Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Public Library, the Public's Personal Whipping Boy

Yeah, I get it, the public pays our wages, unfortunately that gives the public a sense of overreaching entitlement when they come to the library.  After awhile your skin gets thicker and you don't take it personally.  I have also witnessed these type of interactions take place at the Post Office and I'm sure the DMV employees go through this as well.

They don't teach you this in library school.  My problem is, is that when I find myself being berated by a patron over something trivial and/or something completely out of my hands my natural reaction is to laugh, so I try not to make the situation worse and I try to suppress it but it just turns into a ish-eating grin.  I can't help but laugh at the fact that someone has gotten so angry at something I am not to blame for.

Most recently, it was a busy Saturday at the info desk and there was a steady line of patrons and I was efficiently helping each one.  A couple comes up inquiring about absentee voting, I give her a handout with the in-person option and her husband asks about the mail in.  I refer him to the lobby where our handouts reside, he thanks me and goes his way.  A minute or so later he comes back to the desk all red-faced and angry, he shakes a piece of paper and says, "This is an application for the absentee ballot NOT the ballot itself."  I was currently helping a little boy find some sports books and he continued to lecture me that I should learn the difference and explain it because "someone might take you at your word and think its the ballot."  Oh really?  First of all, congratulations on your reading comprehension, second, are you familiar with the electoral process?  The young boy I was helping looked like he was the one getting lectured, and I tried my best not to laugh.  Looking back, I should have told him that I was currently in the middle of helping a patron but he was more than welcome to wait to lecture me.  Damn you hindsight!  When I told my supervisor, his first reaction was, "Did he really think that absentee ballots are just laying around?" 

Speaking of absentee voting, I was at the desk with our new info desk volunteer when a lady came up to the desk and asked when absentee voting started.  Now we've been keeping a tally of voting questions we get at the desk, on average there's at least 40 questions a day probably more if we remembered to mark it down each and every time.  So it is knee-jerk reaction to say, "It starts at 2 pm."  She obviously didn't like this answer because she bristled and replied, "Your website says 8 am."  Yes, MY website.  I asked her if it was the library website that said that, because if it did I would have to get that fixed, she just said, "I don't remember, I had my husband check this morning."  She even said that there was a sign outside that mentioned 8am.  I told her that it was probably for a different location, so she goes back out to prove me wrong.  She comes back and makes no mention of said-sign.  There wasn't really anything else to say, so I just said, "Well, I'm not sure what site said that, but it starts at 2."  She of course tells me that she is a very busy person and that she couldn't come back in an hour.  Lady, I really don't know what you want me to do.  Before she stalks away, she tells me that she'll "print the website and prove me wrong."  The info volunteer had a look in her eye like, do I really want to do this?  I'm still waiting for her to come back with that print-out.

I had another patron who threw a full on grown-up hissy fit when our public printer wouldn't take more than $5.  When he tried to put in $1 over the limit, the machine just started spitting out coins.  He threw his other dollar on the table and complained, "What the hell!?  Why won't it just take the money and print my papers!??"  Our children's librarian was talking to me at the desk and she is completely allergic to any sort of confrontation so she just froze.  I ended up showing the patron the sign that showed the $5 at a time maximum and ended up doing it for him.

I had an elderly patron who walked straight up to the desk and said that she needed "help on the internet."  I have learned to decipher this phrase as meaning, "I am completely computer illiterate."  So I called for back up to cover the info desk for me and I walked her over to the public computers.  I usually have the patron sit down and I sit next to them, she told me that she doesn't know how to "do it," and told me to.  So I logged in for her and asked her what she needed to do.  "I need to get a travel visa to Brazil."....  okay, what have you done so far?  - Nothing.  Do you know what you need? - No.  So basically she as well as I learned all about the requirements to obtain a travel visa to Brazil.  Apparently, she's going on a group tour to South America and no one wanted to help her, and I figured out why.  She kept huffing and puffing after each and every question on the visa questionnaire.  "Why do I have to give them that?"  "Why do they need my parents' names?"  "I just want to travel there, why is this so difficult?"  Oh geez, no wonder your travel agent is suddenly, "unavailable" each time you called and the person at the Brazilian embassy kept telling you to do it online.  This person has gone through 70+ years of their life and still has not learned that you attract more flies with honey.  I seriously feel bad for her travel group, she's going to be the sour-puss that will try to ruin their vacation.

This was a long post, but then again this is my therapy.  Are the elections over with yet!??  If you're going to bitch and blame me for the rising gas prices, I can't promise I won't laugh in your face but I'll try.


  1. Someone might think the application is a ballot? Wait, what?

    One of the biggest challenges of working in a library has got to be keeping a straight face when dealing with certain special people.

    1. Hey Miss Katie,

      Yeah, dealing with absentee elections has really made me question the worth of the electoral process. Everyone says it's important to vote, but they seem to neglect the part where one should take the time to research what and whom they are voting for.

      I've given up on trying to keep a straight face and decided to focus on NOT punching people in the face. The amount of self-entitlement and disrespect I have witnessed is deplorable. "I'm better than you, you're just a librarian" blah blah blah...