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Branch Out Your Understanding

, , , , | Right | December 7, 2022

I’m working in a library in a shopping center. A patron walks in.

Patron: “Hello. I have a lawn care business, and I was wondering if you needed someone to take over mowing the grass outside.”

Me: “Oh, cool. We don’t actually have anything to do with that. The shopping center is owned by [Landlady]. You’d have to talk to her.”

Patron: “Is she here today?”

Me: “Ah, no. But we can pass on a message to her.”

He writes down his contact information.

Patron: “Does she come by very often?”

Me: “Not to the library, no.”

Patron: “Have you worked for her long? Do you like her?”

Me: “Oh, no, I don’t actually work for her. I work for the library. She owns the building. The library rents the space from her.”

Patron: *Looking around​* “This is a library? It’s really nice. She provided all of these books for people to borrow?”

Me: “Ah, no. These are all [Public Library System]’s materials. They don’t come from [Landlady]’s personal collection or anything.”

Patron: “Has she had this library here for very long?”

Me: “Well, the [Public Library System] has rented this space for several years now. She’s the landlady. She just provided the space. We put everything else in here.”

Patron: “Is she a good boss?”

Me: “She’s not my boss, so I wouldn’t know. My boss is at the main branch of the library in [Other Town in the parish].”

Patron: “Main branch? [Landlady] owns multiple libraries?”

Me: “No. No, she doesn’t. It’s a public library. [Landlady] doesn’t own any of our branches.”

The conversation went in circles for a while. When he left, I still don’t think he understood.

If You Don’t Want To Be Treated Like A Child…

, , , | Right | December 5, 2022

For the past several years, I’ve worked in our public library’s computer lab. Most of my job consists of helping patrons print and doing some basic troubleshooting. It’s not very busy these days, but our management tries to schedule two people on the desk at all times to cover breaks and keep wait times down.

An older man is standing by our payment kiosk. He hasn’t asked for help, but it sounds like he’s struggling, so I head over to see what I can do. I see him about to insert his library card into the bill collector and, afraid he’s about to lose his card and potentially damage the machine, I hurry to intervene.

Me: “Oh, no, no, no! Not like that! Here, let me—”

Patron: “I AM NOT A TODDLER! Don’t you dare talk to me like one!”

I’m struck dumb with shock. This explosion came out of nowhere from what I can tell. All I can do is mutely point to where he needs to put his card to proceed and return to the desk once he’s got his prints. My coworker gives me a wide-eyed look and we nod to each other, a silent agreement that that was kind of crazy.

For a time, it’s peaceful, but before long, it sounds like the man is struggling again, this time resorting to muttered curses under his breath. Steeling myself, I go over to the man once more. This time, he’s sitting at a computer, so I stand opposite of him with a table between us. He refuses to look at me at first.

Me: “Sir, do you need any—”

Patron: “What I need is to not be treated like a child! I’m a grown man and will be respected as one!”

Me:Speaking of which, the language you have been using is inappropriate and needs to stop. We are here to help you, sir, and if you don’t want help from me personally, that’s fine and I understand. My coworker is here and she can help you, or we can contact a manager if that’s what you’d prefer. But we cannot help you if you don’t ask us for it. Do we have an understanding?”

The man had deflated somewhat, but he muttered petulantly about not cursing, and when I informed him that the desk was not at all far from where we were and we could hear him, he fell silent.

I returned to the desk and quietly offered an apology to my coworker for putting her on the spot like that. Thankfully, she said she understood and agreed that it was probably the right call.

Sure enough, the patron came to my coworker and asked for her help before leaving. I was helping someone else at the time, so I don’t know how the exchange went, but it was certainly much quieter, and my coworker reported that he was much more polite with her.

This Is Why We Need Libraries

, , , , , , , , | Right | November 26, 2022

I work in a public library. A woman comes up to our help desk with a young girl about five or six years old. It should be noted that the woman is white, but the young girl is black.

Patron: “Hello. Long story short, I am fostering this girl while her asylum application is going through the motions. Her English is limited, but she’s fluent in French. My French is okay, but I’m having trouble explaining the concept of a library.”

Me: “My coworker is fluent in French. Maybe she can explain easier?”

Patron: “Thanks, but I don’t think it’s a translation issue. I just don’t think she understands the concept.”

Me: “Hmm. I’ll call my coworker over and let’s see what we can do.”

I call my coworker over, who is originally from Martinique. After explaining the situation, he starts speaking to the little girl. What they say was translated to me after.

Coworker: *To the little girl* “So, how it works is that you look at the books. When you find one you like, you bring it to me or to my friend here, and we make a note. Then you can borrow it!”

Little Girl: “What does ‘borrow’ mean?”

Coworker: “It means that as long as you promise to bring it back when you have finished reading it, you can take it home.”

Little Girl: “But I have no money.”

Coworker: “It’s okay. You don’t need money. You just need to bring the book to me or my friend. As long as you’re with your guardian, we can sort out the rest.”

Little Girl: “So… I can read the books?”

Coworker: “Yes!”

Little Girl: *Eyes going wide, looking around the whole place* “I can read… all the books?”

Coworker: *Laughing* “Haha, yes, as fast as you can read them!”

She is simply awestruck. She slowly turns around, as if the sheer size of the place is finally dawning on her. She then tugs on the shirt of her foster mum.

Little Girl: “Let’s go find the books!”

She checked out with five books (the maximum for a child dependent on an adult library card) and she was back within days to return them and check out five more.

After a few months of this, and as her English improved unbelievably quickly (I wonder how that was happening?) she was able to get her own card, and her voracious appetite for books increased as a result.

Sixteen years later, the asylum application is a thing of the past, and this little girl is now a young woman studying for her degree in Literature. She uses our library for all her resource materials.

At the time of writing this story, she currently has the maximum number of books out on loan and has never been late in returning or extending their loans.

Not So Book-Smart

, , , , | Right | November 20, 2022

Summer is weeding season at our library. In order to buy new books, we have to get rid of old ones that haven’t been in circulation for a while. Children’s books we give away for free to schools and preschools or just random children who happen to pass by. Books for adults are sold for a symbolic sum.

Our yearly book sale is popular and appreciated by most visitors, but there are always people who believe that every single library needs to have every single book ever written.

Customer: “Why are you selling off this book series? I remember reading them a few years back; they were so good.”

Me: “No one has checked them out in the past five years, and we need to make space so we can keep buying new books.”

Customer: “What if someone wants to read them?”

Me: “The national depot library has them, so we’ll just do an interlibrary loan.”

Customer: “I just don’t understand why you’re getting rid of perfectly good books.”

Me: “If you want to have them at hand, you’re very welcome to buy them. I’ll even let you have them for free if they mean that much to you.”

Customer: “But I don’t have space for that many books!”

Me: “Neither do we.”

From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 16

, , , , , | Right | November 18, 2022

I work in a library. We have a very simple booking system for visitors who need to use our public computers. There are also clear instructions on the screen for every step in the process. If someone needs help, we will assist them, of course, but the system is built to be self-service.

I’m busy helping people at the information desk when I see a woman at a computer, waving at me. She has a boy with her who is maybe ten years old.

Patron: “Hello! Can I get some help, please?”

Child: *Trying to get her attention* “Mum.”

Me: “Absolutely! I’ll help you next!”

Child: *A little louder* “Mum!”

Patron: *To me* “Are you going to take long?”

Me: “I will be with you in a minute.”

Patron: “I don’t want to stress you out, but we’re in a hurry.”

Child: “Mum!”

I finish helping the person I’m with and head over to them, just in time to watch the boy tug at his mother’s sleeve and say:

Child: “Mum, it says on the screen what to do! You just type your number in!”

The patron finally pays attention to him and takes a moment to read the instructions.

Patron: “Oh. Oh, never mind. Looks like we don’t need any help after all.”

From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 15
From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 14
From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 13
From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 12
From The Mouth Of Babes, Part 11