“A well-stocked, well-staffed library is like a gardener who plants books, knowledge, and dreams and grows readers, learners, and do-ers.” ~ Laura Purdie Salas
This article was originally posted on The Odyssey on June 6, 2016.
Contrary to popular belief, we actually do more than just “read books all day.” Library employees don’t read on the job at all, in fact. We are too busy shelving, checking your books in and out, and solving problems that the average patron just can’t seem to figure out. The next time you visit your favorite local library, make sure to thank an employee for helping you. While our struggles may seem odd or simple to you, every library employee can relate to these fourteen troubles, mostly because they occur pretty often.
1. Shifting shelves
If you’re a page, or someone who shelves frequently, this is a common struggle. When there is not enough room in a section, we are forced to shift books up, down, and around so that we can accommodate the location of (most of the time) one book. Depending on how packed your collection is, this can be either a simple or difficult feat.
2. Patrons who need a really specific type of book
I usually encounter this type of patron mostly on the weekends. They usually come in asking for a really specific type of book, like picture books about iguanas but also with facts that are acceptable for a preschool audience and at the same time have to do with the first day of kindergarten and mention potty-training. If you don’t already know a few off the top of your head, your fingers are crossed so that you are able to find some items that you own with that oddly-specific search online.
3. Slow nights
You would think that slow nights would be a dream come true, but most of the time, slow nights are a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, after a long, busy, day, peace and quiet is well-needed, especially in the junior room. However, when that peace and quiet continues on for six or seven hours, that’s when time takes the shape of a slug. If you are able to sit desk during this time, consider yourself lucky. If you’re a page well…I guess you’ll find yourself-
It has to be done. The books have to be in order so that you can find them later, if needed. Sometimes it can be therapeutic, but mostly, it’s a drag. Some sections are easy, not many items out of order, a simple time. Nonfiction, however… harrumph. Sometimes it seems easier to take the entire shelf off and place it on a cart instead of trying to organize on the shelf. That’s the real nightmare.
5. When patrons come in at close
No offense, but we actually have lives outside of the library. Yeah we might be heading home to drink some tea, and curl up in bed with a good book, but that still requires us to go home. Which we can’t do, if you insist on coming in five minutes before close with a large fine and a list of requests. It’s not only inconsiderate, but it’s also rude. You’re not just inconveniencing one person, you’re holding up an entire staff of people, including the people who have to lock the doors, which they cannot do, if you are still inside.
6. Looking for lost items
The minute a patron decides they need a certain item that is marked ‘lost’ in the system, you better be ready to engage in a wild goose chase. That item could be misshelved, on display, in someone else’s hands, or perhaps it wasn’t ever returned in the first place. You’ll never know because all that you do know is that it isn’t on the shelf. Sometimes we get lucky, and the item is nearby or actually on the shelf, but most of the time, it is a lost cause.
7. Patrons who swear they returned a book and it’s not on the shelf.
Similarly, patrons who think they are smarter than the computer. While the employees are not perfect, and we do make mistakes, the computer is more likely to accidentally scan your book in even when you do return it. The computer does not lie, pal. I’d say about eight times out of ten the computer is the truthful one. But sure, take my name and my supervisor’s number.
8. The summer reading frenzy
The two weeks preceding it, and the actual kickoff are a literal nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, summer reading is amazing for libraries; it increases circulation and attendance for programs. The actual business of the days, while the program is in process, is crazy though. The influx of people that come in asking to record their readings and claim prizes can be a little overwhelming and very exhausting. T-shirts that say, “I survived summer reading,” are definitely for library staff, not students.
9. When someone wants to request a book they can’t remember the name of.
While I mostly think this is a struggle in the children’s room, a patron who cannot remember the title of the book they are looking for will undoubtedly turn the library employees into detectives. The next question I usually ask is if they remember the author, and later perhaps, the color of the book, the characters, or any part of the plot. A child will tell you that the book is about ‘a white dog named Buddy’ and you pray to the Library Gods that Google will come up with something plausible. An adult patron will most likely remember something less intricate, like the author’s middle initial, and so you embark on the journey of the alphabet and similar authors to the one they last read. It is never boring.
10. Having a mind-fart when attempting to recall a title.
When a patron comes in asking for the newest Patterson title, or the newest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and you just can’t remember the title, even though you probably just saw it on display. Instead of looking it up, you stand there for several minutes staring blankly at the ceiling while the patron stares blankly at you, waiting. The important thing is that you know the author, and can point the patron in the right direction. It’s the little things.
11. Patrons who don’t know how to use the computers
Any library employee who has computers in their department knows this struggle all too well. While this issues is mostly focused around people who have no experience with computers and were forced by their grandchildren to make a Facebook account, it can still be struggle when you have to wait on other patrons. No ma’am, I’m not sure why the sound isn’t working, why your windows closed, or why “The Google” isn’t giving you what you want, but I’ll put on my thinking cap and see how I can help.
12. When books are returned in sticky condition
Again, something we find more often than not in the children’s room, but sometimes makes an appearance with Adult items. The disgust that is reflected on one’s face after handling a sticky or otherwise damaged book can be identified the moment it is expressed. While I’m sure that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was delightful, your library book did not require a taste test. Please don’t feed the library books.
13. When patrons don’t follow your directions to find a book and you have to find it yourself
See the bookshelf on your right? No, your right. Yes. Take that down all the way to the end, and your book should be on the bottom shelf. What do you mean you couldn’t find it? Oh, you know what, just let me show you where it is. Okay? Are you good now? What do you mean you still can’t find it? I’ll go get it okay. Found it! “Where was it?” On the shelf. You’re welcome. Have a nice day.
14. When patrons try to get out of paying their fines
Both exciting and terrifying, telling patrons they have fines is always an experience. While some patrons have no problem paying their fines, some patrons let their account pile up until it is blocked from being used. Here’s where they try to trick you. Sometimes patrons think that they can swindle their way out of their fines, and try to make a bargain as if the library is an old thrift store. They attempt to ‘make a deal’ with you, as if you can excuse some of their overdue fines. Good try buddy, now either pay your fines or you can’t use your library card, your choice.
Whether you are a librarian, library assistant or a page, you have experienced a few of these struggles at least once during a shift. It doesn’t really matter what department you work in, the work is the same and the patrons will act the same. Whatever messes you may encounter, whichever patrons may yell at you, and no matter how many lost items you fail to locate, remember you are not alone. Other libraries and library employees feel your pain and understand the struggles. We can only hope things will get better, or at the very least, the missing items will mysteriously reappear before we purchase new copies. We can dream, right?