My friend is a 20-something living his best life and paying down his student loans. He loves expanding his mind, doesn’t want to spending money on books, lives around the block from the public library, AND YET, he still does not have a card. This makes me angry.
Upon further probing (aka nagging), he asks, “What is the checkout process like?”
I dial back, wait a second, realizing there is more to this story than laziness. I then say, “what do you mean?” (This is simply the best non-reaction question, and I recommend it to people like me who tend to react by jumping down peoples’ throats when I hear something I don’t like. It stalls, keeps the other person talking, and gets you more specific information so you can proceed more calmly.)
He went on to describe the checkout process at his high school library as tedious, complicated and stressful, under the watchful/psychotic eye of his high school librarian.
“Yeah, the public library isn’t like that. You just take your book and your card up to the person at the desk, and she tells you the due date and to have a great day.”
He was relieved. Huh. Was this “library police” myth real after all? I thought my dad was the only one who had this recurring dream, but it turns out some librarians scare people away. To empathize with the librarian, many school library budgets are THIN to non-existent and librarians want to focus on keeping the materials they already have so they can spend their money on new materials. This avoiding paying for replacements might manifest in making the process overly complicated, or putting the fear of God into the kids.
Some librarians are mean. The vast majority, though, are–and this may come as a surprise–kind, thoughtful control freaks.
When I joined the profession, I knew I liked to catalog things in such a way that I could find them, but it didn’t click that all people I work with would also like order, occasionally to an unhealthy level.
Suffice to say, I learned. I learned when I received an email from a colleague indicating that I “should not have moved some papers out of a binder,” when I had set them 1 centimeter away, Directly beneath said binder because the little flap holding said papers was tearing from overuse. (Save the flap! Vive la binder!)
I learned when someone stood over my shoulder, watching me pack books to mail and asked me in the same tone as you would ask a child to tell you the next step in tying her shoes, “and where are you sending it?” following my (correct) response with, “and how will you label it?” ………. Ma’am, I’m a grown woman. One who understands the concept of mail. I see you with your bazillions of pre-printed labels, ready-to-stick.
I picked the correct one (because it wasn’t hard) while wondering why, since her assumption was that I was going to do it wrong, she chose to treat me in so condescending a manner rather than just remind me or ask me if I remembered where to find the labels.
And then, because I’m passive-aggressive, maybe not unlike the email-writer, I’m writing this instead of Directly confronting the issue.
To my boyfriend, I seem maniacal and obsessive-compulsive with putting household items “where they go.” In the library circle, I am one of the more laid back ones, because I do not hold procedure or organization as the highest priority. (GASP! Library foul!) That #1 honor goes to the humans and my relationships with them; no one likes a rude coworker! So unnecessary.
I know there are people like this in all lines of work, at all rungs on the career ladder, who like to make other people feel small in order to feel more important or smarter.
Kind librarians do not do this. While we’re at it, please know that librarians are MUCH more than control freaks. When applied humanely, this is an asset rather than a vice, because it means we know where to find what you need. Librarians have superpowers. We are generalists, we are eye-openers, community builders, granters of access, innovators and teachers.
But if you want to see us lose our shit, hide something we are planning on using in the next few hours.
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