books, bookstores, community, coworkers, kindness, librarians, lists, strangers

All in a day’s work / when to call 911

I love my part-time job. It is a bustling public library, and this Saturday there were hardly any open seats to be found. I did not mess up/misinform anyone, and I fully remembered passwords and phone numbers! It was overall a great day full of happy customers, right up until someone had to call the police.

Here is a lengthy list of customers I encountered. It is a lengthy list instead of actual paragraphs because I am lazy.

  • a young gentleman about 8 years old just approached the desk, his eager expression paired with a precocious personality, capped off (hehe) with a safari hat. He was returning a library card he found on the ground outside. As my colleague was calling its new owner (she just got the card today), I recognized walking by me the young man from The Ones Who Call, though his red hair has darkened a fair amount since last I saw him.
  • guy who taught me and another 20-something coworker how to change typewriter ribbons (also the only customer who uses floppy-disk reader)
  • guy who chatted me up for an uncomfortably long time and when he learned I worked at a school, wanted me to tutor his daughter (same guy who keeps newspapers for 4 hours inconsiderately)
  • old guy lawyer who wants me to tutor him in “computers” because I showed him how to get a DVD to play. (Hint: by not having a broken DVD drive, and inserting the DVD.)
  • phone calls, all answered by separate people who remarked about bad connection where we couldn’t hear the customer (x4, very annoying) and when the call finally came through, the coworker who answered knew the woman and talked to her for some time. She was calling for a James Patterson book, and spoke at length with my colleague because her husband has recently died. If I had answered the phone, I wouldn’t have known her or his name–but my colleague did, and shared with her her remembrance of his daily library ritual for 8 years as he picked up her books. She told me we started shipping the books home two years ago, so she hadn’t seen him. She felt for the customer. This coworker is a sweet, gentle lady who once gave me a shirt she bought for her daughter because she “bought it for my daughter at the outlets, she doesn’t want it, but I know it will look good on you!”
  • lady caller who asked if we have scanners: yes! How much do they cost? Nothing! Thanked me profusely when she came in.
  • spotted from across the floor two teen girls trying to eat a croissant (the flakiest of the foods are generally frowned upon, as the signage indicates). One was looking directly at me, head lowered in the international sign of trying-not-to-get-caught, which is the opposite of furtive. Busted. Maintaining the eye contact, she re-bagged the croissant.
  • sweet lady who is in here all the time but doesn’t have a card with us asked for a new true crime book about that athlete who murdered someone also by James Patterson (this guy has eleventy million ghost writers and produces eleventeen billion books a year), and because she couldn’t check it out, she wanted to know how much the book would cost her. I told her how much it would be at the local independent bookstore, and then how much on Barnes & Noble, then Amazon. She thought that a lower price at BN meant maybe it wasn’t selling well. I explained how bestselling authors’ books go directly to the bestseller’s promotional price in the hopes that more people will buy them. Myth busted.
  • gentleman in his late 70s who is friendly with most of the staff. (Long ago, before I was close with him, I helped him print out his legal documents for end-of-life wishes.) Yesterday he wanted to make plans for his out of town guests visiting for Memorial Day weekend and asked for my help in museum-planning.
  • teen I used to see every day when I worked in Youth Services was surprised (or feigning it for the benefit of his girlfriend and her friend) that I remembered his name. He now has a rap name, and the friend had never heard his real name before I said it.
  • lady called asking how to checkout an ebook. She learned that even ebooks have waiting lists / can only be checked out to one person at a time
  • middle-aged woman who asked for help with ebooks, and then for a book recommendation. She was looking for something quick to read, because she had been reading such heavy books–or maybe something funny, preferably fiction. Since I’m only here one day per month and don’t get to recommend books at my full-time job, I LIVE for this question, and her desired genres match up with mine, making her my new best customer. I told her books you’ve already heard of if you read my blog: Vacationland – John Hodgman; One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul; Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng; Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty; My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul
  • Note: little girls being dragged out of the library by their fathers while protesting in French are infinitely cuter than the ones screaming and crying in English.
And then there was our building monitor, who delightedly relayed a tale from the previous night, where a lady who calls to make study room reservations (we don’t take them over the phone, but she evidently badgers) thought the library was the next Starbucks because she was asked not to have coffee near the computers. She got confrontational with him and called 911. As in the case with Starbucks, calling 911 IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE THING TO DO IN THIS SITUATION. (If you have a grievance with/are being actually harassed by someone, at least google the phone number for the local police, bypassing the EMERGENCY CALL LINE. Because that is for EMERGENCIES.) After calling 911, she apparently couldn’t stand being in the same room as the building monitor, and walked to police station… Leaving my colleague at the library to laugh with the police when they showed up.

Here are some acceptable reasons to call 911: when you hear a loud CRACK coming from our lobby because a 91-year-old lady fell and hit her head on the marble floor. When this happened, I thought she had to be dead, and I didn’t want to be the one to investigate, nor to call 911. When she realized I was paralyzed by fear of this lady dying on our floor, my coworker called and handled the emergency team’s questions. The ambulance came quickly. She did not die on our floor, was only briefly knocked out, and actually walked out of her own accord. Waved the EMTs away.

And then yesterday, two girls were not at the library any longer when one’s mom arrived to pick her up. She spent 30 minutes combing the library for her ten year old who may have walked home with her friend. Then, and only after I made two announcements on the speakers asking for her daughter by name, she called the police. This was fully warranted, but I had many questions.

Did she have the phone number for the playmate’s parents, and a call to them could have put her fears to rest? Also, why do parents continue to think the library is a babysitter? We cannot watch your children for you. There is too much else going on. I hope that these little girls walked safely home, that the mother will forever after communicate with people responsible for her child, and that the daughter is embarrassed and grounded so she doesn’t break plans with her mom ever again.

 

It has been more than three years now since I started working here, and this blue-sky, warmish weather day has made me see how many connections I have made in this town. I’m thankful for my smart, supportive, talented coworkers, and thankful I can work here even as rarely as I do. It is one of two jobs that I have worked at for longer than one year. Of course, it isn’t perfect, but it’s busy, full of (mostly) good people. To love this library is to love informing, sharing with and belonging to the community I’m a part of.

audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, social media, writing

Being 30 on Facebook

Not long ago, our public library did a large renovation and an entire floor was completely closed and furniture dispersed. This displacement meant that the computers were now in a more central space near the entrance. This more prominent location meant there was far less inappropriate viewing behavior, ie. anything you wouldn’t want someone accidentally viewing over your shoulder. I’ll leave that to your imagination. That said, there are many regulars who tend to sit at the computers for lengths of time. One of them spends his internet time arguing with people in the comments sections on Facebook. Unclear whether he ever knows the people he’s debating, but he gets heated. When he gets heated, he either 1) slams his fingers onto the keyboard, loudly or 2) hums, loudly or 3) hums, loudly and aggressively. When I say loudly, I mean audible from a great distance. He knows he does these things, and library staff (librarians and building monitors alike) have spoken to him many times about respecting the library computers and not disrupting fellow customers.

Another repeat customer I helped with his resume similarly had a volume modulation issue. Upon seeing me when he walked in, he would somehow not knowingly shout “HEY! TEACHER LADY! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? CAN YOU HELP ME WHEN YOU GET A SECOND?” I generally love working on resumes, but always felt a prickly sense of dread and wished that I hadn’t told him that I worked at a nearby school too.

Hip to the noise concerns of many customers, I was not the only one who felt dread and anger rise when certain customers spoke/shouted/watched videos without headphones. But as much as I despise those anxiety-inducing behaviors, one day I was proud of them.

A well-dressed middle aged white woman asked me a question at the desk, and, glancing at the row of people using computers, she asked me with a plain sense of disgust, “what are they doing on the computers?”

Pretending to be confused, I responded, “anything that you would need a computer to do…”

She scoffed. “But, why here? Don’t they have computers at home?”

Now, I didn’t have to pretend to be confused. Did this lady really just ask me that?

As calmly as I could, I said, “maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but we have them in order for people to use them.”

She accepted this, walked away, and I feared my explanation did nothing to pull her from her cozy privilege cocoon.

Some people do not have computers at home. Maybe they have one, but don’t have internet. Maybe they don’t have air conditioning, and don’t want to sit in their home as they apply for jobs for hours. Maybe they are using our databases to do genealogical research, or print out their boarding passes, or print out really anything! I was outraged that this woman had been so blatantly judgmental at the “riff-raff” who sit at the public computers, because it is their right to do so! The public library is for everyone! That is literally the point of our existence!

Now, though I do not myself spend time on Facebook at the library, I spend plenty of time on it at home. Last week, I did something that I ordinarily hate: I wrote about my feelings and shared it on Facebook. My perception of people who do this is that they are attention-seeking, craving validation, and emoting for emoting’s sake. Oversharers.

My intention was much simpler: I hadn’t felt like posting anything in two weeks, when I generally try to write at least once per week, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about except being sad. Didn’t even bother tying it to anything library-related. It was an off-brand, atypically personal post. And, I want to address the phrase “lightly depressed” that I used. I was not talking about the past two weeks of crying over my failed relationship. It had been a while since I was just plain sad about something specific, and I didn’t distinguish it as a separate entity from depression. Being sad can exist away from depression. I used that phrase not to diminish depression, because the point of depression is that it is not finite; it permeates through time and darkens joy. Depression is when you can’t climb out of the dark cloud. When I used the phrase lightly depressed, I meant my tendency of the last two years to say no rather than yes, to stay in rather than do any activity out of the house, to remain stationary when I needed to get up and moving my body. Functional depression, as I could always go to work, make dinner plans with friends and take trips to friends’ weddings. I wasn’t trapped in my bed for days, pondering the meaninglessness of life and futility of love like I have before. I just didn’t want to go to the grocery store or cook.

anx

And Facebook is not the place to be when you are depressed. As a 30-year-old, I see a feed of baby photos, engagement announcements, weddings, pregnancy/career milestones and gorgeous views from hikes and vacations with smiling significant others. As I read in (the fantastic) America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman, people are likely to share the highlights of their lives on social media rather than the struggles, proclaiming their happiness and picture-perfect, filtered lives. The sense of inadequacy I feel when I see acquaintances’ posts is enough to make me want to leave Facebook. The happy is brilliant, blinding, and I can’t help but compare my circumstances unfavorably. And I did so, successfully deactivating for around a month in the fall. (I reactivated before my birthday so I could collect the yearly messages.)

The added nonsense of violated privacy agreements and Russian meddling and all the political posts (of which I am very guilty of sharing with many expletives) has prompted me to legitimately defend to myself why I am still using the site. Once, I wanted to hoard the photo documentation of years of my life, since people my age don’t generally have photo albums that aren’t digital. Now, I am moving toward cultivating non-attachment, so should be willing to let go of this (possibly vain and controlling) desire for a digital footprint.

But, now I have this blog, and I predominantly share it with my Facebook network. As a digital tree in the woods, if a blog is written but Facebook friends aren’t there to click on it, does it have a readership? There are ways to follow my blog (scroll up on the page and the word “follow” appears at the bottom right–click it!), but I want people to read what I write, and so don’t want to deactivate and lose the visibility.

Plus, the reaction I got from friends and family last week was pure and good. Many reached out, because as much as I can turtle and not want to talk about Feelings, I have an awesome support network who are there to help. An analog network, away from the internets.

So, thank you for that, reader-friends/loved ones! After a weekend accidentally spent completely analog and instead with stationery, meals with girl friends, meditation and reading in the park–as well as a brief surprise visit by Spring, I’m back in the writing saddle. And dedicated to using Facebook for its merits: connecting with a broad group of cool people I somehow know.

judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers

Yes, sir / No, sir

As previously discussed, I leave just enough time in transit to get where I’m going on time. Sometimes I run close to the wire. Recently, I was on the opening shift and putting away the day’s newspapers just as the doors opened at 9AM. Two men walked in to the newspaper shelves, reached for their papers, and one walked out. One seated himself and I continued putting up the papers.

The one who took his news to go happens to wear women’s clothing and makeup.

The one who stayed in the room with me announced not quietly and with plenty of distaste, “it’s unnatural!”

I was the only other person in the room. I froze.

He had waited until the first customer left the room, so he wasn’t looking for a confrontation. Why, then? Was this statement for my benefit, somehow? Was he trying to gauge my reaction, or worse, did he assume that I agreed with him? Or, was he just THAT comfortable with airing his views wherever he pleased? And, was I willing to possibly be reprimanded for yelling at a closed-minded customer?

It was a real drag.

Never one to quip quickly or effectively in arguments, I instead simmered quietly over my ethical dilemma. I wanted to tell this dude that what is UNNATURAL is pumping enough carbon into the air that the glaciers are melting and it is 75 degrees for a week in the East Coast in February. Humans NATURALLY wore very few garments, and they were designed to protect them from the elements, not to designate gender or convey status.

Then I reflected a little.

When I started at the library, my initial reaction to the gentleman who wears women’s clothes was to judge him. I thought, “who is he kidding? He does not make a very convincing woman.” And, he really doesn’t. His frame is masculine, his wig is clearly that, and his makeup and clothing are out of style as well as more overdone than ‘en vogue’ women wear today. (I immediately noticed these things critically, which says more about me than about him. I was working three jobs, taking a full course load and was stressed and often bitter.) Then, however, I arrived at a conclusion. He dresses like a woman even though it is clear he is not one. Huh. He must just like it!

A similar revelation came when I listened to Eddie Izzard’s FANTASTIC audiobook about his life: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens. I know I’ve raved about this book before, but here I go again. I remember Eddie’s standup by several sketches, immortalized on YouTube and burned into my mind because they portray the scenes he talks about using Lego characters. I had forgotten that he cross-dresses. When I started the book, I realized I couldn’t remember if he was gay. He addressed this, for all the similarly clueless people like me: he isn’t. He just likes women’s clothes! Huh.

Maybe this customer had also associated cross-dressing with homosexuality, but that too is a severely backward reason to judge someone. I don’t know. All I know is, I felt conflicted enough to ask my colleague what his opinion was, whether I should have said something to the rude one. His wisdom soothed me, as he thought I could do no more than to enable all customers of the library to feel safe and welcome.

Every other colleague I asked said the same thing, even one who is undergoing gender transition. Gender is a controversial topic with them, but they agreed that as employees and representatives of the library, we can’t be on the cause crusade and must make all customers feel safe and welcome, even if it makes us ill.

Of course, three hours of debating myself later, and through many iterations of “what’s it to ya?”) I thought of what I felt was the perfect, non-confrontational but I-see-you-and-your-unkind-ways response I should have said: “to each his own.”

All of us said that if we weren’t on the clock, we would have SCHOOLED him. About gender theory and human decency. Equally as much as my silence made me cringe,  librarians’ words mean a lot.

librarians, strangers

THE Library

I did not grow up with the library profession on a pedestal, and am not entirely sure when in my adult life I learned that there was a true, physical Library of Congress. My school and public libraries were great–I learned how to pronounce “subtle” when requesting Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife and sobbed while I finished Where the Red Fern Grows in these respective locations. It just didn’t occur to me that someone at The Top needed to decide how to categorize ALL THE BOOKS (and store them for posterity).

Many librarians treat the LoC (as it is – affectionately? – called) as our profession’s Mecca, and my experience was decidedly NOT religious.

Yes, y’all, this is the road trip alluded to in my rant against the concept of “iSchools.” The story you’ve all been waiting for!

I waffled* on whether to go on the “field trip” to tour the Library of Congress. On the one hand, I felt like I “should” go. Librarians are “supposed to” view the LoC with reverence, awe and appreciation for all the organization. Plus, I hadn’t been to Washington DC since my attendance at the Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity back in 2010, which I spent throwing up in a porta-potty, violently hungover, scaring my mom so badly she told me to go to the hospital. (I am NOT a drinker, so I shouldn’t pretend to be.) I needed to wash away that experience and replace it with something far more professional.

And yet. Lester was the one driving the minivan. And as previously discussed, Lester was, in a word, insufferable.

A glutton for punishment, I decided that a behind-the-scenes tour of the LoC would outweigh the social pain. I was not correct, BUT that little circle at the center of the photo up there has a SPIRAL STAIRCASE underneath it from the non-majestic basement and I WALKED UP IT AND EMERGED INTO THAT BIG BEAUTIFUL READING ROOM.

That was the lone highlight.

The trip started at Lester’s house, at 6am. That is never a good time to be awake, in my opinion, but I consoled myself with the thought of napping for the four hour drive.

This plan was thwarted by a full-length album by the dude who sings “Les Champs-Elysees” on FULL VOLUME. In addition to being a jerky driver, Lester was sleepy and needed energy. He turned over the driving to his poor wife after 45 minutes. She was stuck driving the rest of the way, and did not change the music for the entire FOUR HOURS. Champs-Elysees is a grand song for high school French class, but dear lord, the rest of the CD went downhill fast. This early-morning torture was THE road trip party foul of all road trip party fouls.

The return trip was even worse because it was at the end of the following day, so everyone in the car, including the chattiest person in our program who happened to sit by me after we had slept in the same hotel  room the night before, was awake and talking. And talking. And talking. And talking. About what, I have blocked out in the years since, but all I know is I had had enough of these people even before the tour of the Shakespeare Library. The conversation was the only thing I could imagine worse than the French CD. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I have several witnesses who can back me up that on another occasion, as we tried to work on projects nearby during a class work period, this person waxed poetic for THIRTY MINUTES WITHOUT RECEIVING ANY QUESTIONS WHICH IS TO SAY WITHOUT ANY ENGAGEMENT FROM THE “CO-CONVERSATIONALISTS” about breakfast foods they did and did not like, and why. And WHY. Why???? WHY!??!?!?!

It is with people so blissfully out of touch with what conversation is that I have to question: how can someone BE so un-self-aware? I understand that people on the Autism spectrum are varying levels of incapable of “reading” social cues, and many people in the library world hover somewhere on or adjacent to the spectrum. In Lester’s case, how much of the elitism would be his “fault,” if he is or is not on the spectrum? How much is just his personality? Exactly how much can I blame him for his rudeness?

In youthful classmate’s case, when will they learn that beyond middle school, your circle of friends or the brunch table, no one cares at all whatsoever about your affinity for pancakes but deep hatred for waffles. And if they did care, they would show you by asking questions or replying in kind. (Yes, your preference is bizarre and contradictory because waffles and pancakes are the same batter, after all. Yes. We know.)

This was how I learned not to accept rides of extended periods of time from people I don’t like. It was also how I started deciding to do activities because I wanted to, not because I thought I should. Painful learning, but essential.

Road trips are better with friends, family, and audiobooks. And pancakes and waffles are BOTH my jam, IF you wanted to know. Please, tell me your thoughts on the matter!

 

 

*As I am known to do with any decision of any magnitude. Also, LOL waffled.. See what I did there?

anxiety, books, librarians

Shhhh!!!!

The 90’s preteen version of the much more profane Saturday Night Live was called All That. Mary Beth Denberg was never my favorite part of that show, but as an adult and a library employee, I have come to love her. Her character consistently screamed, “QUIET!! THIS IS A LIBRARY!!” at people who were not making much noise. (This targeting of the innocent may have something to do with the general fear/distrust of librarians I wrote about in my last post.) She also ran blenders, vacuum cleaners and was a loud phone talker, the worst offender of her own rules.

We were taught in library school not to shush. One school-library instructor was particularly passionate about this: we ought to expand our definition of libraries as silent spaces, and to go out and preach the gospel of libraries as active, vibrant, sometimes loud spaces of learning and discovery.

People still get pissed when it’s too loud.

My response to volume depends entirely on my irritability level at that precise moment, and how angry the customer is who brings it to my attention. Sometimes I cringe, feeling like a restrictive perpetuator of the ‘shushing librarian’ stereotype. Sometimes, people truly are being disruptive and inconsiderate of their neighbors. That category of people responds by: either immediately acknowledging wrongdoing and apologizing or glaring at me and rolling their eyes, resuming the behavior immediately after I leave. The rude ones are my targets and I make sure to pop in multiple times. Part of being in a public library is knowing it is a communal, shared space, and no one group of people owns it–even the librarians! But, like, we are the closest to that so you should listen to us.

I feel lucky to work in a busy, popular, community-centered public library. Sometimes I even like when it is loud there. You know what ISN’T loud? An empty building. Volume means there are people utilizing the space in many various ways, and there are designated silent work spaces for those who visit the library because literally nowhere else in their lives is quiet enough for them to focus.

All that said, my other job at a university library can feel like a time warp. The third floor is dedicated to silent study, and was built at a time when this was the only way people used the library. There is no carpet, no soundproofing, and ANY sound travels in a maddening way. The kids who work up there are the self-isolating, serious students who either need to get serious studying done.. Or they’re the kids who couldn’t find seating on the second floor and will proceed to chatter and get death glares. Students will frequently make phone calls down to the staff and, whispering, ask them to make an announcement reminding their neighbors they should not be speaking.

And I have had the great fortune that my current ongoing project has been to take a label gun (like a stockperson in a grocery store uses to price items) to a selection of 45,000 books.

I want to shush myself.

Let this writing serve as my apology and penance to all the kids who are genuinely confused and almost immediately enraged at the squeaking and click! sound of the gun stamping the labels and pushing them forward, and the tap! when I touch the label to each book. I was never able to study listening to music, but the kids these days can… And I’m thankful for that, because if I heard this repetitive, annoying noise when I was studying, I would have steamed until it was done (possibly an hour at a stretch) and lost all productivity because I would have repeatedly had a conversation with myself saying, “leave, jackass! Go study somewhere else! This is so annoying and it will never stop!” and then talking myself out of it.

Miraculously, I have only had 2 students actually approach to determine what I am doing. I have apologized to several when I am nearby and see they don’t have headphones, and they wave me off, saying it’s okay. Surely they are international students, because their humility and lack of entitlement was startling in its non-American-ness. The non-confrontational tendencies of the students I’ve encountered do not stop my anxiety from causing me major distress. I keep waiting for one of them to snap, take my sticker gun and bash me over the head with it repeatedly. I find myself holding my breath, listening on high alert for the approach of hostile college students.

But, the project is almost done and I haven’t been beaten or verbally abused yet, and there is even carpet in the plans for redesign!

Now all we need is some updated furniture and we will be good to go! That should be easy, right?

coworkers, librarians

Librarians as Control Freaks

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.

bookmess
Librarians may twitch until they are allowed to organize this.