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Never Joke With The Customers… Ever!

, , , , | Right | July 18, 2022

We are sometimes asked to request a book from the British Library. These come with a fee of about £18, and fines can get quite high for a late return because the books are not from our own catalogue.

From years of experience, I know that these books tend to be for people’s special interests and tend to be of an academic nature. It’s important to note that the bad jokes have been honed by a decade of dealing with fellow bookworms and bibliophiles.

I’m sitting at the issue desk with my colleague, and a woman approaches my side of the desk. She is a tall, elegantly dressed woman I estimate to be in her early sixties. I’m a woman in my early thirties and I’ve been here for a decade.

Patron: “I’m here to pick up the British Library book on [subject].”

Me: “Here you go.”

I check the title and flip through the pages to find our documents, so I get a quick peek at the subject. It’s probably very interesting for a specific few!

Me: “That will be £18, please. When you return the book, please bring it to the desk so we can process it back to the library. The renewal and late return fees are listed in the cover.”

Patron: “Thank you… What are the late fees?”


Me: “Oh, they’re pretty steep. Librarians turn up and say ‘Shhh!’ at you.”

Patron: “Oh!” 

I proceed to handle another small inquiry for this patron without any problems when she asks my name.

Me: “It’s [My Name]… at least that’s the one the librarians gave me!” *Wink*

Patron: *Smiling* “Oh, it’s all very KGB!”

Me: “Ha! Yes! Here you go! Enjoy your book!”

Patron: “This is an academic book!”

At this point, she turns to leave, and then she does a 180 to come back and say:

Patron: “I have a Ph.D.”

All I can really do is nod and smile. She leaves. After a moment, I turn to my colleague and say:

Me: “I’m suddenly getting the feeling that interaction didn’t go as well as it felt at the time.”

My colleague shrugs and says she thought the comment about having a Ph.D. was a bit odd, but perhaps she was just nervous?

About two more minutes pass and the woman is back at the desk. This time she’s standing behind her husband with her hand clasped defensively to her chest.

Patron’s Husband: “You threatened my wife!”

Me: “I… um…” *Looks at the woman* “I am so sorry. I’m not sure I understand?”

Patron’s Husband: “You said the librarians would kill her!”

Me: “Oh, gosh, no! No, I was making a bad joke about librarians saying ‘shush’ being scary.” *To the patron* “I’m very sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean to. I don’t think that joke was very funny in retrospect.”

Patron’s Husband: “Well, that’s okay.” *Turns to his wife*

Patron: “Oh… yes. That’s okay.”

Patron’s Husband: “You really need some more customer service training.”

Me: “I’ll consider this a lesson.”

Patron’s Husband: “Thank you.”

They both said goodbye and left.

I heard no more about this interaction. The next time I saw this patron, she was very friendly. I was later informed that she got her Ph.D. at age sixty, which is nice to know. I was also told that she’s often at our archive centre badgering other researchers about using pens near the books.

I often wonder how many times that long-suffering husband has had conversations like this with customer service people on behalf of his wife.

I still make the joke about the librarians. It always goes down as dorkily as you’d expect with other bookworms.

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