said, "Say, 'excuse me, miss, where are the books about dinosaurs?'" He dutifully repeated (even with some eye contact!) "Excuse me, miss, where are the books about dinosaurs?"

I took them straight to the 560s, which I think of as just 'the 'dinosaur section' within kid's nonfiction. As we were walking over, his mom said to me,"I think he's never been in a library before, so I wanted him to learn what to do."

I've seen variations on this interaction probably thirty times now, but it never gets old.

Language barriers

I've been having a tough desk shift today. It started with a gnat landing on my lip! Gross! Talk about the 'jungle' of public service. The worst part was that I was talking to a patron when it happened so I couldn't even freak out as I normally would.

I'm on the desk by myself from 6 p.m. to close because the evenings are normally really quiet. Instead both phones are ringing simultaneously while I have someone standing in front of me.

I had to break it to a very nice woman that the reason she can't find season 3 of the TV show Web Therapy was that it never came out on DVD, so there's no way for her to even buy one, let alone borrow one from the library. It's only available to purchase as single-episode digital downloads from Amazon or iTunes. This after she had just finished telling me that she 'just didn't get technology.'

The worst, though, is the nice middle-aged man who I call BBC Farsi Man because "BBC Farsi" was one of the very first English phrases he learned. He's from Iran and speaks very little English. He is one of the most patient men ever born, and a quick learner. When he first started coming into the library, all he could say besides "BBC Farsi" was "Good" and "Thank you." You had to walk him through every step of logging onto a computer and searching Google for the BBC website in Farsi. Now he can get to it all by himself and even goes on youtube and watches videos about his hometown. Now when he comes in he says, "Hello my friend!" with a big smile on his face, and shakes my hand. Every single time, and he is in most days.

Today he came in ("Hello my friend!") and after about 20 minutes he was able to convey to me that he wants to Skype with his friend from home. I think what he was telling me was that his friend had had a baby and he would like to see the image of the baby on Skype, but I'm not totally sure. I think what he wanted to know was, if he got a phone, could he could use the library's wireless internet to use Skype on it to call his friend? This is not a complicated idea, but our common language consists of about 10 words, so it was extremely hard for him to communicate to me. He was so happy when he finally got it across, even though the answer was 'yes, but a phone costs a lot of money.' I really wish I could tell him how patient he is and how much I appreciate it, but so far I am limited to weirdly over-emphasized facial expressions. I checked Pronunciator, our library's language-learning database/program, to see if it could help me out, but Farsi isn't one of its included languages.

So, if any readers happen to know how to say "You are very patient" or even "thank you" in Farsi, please let me know!

On the bright side, I did observe a woman come in, look around, and say to herself, "Wow, this place is amazing!"

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Return of Tweety

Everyone who works in a library has a story about the strange things that people leave behind and end up in the lost and found. We record what we put in there, so we get an especially good record Last week I logged in a Tweety bird usb drive. Today I went to log in a lost bracelet...only to see that the entry above was "Tweety bird flash drive," entered by a coworker, the day before.

Gotta buy that patron one of those keychain flash drives.

If you want to see more things left in libraries, specifically in books, you can start with:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Good, bad

Some good, some bad today, as usual.

Good: A man came up to the desk all excited, and I asked "How can I help you?" He didn't really need any help. He'd just found out his student loan application had been approved and he was going to college! He was so excited he just had to tell someone.

Bad: A man came up to the desk with a bunch of loose sheets of paper. "Stapler?" I asked him. He nodded. When I held out the stapler, instead of taking the stapler, he held out his papers like he wanted me to staple them for him. Nope, that's definitely not a service we provide (unless you're disabled, anyway).

Good: We can't find a copy of the autobiography of the guy who started AA, but the patron says "That's okay, I've been coming here for years and this is the first time you've ever let me down!"

Bad: Another patron is frustrated that I can't tell him which tax form he filed last year (he needs to put that information on the FAFSA which, by the way, like many of our patrons he pronounces "fass-fuh"). I don't say this, but I can probably tell him what form he *should* have filed, but that's not the same thing.

Good: A woman with a ton of tattoos, bleached blond hair, and an angry look on her face is super-nice when I show her how to release her print job from the print release station.

Bad: A woman who looks like a sweet grandma is super-rude when I show her how to release her print job.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Do you have some little scissors..

...that I can borrow to trim my eyebrows?" is one of the questions I had to answer 'no' to today. Eew.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Meat packing plants

You know how they say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus? The guy who called for phone reference last night must be from Neptune, if not from a planet outside our solar system entirely, because he told my colleague, "You know how women love candy? Well, men love packing plants." He had called for information about one so he could "go there this weekend and get some steaks."

A new ally

We got a new security guard recently who is kind of eccentric. I wasn't 100% sure that I liked him at first but today he won me over completely.

Three patrons came in. You could see that two were blind, and the third lady had a walker. They wanted to know where they could plug in a laptop. Unfortunately, our build is 50 years old, so its electrical outlets are pretty limited. We've got study carrels with power strips taped to them, but all of our tables that accommodate more than two people are standing out in open space with no outlets. You can run a cord from a nearby wall outlet, but technically you aren't supposed to run cords across the floor. Security is in charge of enforcing this since it's a safety issue.

I got the patrons settled at a table and showed them where to plug their laptop into the wall. As I was leaving the security guard checked in with them and I could hear him introducing himself and asking them if they needed any help. He was doing all the things you are supposed to with someone who can't see--talking to them like they were regular people, but giving extra information that they couldn't infer by looking at him (his name, what his job was, etc.). After a few minutes he came up to the desk to check in and I apologized for setting them up so that they'd run a cord across the floor. He said, "Well, there wasn't really a choice. All our stations with good plugs are single-user. Besides, this is a special case so I thought we could make an exception. I just asked them to walk around the other side of the table where there was no cord, and they seem settled."

I guess we were just both relieved to see a dog in the library that was clearly an actual service dog, which is not always the case.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Some (ir)regulars

"Can you write down how to spell 'Sabrina' for me on a piece of paper?"
"As in the teenage witch."

A sound from the 600s like someone is throwing up. Coworker: "As much as I don't want to, I'm gonna go investigate that."

'Sabrina' patron: Do you have a pen I can borrow?
Me: Sure, just bring it back when you're done.
Me: I'll pretend I didn't hear that.
Patron: Come on, you should know me by now! I'm just kidding.

I have my arms so far inside the jammed printer it feels like I'm doing surgery.

Patron who is always picking fights with the staff: Personally I don't mind that she is on her phone, but when I've been on my phone I've always been told to get off.
Jaded staff member: We changed the rule.
Patron: I guess rules are changing every day now.
JSM: Yep, I guess they are.

Guy who came up and introduced himself and shook my hand once stops by just to chat, no questions.

There is a guy who has recently made it into my Top 5 Most Disliked Patrons list because he insists that the public computers have all sorts of problems. Every time he comes in (which is most days) he stops by the desk and says something like "I just hope the computers don't have any problems today." I always tell him to show me as soon as he sees a problem so that I can see the error message, but until today he's never actually been willing to do that. He just vaguely describes the problem on his way out. Today for the first time ever he actually shows me an error message! However, he claims that he didn't do anything, it just popped up, and that there is no pattern to when/how frequently the message appears. Two steps forward, one step back.

Do you have a, gosh. This is going to be hard. I don't know the name. It's with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, it's set in Detroit. It doesn't have 'vampire' in the name, but it's kind of about vampires?"
Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013, she knows a LOT more than your average patron who doesn't know the title of the item he wants.

Walk past a guy reading the newspaper. He makes eye contact and says hello to me. I say "Hi, did you need some help?" and he responds belligerently with "Help with what?" Sorry sir, usually people don't talk to me as I'm walking around unless they want something.

Get two books out of storage for one of our regulars (he likes a lot of the same books as I do so he's one of my favorites). He points to the two titles he wants on a themed "Great Stand-Alone Sci-Fi" bookmark and it somehow comes out that I created that bookmark. He wants to know, "Oh wow, are you the book sleuth!?"

And, the toughest question of the night: A little girl points to a big cutout of Superman (which we have in keeping with our Every Hero Has a Story summer reading theme)--"Is he real?"

I said most people don't think so, they just like to tell stories about him. Did I do right?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Every sidekick does not have a story

This year's summer reading theme at our library, and at many other libraries across the country, is "Every hero has a story." A friend and I got all excited about putting on a storytime about sidekicks to fit this theme, but unfortunately, while every hero has a story, sidekicks don't seem to be as well-represented. Can anyone suggest good picture books about sidekicks or hero/sidekick relationships?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend refgrunt

Today's refgrunt I hope will be a good one. Three different patrons have asked me things about how the library works, which I always like.

The first guy in lets us know that none of the computers have been turned on. We had a program last night which probably caused this, no big deal, we get an excuse to get up and walk around to turn all the machines on, and the guy is a regular who knows enough about computers to just press the power button rather than having a meltdown.

An older black man in a fedora and long coat comes in, dressed in what I think of as 'classic sharply-dressed old black gentleman' style. He asks me where I went to college--Chicago. Oh, that's where he's from! We have a nice thirty seconds of reminiscing, but sadly, he wants to know "If you owe the library a lot of money from a long time ago, what can you do to get that sorted out?"

Teenager: How can I look up books by a particular author?

Phone: How do you place an interlibrary loan?

Help a guy enter his birthdate on a web application. State of Michigan, giving someone a calendar tool that starts on this month, in 2015, is not very helpful for helping someone enter a birthdate!

Lots of phone calls this morning, relatively speaking. Coworker on downstairs desk asks me to check our dumbwaiter (yes, dumbwaiter)--is the door all the way closed? It won't come down.

Excuse me, where's the restroom?

Elevator doors are stuck half-way closed and flailing feebly like a bug that's been stuck on its back for a long time. You can help them by forcing them to open all the way again and letting them start over. I can't wait for the renovation coming in the fall.

I hate all phone calls that start with "Can you please go to w, w, w..." He wants to know about "miniature ultra-sensitive microphones." But his demanded website doesn't have any.

Phone: What version of Office do you have on your computers?

Teach someone how to use the enter key. Second one this week.

Now, how do I indent this? (She doesn't know the term 'indent,' but that's what she's describing).

I need help with printing. Oh no, please don't put that money into the copy machine!

I need help with copying (different woman).

Do you have a bathroom on this floor!?

The elevator is really acting up again.

Checkout desk calls: Patron called about a dropped hold but it's supposed to be on the shelf up there. I can find  the other volumes in the series, but not that one. Grr.

Is your romance downstairs? (Oh, romance section!)

Do you have Local True Crime Account? I'm related to that woman. It's in our local history collection so you can't check it out, sorry. That's okay, can you show me where true crime is instead? Yes!

This is embarrassing, but...I don't know how to turn the computer on.

Rude "Can you give me the number for..." guy calls for a local car dealer. He always talks to you as though you're a moron, and I've never heard someone say "thank you" in a less-sincere way.

Help someone with numbered lists in Word.

Downstairs keeps changing their minds about whether our spazzy elevator should be 'out of service' or not, so I keep taking down and then putting up the sign. At one of the times it's up, a man reads it and then asks, "The elevator's out of service?" What did you think "The elevator is out of service" meant?

Do you have a section for oversized books? I did the worst thing you can do with a book you love--I lent it.

I really hate telling poor people that they have to pay for the copies that are their mistakes, but I did show her how to do it and tell her to let me know if she needed more help, so you've got to draw the line somewhere.

Now Numbered Lists needs to print.

Do you have a stapler I can use?

True crime woman comes back--she's decided to put that first book she mentioned on hold after all.

Physician's Desk Reference.

If I give you the name of a vice president, could you tell me when he died? We go through four, all of whom died in the month of November of various years. He is so excited! He says "You are so helpful, and so quick!" (and so full of questions I would like to ask you, sir!)

The elevator is still behaving very oddly.

How would I upload a picture I found online to Facebook?

How do I print some copies? (I hate the copier vs. printer guessing game)

Copier (different patron, first guy wanted to print) is out of legal-sized paper.

A new variation on "Can you watch my stuff?" No, the bathroom being "tiny" doesn't mean we will change our We Will Not Watch Your Stuff policy.

Adorable toddler daughter of my coworker and his wife stop by! Extremely cute! Coworker makes her ask "Miss Emma" if it's okay for him to go downstairs with her and pick out some picture books. For once he'll get the 15-minute break that we are supposedly entitled to, but etiquette says you never get to take on the desk.

The copier is jamming.

Now it's making 8.5x14 copies when a different patron wants 8.5x11. It's starting to compete with the microfilm reader for Least Favorite Machine.

To get on the computer, do I just put my number in?

The woman who didn't want the legal-sized copies says that the news article she is copying is about her son. He wrote a book!

Here's a good question: How do you find out if a family member who died left a life insurance policy? If you were in Michigan, you might want to contact the DIFS OFIR at,5269,7-303-13222_13250-275328--,00.html. Michigan government websites--their links are the worst, but their acronyms are pretty bad too. This question starts off alarming: "Where would I find out about death insurance? Someone or other died and left money to my cousin. This was in 1979..." but it turned out all right, except for the lady whose son wrote a book trying to interrupt to tell me more about it.

The self-check machine is saying I have something overdue. What is it?

Purchase request for the son's book. The only way I could deflect her from telling me about it ad nauseum, and it actually looks like it might be a good fit for our collection.

Brain teasers? Also, how do we get on a computer?

You can't get on the computer because you owe us too much money. They are super rude about it.

Another person, a kid, also can't get on the computer. Her card is expired and she doesn't owe any fines, yet she, like the fine-owers, has to go 'all the way downstairs' to renew her card. She's totally cheerful.

Another phone call from the guy who calls all the time yet thinks we are idiots. He wants to know how to spell "pesticides" and "fertilizer" and keeps asking me if I'm sure I'm telling him the correct spelling. Then he talks to me for about two minutes about how the library should be open until 9 p.m. on Saturdays for 'family hour.' 9-6 like we do now is okay, but I'd really like to have an hour with my own family on Saturday nights. Of course, I don't say that to him.

Someone wants to borrow the book of tax forms, still.

Regular: "You might want to call security in case that gets out of hand." He walks away before I can ask any questions and I can't figure out what the 'that' might be.

How do I change the page color in Word?

Phone number for a Los Angeles.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why 'everyone has smartphones now, no one needs libraries' is false

I had to show a man how to use the "Enter" key this afternoon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

(Hip hip) hooray?

The ongoing weirdness of customer service: The guy who I lent a marker to is profusely grateful; the guy who I spent 15 minutes trying to find out the etymology and literal meaning of the expression 'hip hip hooray' for is kind of disappointed that the answer isn't as definitive as he was imagining it would be.

It's not that I 'can't find the answer,' it's that the documentary evidence to prove that a single answer is correct just isn't there. I'm sorry.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I know you'll miss me...

...but your aim will get better!" is one of the jokes that one of our regulars told me today. He's a substitute teacher, and he was telling me what he learned from third graders this week. I asked him how he was and he said, "Can't one would listen."

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Recovery refgrunt

After the last two posts (especially the last one) this blog has to have something more cheerful. There'd better be some funny reference questions today.

Man who's arrived promptly at 9: "Where are the free comics?" This question isn't as odd as it sounds; it is Free Comic Book Day today, after all.

Patron: Can you show me some books about Microsoft Word? I need to pass this test.
Me: Sure! [shows her a shelf full of Word books]
Patron [picking up a book from the shelf below about Excel]: What about this one? Do you think this is a good one?

Weird guy who teaches the citizenship class wants to know if he can keep his two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew in the staff fridge. Nope. Probably not even if you hadn't been so rude to me when I was a new employee.

Phone call for contact information for a small press. He wants to buy one of their book series. This guy is a regular caller and is super-nice, but he always wants to tell you at length about how get this week's book is and why you should read it, and they are all nutty. This week's selection is Anastasia.


Travel books? China?

China Travel comes back--"There's a white-haired lady coming up too. My wife. Could you just....shoot her back toward that corner [where the travel section is]? Great!"

Me to white-haired lady: "Looking for your husband, by any chance?" (She was, fortunately. Hope China  Travel was he.)

Can I check this out downstairs or do I have to check it out here [on the second floor]?

Trade a patron a nickel for five of her pennies since the copier won't take the latter.

"I'm looking for the men's, uh...facility." (bathroom, not jail.)

"Do you have a twin? The young lady at the [unintelligible, sounded like 'car park'] looks just like you! I thought I was in Inception!"

Bathroom again.

Security guard drops by--apparently someone clogged the toilet in the downstairs men's bathroom with loose tobacco and rolling papers, so it's closed. That explains a lot (in a way).

Materials for studying for the medical assisting exam? Books are all checked out, but we have an online course!

Slow cooker cookbooks? Sewing? Wow, this is a big library.

Do you have a pen I can have? I have a pen you can borrow. No, do you have an extra one that I can keep? No, we don't give them away, sorry.

From my desk I have a good view of the print release station, so I know when to leap up and intervene when someone is getting a "no jobs for this user at this terminal" error message. It's hard to find a way to say "It didn't print because you never hit the 'print' button" that doesn't make someone feel stupid.

Yes, the printer will make change for your quarter.

OMG! Earthquake! Ben the security guard and I have a nonverbal exchange from across the room: "WTF was that?/I don't know/me either/I'm Googling it right now." Lots of the patrons look around/at me, but no one freaks out, luckily. The main earthquake tracker website's page for our area is down, suggesting that we aren't the only ones who felt it.

Odd patron comes up to the desk: "Do you make change for a dollar?"

Less odd patron comes up to the desk--"Did I really just feel that?"

Phone call which I am 99% sure will be "Did an earthquake just happen!?"  but she just wants to know if we have a subscription to

Phone call: Did Princess Kate have her baby? (Yes!)

Is there someone here who can help me with my Kindle?
Unfortunately, fifteen minutes of investigation reveal that her problem is that she's forgotten the password to her Kindle account, and that I can't help with.

While I'm helping the woman with the Kindle, the BBC Farsi Man comes up. Patrons, especially patrons who have communication challenges, often pick a preferred library staff member because that person can rely on their history for a lot of clues about what they're trying to say. I'm the chosen librarian of BBC Farsi Man. This is the first time I've ever seen him be rude--he's annoyed that my colleague helps him and won't interrupt me so that I can help him.

Finally a phone call about the earthquake. I've had this tab lurking open for ages and I can finally use it!

Any more City tax forms? Sorry, we're out of ones you can take for free. You can photocopy our reference copy, though.

Oh no. I told the earthquake caller that the magnitude was 4.0, but now I see it's been upgraded to a 4.2!

We have a system where the person on the left hand ref desk answers the phone and the person on the right hand desk answers email reference. Someone's written in to complain about the limited functionality of our public computers but hasn't supplied a return email address. Coworker grumbles--"If they're not going to tell me who they are, I'm not going to forward it onto the help desk. Just kidding."

No, I can't tell you if the dosage of Klonopin prescribed to your friend by her doctor is too high, sorry. Would you like general information about what WebMD and the Mayo Clinic says about dosage guidelines that is absolutely not medical advice in any way? Good.

Can I check out books here?

Nice middle- or high-school aged girl wants CDs to help her Arabic-speaking mom learn English and study for the citizenship test. "I was like, 'mom, just go to the library and see what they have!' but she didn't want to so I thought I would get some for her." Awww!

Girl comes back: Oh, can she have some dream interpretation books too? This is the only time I've ever cheerfully shown someone the dream interpretation books.

Someone has one of those mylar helium balloons with them at the computer.

Loud Background Noise woman calls for three addresses--only one of the people is our database. Bummer.

Ben from security asks us to give him the info of the guy using computer 39. Pornography? (ick.)

Do you have the book My Story by Elizabeth Smart? Yes we do!

Do you have any books on institutional chaplaincy? No, sorry.

Can I buy some headphones?

I need the book 'Levine.'
Is that the person who wrote it?
Hm. Do you know the person's first name?
You know, Mr. Bean.
Ohhhhh, okay. I'm afraid he doesn't have a book.
Yes. That would be downstairs.

BBC Farsi Man asks me to write down the (English) name of the video he's watching. He can see he's almost out of computer time and he wants to be able to find it again tomorrow. Smart!

When does the new Star Wars movie come out?

Well, we close in ten minutes. Goodnight!

Scratch that; this is the saddest thing

I helped a black guy find some books on Rastafarianism this morning. He came back to show me that someone had written "N****ers go home--to Mother Africa!" on one of the pages. It was in pencil but even after a lot of attempted erasing it was still legible. We'll be replacing our copy of this book with a new one.

He and his wife had their elementary school age daughter with them. I hope she didn't see it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The saddest thing

I asked one of our young regulars why she said she didn't like books, only movies. She said, "I used to love reading, but reading isn't fun anymore. I have to read so much for school that now I never want to read for pleasure!"

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Today an elderly patron (finally) stopped chatting with me because she had to go catch her bus. She said "Well, I'd better make like a herd of turtles" and shuffled off.

In the U.S. in 2013, 3.7 million people got jobs...

...that they had applied for online using a computer at a public library:

Pretty neat, eh?

Apparently 30 million people used public library computers to apply for jobs in 2013, which I guess explains why the guy who I've helped upload his resume to 20 applications is still coming in.

Oh well. You've got to help them try.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dinosaurs Destory Detroit

Despite the fact that a Michigan library has been the home of this blog for months now, I only just today learned that this exists:

Dinosaurs Destroy Detroit

You can see the whole series listing on Wikipedia, but this one is my favorite.

"Fiction or nonfiction?" follow-up

A couple of weeks ago, I asked people which they would rather their public library give up if push came to shove: fiction or nonfiction. Five of the six commenters voted to preserve fiction. No one voted to preserve nonfiction. The sixth asked the reasonable question, "Why would a library ever do this? couldn't they give up half the non and half the fiction instead?"

In real life, of course Anonymous Poster 6 is right--if for some reason a library did have to toss half its materials, that's probably what the overwhelming majority of them would choose to do. In the U.S., we (meaning both librarians and the moderately-interested public in general) have come to regard both fiction and nonfiction as essential to a library's mission. The public library is supposed to both inform and entertain.*

The responses were interesting because early in public library in the U.S., nonfiction dominated. The little fiction available was works of literature, morality tales, and other 'improving' books. Let me give you a little two-minute history of public libraries in the U.S.:

Before taxpayer-funded libraries were prevalent, the collections of subscription libraries were the most commonly available books to the average person. For a fee, a person could become a member of the subscription library and make use of its collections. While subscription libraries started in the 18th century as the preserve of the elite, in the 19th century they became more common and prices came down. They were used most heavily by the upwardly mobile middle class, but in theory the fee was low enough that subscription libraries' collections were in reach for the working class as well.

In the late 1800s, philanthropists began funding libraries that were open for anyone to use (many modern public libraries are still housed in buildings built with Andrew Carnegie's money), and public libraries became much more common. However, they still tended to be focused on improvement rather than pleasure--people came to them to be educated rather than entertained, and one of the major hopes for public libraries was that they would essentially indoctrinate new immigrants into American culture (we could have a whole post on this, but there isn't space here).

During the 1900s, more and more popular fiction was added to library collections, and now entertainment rather than information does seem to be what most people think of when they think of the public library. At both public libraries I've worked in, fiction and DVDs (which are almost all fiction rather than documentaries) make up the majority of the collections by number of items and the majority of checkouts as well.

Considering that, I shouldn't have been surprised that most of my readers identified fiction as most essential to the public library. However, the interesting question is why. How exactly did this come about, given where public libraries started?

I'll do follow up on follow up later to post my own thoughts, but I don't want to overwhelm you with text. In the meantime, if you've got theories or comments on how fiction came to predominate in public libraries, or opinions on why it should (or shouldn't) stay that way, please let me know!

*Note: I'm using the word "entertain" here as a bit of shorthand. I'm aware that it's not quite adequate. Obviously, people gain a lot and learn a lot from reading and watching creative material. It expands their own creativity, helps them understand the world, comforts them in hard times, and helps them empathize with other people. Calling that "entertainment" isn't meant to trivialize that--it just means that stories are nearly always things people choose to read for their own sake, not something people are trying to simply extract information from.