You can’t be the leaders of tomorrow, you just can’t

At the University library we have some materials that are kept behind the desk. They’re course reserves, you have to come and ask for them. Somehow though, this seems to be beyond most student’s abilities.

Honestly, I’ve only been there just over two weeks and I’ve already had dozens of people come to me completely unaware of how to request the materials they require. It’s like they expect me to know what they need. That kind of attitude is frustrating enough at the public library but it gets even worse when you’re in a school.

Just for clarification, the reserve material is all filed exactly the same way as it is in the rest of the library, by its call number. Some reserves are folders and others are binders. And there are hundreds of each. So how exactly would you like me to remember what course every single item is for? For that matter, why do you think I should?

Maybe I’m just being silly but it’s your class, it’s your mark so wouldn’t it make it your job to know what you need? Wouldn’t make it in your best interest to know? And for the record, no I’m not going to make any special efforts to make sure you find what you’re looking for. You’re in University, sweetheart, it’s time to start taking some responsibility and making the effort to figure things out for yourself.

Despite all this I still have conversations like this nearly once every fifteen minutes.

“I need a book for my class.”

“Okay. Do you have the call number?”

Confused. “No, it’s a book on reserve.

Because I don’t know what reserve material is, clearly. If I did, I would have magically produced exactly what you’re looking for from behind the counter with a bit of a flourish and a Ta-Da!

“Yes, I understand. I still need a call number.”

“Oh, well it’s for Microbiology.”

“Is it *Bio Text*?” I take a stab in the dark as it’s one of those books that goes out almost hourly to this kind of class.

“No. The instructor is…”

“Listen, do you know how to find the call number?”

“No.”

I go through the process of showing them the online database they can use to find all this information themselves.

“You said it was Microbiology?”

“Yes.”

“Microbiology what?”

“210”

“There is no Microbiology 210.” I’m not even kidding, they don’t know their own classes. It’s damn near the end of the semester and they don’t know this.

“Not Microbiology. Biology.”

“Still no 210.”

“220.”

I pull up every reserve for Bio 220. He points to the book I suggested before we went through all this nonsense. He also takes the book without so much as a thank you, much less an apology for wasting my time. (This guy in particular was extra special because I saw him do exactly the same thing the very next day with the other girl. She even suggested the book right off the bat. He still said no and went through everything, again.)

This is only slightly less irritating than the people who don’t even know if the item is a book, folder or binder. Even less irritating than people who insist it’s a folder and then after ten minutes of searching and holding up a line realize it’s a binder. And definitely less irritating than people who actually get mad because you don’t know what it is they need.

That being said, there isn’t one of them that I wouldn’t gladly beat with one of the giant art books from the fourth floor.

-Late Fines

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Published in: on March 28, 2009 at 1:32 am  Comments (1)  

The Regulars: Last-Minute Larry

Last-Minute Larry

Just for the record, his name isn’t Larry. In fact, I have no idea what his name is. How Larry stuck for all these years is beyond me. But it has and no one questions it, so he’s Larry.

Larry looks to me about thirty-five-ish. It’s hard to guess with his thinning hair and his rumpled t-shirts. He stands out amongst the regulars just by being one of the few in that group who isn’t homeless, crazy or both. At least if he is, he hides it well. He’s always clean and he looks well fed. He doesn’t talk to himself or yell at the staff. He’s just Larry.

So why is he a regular worth mentioning at all? Why the nickname? 

Larry picked up his nickname because of his daily routine. Nearly every night, right before closing, in he wanders.

Now, I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t plenty of people who show up right before closing but very few of them have made such a habit out of it. And even few still have made a habit of coming in right before closing, going upstairs and collecting half a dozen news papers and then walking them downstairs and across the library and sitting until the very bitter end.

This is Last-Minute Larry.

Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 6:09 am  Comments (2)  

The truth shall set you free

This may come as a shock but the library, every now and then, makes a mistake. People are charge fines for things they did return, books get misplaced, etc. It’s not fair but it happens. Chalk it up to human error. We even hand out dispute forms if you get a fine you feel you don’t deserve.

Most of the time, however, the book was late. You screwed up. Deal with it and pay up. Okay? And if you can’t do that, could you at very least not lie to me? I’d appreciate it.

“Good afternoon! Reference Desk,” I answered the phone.

“I have a fine on my card.” She was clearly distressed about it. I figured it had to be a fairly large fine.

“Okay, let me just pull up your file.”

$0.30 was owing. That’s the fine for one day on one book. She called about $0.30. This was not going to go well.

“It says I returned this book late.”

“Yes, ma’am, it does.”

“If I put it in the book drop is it late?”

“If you put it in the book drop the day it was due, no.”

“Well that’s what I did.”

Right and I’m the Queen of Canada.

“You put in in the drop box on the day it was due?”

“Well the next morning.”

Oh yeah, you’re clearly not lying.

“So you put it in the drop box before the library opened the day after it was due?”

“Yeah, first thing in the morning.”

“Before we opened?”

“Well I left it in my sister’s car and she dropped it off first thing in the morning.”

“So your sister put it in the drop box before we opened?”

“She said she dropped it off there first thing in the morning!”

“In the drop box?”

“She said she came in first thing in the morning! She left it on the desk!”

“So it was on the desk and not in the drop box?”

“Yeah!”

“Then I’m afraid, ma’am, that the library was open and as the book came in after we opened it was over due. The late fine is $0.30. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

*click*

My supervisor happened to overhear this conversation and she was laughing when I hung up.

“You know you could have just gotten rid of that fine.”

“I know. I just hate it when they lie to me.”

Please folks, remember, if you treat the staff like they’re stupid it will come back to bite you in the ass. We’ll make sure of it.

-Late Fines

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm  Comments (2)  

It’s not offical Library policy

Pages get a lot of questions. Technically the reference desk is supposed to answer those questions but when you’re out on the floor you’re the first person the patrons see. For the most part, if it’s a question you can answer without any real trouble, you end up answering it.

Most of the time it’s a “where can I find this?” situation. Pages shelve everything so we know where everything is (usually). Why send the across the building to ask someone a question you have the answer to?

I had been upstairs shelving the DVDs and VHS collection when an elderly woman who stood about four feet and look like a stiff breeze would knock her over approached me.

“I was wondering if you could help me?”

“I can certainly try.”

“I’m looking for some movies. I’m part of seniors group and we’ve got a DVD player. I thought it might be nice if I could find a few films to take in to watch. Do you have any suggestions?” She looked at me hopefully.

This is the kind of question we’d normally end up sending to reference. One that takes a while to answer and requires a little more information that just the location of one item. But it was a slow day and I watch a lot of old movies so I actually had a couple of films I could recommend.

I pointed out some titles I thought would be good. Mostly old classics. Clark Gable, Humphry Bogart, Greta Garbo. Stars the seniors would know.

She took two or three and beamed at me.

“You’re such a sweet girl for helping me.” She said.

“Um, thanks!” I never know quite what to say. “You’re welcome.”

And then, without any warning, she hugged me. She hugged me while the rest of the girls working watched. And laughed.

I made a quick retreat to the back room. Unfortunately the story spread pretty quickly and I spent the rest of the day having people ask me if I needed a hug.

“No thanks. I met my quota for today.”

Please, don’t hug the staff.

-Late Fines.

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm  Comments (2)  

The Regulars: Bling-Bling

The library, like most public places, has it’s own cast of characters. Just about anywhere you go you’re likely to run in to a few people who aren’t exactly well balanced. The library seems to attract these people in droves. The unemployed, the homeless, the weirdos, the pervs, the crazies, they all come to us. It’s free, you can stay all day and it beats sitting outside when it’s -40.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There are worse places for them all to hang out and they make the days a little more interesting. Personally, I could do without the ones who tend to get belligerent or violent. But overall they’re interesting if nothing else.

Many of these people show up rain, shine, snow, sleet or plague of locusts. They’re part of every day life. These people all get nicknames. I don’t imagine any of them are aware of the names we’ve given them but it makes it easier for the staff if we have something to call them. Nearly all the names are pretty self-explanatory, some of them have back stories.

The Regulars are just some of the people I’ve met at the Library.

Bling-Bling

Bling-Bling has been a regular at the library for as long as I’ve worked there and from what I hear he’s been there a long time before that. He’s one of a handful of regulars that everyone keeps hoping will go away. There’s kind of a collective sigh of disappointment when he walks through the door and he’s there almost every day.

He’s a tiny little man with a thick eastern European accent and a constant sour look on his face. He’s hard to miss as he dresses like a Hollywood interpretation of a gay sailor. From what I’ve seen, he’s got a Hawaiian shirt collection to rival Weird Al’s, tan slacks for every occasion and more white loafers than Herb Tarleck. Oh and the hats. He loves his sailor hat and his white panama hat.

But why Bling-Bling?

This tiny little man, with his loud clothes and bad attitude, owns and wears gold chains and rings to rival Mr. T. Honestly, on his petit frame it’s a wonder he doesn’t topple over.

Like I said, he’s hard to miss.

Over the years he’s been rude to the staff, confrontational with the other patrons, demanding, demeaning, insulting and infuriating. Every now and again he’ll take a liking to one of the new girls and harass her until she’s afraid to go upstairs to do her job (I wish I could say that only happened once). He constantly lays claim on a stack of news papers he refuses to give up to anyone and holds them hostage until he leaves. He leaves his things piled on a table, keeping it from everyone else while he photocopies articals on, well, I really don’t know and should you touch his things – God help you.

He also writes. He has journal after journal full of his tiny, manic script. I’ve never gotten close enough to see what he writes about but whatever it is he writes about it plenty. I was told once that he was building a case against a security guard who he believed had done him wrong. I don’t know whether that’s true or not but knowing the guy, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. Whenever I see it I can’t help but think of the journal Dustin Hoffman kept in Rainman, keeping track of every wrong ever done.

In short, he’s an asshole.

I know what you’re thinking. Why, if he’s such a blight, don’t you ban him?

Well, for the most part, banning a patron takes time and work and there has to be a serious infraction of library policy for anyone to be banned for any real length of time. Believe me, if anyone thinks it ridiculous that he hasn’t been banned all together, I’d be the first to raise my hand.

That said, we were given a whole Bling-Bling free year. Not only that but we got it in one of the most glorious ways possible. Two birds with one stone sort of thing.

Bling had been pushing it a bit farther than usual last year. I think it was because he’d gone so long without a formal reprimand and he was getting cocky. He’d played his daily game of collecting his news papers and setting up shop at a table on the mez. Apparently one of our other patrons missed the memo about not touching his things or taking his papers.

When they tried to liberate one of the papers from his pile he snapped.

They complained to the librarians.

This is one of those things that will get you banned. Yelling at other patrons and being a big enough asshole for everyone in the library to notice.

The librarian charged with giving him his ban notice just happened to be a librarian we all like about as much as we like Bling (and oddly enough is about the same size). He’s one of those people who had burned all his bridges with the staff with a boyish glee years before and who carried an attitude only someone of his small stature could truly carry off.

It was a match made in heaven and a show-down for the ages. I’m still not sure who I should have been cheering on.

When everyones favourite librarian (let’s call him Ontario – it’s where he was from and so he liked to tell us regularly) went marching upstairs, notice in hand, Bling was on a roll. He was having none of it.

He didn’t want the notice, he didn’t care about the notice and he let Ontario know. (Imagine the “Badges” scene from Treasure of the Sierra Madre) Ontario, being Ontario, insisted on presenting him with the notice anyway in his typical “service with a smile” kind of way.

Bling took offense.

He also took a swing at Ontario.

It was a golden moment in library history.

Bling was banned for a year in the most beautiful way possible. Especially since the original ban notice would have only been for a month.

In that brief, shining moment I think I actually liked the guy.

-Late Fines.

Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  

No, I’m not a Librarian

It was never my plan to work for the public library. Growing up I spent a lot of time there, more than most people I guess. But it was never my goal to be on the other side of the counter. 

That being said, I’ve been there nearly five years. I started out on what was supposed to be a six month contract. At the end of the six months they liked me enough to keep me on. I thought sure, another year and I’ll have found something else. Silly me.

For the better part of those five years I worked as a Page. That means I was one of the people who goes around re-shelving things, picking up discarded material, finding and processing holds, sorting items, basically anything that no one else wanted to do. It sounds like a simple job and the tasks are. It’s also one of the more physically demanding jobs the library offers. There’s a lot of lifting and carrying and while most of the jobs don’t really seem that bad when you’re doing them, it’s the kind of thing that wears down a person. The Pages I know have all ended up with repetitive strain injuries of one kind or another over the years. 

I should point out that this is also the lowest paid position at the library.

(I’m not going to start complaining about the job already, don’t worry. I, like so many of the library staff, do complain like it’s a competitive sport but this is just so you know a little about my background at the library.)

Last year I moved in to a Clerk position. It’s not nearly as cool as the Kevin Smith variety but it has it’s perks. More money, less work. That sort of thing. It also means I’m not out on the floor any more, I’ve got a big desk that separates me from the rabble. I’m now the person who check material in and out. 

Oh yeah, I’m also the one who deals with the late fines. We get a lot of those.

Recently I moved most of my day work over to the University library. Honestly I haven’t been there long enough to really form an opinion. But if history has taught me anything it’s that I’ll have one soon enough. I can say, however, that the public library will always feel more comfortable just because I’ve been there so long. I know the people and I’m friends with most of the staff. It’s the reason I’m doing both instead of leaving completely. I can also say right now, the University may have fewer homeless people hanging out, but they are in no way crazy free. 

My move over to the University meant giving up my days at the public library so now I’m confined to my night job. Our library has a movie theatre. It’s only one screen and we play a lot of foreign films, art films, odd balls, things that don’t play at the regular theaters. I work there a few nights a week. It’s how I’ve hung on to the public library and , really, I like it down there. That and I get to see free movies. It’s enough to keep me around.

So now you know a little about me and what I do, I’m sure you’d also like to know why I’m here writing all this.

Fair enough.

The library is full of stories. Not just in the books. It’s a public place full of every kind of person. It’s also the kind of place that seems to bring out the crazies. These are some of those stories. 

Enjoy. 

-Late Fines.

Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 3:30 pm  Comments (2)