Teens and Me

Just finished two full days of book talking at the local high school and one day at the middle school. I’m sure I’ve created a monster!!

We’re renovating our small (400 sq ft) “Quiet Room” into a Teen Room and I’ve invited everyone to come and help. Well, not exactly. But I did invite them for pizza on Friday and let them know that Saturday, we’ll be painting the room and if anyone wants to help, fill out a volunteer application for the Volunteen group and a permission slip from parents, in case they fall off a ladder! Then, on Monday & Tuesday, those are splatter paint days. You heard me. We’re splatter painting one of the walls.

At the end of next week, our techs are putting in a 55″ flat screen TV, an entertainment center, PS2 and XBox 360 plus 4 wireless controllers.

Oh yeah, the Summer Reading Program starts next week too. Did I mention we’re having a pizza party on the last day of school? If I’m still standing, I’ll post some pix of everything from above. :-)

Halo and Clever Kids

I don’t mind the game. Honestly, I don’t. I’m a science fiction and fantasy fan, so really, the basic premise is fine. And of course, who doesn’t want to be an amazing “fighter/warrior/marine,” the underdog, who takes on the Covenant, one mission at a time, one day of reckoning after another? Looks like some kind of fun.

That is, until last week when suddenly, out of fourteen computers on our main floor in the library, there were 12 kids who were playing Halo on our computers. . . . against each other.

How did they do that? That kind of game would normally bring our bandwidth to its knees.

So here were all these middle and high school boys (ok, there was one girl) on our computers and the place was quiet, too quiet? apparently, they were either using headsets or they simply played without the sound. That’s a lot of shooting; I thought the gun sounds were part of the fun.

Anywayyyyy, as much as I enjoyed having the kids, I had to find out how they were accomplishing this feat. It turned out that one (or more of them) had figured out how to get the game on a thumb drive, download it temporarily onto a computer and then the rest of the kids would access the game through our local LAN. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.

I called our computer department to give them a heads up and sure enough, a few days later I got the verdict: although the kids hadn’t done any damage to our network yet, the chance for a virus to piggyback onto an illegal bootleg copy of the game was high. The kids had to cease and desist.

In a way, I felt bad. They were having a blast. I even heard kids saying, with shocked voices, “Wow, man, we were playing Halo at the library!” Yes, for those few days, the buzz was big, and the library was a cool place to go.

Gotta figure out how to capture that excitement legally. Sigh.

Eccentrics Abound

OK, whatever! It’s time to get Looney back up and running. Got a bit discouraged there along the way, but now, I’m pumped as we get ready for the big event: Stump the Librarian during National Library Week, April 11 – 16, 2011. I’m expecting questions to come pouring out of the cracks!

In case you’re wondering, curious things still happen at the library despite my lack of writing about them.

For instance, some weeks ago, a gentlemen came in and was looking for a costume store. Lucky for him, since I’ve been in the theatre for more years than I’ve been a librarian, I knew exactly where he should go. We found the address and phone number and he was quite pleased.

And then I broke the librarian’s cardinal rule: out of personal curiosity (of which I have a bad case), I asked him why he might be needing a costume. Now, really, how dangerous could that question be? I was anticipating some kind of theater answer so we could compare acting notes. Or, a costume party or a fun photograph.

Nope. He said, instead, “I don’t expect to live too much longer and so it would be a good idea to start praying so I thought I’d probably do better at praying if I had a Benedictine monk’s robe.”

Silence.

That’s right. My foot was in my mouth so far I was tasting my hip bone.

I’m quick. Honestly, I am known for my mouth being in gear way before anything else. But, in this case, I was stunned. No comeback.

Finally, my colleague helped me out and told the gentleman to let us know if there was anything else we could help him find.

I went back to my office.

Vodka

This is what I tried to figure out. What transpired before the empty vodka bottle landed in our men’s restroom?

Did he have it with him and “finished it off” after a quick visit to the latrine?

Did he have the empty bottle taking up room in his satchel and decided he just needed a place to ditch it?

Did he “work on it” all day in the library and finally got to the end of the thing by the end of the day?

I mean, we’re not talking about a little pint size bottle, we’re talking about a full sized bottle of Grey Goose. Upscale.

It’s not like someone can just drop into our restroom from outside. Our restroom are locked and the visitor must ask for a key. So, he had some way of carrying the bottle in… a pocket? What?

Which reminds me, we keep losing our men’s room key. Do the guys take it on purpose or do they put in their pockets and forget they have it? But it’s a 3 x 5 ” plastic sign with a dangling key. It’s been handled by hundreds of guys. Would he really put that in his pocket too?

We’ll never solve the mystery of the vodka bottle. Has anyone else found something particularly odd in a public restroom waste basket?

Email 101

I’m not talking about learning how to do email… I’m talking about our patrons who can’t seem to remember their email account logins from one visit to the next! I swear, we have at least a dozen customers who have asked us to set up yet another email account once a week. That would probably come to about 101 by now. Don’t you think?

One gal swears she needs a new one every visit. We started keeping a copy of the latest email login and password, but when we bring it to her attention, she said it isn’t hers. Last week, she was looking for a job: one of those sites where you have to create an account, and yes, she needed an email to do it. So, miracle of miracles, she remembered her most recent email account but when she tried to set up the job account, she got a pop up message that an account existed already for that email address. Of course, she complained to us and said she’d never been on this site before. Clearly, her email account had been hacked! And would we please help her set up another one? Sigh.

Then, we have another gentleman who gets our attention by holding up his hand like he’s in school. We walk over and apparently, although he is savvy enough to create a number of email accounts, he still needs help switching from one to another. And why? He keeps trying borrowing thousands and thousands of dollars on these quickie one-week loan sites. He gets so angry when we say we can’t help him with something this private. That’s a tough one. We keep wondering if guys in dark clothes and glasses will be dropping by the library looking for him.

Another sweet fella adds a new email account to his list every time the current account won’t open up because he has so many emails the page gets hung up. We keep telling him he could probably delete those three year old messages – mostly spam, but he won’t do it. So, we help him create another one.

And how many times has someone come in with a stack of little papers (mostly receipts) with an email account written down that someone else helped them set up? The password is written in cramped writing or scratched out and then re-written and we wonder, is it really uppercase or lowercase? So many people use both cases when writing, they are not aware of the importance of case in passwords.

So, in the end, we have to create a new email. And it’s all so frustrating, particularly when we get to those “security” questions! What kind of people use such answers: their first grade teacher, the street they grew up on, the name of their favorite uncle, their oldest cousin’s name, or where they spent theirr childhood summers? These questions are created for a decidedly white middle class clientele. I mean, most of my customers look at me blankly as I read off their choices. It’s embarrassing.

What does Yahoo do with all these rogue accounts? They probably have one entire server just for the emails at our branch!

Thank You Man

This story comes from librarian colleague, Karen, who shared the particulars with me the other day.

If there was an award for the kindest man alive, this guy would win it. Nor is this an isolated incident, but a regular expression of his appreciation. We call him the “thank you man.”

Example:
He called and asked for the information desk, then thanked circulation for transferring his call.

When the information librarian answered, he thanked her taking his call.

After he asked about the book he was trying to find, he thanked the librarian for taking his inquiry.

Once she discovered we had the book in another branch and informed her that she could place a request for him. He thanked her.

Before hanging up, he thanked her for her time.

When the book arrived and he received the “electronic voice” notification by phone. He called the desk and thanked them for the notification.

When he came to pick up the book, he thanked the circulation desk for holding the book for him and then he walked over to the Reference desk and once again thanked the librarians for their service.

About two weeks later, the book was returned and inside the book was a note for Karen, which said (of course), “Thanks!”

Alive or Dead

Sometimes, we don’t really realize how much we care about our customers until something odd happens.

We have a fairly large senior population within walking distance of the branch. Many of them are regulars and I confess, there are a few who make us want to hide under the desk when we see them coming. Oh, they are sweet people; they just like to talk a librarian’s ear off. We understand their need intellectually. Many of these folks are lonely and really, it’s not that hard to just listen and be pleasant. We trade off the honors at the desk.

But there are also a few gruff ones as well as some elderly folks we have watched age before our eyes.

One gentleman, a retired professor, was rather curmudgeonly but in a funny way. He was well read and often had something interesting to share. However, over the last couple of years, he has lost his clarity of mind and as a result, his complaints have become more and more ridiculous and outrageous from lawn care people throwing grass clippings on him intentionally to a woman insulting him. He is quick to tell us to call the police.

Another older gentleman, Mr. Ralph, was one of our favorites and we were surprised he hadn’t been in to see us for a few weeks. One of the librarians did a little digging and asking and sure enough, she discovered he had passed away over the winter months. That was such a strange loss for us and somehow sad that we couldn’t express our sympathy to anyone or acknowledge his passing at the time it happened. He had been such sweet part of our lives. I remember once he came to the branch and brought small hand painted gifts for several of the staff. They weren’t particularly well done, but they were given with affection and I cherish that little thing even more now that he is gone.

Then, a few months ago, one of the circulation staff shared with the librarians at our stand up meeting that a particular patron had passed away. I didn’t know him, but one of the librarians remembered him well and said how sorry she was to see him go. It was only a few days later when she was working on the desk that she looked up to find him standing in front of her. She yelped and almost fell out of her chair! Not to worry, it was not the case of a customer risen from the dead, it was a case of mistaken identity. So, ok, we don’t always have the right names with the right faces.

And then last fall, there was one of our younger, homeless-type guys (I’ll call him Jason), who was known for spending every single day in the library, pretty much all day, playing online games. He was quiet enough and even helped us move chairs on occasion and generally, not a bad sort. One day, the staff observed him having a huge argument (in the library) with an older man from the community who has a bad reputation. The next day: no Jason. And not the next day or the day after that either. In fact, weeks passed and still no Jason. We were all getting concerned. Could he have come to some foul play? We started asking around and no one had heard from him. He stopped using his MySpace, his cell phone was dead, he hadn’t contacted anyone in days and weeks. We even asked the creepy guy and his answer was vague at best.

Honestly, we thought Jason was dead. But what can we really do? There was absolutely no evidence. It was just a bad feeling, a gut feeling. I mean, we’re not investigators, but we are curious librarians.

Fortunately, before we all made idiots of ourselves, Jason walked back in the library about 6 months later. He had quite the story to tell, about abduction and forced labor and much more. And yet, there was no police report or anything like that. What really happened? I don’t think we’ll ever know. So, I guess things are back to normal, daily library visits and online gaming and despite it all, we’re glad he’s back.

Cool Dog and a Hot Chick

Two separate stories, one from a smaller branch library near us and the other, back on home turf.

Cool Dog.
It seems that a woman was pacing outside the branch before it opened, frantically trying to reach someone on her cell phone. The staff person stopped to ask if she could be of any help. The woman demurred saying she doubted anyone could help. Apparently, her feisty poodle managed to lock the doors of the car as she got out to put her books in the bookdrop. Turning to look over at the car, sure enough, Fifi (name changed to protect her privacy) was racing back and forth across the front seats, from one window to the other.

When Janet walked over to check on the pooch, she called back to the customer, well, you’d better hurry up and get over here. Now the dog has lowered the window and who knows, she might drive off next.

All’s well that ends well.

Hot Chick.
While Fifi was doing her antics, we had a different situation in our own branch. We were working on a major shift of our collection in order to give more room to fiction and less room to nonfiction (can you believe it, that’s the new trend). Anyway, we’ve had a number of volunteers helping us with the shift. In some cases, that’s been more successful than others. It took one volunteer a few hours to get the hang of the fact that the Dewey numbers only go in one direction and don’t snake through the shelves (back & forth). Fortunately, we caught that error before he managed to reach the 200’s.

Another volunteer was wonderful. She was quite bright and conscientious. In fact, she had such a good understanding of the collection, we gave her some extra responsibilities like pulling books from a computer list. One evening, while doing this job, she stood up from working on the bottom shelf and found a note lying on top of her cart: “Man, you are really hot! 410-939-****!” I’m thinking her secret admirer really wanted to write, “For a librarian, you are really hot”… but, of course, I can’t know that for sure.

I confess, we did try to find the phone number on whitepages.com. We are librarians, after all. No luck. So, it’s still a mystery.

Apparently, things are really heating up at the library. :-)

He’s Baaaaack!

Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel

photo: jim mccormac

Some months ago, we had a squirrel who caused some havoc in our library building. We called him Mr. Squirrel. Well, he’s baaaaack! Apparently, it wasn’t goodbye, but “hasta la vista, baby.”

Our first hint was a lot of noise in the ceiling over the circulation desk. It was hard to tell. Had he set up quarters up there and busily loading up the larder or, maybe, and this is still a possibility, was Mr. Squirrel really a Mrs?

But, within a few days, the scurrying diminished and we figured, Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel had found a better place to hunker down for the hot weather on its way.

Then, a few days ago, one of our regular patrons tapped on the window and waved us outside. Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel was stuck in a vertical drain pipe. The customer, one of the “boys” who hangs out all day at the branch on the computers, said he heard lots of scrambling and scratching and projected panic in the pipe.

Once again, we turned over this problem to a higher authority: administration and/or animal control.

While one librarian called Al, our facilities manager, I called animal control. That was an interesting conversation. It was almost as bad as calling emergency.

“Are you sure it’s a squirrel?”

“Well, no, not exactly. Sounds like a squirrel.”

“Where is it exactly?” (Notice, animal control wasn’t making sex assumptions.)

“In a drainpipe.”

“Where is the drainpipe?”

“Uh… outside the building, kinda goes up and down along the side of the building.”

“Where?”

“Uh, at the side of the building?”

“Can you reach it standing up?”

“What?”

“Can you reach the pipe standing up?”

“Uh… yeah, it goes from the roof down into the ground. So, you can reach as high up as you are tall. I guess. Does that completely answer your question?”

At the moment, I was saved. Gary, our delivery driver (super star savior for all things mechanical), showed up. I told the animal control person I’d call her back if Gary couldn’t handle it.

Good ole Gary did the trick. He got the pipe separated from the lower plastic pipe. Of course, we thought Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel would leap out immediately. Not so. Apparently, it was a privacy issue.

We left the pipe open and our customer informed us later that Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel made a safe escape some fifteen minutes later.

By the way, in case you’re wondering. When Administration called animal control (they, too, decided to opt for a higher power), they were told that animal control no longer comes out for animals who are having problems outside a building. Instead, we would have to hire a professional to come out and tackle the issue. They provided us with a list of wranglers. That’s right, wranglers.

So, the next time, Mr/Mrs/Ms Squirrel makes a death-defying plunge down the drainpipe, we may have to call a squirrel wrangler. They got ‘em in Michigan (so they must be in Maryland even if they’re not advertising yet) and another internet search produces, not only a website, but an 888 number (I wonder if they charge for travel). Please note, however, they do not wrangle dogs or cats.

Crazy Day

What is normal for a programming day? What’s crazy?

Saturday, along with every other library, I’m sure, we presented a Mother’s Day event. We decided to build on an idea we had last year of doing a Mother’s Day Tea, but instead of spending $200 to serve 26 adults and children fancy tea, scones, tea sandwiches, and sweets, we opted for an all-day “Drop-in” version. It would cost about the same and we were sure we’d have at least 100 people. After all, the Farmer’s Market was open down the street, the church next door was having a craft fest outside on the sidewalk and it was a beautiful day.

The Friends were great and made most of the food although I was stuck with most of the tea sandwiches. So, at 5:00 a.m., I was slicing cucumbers for marinating, boiling and cutting eggs for egg salad and spreading salmon salad on frozen bread. By 7:00 a.m., I was cutting off crusts and filling Tupperware with my 200 triangles.

By 8:30 a.m., I was at the branch with my daughter, putting on the hot water, adding food to the buffet, and decorating. Fortunately, we had already wheeled in the round tables from the branch floor the night before. One of the pages helped me set the tables with colorful spring cloths, folded napkins, luncheon plates, matching cups and saucers, and silverware, as well as small bowls for sugar cubes, nuts, and lemon curd. We had the three tier servers loaded by 9:45 and the artificial daisies & bows were affixed in the nick of time. By 10 a.m., the music was playing and we were ready to go.

Great fun actually, even though we didn’t have 100 (more like 50), we were still running back and forth washing dishes, refilling serving dishes, refilling coffee urns with hot water, and chatting up the library all day long. Everyone agreed, the day was a success, but a long, long one.

So, we closed up the Tea Room a little early. We washed all the dishes and put them away in our storage tubs and collected and doled out all the leftover treats. My teenage boys came in and rolled all the round tables back into the library main room, lugged everything out to my car for the trek to the storage room, and folded up the other tables. I even had the wherewithal to give a yellow rose to all the staff and helpers (including my teen daughter) who worked all day.

Then, in the last 30 minutes of the day, the craziness started:

  • I couldn’t find the storage key. Solution: It must be at home, 15 minutes away.
  • But, the car only has room for 2 people with the boxes and I had 2 teens to cart home. Solution: One stays at the branch.
  • There are 4 men standing outside the men’s restroom waiting to get in. How long have they been there? One of them pounds on the door. I check with staff: how long has the john been occupied? Answer: 10 minutes. Solution: I go and get the master key to make sure there is someone actually in there.
  • A new lady comes into the branch, fully decked with multi-colored bags and a big flower-studded straw hat. She starts walking around the branch having conversations with the books, loudly. Solution: I walk over to her and gently ask her to lower her voice and she apologizes and shushes the books.
  • The men’s restroom line is getting rowdy and I suggest they use the ladies’ room and provide the key. I knock on the men’s room and open the door with my key. I hear a man scream at me, “I’m havin’ a bowel movement in here!” Solution: I tell the line to all use the ladies’ room.
  • One man refuses to use the ladies’ room and starts pounding on the men’s room door. Lots of expletives are traded between the men on opposite sides of the restroom door. Solution: I ask the man to try and be patient, after all, the other man is using the facility more or less appropriately.
  • A staff person comes to tell me the police are outside talking with folks in our parking lot. Solution: I go out to see what’s happening and apparently an anonymous caller phoned the police and reported someone drunk in our lot, but they couldn’t find anyone drunk. Was it the woman in the hat? Solution: Leave it to the police.
  • The BM man from inside the restroom finally storms out without looking back. I follow and call out, “Sir, sir, excuse me, but we need the men’s room key.” In reply, and in between expletives, he tells me he left the key inside the restroom. Solution: retrieve the master key again and let the other long-suffering man enter.
  • Oh yeah, still have to rush home to get the storage locker key to put away the tea supplies.
  • 5:00 o’clock, time to close up the building.

At 6 pm, all is put away, the building is quiet and dark and I sit out in the parking lot and take ten deep breaths.

These are the times I’m glad we’re not open on Sundays. And next year, I may go on vacation on Mother’s Day weekend.

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