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.