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The Constant Push-Pull Of Customer Service

, , , , | Right | March 18, 2022

My library is in an old building with lots of maintenance issues that will be fixed in a future renovation. The entrance is made up of a pair of double doors that open out into the hall. One is always locked because something’s wrong with the mechanism and if it gets unlocked, you need an actual screwdriver to lock it again. Doing that every day at closing would be a massive pain, so it stays closed and locked. This will get fixed during the “renovation.” The other, ideally, stays open.

But when circumstances force us to close it, the trouble begins. There are large signs on the doors. On the hallway side, the locked one has a sign that says, “Please Use Other Door,” and the unlocked one has a sign that says, “Pull.” There are corresponding signs on the inside of the doors telling patrons which one to push.

I keep a running tally of how many times I need to get up from my desk to help patrons get in or out during any given shift. The conversation always goes like this.

Patron: “Why is the door locked? Aren’t you open?”

Me: “Yes, you just have to use this door.”

Patron: “I tried to open the door! It was locked!”

Me: “Yes, like the sign says, you should pull this door toward you.”

Patron: “I did, but it was locked!”

Me: “This door—” *showing them the door I am holding open* “—will always be unlocked when we are open. Now that you’re here, how can I help?”

And then, on the way out…

Patron: “Your door is locked!”

Me: “Push on the right-hand one.”

Me: “No, the other one.”

Me: “No, push on it.”

Maybe the patrons will also get fixed during the renovation?

Maybe The Ancestors Are Hiding For Good Reason?

, , , , | Right | March 16, 2022

I work in the history center of my library. My supervisor is usually involved with big projects, so another librarian and I take care of the day-to-day stuff, including dealing with patrons who don’t understand that we aren’t magic.

Most people, when they realize they are asking for impossibilities, laugh at themselves and apologize.


He seemed perfectly intelligent and sane. He was trying to find the grave of an ancestor in one of the local cemeteries. We do have a number of graveyard listings and locations of the older graves. However, the cemetery he was citing had only given us a partial chart because their offices had a fire years ago and a large chunk of their indexes were burned years before they made up their charts.

He told us the cemetery didn’t have the listings he needed, but he was confident that we would have them. I explained that we had the listings that weren’t burned but that was it. Whatever burned back in 1888 is not available to anyone.

Patron: “Well, how am I supposed to find my ancestor’s grave?”

Me: “Unfortunately, you’ll have to go to that section and walk up and down the aisles until you find [Ancestor].”

Patron: “I don’t want to do that. I want to be able to go right to it.”

Me: “I’m sorry, but we don’t have the listings for that area, sir. They are gone. They were destroyed in the fire.”

Patron: “Why didn’t you get them before they were burned?”


Me: “Because this department and the locator project did not exist before a few years ago.”

The patron started pulling out random genealogy books which weren’t going to have what he wanted, either.

Patron: “Well, how can I get the location?”

Me: “As I said, sir, the only way to find the grave is to literally go to the cemetery and… find the grave.”

The patron went through some reverse phone books from way back in the day — the 1880s through the early 1920s — and then brought over one of the later directories.

Patron: “I need to call this number.”

He was pointing to a phone number in one of the 1910 directories. It was for a funeral parlor and coffin manufacturer that no longer existed.

Me: “Sir, that business no longer exists.”

Patron: “But they would know where [Ancestor] was buried.”

Me: “I have no doubt, but the place hasn’t existed for thirty years. It’s a nursing home now.”

Patron: “They wouldn’t have kept the records of the funeral parlor?”

Me: “No, sir. They wouldn’t because they are a nursing home now and they need the space for their own records.”

He harrumphed off. Not too much time passed before he was back, this time with another ancient telephone listing.

Patron: “I want you to call this number and ask for his boss.”

The listing was for his ancestor’s job. It was a famous business and it was one of the things that drew in ghost hunters among others, but the business was closed and the family that ran it was gone. I mean, all of them were dead.

Me: “Sir, that phone number does not currently exist in that four-digit form.”

Patron: “Well, call the current number and get [Ancestor]’s boss on the line. He might know the location of the grave.”

Me: “Sir, this number is from 1910. Your ancestor’s boss is also dead.”

Patron: “Well, ask his son, then.”

Me: “Sir, the business shut down thirty years ago. Everyone connected with the business is dead. There is no one to call. Even if there were, why would they have a record of your ancestor’s gravesite location?”

Patron: “They kept track of everything in those days.”

We went around and around on this for an hour. He was very polite and amazingly calm during the exchange, while I began to experience an outbreak of sweat and impatience.

I finally went to my supervising colleague and asked if she could talk to him. She said, “Is HE back again? I’ve been through this with him twice, and the only way to find the graves in that quarter of the cemetery is to go through the aisles looking at the stones. There IS no other way.”

She went out to tell him this AGAIN. Meanwhile, our other colleague said she had had to explain it to him at least once. It seemed like he could understand anything else, but this was one area of obsession that he refused to understand.

Don’t Football Players Normally Wear More Padding?

, , , , , , | Learning | March 15, 2022

I work the night shift at my college library. We have study rooms with big TVs that students are able to reserve. Normally, it’s for watching recorded lectures or powerpoints, but you can watch anything in there.

Tonight, we have a group of guys reserving it to watch the playoff games. That’s okay, as long as you don’t get too rowdy. We set them up in a room on the far side of the library. They’re not disturbing anyone; I can just faintly hear the sound of screaming and excitement from the TV itself, or so I think.

Student: “Umm… there’s a group of guys watching… non-school-related videos.”

Me: “Oh, I know. Is it too loud?”

Student: *Flustered* “Yes! It’s too loud!”

Me: “All righty, I’ll tell them to turn it down. Thanks for letting me know.” 

I start heading toward the stairs.

Student: “They’re not up there! They’re back there!”

The student points to the other side.

Me: “Wait…”

I realize that the “football noises” have been coming from the wrong direction this whole time. 

I follow the “football noises” and uncover a librarian’s worst nightmare: a group of teen boys huddled around a monitor.

Me: “WHY?! Why with the volume up all the way like that?! My God!”

I turn to the hero student that reported them.

Me: “I’m sorry, I got them confused with a group of guys watching football upstairs.”

Teen Boy: “You’re allowed to watch football in the library?” 

Me: “You’re watching sexually graphic videos in the library. Why do you care what’s allowed?!

They were subsequently herded out like a group of crime-committing cattle.

She Foiled Her Own Plans

, , , , | Right | March 13, 2022

In the small public library where I work, we have a cash register for purchases like copies and prints, plastic and tote bags, and late fines. We don’t bring in a lot of money, and since most people pay by card, we don’t have a lot of change in the drawer.

This morning, a lady I don’t recognize comes in. She needs help making copies of some paperwork — several copies of several different forms. I don’t pay much attention to what’s on them — officially, I’m not even supposed to look at the forms in order to protect the lady’s privacy — but she still chats away while I’m making the copies, telling me far more than I’d like to know about her financial situation.

Then comes the time to pay for the copies. I ring her up and tell her the total. She takes a wad of 500 kronor bills (500 SEK is a little less than 60 USD) out of her wallet and I can immediately see that this is going to be a problem.

Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t have change for a bill that size. We don’t get a lot of cash, so I can’t give back change for anything larger than a hundred.”

Patron: “Oh, I should have thought of that when I got my spending money for the month from the bank this morning. I thought you still accepted cash.”

Me: “We do, but I can’t make change for five hundred. You can also pay by credit or debit card or Swish [Swedish pay app].”

Patron: “But I hate using my debit card. That’s how you get scammed, you know. People next to you in line will steal your card details with their skimming things.”

She sends a significant glance over her shoulder at the person behind her in line, a regular patron who is waiting patiently for her turn in full compliance with social distancing recommendations.

Me: “I’m sorry, but there is literally no possible way for me to break that bill for you, even if I was to make an exception. I don’t have that much change in my drawer. But if you don’t want to pay by card, I can hold your copies for you so you can go back to the bank or to the grocery store; they’ll be able to break your bill.”

It’s a small town. Both of these places are no more than a hundred metres away.

Patron: *Sighs loudly* “No, no, I guess I will have no choice but to pay by card. I’m just worried I’m going to get scammed.”

Me: *Laughs* “Well, I don’t think you need to worry about that here. We’re a small public library; there aren’t a lot of con men around.”

Patron: “Oh, I didn’t mean you; I’m sure you’re honest. But you can never know who’s standing next to you in line.”

Once again, she gives the regular patron in line behind her the stink-eye. The regular patron pointedly takes another step back. The lady then proceeds to put her big wad of cash back into her wallet and take out a debit card WRAPPED IN ALUMINUM FOIL. She waves the card at me before unwrapping it.

Patron: “This is how you have to do it these days unless you want to get all your money stolen, you know.”

She pays. I print out her receipt and hand it to her. She spends a little more time rewrapping her card and getting her wallet and papers in order before she leaves.

I turn to help the poor regular next in line.

Me: “Sorry for the wait. How can I help you?”

Regular: *Smiling* “Wow, it’s not every day you get accused of being a criminal.”

Me: *Shaking my head* “Well, some people can’t be too careful, I guess.”

Regular: “Considering all that cash she was flashing around in full sight of everyone, I’d be more worried about getting mugged if I was her.”

Yet Another Patron Who Should Switch To eBooks

, , | Right | March 11, 2022

This story takes place at a time when many public libraries in my country are in the process of introducing self-service checkout machines. The staff likes them because they free up time for us to do other things, and many of the patrons also find them convenient and time-saving. Patrons who don’t want to use them still get personal service, of course.

I’m working on my own at my pretty small library branch one morning. There have been very few patrons, and I’m making use of the time by shelving the cartload of books a teacher dropped off earlier. The place is small enough that I can do this and still keep an eye on the information desk in case anyone needs my help.

A semi-regular patron walks in while I’m a few metres away from the desk. She’s infamous for going out of her way to find things to be offended by. I know she usually likes to browse on her own, so I just wave and smile at her and go back to what I’m doing.

Patron: *Pretending she hasn’t seen me* “Hello? Is there anyone here? Are you open? Hello?”

I drop my books and go back to the desk.

Me: “Hello, [Patron], how are you? Do you need any help?”

Patron: “I heard you got those new machines. I guess that’s just an excuse for you not to do any work anymore.”

Me: “I was shelving books, actually, but I’m happy to help you. Do you need help finding anything?”

Patron: *Scoffs* “I’ve been coming here since before you were born, I know my way around.”

Me: “Great! Just let me know if I can help.”

Patron: “I’m not going to use a machine. I don’t trust those things.”

Me: “You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to. Just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll help you check out your books, just as usual.”

She scoffs again and goes to find her books. She’s the only visitor for the moment, and I’m one of those people who can’t stand to be idle, so I return to my shelving while she looks around.

Two minutes later, she comes up to the desk again.

Patron: “Hello! Can I get some help here? Is there anyone here?”

Me: *Walks over again* “Yes, [Patron], I am literally two metres away. How can I help you?”

Patron: “Have you read this book?”

Me: “I haven’t had time to read that one yet, but my coworker has and she thought it was very good.”

Patron: “Hm. I don’t think I want it. I’ll be back.”

She goes back into the stacks. I go back to my shelving. Then, a few minutes later, she’s back again, waving another book.

Patron: “Helloooo, is anyone going to help me?”

At this point, I realize that she doesn’t actually need any help; she’s just upset that I’m not sitting behind the desk, ready to be at her beck and call. Very well, my bad back is hurting anyway, so I’m happy to take a break and sit down for a bit.

While I wait for her to get ready, I check and answer some emails and handle interlibrary loan requests. Ten minutes later, she comes back, slamming a few books down on the counter.

Patron: “I hope you’re going to help me because I’m not going to use a machine.”

Me: “That’s okay, a lot of people don’t want to use the machines. It’s just a new option for people who are in a hurry or just prefer to check themselves out. I’ll help you right here, just like I’ve always done.”

I check out her books and wish her a pleasant day. Just as she’s about to leave, she must, of course, have the last word.

Patron: “You don’t know how lucky you are, sitting there behind your desk all day! You should be thankful there are people like me still around, or you wouldn’t have anything to do!”