community, family, information, librarians, strangers

For Dads About to Rock.. We Salute You

Sometimes at the library, when you are working at the desk and minding your own business, people let you in on some very private matters. So long as this does not involve diseases or obscenity, I’m generally okay with this. One such day, a man approached the desk and asked me about pregnancy books: he and his wife were looking for them because they just found out they were going to be parents. He paused, squinted and looked around inside his brain, and said, “actually…you’re the first person we’ve told.” My standard instinctive reaction is to immediately provide the requested information, like an eager-to-inform robot. But this time, my social graces couldn’t ignore the relevant personal information. I beamed at him like a non-misanthrope and lover of small, poopy people that I am and said “I’m honored!” before efficiently telling him there are books in the adult health/wellness section, and in the children’s area.

This interaction, all told, took under 120 seconds, but it was such a sweet moment. I watched him process this milestone of parenthood, and all the mini-milestones in preparation for it. He was at the library! To prepare! And he was openly sharing his joy.

I try to imagine what my own dad was doing to prepare for becoming a parent for the first time, and I can’t quite picture him at the library looking for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He reads Rolling Stone and business magazines, not books. Not a touchy-feely kind of guy, he didn’t really “get” me and my brother until we were old enough to at least tie our shoes and more or less write complete sentences. After all, our senses of humor weren’t tuned to “dad joke” frequency right out of the gate; we had to grow into it. Also, before a certain age, we were the aforementioned poopy little people, and we only got cooler with time (until, I think we can agree, bro, we may have plateaued). If he wasn’t tossing us around a pool on vacation, chances are we were being loud and whiny and annoying, bickering and fighting with each other. On our Tuesday nights and alternating weekends together for the 7 years leading up to college, he rationalized us into an equitable system for deciding where to eat dinner. This was a matter of the utmost childish importance, otherwise worthy of much whining and fighting (“he picked last tiiiiiime!!!” “I don’t feeeeel like iiiiitttt!” etc.). We each wrote down a suggestion on a piece of paper napkin, and one person selected, and as soon as Dad started the car, the radio started too. We could pout but we couldn’t audibly complain, because everyone had the same chances. The best way to cope if your selection lost was to cross your fingers a good song came on.

Once we were old enough to dance, he and Mom introduced us to Bob Marley’s Legend, Eric Clapton’s, Tom Petty’s and Bonnie Raitt’s entire catalogs. From middle through high school, aka before Sirius/XM radio displayed the artist and song title, he quizzed us on the artists playing in the car on WONE and WNCX, Cleveland’s Classic Rock stations. We would have been shamed if we had gotten Tom, Clapton, Janis, Neil or the Stones wrong (but we never did). Dark horses we had to watch out for were the ambiguous synth-y Steely Dan and The Who.

Once we spoke the same musical language and I became a real adult with real-world crap to deal with, I appreciated my dad in a totally new way. The dad jokes became hilariously funny. He became my go-to for career and money advice, which means we talk way more than when I was younger. Now that I have lived a little and accepted him for who he is, I see his lack of touchy-feely-ness as a virtue. He is able to rationally weigh pros and cons of my dilemmas without getting sucked in to the emotional/social dynamics like I do. Sometimes this backfires, as when he tried to herd us out of a Tom Petty concert before the encore to beat the traffic (I protested. It was American Girl.) or when he e-mailed a relative newly diagnosed with colon cancer, expressing concern for his “plumbing issue.”

But that’s my dad! (To my shock and amazement, the plumbing joke did not end their relationship, nor even particularly offend. And, the cancer is now in remission, if you were worried!)

He stocks his refrigerator with barely more than the essentials: milk, eggs, shredded cheese and whatever is going on the grill, and reaching dinner consensus takes no time at all. He taught me to make DIY concert earplugs by rolling strips of paper napkin into balls, always carries a nail clipper that I inevitably need to borrow, and mails me gluten-free pound cake with a note that simply says “Enjoy! Love, Dad.”

All in all, my dad rocks.

dad_rocks

empathy, information, kindness, librarians, strangers

The Ones Who Call

Answering the phone at work is one of my favorite activities. I already like talking on the phone, which is more than many people can say. However, when people call in to the public library (note: I did not say THEIR public library, since we get scores of calls from far, far away), there are good chances the encounter will be positive. This is because:

  1. The caller is likely to be older. Maybe they are physically restricted and can’t make it in, but gosh darn it, they are pleasant on the phone. All it takes is a sweet old lady calling me ‘dear’ and telling me I’ve been ‘so very helpful’ and I am struck with a good mood for at least two hours.
  2. Often, a mobile customer is asking a brief question, ie “are you open?” or “do you have [this book]/a color printer/paper federal tax forms?” and in a ten second interaction, I can provide a solution to their information need. One reason I’m a librarian is that I actively enjoy answering questions and sharing information.
  3. The library employee maintains a healthy amount of control in the event that a customer becomes demeaning or inappropriate. While this does not happen often, in person or on the phone, I treasure the ability to not have to endure verbal abuse for longer than it takes me to say, “sir/ma’am, if you continue to disrespect me like this, I will hang up.”
    • My wise and talented colleague taught me a librarian lesson (our version of life lessons) one day with a customer who wanted to babble with no perceived purpose. She told the man politely, “I’m sorry, I have a customer here and I need to hang up.” And then she did! It was crazy how simple it was to reclaim her time.

That said, phone interactions can go south in many ways. You never know who will call in. There is one frequent caller who asks for various conversions of inches to millimeters and for phone numbers to businesses in the United Kingdom. It is not her questions that rub me the wrong way, but her snappish, pushy tone, and the way she does not believe what I report to her. There are weeks where patients in psychiatric facilities call us and we have to encourage them to call priests or pastors because we cannot answer their questions about sin and forgiveness. There are teens who clearly have not used their cell phones for the purposes of communicating voice-to-voice with other human beings, and people who get angry at us because we can’t hear them due to their poor cell reception.

When I worked in Youth Services, we received many phone calls from one mother whose son visited the library for many hours each school night, and Saturdays, and Sundays. He did not have a cell phone, and she knew to find him there. She called once and asked for her son and when I said sure, I will go get him, she lashed into me. “Why do you know my kid?” The thing about librarians who work with kids is that we get to know them in a safe space: what they like, what they read and what magic makes them who they are. We care about them. This is what makes good youth librarians good at their jobs. I told her that I knew him because he was there every day, and she lost it. She screamed at me about how I was judging her for having to work and not being home with her child. She told me she was tired of us at the library and how if we thought her kid was there too much, she wouldn’t let him go there after school. In between saying that that was not necessary, that of course he is welcome and we all really liked him, she projected all of her guilt and single-parenting issues directly onto me. Though I was conscious I didn’t deserve her misplaced anger, I was still rattled. When she was done berating me, I brought him to the phone to talk to her. Then I took a break to walk it off.

And then there is thank-you-for-taking-my-call guy (TYFTMCG). He earned his moniker because he begins each and every call by verifying the library employee’s name and then thanking us for taking his call. If he is not hard of hearing, he does a very convincing portrayal of someone who is, and he is notorious at our library. An elderly gentleman, he never visits our location. Just calls. All the time.  The first time I had him on the line, he verified my name. “Emory?” “My name is Emily. How can I help you?” “Ah, Emory. Great. Thank you for taking my call.” There is no one on our staff who he does not irritate. After the second call, I memorized the last four digits of his phone number (0241), so I could at least know I was headed into the Emory phone calls, mustering some degree of preparedness.

He asks inane, often un-answerable trivia questions that feel like when your mom asks you “what restaurant did we go to that one time?” or “what is that thing you were talking about that one time when we were at [that restaurant]?” He asks us to repeat our guesses around a dozen times, and often, to spell them, often a dozen times. On one such call, he asked me the name of places where pregnant girls go for counsel. This led to me near-shouting “pregnancy crisis centers!?! Abortion clinics?!!” over and over again. He also doesn’t accept your responses, which means he denies you have found the answer the whole call, and often calls back to try to speak to a different employee.

Many people have competing theories about whether he is annoying on purpose/calls us for crossword clues or Jeopardy questions, but my theory is that he calls us because he probably has dementia and forgets things he has heard about. I believe we are his external memory.

I have been thinking about this man and that boy lately. No one had seen the kid or his mother in a while, and apparently the overdue notices had come back with a forwarding address in another town, where I hope he has a new library with a great youth team. There were many dormant months when we received no TYFTMCG calls. When he called again, I was glad to hear his voice, but I’m worried that we are nearing a time when he won’t call anymore.

The phone is an exercise in kindness, in dedicating your energy to communicating with someone whose body language is absent. One bad customer service call can essentially convince anyone that the person on the other side of the phone is a fool. During my most recent shift, I returned a customer’s voicemail, and concluded my message on her machine by asking her to give us a call back. I started to give the phone number as I have done hundreds of times, paused for an awkward length, and had to conclude by stating I literally forgot our phone number, but she found it before so to try us again.

I aim to grant people as much benefit of the doubt as I hope she gave me listening to that message.

I hope she doesn’t think I’m a terrible employee. I hope she chuckles at my silliness, or understands that everyone has those days. I hope she grants that there are many reasons why the employee could have forgotten. Maybe, for example, she woke up at 6am after 5 hours of sleep, not able to fall back for another couple hours because she is moving in two weeks, breaking up with her lovely boyfriend, and her mind won’t stop, and she was in pain because her neck/shoulder muscles froze from all the tension she’s carrying but she didn’t want to call out to her very-part-time job and she is trying to make the best of the day, though she can neither remember the library’s phone number nor turn her head.

So, yeah. Conversing on the phone is a solid indicator of who a person is in a moment in time. Call your loved ones, call your libraries, call anyone you want to vet before meeting. And be kind.

information, judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers

What does it mean to be an “Information Professional?”

A recent trend in graduate programs for librarianship is to take out the word “librarian.” Leaving just the “ship.” Jk jk. What universities are actually doing is transitioning to “iSchools:” Information Schools (for those of you who prefer less trendy jargon). The title of the degree once was Library Science, then was Library and Information Science, and it seems now to be morphing towards just Information Science.

I, thankfully, could choose what I wanted my degree to be called. Since I don’t think “Library” is a dirty word, I named my degree Master Library [and] Information Science. My degree is almost two years old, knows its ABCs through A-L, loves avocado, and is cute as a button.

iSchool is a stupid name for a school.*

First and foremost, iSchool looks like it is trying to be an Apple product. Jump off that corporate bandwagon, universities! Though we love iPhones and iWatches and iWhateverElses, you as an institution of higher learning should be better than that!

Second, no one outside our profession understands what being a professional of information means. Libraries, yes, are changing–as are the skills librarian has, and how people are interacting with information–but leave the degree alone. If you are a database programmer, a medical/law librarian, a data manager or anything else where your relationship to information is a wrangler, organizer, streamliner or finder/retriever… you’re using those librarian skills.

Here is a TRUE, not-too-brief narrative about what I think of when I hear the term information professional:

At the orientation for our program, AKA first interaction I would have with my future classmates, representatives from library school clubs stood up and made pitches for interested parties to attend a meeting/ join their ranks. A joiner by nature, this new pool of groups to join excited me, but I didn’t know how to balance that with the questionably-less-healthy skepticism (cynicism masquerading as skepticism) also in my nature wherein I threw shade at everything and everyone in grad school on a whim. In one case, this disdain was justified.

One middle-aged career-changer began his pitch by saying, AND I QUOTE: “If you frequently find yourself the smartest person in the room, this is the club for you.”

I won’t even address the multitude of ways you could convey the same principles (intelligence, presumed love of Jeopardy) in a non-asshole series of words. But this dude had clearly thought this exact series of words in many a room. And he did not feel the need to disguise his assholeishness.

Dear reader, I wish I could say I stood up in front of the seminar room of my new peers and told him how smug and obnoxious this sounded.

In real life, however, I did not call him out on this ridiculousness. My mouth gaped open for far too long, in disbelief. After all, I was in the same room with him right now; did this man therefore believe he was smarter than everyone else?

In a practiced and particular mode of Librarian Acceptance (which I do not yet possess), however, this was more or less waved away with a “well, that’s Lester** for ya.”

Unclear whether anyone joined his club, nor whether they did so because of this statement or in spite of it.

Lester’s business cards probably identify him as an “Information Professional.”

In my [the real] world, I try to avoid thinking I am better than other people because I am smart. (Note: this has become increasingly hard since November 2016. But, I would argue that the prominent draw pulling many people toward political views diametrically opposed to mine is actually the lack of empathy, rather than intelligence–or a combination of the two.)

At any rate, I know I did next to nothing to earn the gift of my brain, though I appreciate and constantly try to stimulate and expand it. I try to withhold judgment and act with empathy and genuine (not condescending) kindness.

Because there have been plenty enough times where I have a migraine and stutter my words, or can’t make a decision whether to buy the proposed reusable bag at checkout, or just generally act uncomfortable and awkward around people I don’t know. Some people judge and condescend, and some are patient and don’t look for ways to look down on people. I aim to be the former, but occasionally I don’t catch my skeptic instincts in time.

All I’m saying is call a spade a spade, call a library degree a library degree, and don’t call yourself a [very stable] genius!

 

 

 

*I don’t mean ‘stupid’ in a lacking intelligence way…. I apologize to the Political Correctness police, and acknowledge that this is slang and suggests I act in the direct opposite way of what I claim in this blog. I just mean it’s trendy and tedious and silly, not what universities should be about.

**Lester is not his real name. He will likely show up in a future blog for his role in the worst road trip of my life.