Dealing with teens at the public library can range anywhere from rewarding to entertaining to frustrating.  A few recent examples …

I

The artist leading our drawing workshop is talking about incorporating different clothing and hair styles into character drawings.  Talking to one of the girls in the group, he says, “For example, you have big curly hair, kind of like Lucille Ball.”  The girl looks at him and replies, “Who’s Lucille Ball?”  I’m standing at the back of the room taking pictures of the program, and the artist and I look at each other over the kids’ heads and start laughing (this often occurs when he brings up “grown up” topics).  The girl says, “Never mind.  I’ll google Lucille Ball on my phone” and proceeds to do just that so she can compare hair styles.

II

A high school class is visiting my library, and after my presentation is over the students browse our collection while I walk around asking if anyone needs help finding anything.  Most of their questions are general, looking for things like sports books and “scary books, especially about ghosts.”  But then in the midst of these questions a girl comes up to me and says, “Do you have any books about rape?”  I take a moment to absorb this, and ask her some careful follow-up questions.  Is she looking for fiction books on the subject of rape?  Is it okay if the book turns out to be about that subject but it isn’t immediately obvious because it’s revealed later?  After I get a yes to those two questions I ask if she’d read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and she had.  I think about it for another minute and say we should look for All the Rage, which I read recently.  She asks me if the main character is the one who gets raped, and I say yes.  The problem is that I can’t remember who wrote it, so we have to walk all the way across the building so I can look it up in the catalog.  I see that we do have a copy, so we then we walk all the way back so we can find it on the shelf, and then back to the desk to check it out.  She tells me that she’s looking for more books on the same subject, but by this time we’re back at the service desk and I’m surrounded on all sides by other staff members.  I don’t know how forthcoming she wants to be about asking this question of other people, and I’m not about to say SO HERE’S HOW YOU CAN FIND BOOKS ABOUT RAPE in front of my colleagues.  So I take the copy of All the Rage that I’m holding, flip open to the copyright page to look for the subject headings, and see that it has “rape — fiction” listed.  I point this out to her, and tell her that when she has time she should go to our catalog and do a keyword search for those terms.  I’m pointing at the words, but out loud I’m saying, “so you type in that word, and then fiction,” because again, I don’t want to broadcast her question.  I walk back to help the other kids look for sports books, scary books, etc., and by the time I return to the service desk she’s decided that she doesn’t want the book after all and she wants to return it.  There’s this weird vibe going on, though, because apparently she’d had some kind of a conversation with D. while I was away from the desk, and HE’S the one telling me that she doesn’t want the book.  I don’t know what she does or doesn’t feel comfortable saying in front of him, so I take the book to check it back it, and I say, “Just remember what I told you.  Go to our catalog and type in those keywords, okay?  Because there are a lot of books around on that subject, and that’s how you’re going to find them.”  She leaves, and I ask D. about the conversation that I’d missed.  He says that she told him that she didn’t want that book, and when he asked if he could help her find another book, she mysteriously replied that she was interested in books on “that subject” but she wouldn’t tell him what the subject was, and THAT was the weird vibe I felt when I returned to the desk.

Brief tangent:

After over 20 years as a librarian, I’ve had plenty of experience with patrons preferring to ask their questions of one staff member rather than another.  You’re busy dealing with something, your colleague who’s a few feet away says, “Can I help the next person on line?” and the patron doesn’t accept the offer but just keeps looking at you instead.  Then you finish what you’re doing and take their question.  Sometimes you have absolutely no idea why they chose to wait for you.  Do they dislike your colleague?  Do they have a secret crush on you?  Do they feel that you’re better at answering information questions?  Was it racially motivated?  Is the patron hard of hearing and didn’t realize they were being called over?  But sometimes the nature of the question gives me a clue.  Like, they tell my male colleague that they’d rather wait and talk to me, and then when they ask me their question it’s about menopause or sex positions or something else of an explicit / embarrassing nature and I’m like Ohhhhhh, THAT explains it!

Okay, tangent over …

So D. asks me if I’ll tell him what the question was about, and I say that I’ll tell him after the class leaves.  After they leave and I’m walking through the office he asks me again, and I tell him.  His first reaction is, “So, do I need to take care of someone for her?” and it takes me a moment to realize he’s asking about beating up the hypothetical guy who hypothetically raped this girl.  And, while I definitely appreciate both the sentiment and the “guy” reaction of “what’s the problem and how can I fix it?” … well, it’s not exactly our place to issue vigilante justice.  But this led to a follow-up discussion about dealing with reference questions of an explicitly or potentially personal nature.  I said that as a librarian, my job is to answer the patron’s question, and that I should be as helpful as possible but I shouldn’t be prying into someone’s personal life.  Now, believe me, there are PLENTY of times that patrons tell me WAY TOO MUCH personal information, which can make me feel depressed / disgusted / nauseated or worse.  I also know that just because someone asks for books that are depressing it doesn’t mean that they’re going to jump off of a bridge (I used to write lots of sad poetry when I was a teenager, and I will never forget the teacher who treated me like I was suicidal because of a poem in my journal).  And I ALSO know that if this girl is going to be reading fiction books about rape, that some if not all of them are going to include resources for rape victims … so IF she does need those resources, she will find them.  I also mentioned a reference transaction I once overheard between Captain Bringdown and a teenager.  The teen asked for information about STDs, and Captain Bringdown asked if he needed it to write a paper or if he needed it for personal use.  I almost threw him out of a goddamned window.

III

I spent an afternoon sharing social media stuff with my teens.  It was cool watching their reactions to the stuff that entertained them the most, including awesome quotes by Oscar Wilde, fake library events, an old Sesame Street video, John Green’s review of the Kendall and Kylie Jenner iPhone game, a shout-out to Narnia, and the 2016 Best Picture Nominees, But With Puppies.

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Captain Bringdown just retired.  Yesterday was his last day.

… and there was much rejoicing.

As I was listening to him belching loudly while I was trying to digest my lunch, I had to keep reminding myself that it was the last day that I would have to listen to his cacaphony of noises.  And while we’re on the subject …

It was the last day that I would have to hear, “My colleague knows more about that than I do.”

It was the last day that I would have to help a patron with an adult question in the children’s room because, in his/her words, “The man upstairs is no help at all” / “The man upstairs told me to ask you” / “I don’t think the man upstairs knows what he’s talking about” / “I will NOT deal with that man anymore!”

It was the last day that I would have to hear, “We don’t do that” or “I have no idea how to do that.”

It was the last day that I would take over the chair at the information desk and find a browsing history of dozens and DOZENS of pages of Google Image searches of  food.

It was the last day that I would have to listen to his loud conversations with other staff members, yelling down between floors instead of using the phone or just WALKING UP TO THE PERSON.

It was the last day that I would have to listen to his loud conversations with our most loud/annoying/creepy patrons, who are the ones that he bonded with the most.

It was the last day that I would share an hour at the information desk with him, during which time he would not only NOT WORK, but he would lean back and watch ME work, and then comment on what I was doing and ask me why I was doing it.

It was the last day that I would have to hear the YouTube videos that he was watching (without headphones) while covering the children’s information desk.

It was the last day I would have to listen to him tell kids in the children’s room to SHUT UP.

It was the last day that I had to be embarrassed by my association with him.

One colleague called out because of weather problems.  Then another one had to leave early because of a family emergency.  Which left just me and Captain Bringdown, whose faults are too numerous to mention.  Luckily  I managed to survive the day without my last nerve snapping.  And it does help my fragile psyche to know that his long-awaited retirement is finally on the horizon.  Even if he isn’t replaced, I can deal with that.  Because if it’s a choice between being “full-staffed” and having fewer staff who actually care about helping patrons and who know what the hell they’re doing … well, I’d rather be part of a good team than part of an embarassing one any day.  I’m tired of being dragged down by ineptitude.

As of this morning, all of my automatic umbrellas are broken (they won’t open correctly or at all / won’t close correctly), and I have to fight with my manual umbrella to get it to work.  It was especially a drag to make this discovery on a day that slush was falling from the sky and while I was carrying several bags of stuff to and from work.

Tomorrow I’m going to a meeting that will probably make me sad.  That’s because it used to be A Really Big Event with lots of publicity and lots of guests, and over the last decade it transformed into A Big Event, then An Event, and now it’s just a meeting that takes up a few hours on a Thursday morning and it’s a staff-only thing.  It doesn’t help that the description attributed to this meeting when I registered for it online was actually cut-and-pasted from the description of LAST year’s meeting.  I dunno.  It just feels very anticlimactic.

Our new branch manager is starting this week.  Over the decade that I’ve worked in my branch I’ve seen a lot of turnover — in fact, every other librarian who used to work in my building back when I started has quit, retired, or transferred.  Every time the staff knew that someone new was coming, we reacted with a certain amount of trepidation.  Sometimes people came with horrible reputations that preceded them (like Captain Bringdown and our former regional librarian), and they generally lived up to their expectations.  Sometimes they came with good recommendations, and turned out to be a mixed bag.  Of course, it’s one thing to know someone from seeing them at meetings and another thing entirely to know someone from working in the same building.

So for now, we’re all waiting to see if our new branch manager is a good librarian, a good manager, and a good person.  Let’s see what happens.

Ah, what a day.

I knew that things were going to be bad shortly after 10:00 this morning when I got the call at home telling me that Captain Bringdown had called out sick, which meant that I was going to be the only librarian at the branch today.  So, let’s see.  What qualifies as a bad day to call out sick?  The day after a weekend?  Check.  The day after a holiday weekend?  Check.  The day after the techs use the holiday weekend to push through catalog updates that will require additional start-up time the next morning?  Check.  The day we only have two librarians scheduled to work?  CHECK.

So I finished my coffee, got dressed, ran out to catch the bus, and got to the library 15 minutes before it opened.  I then spent the entire day trying and failing to catch up.  The papers were checked in late, the reserves list was never completed, I never had enough time to order books through Baker & Taylor, etc. etc. etc.

On the plus side, Mr. X came over to help us out for the day.  I was grateful for both his company and his expertise, and for the fact that his presence allowed me to have a guilt-free lunch hour.  He was also helpful in confirming my suspicions about just how much of a certain task a certain one of my colleagues has been failing to do.  I mean, it’s not a big thing, but it’s basically the only thing that this person was specially trained to do.  And it ain’t getting done.

On the minus side, Mr. X being back in the branch was kind of a mixed blessing.  By which I mean a few of our patrons began slipping into “Mr. X always lets us do this” mode, and that’s always annoying.  Especially since we’ve been trying our best to get our patrons reacclimated to living without him.  It’s kind of like how parents get frustrated when the grandparents show up and start giving the kids money and candy.  Not that Mr. X is giving the patrons money and candy … although that WOULD be entertaining.  But you get the jist of my simile, right?

Anyway, in conclusion, this day was not nearly as productive as I might have hoped.  In fact, I barely managed to keep my head above water.  But I have tomorrow free, so I plan to spend the day regrouping, reading, and working on uploading my pictures from this weekend.

Oh, what a long and screwy week this has been.

I spent so much of my time running up and down the stairs today answering questions (’cause we don’t have enough people to staff every floor, you see) that it was making me dizzy.  I also got additional questions on my way going downstairs, on my way going upstairs, plus I had one kid with a truly annoying reading list that had me ricocheting between floors.  Honestly, who puts Witness by Karen Hesse and The Firm by John Grisham on the same reading list???

On the plus side, all the stair climbing has been theraputic for my back.  I strained it earlier in the week while cleaning my apartment and shifting furniture around.  So it’s been twingeing off and on for the last few days, but NOT TODAY!

We’ve been asked once again to perform a task of self-evaluation.  Such tasks usually make us nervous, because we anticipate the aftermath:  A-HA!!!  So you spend X amount of time doing tasks A, B, & C!  Clearly your priorities are all wrong, and you can afford to have your budget cut! Then again, some cuts would be more welcome than others.  Right now the library system’s budget is so lousy overall that they’re talking about reducing our public service hours, and I have absolutely no problem with that.  In fact, I’d be delighted.  If we closed on several mornings like we suggested, we could have time to weed our shelves and get rid of all the material that keeps coming in and staying in because of the godforsaken floating collections policy.    And maybe our library wouldn’t look like a tornado hit it anymore.  Did I mention that we only have one page left to help us shelve our materials … and she’s been on vacation?  Oh, yeah, it’s been a hell of a week.  But seriously, though, remember the big deal about how we weren’t allowed to start working more than one hour before we opened to the public because otherwise the public would think that we were all hanging out and having secret librarian breakfast parties?  Well, our network manager came in today, saw the condition of our shelves and our multiple overflowing book trucks, and gave SPECIAL DISPENSATION for staff members to earn comp time and come in at 8:00 on Monday morning (we don’t open until 11:00) just to try to catch up on the glut of weeding and shelving that needs to get done.  THAT’S how bad it is right now. Of course, it helps that he wanted us to be “presentable” since we’re having some higher-ups coming to visit our building next week.

I had a small turnout at my last summer reading club meeting.  On the one hand it makes me a little sad, but on the other hand I really don’t mind.  A ton of kids sign up for the club (mostly when I visit the schools in May and June with my trusty registration pads, meaning most of them are kids who aren’t actually setting foot in the library).  And a lot of kids come to the party at the end of August.  But while all the kids know that I have weekly meetings throughout the summer, the turnout at those meetings is small.  The reason that I don’t mind is that these are the kids who really WANT to read, who WANT to share, who WANT to participate.  The number of kids who fill out the registration slips makes the library higher-ups (and the sponsors) happy, but the kids who bother showing up for the weekly meetings make ME happy.  So anyway, after the program is over, I’m putting stuff away and walking back and forth between the reading room, my office, and the staff room.  En route I pass Captain Bringdown, who exclaims, “Out of all those kids who signed up, only THAT MANY came to your program?!!!”

You know, come to think of it, there’s another budget cut that I really wouldn’t mind …

But anyway … what was I saying?  Oh, yes.  The evaluation survey.  It’s one of those things that asks the branch manager to give an overview of how staff members in different categories (librarians / clerks / etc.) spend their time.  We’re supposed to give percentages of how much of our day we spend doing each of several tasks, including staffing the public service desks, working on the reserve list, performing collection maintenance … and when all of these percentages are added up they’e supposed to equal 100%.  Okay, Dear Readers, now you see the problem here, right?  Of course you do.  You’re smart enough and discerning enough to read this blog, so clearly you have more sense in your head than the people who designed this survey.  Obviously, the problem is that we often perform these tasks simultaneously.  I spend an average of 5 hours a day working at one of the information desks, and I’m getting paid to work for 7 hours, which means that I’m doing that all-important public service work 71% of the time.  But I have to lie and reduce than number in order to make everything add up to 100%.  Because the only time I have to accomplish most of those other tasks is WHILE I’M WORKING AT THE INFORMATION DESK.  I mean yes, there is a certain percentage of staff members who spend their down time between patron questions staring off into space, reading a book, or otherwise goofing off (and believe me, I often think about how much easier and simpler my life would be if I was one of those people).  But there is just too much stuff that has to get done!  And honestly, even the laziest librarians will go to look for items on the reserves list at the same time that they’re covering the information desk.  So anyway, I did my best to boil down my average task times, but  it was a tricky job.  Like how usually we can get the reserves list done in an hour or so, while today I worked on it ALL DAY and it still wasn’t done by the time we closed.  Damn those pesky patrons and their long-winded questions!  So I figured out my honest numbers, and then I had to fudge them in order to make them fit the survey’s version of reality.  Pffffft.

Crazy Ms. H. came in today just before the branch was closing.  She is infamous in our branch because:

She prefers to come in just before closing time.

She appears to have some (undiagnosed?) mental issues, which means that she wants things done a certain way that makes sense to her but which is usually inconvenient to staff and other patrons.

She is obsessed with DVDs.  Okay, she’s kind of obsessed with everything, but the obsession primarily manifests itself along these lines:  I want to put a hold on this movie.  Do “we” own a copy? How many copies are there in the system?  Where am I on the line?  Why can’t I place more holds?  I’m at my limit, but I want you to look up these movies anyway just so I can know if you have them.  Can I have the movie that this person is returning?  Can I come behind the counter and see the movies that you haven’t put out yet?  At the other libraries they let me come behind the counter and look through the bins!  I don’t want to check them out, I just want to SEE them! etc. etc. etc.

Add to this the fact that she has filed complaints against multiple staff members (more than all of our other patrons put together, by my calculations).  Last month she asked me to print out five more copies of the “patron comment form” for her, and mumbled something about how she knew several people who wanted the forms.  I gave her ten of them.

If she decides that she doesn’t like you, then she REALLY doesn’t like you, and will tell you and everyone else in the building how much she dislikes you.  Since Mr. X left, the number of staff members who are willing to tolerate her behavior is even lower.  Since I know that you’re wondering about MY interactions with her, I will confess that she gets me so agitated that the longer I talk to her the more I start to doubt my own sanity.  It is very difficult for me to focus while she’s talking to me, and more importantly to get HER to focus.  But I usually manage to keep an even tone in my voice and my professional composure intact … okay, I did raise my voice to her once, but she was making me especially mental that day.  But what’s important is that she’s learned over time that I will act in a professional manner, that I mean what I say, and that I won’t buckle under if she whines and complains (I learned this technique in a child psychology class as a way to avoid temper tantrums, and it has been helpful when dealing with certain adult patrons, as well).  When she came in today as we were closing, I heard the branch manager tell her her on the main floor that there wasn’t enough time for her to reserve any more items.  So when she came upstairs anyway, I told her that I was about to shut the last of the computers down, but that I had time to place one hold for her before we closed.

I swear, she asked me FOUR TIMES OVER THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS to put more movies on hold for her, even going so far as to start spelling out the next title she wanted.  But I still said no, because we were closing, and when she saw that I wasn’t going to budge, she left.  If only every child psychology technique worked on problem patrons!

The Good News:

We finally got a bunch of new (used) chairs to fill most of the gaps at the tables in our adult room. We’ve been asking for new chairs for months and months, and we’ve had more and more adults coming downstairs to sit in the children’s room because they (accurately) pointed out that there weren’t enough places to sit upstairs.  We got eight chairs that another library in our system didn’t need, which was invaluable since we can’t actually afford any NEW furniture.  Of course, my colleague Captain Bringdown took one look at the room and said, “We still need three more chairs.”  Given how long we had to wait for these chairs, I don’t think we’re getting any more furniture any time soon.

The Bad News:

I got an email message two days ago about some suspicious activity on my debit card.  But Hotmail was telling me that the message itself was dangerous, so I thought this was a phishing scam.  Then I got home from work yesterday and heard a message on my answering machine from a Broadway theater that they couldn’t send me the tickets I’d just ordered the other day because my card had been rejected.  Which has never EVER happened to me before, because I never spend what I don’t have.  So one exciting exchange of phone calls and emails later, I am now temporarily debit card-less (for the next 7-10 business days), and extremely pissed off.  Some nimrod mastermind, or pack of nimrod masterminds, tried to use my debit card number multiple times last week to charge Greyhound bus tickets, and plane tickets on Southwest, Delta, and US Airways.  This, then, was the suspicious activity.  So now I’m corresponding with Chase’s fraud department and customer claims department while I’m grinding my teeth.  My card has never left my possession, so I’m assuming that some company I dealt with recently didn’t have a sufficiently secure connection or it was hacked or something.  What a frigging mess!

My boyfriend did have a significant follow-up question — how were they planning to get on the plane, since you have to show ID to get on?  And I said that it wasn’t hard to put a fake ID together.  But now I’m wondering … so now are there fake IDs with my name on them floating around?  And is this going to cause problems when I fly to San Francisco next month?  I mean, my boyfriend bought the plane tickets, but I’m wondering if my ID is going to set off some kind of alarm.  Again I say, what a frigging mess!