Fire Alarm

How many times does the fire alarm go off in your library? We’re running about once every six-eight months.

It’s the break room, you know. We’ve burned up something in the microwave, in the toaster, in the oven, and on the stove top. We’ve burned soup, popcorn, toast, leftovers, and cheese. No one has ever been danger. There was never a flame. Just smoke… lots and lots of smoke. And yes, where there’s smoke, there’s a fire alarm.

There’s a pad at the back of the building that has a code to be entered. But wait, we can’t key in the code until we push the button on the red box in the foyer. Or is it two buttons? No, we can’t push the buttons until we get the smoke out of the building. Are there patrons in the building? That’s right, ask the patrons to leave. That is, if they can hear us over the alarm. Oh, don’t forget, we have to call the fire alarm company (not the fire dept) to tell them it’s a false alarm. That is, if they can hear us over the alarm. Oops, they’ve changed the number. Can you direct us to the right number? Nope. Call this 800 number. Did I mention that the alarm is still sounding.

So, we prop open the back door in the break room and fan out the smoke. Fred, volunteer fireman, lives behind the library and usually cuts through the building on his way to the fire department in an emergency. On these days, if we’re open, he cuts through, waves and says he’ll be right back. Then he, and a few others walk across our street (in full regalia) to see what’s up. Nice to have them all nearby.

The smoke is gone, the red box button is pushed (it is only one now, it used to be two), the code is entered, the firemen have walk around (God bless ‘em, they are always patient). We’re all clear. The patrons are invited back in. We’re back in business.

Whew. Got through another one.

Going to the Dogs

Generally, when people think of librarians, they think of cats! Lots and lots of cats. And it’s true, I am no different. My family has four cats at home and most of my librarian friends have cats a-plenty. Cats and reading, they go together like Baker & Taylor.

But today, I want to talk about dogs. On our staff, there are lots of dog lovers, from big dogs to small dogs; each one is treasured and many are rescued from the local humane society. We are a conscientious group.

In addition to owning and rescuing dogs, the next level of canine appreciation at the library is dog programs. We’ve had rescue dog programs, police dog programs, and obedience dog programs. (I confess, we have not had any cat programs whatsoever.) Most recently, we’ve had the Karma Dogs in residence. These are primarily rescued dogs who are trained to listen to children read. The kids take this quite seriously. One little girl was overheard asking if we thought her dog would enjoy “Green Eggs and Ham.” He did. Another little boy challenged the handler, saying the dog was asleep. But the boy was assured that the dog was concentrating. The reading continued. The Karma Dog experience also teaches children how to be safe with dogs, how to be good owners and how to socialize with their pets. Several of our librarians are getting their own dogs certified.

And yet, as much as we love dogs, the library still has rules about patrons coming in with dogs. Unless it’s a working dog or performing in a program, dogs simply aren’t allowed in the building, particularly free roaming or on a leash. (Disclaimer: we do tend to look the other way if the dogs are small enough to carry.)

Not long ago, a woman came into the branch with her medium-sized dog prancing along in front of her. As gently as possible, the librarian in charge explained that dogs are not allowed in the building.

The woman stopped short. “What? But you must let her in. It will mean so much to her. I promised her that she could visit the library today.”

Again, the librarian apologized, but insisted that the dog remain outside.

The woman stood for a long moment and contemplated her options. In the end, she looked at the librarian quite calmly and said, “But it’s her birthday.”

Apparently, birthday dogs should be given their heart’s desire and this one, in particular, was looking forward to her dog day afternoon in the stacks. Ah well. Some rules are made to be broken every once in awhile.

A Librarian’s Dream

Before I entered the world of libraries, I was active in the theater, both as an actress and a director. I have been in hundreds of shows and I can tell you, no matter how many years I’ve been doing it, my pre-show dreams are besieged with the ubiquitous actor’s nightmare.

Surely you can guess what that would be (in some form or another). I get out on stage and I suddenly can’t remember my lines or, I discover I’m in the wrong play, or the worst, I look down and instead of my costume, I am stark naked.

Well, I have just discovered that actors aren’t the only ones with performance nightmares.

Last week, one of my colleagues told this night time tale:

“I was trying to get ready for a storytime and for some reason, I wasn’t in our branch. Instead, I was stuck in some other branch and no matter how hard I tried to find appropriate books, nothing was available. I was beginning to feel quite desperate and time was of the essence. So, I gave up on finding something there and just counted on being able to grab a book or two at my own branch. After all, the adults were probably squirming with their little ones, waiting for me. I got in my car and raced back. I ran into the building, grabbed a couple of books and headed into the story time room. As soon as I sat down, I could tell everyone was furious with me. They kept looking at their watches and murmuring to each other about the lateness of the hour. I took a deep breath, opened the first book, and it had transformed into an adult book! There wasn’t a single picture. The print was small and compressed. And the closer I looked at it – it wasn’t even English. I tossed it down and picked the next one: the same problem! I tried not to panic. I told myself to take a breath. The children were getting grumpy. The adults were complaining and asking me to start, for heaven’s sake. All right, I thought, I would just tell a story. I was a parent; I told my own children a million off the cuff stories. I’d be fine. Except, I wasn’t fine. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Then, when I pushed it, the sounds that came out were not English but gibberish. I wanted to scream, ‘Help!’ but even that didn’t come out right. . . . And then I woke up.”

Not just a dream—a nightmare!

Finding Closure

We just finished our annual Winter Reading Program geared for adults and teens. Adults must read five books from January to the first week in March and teens must read three. The program has gotten more popular with each year and for some reason, a good number of our patrons look forward to the annual incentive: a branded Winter Reading Program coffee mug.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got two shelves in my kitchen cabinets full of mugs, a drawer in my office with mugs, and a shelf above my credenza loaded with library mugs and Folkmanis puppets. And yet, of course, as a librarian, I continue to read my five books each year and add to my collection anyway. (One year, we switched incentives to a branded post-it note cube but the “haters” came out of the woodwork. We went back to mugs the following year, to say the least.)

Anyway, here’s the problem. We always run out of mugs. Most people who have been participating in the program know this happens and if they are hot for the mugs, they read early and pick up the mug in February.

Last week, on the next to last day of the program, we had a patron come in who was so excited because she had completed her reading.

She confessed, “it was a major effort to read all those books. I can’t wait to get my mug.”

Unfortunately, we were out. Everyone was out. There wasn’t a single mug to be had anywhere in our system.

(I suppose I could have given her my mug. . . did I say I was a librarian? You know, the kind that goes to Library conferences and picks up pens, tote bags, posters, and twinkly things?)

Well, our patron was dismayed. She asked, “Since, there aren’t any mugs, how about a pen?”

We give out branded pens in January to the folks who sign up. No pens. Then she asked if we had ANYTHING to give her for completing the program and truthfully, we didn’t.

She was silent for some moments. “But, I need closure.”

Naturally, we apologized, but what else was there to say?

Later that day, I bought a bag of chocolate bars just in case we had anyone else who really needed closure.

P.S. We collect the book lists our WRP completers create and provide the list as a Reader’s Advisory tool. Here’s a sampling from our “closure” patron:

  • The Monster in the cave : How to face your fear and anxiety and live your life;
  • Be happy without being perfect; and
  • The confident woman.

Go figure.

Scooter Bandit

OK, not a bandit, but still a laugh riot! This story comes from a colleague . . . (thanks Karen L)

Apparently, there is a young teen who is stretching the “letter of the law” to its outer edges. His latest caper (he has been cited for other misdemeanors outside the library) is to ride his scooter (a motorized skateboard with handles) through the branch. That’s right, he opens the door and then rides like hell through the main floor and collection and back out again. He must think he’s the next Jason Bourne.

You would think the staff could stop him, but think about it: would you step in front of a moving scooter? Me either. It all happens so fast.

They yell at him as he flies by, but he only laughs. Once they actually managed to stop him at the door (quick thinking) and told him he was not allowed to ride in the branch and his reply: “There’s no sign that says I can’t do that.”

Interesting point of view, eh? Does that mean we have to have a sign for every possible infraction? Can you just imagine it?

Do not park your car inside the building.
Do not bring a bed and sleep overnight in the building.
Do not grill steaks in the building.
Do not bring portable showers and bathe in the building.

The list would be endless. How do you communicate “common sense” to someone who doesn’t seem to have any? Who would think you’d have to have a sign for riding a motorized “anything” in a library?

They have called the police, of course, but there’s not much they can do if they can’t catch him at it. He’s clever that way. I suppose it could be worse . . . he could be a flasher.

What would you do?

Singing in the Rain … or Snow

We’ve got a singing patron. Oh, it’s not like he comes into the branch and cuts loose, but he does serenade us almost daily from a bench outside. Usually, it’s a bit of gospel singalong since he’s plugged into some kind of Ipod or MP3 player. But I don’t think he’s intentionally sharing his music.

Some days are better than others. And when I say better, I just mean he’s more tuneful.

Yesterday, I finally had to go out and speak to him as we started getting complaints from people sitting in the quiet room, inside the building. He was actually sweet about it and surprised that people could hear him.

You’d think he’d be cold out there. After all, we had 6 inches of snow on the ground.

Oh well, I think it’s the music that warms his soul.

Bandwidth vs. Regulars

Well, some of our regulars have learned the magic word that really runs the show: bandwidth!

When our bandwidth is maxed out, everyone can tell. Games, tunes, MySpace, Facebook, you name it, they all come to a virtual standstill. Our reference desk has “traffic grapher” so we can tell if it’s incoming or outgoing traffic that is maxing us out. But since our branch is small, we usually walk around to let people know the slow down is due to a bandwidth issue. While we’re strolling through the public PC’s, we also scan for possible culprits. Generally, it’s hard to tell, so we gently mention that “someone” is uploading (or downloading) a large file and it’s affecting everyone’s performance. We hope for a little peer pressure–sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

The regular “boys” are the ones who get the most frustrated since their gaming is affected immediately: nothing worse than a medieval army getting caught up in a bandwidth vacuum. One day, our “Larry” (see previous post), decided to take matters into his own hands and came up to the desk and asked that we check the bandwidth. He said the librarians needed to walk the floor and get the other gamers off the pipe. When the librarian asked him why?, he informed her that he was at a critical point in his game and that took priority over the other games.

Interesting point of view.

It’s amazing how the expectations for service expand with the capability. It’s never enough. Certainly, we’ll never have enough bandwidth to satisfy the needs of all of our clients. As more and more apps move to the web, the demands will become greater, and not just for gamers. It’s a web world.

Amazingly enough, three of the seven guys who come in every day are now on laptops. I have no idea how they got them and I don’t ask. For them, it’s a huge win. They see it as a way to the web with less restraints and librarian monitoring. The only boondoggle? Bandwidth. I wonder if they’ll figure out that the laptops get dropped from the pipe first when traffic maxes? I think I’ll keep that piece of info to myself.

Positively Chocolate

Our library has just initiated our annual Winter Reading Program. Although it is geared for adults, we also encourage teenagers to participate. In our little branch, historically, one of the librarians has gone to the high school to book talk and plug our winter and spring programs.

With the recent change in personnel, the task of overseeing teen programming and selecting materials for teens has fallen to me. Yikes! The last time I faced a classroom of teenagers, I was a substitute teacher. And that was a regular nightmare!

I was really sweating bullets as I thought about the kids and how I could possibly keep them engaged for twenty minutes while I talked about books and the library. My own son said he would cut class and even take a cut slip before he’d sit through it. That was encouraging. Not!

So, I devised the age old trick: chocolate.

It worked! I spent two days at the high school, talked to 20 different classes of English students, from AP and Honors to the lowest levels, from Seniors to Freshmen, and the chocolate was my foot in the door. As I walked from classroom to classroom, I’d hear kids say, “Hey, chocolate lady” or “There’s the Library lady with the chocolate.” And not just little Hershey kisses either, I was giving out the big chunky Hershey kind as well as Snickers, Butterfingers and Nestles’ Crunch. It was play. And it was fun. I had a great time and so did they. And for me, it was worth every penny.

I tossed out chocolate for every time they could answer the questions correctly about the program start and end dates or how many books they had to read or if they could name the titles I had chatted up after I put them away in my “green bag.” Of course, they also got chocolate if they could figure out who my son was… when one group of sophomore girls figured it out, the hormones hit the ceiling, “That’s your son? Oh man, he is HOT!” [Girls, girls...I'm his mother for crying out loud.]

Oh, and what about our numbers? Not bad, I think we’re up to 68 registered teens. But you know what I like the best? The kids who come in now and just talk to me like they know me. Of course, I’m thinking, maybe it wasn’t the chocolate at all but the notoriety that comes from being the mother of a “player.” Oh well, whatever works.

Helpful Censor

I’ve seen a lot of different types of censorship in the library, from a patron demanding that a book be removed from the shelves, to permanent markings through objectionable words, to pictures cut out of books. But, this is the first time I’ve seen a “helpful censor” use correction tape to cover over the the words and phrases and then, in several cases, offer “better” word choices.

The one book brought to my attention was the Spiderwick Chronicles. Now, just off the top, I couldn’t remember anything particularly dicey in this series, so I was surprised when our children’s librarian came forward with the evidence.

Here are some specific (and apparently, hotly contested) examples of impropriety:

  • divorce was replaced with the words, “had moved.”
  • crappier was replaced with “only older.”
  • candy butt was simply covered up.
  • “Crap” said Jered was replaced with “Jered was looking around.”
  • not as crappy was replaced with “older Mallory but nearly…” and,
  • “Oh Crap!” was simply covered up.

I guess I’m appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the censor for using correction tape that could be peeled off again bringing the book back to its savage original.

But, I do worry, what will we find when the young reader wants to graduate to something really deleterious like “It’s Not the Stork” or “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.”

Small Surprises

Just when I thought it would be a humdrum week after the holiday lull, we had a small surprise waiting for us in the men’s restroom at closing tonight.

It’s not like we haven’t had “small surprises” before. You know, the usual stuff: feces in the urinal, shredded toilet paper all over the floor, a flood from a stopped up toilet, vomit from a child “who didn’t quite make it,” and so forth. But the surprise tonight was a lulu: in the handicap accessible stall of the men’s room were four ladies’ thongs.

At first discovery, my mind raced. What could have happened here? Were there really four teenage (or older) girls in the men’s room stall? What were they doing? No. Oh come on, could we have missed that kind of a party? Did they actually have sex in there? No. Come on. Not possible, right? Right?

And of course, in the meeting room tonight we had a special program, Emily Dickinson Live!, with a local performer. We had a huge crowd of people who don’t normally come to the library. How many of our male guests went into the restroom to discover female underwear on the floor? How long were those thongs in there? No one mentioned it, but then, what would a fellow say? “Ahem, pardon me, but there are four pairs of ladies’ underwear in the men’s room and by all appearances, it looks like whoever had them on was in a hurry to take them off.” Sigh.

Maybe our culprits were the two elementary school aged boys who rushed into the men’s room at the last minute before we closed? But where did they get skimpy girls underwear? Did they steal them from their sisters’ dresser in order to drop them into the four corners of the men’s room stall? That’s a stretch.

All right, I confess, we gave up after two or three scenarios. It must have been a set up… a joke. Right?
… At least, we hope so…. What do you think?

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