My mother always told me never to use the word "hate," so perhaps I should amend that a bit and say "things that librarians really, really don't like. "
I was inspired by a recent Facebook posting by my librarian friend, Steve - "30 Things Librarians Love." It's very humorous and right on.
But isn't it funny that the first thing I thought while reading it was that there sure were things librarians didn't love and in fact, hated...oh, sorry, Mom, really, really didn't like.
After 40 years as a librarian, 30+ in public libraries, if you have been reading this blog, you know that I recently retired. I have to say I have enjoyed being a librarian in a public library setting and feel it was a meaningful and rewarding profession. I have encountered many wonderful people over the years and have some wonderful memories. Most library customers value their libraries and librarians and the work they do. But when you work in a public environment for over 30 years, things happen, some humorous, some not.
I don't pretend to speak for every librarian or every public library.
This is a personal list that only applies to a certain number of people.
But I think there are things on my list many librarians will relate to and library customers can learn from.
So here goes...everything I am recounting really happened (mostly).
Things Librarians Really, Really Don't Like:
1. When you say Liberry or "Are you the
This makes librarians feel bad. It's as if you don't value them or the library
enough to have good diction and learn how to pronounce LibR-ary.
2. Booze breath at 10am.
And I am not talking about the librarians.
When library customers walk in reeking of alcohol in the morning, library
staff are not sure if you are Monday morning coming down or Monday
morning getting up. Sometimes the stench would be so powerful I would
gag on my way past the computers from the circulation desk to my office.
So if you like to tipple in the morning or drink so much that it's coming out
your pores, please don't be offended if you see library staff putting a dab of
hand sanitizer on their upper lips. It helps them not to get a contact high
3. Calling librarians "Sweetie," "Honey,"
"Sweetheart," "Blondie" or "Toots."
I am fairly certain this only applies to the female librarians. I don't think the
male librarians have to endure this disrespect, but maybe they get called
"Sonny" from time to time. Even that is not as disrespectful.
When this happens, female librarians realize that some customers do not
respect them as professionals. Please see item number 1 in the list of "30
Things Librarians Love" I referenced above, which says librarians love
"pointing out that you have to have a master's degree to be a REAL
librarian." That's right, folks. Librarians are "edicated" and do not
appreciate your demeaning them in that way. They are PROFESSIONALS.
Would you call your doctor or lawyer "Toots?"
4. Screaming children
I was always amazed at the tolerance some parents have for screaming,
crying children. I have a fairly high threshold for noise, but when the
shrieking gets to the point of eardrum rupture (150db), library staff has to
say something. And what happens? The parents get mad at staff for being
so insensitive to their little tykes' rights to express themselves.
5. Babysitting your children
In the same vein, a constant problem in public libraries is parents dropping
off their kids at the library and leaving them there for hours. There seems to
be this misperception that children are safe running around
the library, because librarians want nothing more than to find crafts for
them, read them a story and give them appropriate lessons on how to act in
the library (as in Shhhh). NOT!
As I mentioned earlier, librarians are working professionals. It might look
like they have cushy jobs reading the dirty books they keep behind the
desk (library myth), but it's not true. They have to answer really difficult or
crazy questions (though they don't judge) that require research, they have
to plan for those story times and other programs, they have to conduct
interviews, supervise volunteers and staff and sometimes even plunge the
toilet in the restroom (and I will get to that later), so you can see they do not
have time to keep an eye on your child.
I don't know how emphatically I need to impress people with the fact that it's
called a PUBLIC library for a reason. Things happen in public places.
Would you drop your child off at a public park and leave him or her
there for hours? The same goes for the library. It is a public place where all
kinds of people congregate. Mostly nice people, I might add, but no one is
checking ID at the door or looking people up on the Internet to see if they
meet certain standards to be around your child. No one is checking the
restrooms on a regular basis and no one notices if your child walks out the
So please take your child to the library and spend time with him or her
there. That's part of the library experience, happy memories and setting
your child on the right road to reading readiness and success in school.
6. Calling your pet boa constrictor a service animal
Libraries welcome service animals when they are needed but please...
7. Going overboard with your right to bring food into the library
Many librarians don't mind if you eat or drink in the library as long as you
are tidy and not disruptive. But when you order a pizza to be delivered or
bring a complete hamper of food with tablecloth, silverware, candles and a
bottle of wine, librarians really, really don't like that.
8. Asking for office supplies
Library staff want to make your library experience a good one, they really
do. And they don't mind a rubber band here, a paper clip there, even some
sheets of paper. But when you start asking for 25 paperclips, a ream of
paper, free stamps or file folders, they want to say, "What do you think this
is, Office Depot?" They don't because they are trained professionals, as I
said earlier, but they think it.
9. You call the reference desk from home for a recipe or an address and you have no pen or pencil anywhere near you.
Let me share some examples from person experience.
"I need the address for our local Social Security Office."
"Yes, Mrs. So and So. Here it is. Ready?"
"Oh, sorry. I don't have a pen. Let me go find one."
"Here I am. I'm back...oh, wait, this one doesn't work. Just a sec."
By this time, I wish I did have a gun.
And here is another favorite.
"Hello, could you give me the recipe for Paula Deen's chocolate covered deep fat fried sticks of butter," please?"
"Sure, are you ready? Here it is."
(And let me just interrupt myself here. Some librarians will read such things over the phone and some won't. I would, but I truly understand why they would not want to).
"OK, 4 sticks of butter."
"Wait, wait, wait...fourrrrrr......stickssssss......offffff....... what was that? Wait, wait, wait...butterrrrrrrrrr.....How do you spell butter?
10. Dealing with the restrooms
I will never forget my first complaint about the toilet in the restroom being
stopped up. It was early in my career and I was dressed in my usual "I am
a professional but a very stylish one" outfit, including three-inch heels. I
went to check out the problem in the restroom and found the toilet had run
over onto the floor. It being a small staff, I didn't have the heart to assign
this to anyone else, so I tip-toed through the dirty water, trying not to
splash anything on my Jimmy Choo's (alright, they weren't Jimmy
Choo's, librarians don't make enough for those but they were nice shoes)
and proceeded to plunge the toilet. Water flew everywhere, all over my
stylish "Dress for Success" suit (it was the 80's).
The point here is...even though my boss later told me plunging toilets is
that part in the job description that says, "Other duties as assigned,"
librarians really, really dislike plunging toilets, crawling on the floor to get
into the toilet stall your little darling locked from inside or having to lock
up the restrooms, thus fielding multiple complaints about not being able to
use the toilet, because someone did something unmentionable in there
with their unmentionables (use your imagination).
OK, finally, I need to address the elephant in the room.
Though many librarians probably really, really dislike library customers viewing sexually explicit images on the library computers, that is not why this is on my list.
The reason it's on my list is because librarians really, really dislike people complaining about it. They don't like unpleasant exchanges with their library customers, especially when all they are trying to do is serve the community.
And, don't get me wrong. I am not talking about illegal activity or someone being disruptive.
If someone is viewing something that is illegal, such as child pornography, librarians want you to tell them and they will do the same thing they would do when other illegal activities such as theft or assault take place in the library. They will call 911.
But I am not talking about illegal or disruptive activity here.
I am talking about adults quietly looking at other consenting adults engaging in sexual activity or some other sexual image or something you might disapprove of. This may make you feel uncomfortable, but it is not illegal.
Libraries uphold the freedoms of our country and a basic tenet of library service is to provide free access to information covering many points of view, and that makes some people uncomfortable.
These days computers provide access to information along with books, DVDs, and other formats and when you try to provide information on many points of view that can include material that some people will disapprove of.
And if you have ever seen the list of books that have been "banned," you can see that what people disapprove of runs the gamut from Huck Finn to "Where's Waldo?"
What is "pornographic" depends on who is answering the question. Everyone has a bias as to what is acceptable and what is not. I find sites that preach hate much more objectionable than consenting adults engaging in sex. Where does one draw the line? Who gets to decide?
Libraries are not in the business of censorship.
If something is allowed under the law, the library should not be the censor. Nor should individuals decide what others should and shouldn't read or view.
But that doesn't mean libraries are not sensitive to the issue.
Libraries go to great lengths to protect library customers from seeing things they don't want to see, especially children.
Libraries provide privacy screens, filtering and some libraries don't allow children in the adult areas. Most libraries have highly filtered computers in the children's area and library cards for children under 18 are not able to access adult sites. And libraries often offer adults the option to choose filtered viewing.
But filters are not perfect. There are a couple of ways they work: either by blocking actual sites or specific words. But it's possible that some sites can fall through the cracks or something can be blocked that does not fall under the "objectionable" category. When words are blocked, for example, and "breast" would surely be one, what about the woman who wants to research breast cancer? On a filtered computer, she would not be able to find that information.
So if you are concerned about this issue, here are some things to keep in mind while in the library.
- Stay with your children while in the library.
around in the adult section.
If you really care what your children are looking at, you should be
monitoring that. That is your responsibility as a parent. Not the
- If you see someone looking at something you find objectionable, don't look.
what they are looking at, especially if your library uses privacy screens.
Why upset yourself?
- As I said earlier, a library is a public place. Act accordingly.
People have the right to exercise their freedom to view what they want
without you or the library telling them they can't. Tolerance is key.
When this issue appears in the paper or on the news, which it does from time to time and everyone gets all upset about it, my hackles go up because the news media paints libraries as bastions of pornography, when in fact libraries are bastions of service to the community.
Most people come to the library to use them to find a job, connect with far-flung family members via email, learn a new skill, do research, etc. Those using the computers to view "objectionable" material are in the minority, but it makes headlines to sensationalize and exaggerate it.
Libraries are your tax dollars put to good use. What other government entities provide friendly people who really want to help you... citizenship and computer classes, help with your English, reading programs for your children, librarians to answer your questions on any subjects, free DVDs, music CDs and talking books, free downloading of content for free to your mobile devices...I could go on and on. Does the media report on that? No.
Libraries are providing computers for people who need them.
Believe it or not, there are many people who cannot afford computers. They do not have the luxury of surfing the web in the privacy of their own homes as many of us do.
So when you complain to librarians about what people are looking at on the library computers and harangue them as if pornography is one of the services they happily provide and approve of, they really, really don't like such unpleasant encounters when all they are trying to do is be of service to the community.
Remember that with our freedoms comes diversity in how those freedoms are used. And it's not up to you to decide.
For all you know, they might be doing research!
If you need to blame something, blame free speech, not libraries.
See you Friday for News and Reviews!
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