Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things Your Librarian Won't Tell You

...because it would likely get him/her fired.

If you read a certain monthly magazine available in check-out lines, you have seen a regular feature listing things your plumber/doctor/waitress would like you to know, but probably won't say to your face. I recently asked some fellow librarians from across the country what they would like to contribute to a librarian version. The question obviously struck a chord, so I decided to compile them all here. Some are funny, some are serious, all of them made me nod my head as I read them.

I do have to add one caveat: we all love our job, and we love our patrons. We like being able to help people, and we don't want any of these to scare anyone away. One of our worst moments is when we discover someone was at our library, didn't ask for help for whatever reason, and left thinking we didn't have what they wanted or needed. One of our best moments is when someone says, "I know this is a long shot, but I read this book when I was in middle school...and it was sort of in earth tones..and there was this girl with crazy hair who lived with robbers or something..." and we can lead them right to Ronia, the Robber's Daughter. So, please, go ahead and ask us those questions - just don't get mad at us if we can't work miracles!

Without further ado, and in no particular order, some of the things your librarian would like you to know:


While we are flattered by your assumption that we can control the weather, it is not actually our fault that the internet is down, and no, we do NOT know when it will be back up again!

(along the same lines, and hands-down winner:) By the arcane powers invested in our staff at library school graduation ceremony we will choose to resurrect the Internet when our beer fund has reached a much more respectable level.
Would you care to contribute?

Wikipedia: caveat emptor. Generally reliable, but use with caution.

No sir or ma'am, I can not turn the computers back on after they have automatically shut down for the day! And no amount of begging or pleading will change what I am UNABLE to do. 

While I'm happy to assist you in learning to use the computer, I cannot do your homework/job placement test/e-mail/etc. for you. You must navigate the mouse and read the screen in front of your face.

General Assistance:

I'd be very happy to help you. Perhaps if you put down your CELL PHONE we can find what you need!

I can direct you to information on basic computer use as well as the free classes the library offers: however, it is not my job to sit with you and teach you how to use the computer any more than it is my job to teach you how to read. I also do not give tax or legal advice.

Doing research and finding information is *part *of a student's homework, and is an important learning experience for them. Parents do their children a disservice when they ask the librarian to find books or information for their children's assignments. At the very least, the student should be with the parent when they ask.

The point of the children's literature class is that you are supposed to be able to search for the books and decide if it is a fairytale or within the age group you are telling me, not me. (Makes me worry about the education of our children. And yes I took that class for my education degree so I know you should be able to make the decision.)

If you don't see an item you want on the shelf, you can let us know and we can work hard to get it to you as quickly as possible.

We do not need to hear the details of your divorce/illness/sexual proclivities in order to help you find materials relating to it.
Please READ the information we have provided. We have gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that signage, websites and other printed materials will answer your questions.

Personal space! You keep yours and I'll keep mine and they won't intersect (unless you are on a computer and I need to reach in in order to assist)

If you ask a question, listen for the answer instead of cutting me off with a guess at what I am going to say. (If I'm way off base because I didn't do a good reference interview, then please go ahead and cut me off, in a polite way, of course. :))

We are here to help-please ASK! We WANT you to ask...please ask instead of walking out assuming we don't have what you want. That is a fail for both of us.

No, I don't remember that book you checked out three weeks ago that you liked. AND the book being black with a picture of a cloudy house with maybe a person or a gate isn't enough for me to find it.
I understand that your teacher said you must bring in by tomorrow three age-appropriate biographies of the doctor who treated Abraham Lincoln after he was shot but....

I'm sorry, but primary source materials on Julius Caesar weren't written in English.

I'm sorry, but we won't be able to get you any photographs of William the Conqueror.

Children (watch for a common theme here):

It is NOT okay to leave your two-year-old unattended in the play area of the children's department while you catch up on Facebook in the tech center on the other side of the building. We are not a babysitting service.

No, actually I haven't seen your child or been watching them when you just let them wonder in an hour ago. You are responsible for your child. I was helping people/working. ( And please don't ask me if it's ok to leave your child unattended while you go to grocery store, or the computers for an hour or more. This is a public building so anyone can come in.)

No, you may not check your children in here. You are responsible for them at all times.

Try reading or playing with your child while in the library instead of spending an hour on Facebook while your young child gets bored and you yell at him or her for acting developmentally appropriately like a child who is bored.

When you force your child/student to take a book that they don't really want just because it is AR and in his/her level, they are not going to love reading.

Yes, I understand the your child is exceptionally brilliant, talented and much advanced for his age, clever beyond the dreams of Einstein, but a 3 month old baby still can't come into Storytime for 3 year olds. I'm sorry if he is already bored with the Babytime program, but there is an age restriction.

To Parent- No the teacher did not just give your child the assignment yesterday. We have had kids in all month working on it.

Final Words:

I would like people to know that I don't just sit around all day and read books and say "Shhhhh." Library work is very challenging and rewarding.

A *biography* is a book about someone, written by someone else. An *autobiography* is a book about someone's life, written by the person it is about.

No really, we want you to put items on the cart instead of shoved behind something, on top of a shelf, or any spot on a shelf where it looks like it will fit. We would rather put it back in the right spot ourselves than have to hunt for it later.

I'm actually more excited about you NOT having overdue fines than squeezing any payments out of you!

The library is a GREAT place to preview a book/movie/CD before you buy it!

The signs hanging around the building often have information that you're looking for, like fun events. Please look at them!

Please, if at all possible, routinely bathe, wash clothes, brush teeth, etc. 

It's not our fault someone hasn't returned the book, CD, DVD, game, etc. that you have a hold on and which has been overdue for several days. Yelling at me will not make it magically appear, but I will probably remember your face and that you were rude to me about something over which I have no control.

Treat our pages like they were (beloved) family members. They are good, kind, hardworking people, working for minimum wage or just over it, with little power at the library yet who are on the "front lines". Don't yell at them, curse at them, or throw things (books, money, etc.) at them. It's usually not their fault.

When you request that the library purchase an item, please check beforehand to make sure that the item actually EXISTS!

No, that book obviously sitting on my desk is not meant for you, why do you have your hands on it???

No I can't renew your library book after I leave this check-out counter on my way home.

"We have always closed at 5:00 on Fridays" (because people are always so astonished that we do, and say "since when have you started closing at 5:00?" pretty much every week without fail. This said at 2 minutes till 5:00 when they have a bunch of stuff they want to look for....)

And one last caveat: Please don't think the librarians who contributed to this are bitter, negative people. The good experiences far outweigh the bad in our job, but sometimes, you just need to get something off your chest! We have all made exceptions to every one of these rules (except for maybe controlling the weather/internet), because we truly want people to leave happy - just remember to thank your local librarian when he or she goes above and beyond for you!


  1. Huh, I thought I was the only person who ever got money thrown at them...

    1. I got money thrown at me because I wasn't able to let her pay fines for a different library.

    2. Money...books...library cards...I've had all three thrown at me! I've also had several people place their library cards in their mouths then attempt to hand me the "saliva enhanced" end of the card. To those people I have actually said, "No, I want the dry side," or "Would you like to scan it yourself?" What I really wanted to say was "YUCK! Are you CRAZY?"

  2. I would add-
    Yes, the books and DVDs really are free..really...so no need to try and sneak one into your backpack...the only thing that does is make the library spend more money on replacing that item instead of something new.

  3. I don't know that I'd mind if people threw money at me...

  4. not if they're calling you a bloodsucking leech at the same time...

    1. Note of experience. Small change hurts when it hits tender places.

    2. By all means, insist on paper money, preferably with many zeros on it, when people might want to throw money at you.

  5. if you want, i can provide my phone number because I AM THE ONE who returns everything late. yep. i actually paid... $47 in late fees last week at our library. Ouch. I probably had the book you had on hold. Sorry. It was me. But so you know, we love our library, my kids are never unattended (well, my 9 yr old sits and reads at the table quietly now), and we put the books back in exactly the same spot we pulled them from. Possibly because I am the school volunteer librarian so I've taught them. But are you sure you don't sit around and shush people all day? I'm pretty sure that's what you do... (wink wink)

    1. Don't feel too bad - I always have late fees, and I'M HERE EVERY DAY.

    2. You aren't a real library user unless you have fines sometimes. And I've sworn I returned a book only to find it in a bag behind my chair or under the seat. Ooopsss....

    3. We don't mention the good patrons as much in groups, because we're too busy treasuring them ;-)

  6. How about... We're willing to give everyone a chance, but the more you take advantage of this, the less likely you are to get another chance.

  7. Ami-- if you're worried about negativity, maybe the next compilation can be favorite library moments?

  8. You're right...I love that my job gives me the opportunity to sit and read all day. The library fairies actually plan children's programs, shop for them and run them, read book reviews at home, purchase books, help children and their parents find age and level books, and they get paid an enormous amount of money to do it.

  9. "the book being black with a picture of a cloudy house with maybe a person or a gate isn't enough for me to find it."
    I know this kind of comment is common, but really, if you type things like that into Google along with the phrase "children's book" or what have you, you will achieve overwhelming success; in my experience, at least 80%.
    --A librarian who has her catalog AND Google open at all times :)

  10. What I would love to say to picky but unmotivated readers: when asking for a book suggestion, repeatedly saying you like "anything" and then refusing all recommendations does not help. If you really want help finding a new book, please be informative and receptive. I do my utmost to connect the right book to the right person ... but I'm not a mind-reader!

  11. These are awesome, I actually got 60 cents thrown at me yesterday because the patron couldn't believe that it's not our policy to call people and remind them that their books are coming up due. Sorry, if we called every patron to remind them that their books are due we would never get off the phone, and that's what the due date cards are for!

  12. Awesome, I have one to add to from the other day.
    No, Im sorry I dont know how much it will cost to register your car. We are a city library and have no connection to county courthouse two towns over. If you could please be a little patient I can find the phone number but please stop sighing into the phone, it will not make me move faster.

  13. The reference and circulation desks are not singles bars. Our smiles and friendliness are not flirtations: we don't want your phone number (unless we're putting a book on hold for you), we only want our patrons to feel welcome. Please don't hit on the clerks, librarians, nor (and most especially) teen pages!

  14. YES - when I told my page/aide that this job would be a learning experience for her, I didn't mean it would be learning how to get away from icky older men hitting on her!

  15. This isn't the right book because the cover isn't the one you remember? This is a new edition and they sometimes update the cover. It has the right name and author? It is the same book, it just has a different cover. Our paperback edition has a different cover than our hardcover copy that is in, and there must have been a third cover as well. It must be the wrong book because the cover is not what you remember? . . . .

  16. "Yes, we did just lock the library. No, we can't open it again for you to work on your son's homework assignment, even though you offered to pay us. We were open for 10 hours this weekend, however. By the way, where is your son?"

  17. "No, sir, we do not have any VCR copies of Dragnet since the VCR has been obsolete for almost ten years. However, we do have this DVD with three years of the television program. This is the same information I told you yesterday." (And the day before that, and the day before that, and last week.)

  18. "I respect that you don't like the iPads we have available for children to use. However, if you whole-heartedly prefer to think of the library as 'only for books,' I'll need to take back the magic show tickets you just picked up for our event next week."