Archive for September, 2009

Mr. Squirrel

This all happened within a few weeks of my becoming a Branch Manager. First of all, I got a late night call from the police that the security alarm had gone off. I asked the policeman to meet me there and “check it out.” Nothing. All was quiet.

The next morning however, I arrived to find books scattered all over the floor, posters knocked over and a general bit of chaos in the children’s department. The mystery was solved when one of our Pages yelped and there, across the tops of the self-help books, was a scampering squirrel.

Naturally, he was more terrified than we were, well, except for the Page who kept running the opposite way from Mr. Squirrel’s sprints through the shelves.

So, we did the really brave thing: we called Animal Control. Actually, I felt pretty stupid, “Excuse me, can you send a van, we have a squirrel racing through the biographies.”

While we waited for the “professionals,” we did manage to corral him into the “quiet room” (also known as the magazine room) and closed the door, just in time for our public at 10 a.m. Our building is pretty old, so we actually have windows that open. So, we opened one of the windows in the quiet room and made a trail of treats to the open window, hoping for the best. We left him alone in there to gather his thoughts (and maybe his nerve).

After 30 minutes or so, I decided to keep him company. Finally, he took to the cheese trail (ok, no one had peanuts) and the next thing I knew he hopped onto the window sill and started out, but not before turning back to get the last chunk of cheese. Wise squirrel.

Oh, animal control? That’s about the time they showed up of course. And as to how he got in? We’re pretty sure he dropped through a vent in the ceiling, but we’ll never know for sure.

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Butterfly Story Time

It started out as a great idea, honestly.

I had some really nice titles (even some sweet nonfiction). Of course, Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar was my first selection (this is, after all, the 40th Anniversary of the book). I even came up with a cute caterpillar craft and 3 sweet finger plays. Now, I’m not a children’s librarian, but I was good to go!

Historically, we have anywhere from 10-18 children show up at our drop in story times. I was ready!

Surprise, not 10 kids, not 20, but 2 1/2. I say 1/2 because one was a walking-type baby and although she was welcome to be there … she was not interested in being there… at all! Apparently, I was the most boring thing she had seen all day and she made sure her mother knew it! Wahhhh!

OK, so I’m reading for two kids. That’s fine. Kids are kids. They’re regulars. They like me… I think. Of course, for the first 3 stories, little Miss 1/2 was much more interesting than me. Sayonara. They finally left.

Then, the first finger play, which I was sure was easy-peasy, but poor boy-child could not hook his thumbs and wriggle his fingers for anything. Finger play is not much fun for kid if it’s finger struggle!

Forget that … let’s read. Not bad. They’re listening. They’re watching. Great. Let’s do the craft. Right.

Just in case you’re wondering, Elmer’s glue does NOT hold puffy balls to clothespins. Also, Elmer’s glue does NOT hold jiggling eyeballs to puffy balls. And, Elmer’s glue does NOT hold small folded pipe cleaners between puffy balls and onto clothespins. I don’t care WHAT the picture shows on the craft website. However, I will say that Elmer’s glue does very well holding puffy balls to little fingers … and big adult fingers… also it’s very good at holding jiggling eyeballs to fingers and naturally pipe cleaners to both table and fingers.

This was one of those story times when, in the end, you’re grateful there were only two kids, two adults, and the baby left before the craft started.

Computer Dance

Here’s what we’ve got: 12 “adult” computers, 4 “juvenile” computers, and 4 “quiet room” computers. I have put these adjectives in quotes because, from the patrons point of view, a computer is a computer is a computer.

And our folks want access to a computer when they walk in the door. Why do they come to our little library? We are their link to email, gaming, social networking, and the world. Either they don’t have a computer at home (oh, yes, there are lots of folks here who don’t have a computer) or Comcast (our local cable company) is doing the bandwidth dropping game, or the home computers have been attacked by a virus and are non-functional.

The teens and pre-teens come after school and use our computers to network virtually and in reality at the same time. They actually txt on MySpace and Facebook with people who are in the building. Go figure.

The good news is that we have computer reservation software whose responsibility it is to equitably divide up the computer time among our patrons. From Noon until 8 pm, our computers are occupied and the reservation system is busy. And while some people get confused and much of our time is spent helping people sign on to the reservation computer, the regulars have learned to beat the system. If they are bumped off, they get a new guest pass and grab the next computer. Or, they’ll watch the time and juggle their sign on’s so that they start a new session when the computers are not totally maxed. The system gives an hour from start. Some even barter time with others who finish early or trade passes to be with friends. It’s quite a scene.

So, that’s the dance we librarians watch: the teens and regulars gliding from one computer to another, one session to the next.

But I do feel sorry for the general public who just want to look up a book … or do some research on their most recent doctor’s visit … or look for a job … or do homework. How do we serve them as well?

We don’t. We can’t.

Warts and All

Well, we heard last Wednesday that one of our regulars, let’s call him Larry, is “boycotting” the branch because he was asked to bring down his voice… again.

We are all trying to be sad about this boycott, but honestly, Larry brings a tumble of problems with him each day.

On some days, three or four fellas come with Larry and and sit with him to play video games on the computers all day. They call out and guffaw and move from screen to screen. If they were only in 5th grade, it would be more understandable (but they are all between eighteen and twenty). When they get bumped off the computers (as students start arriving in the afternoon), they play role playing card games. They are all personal hygiene challenged.

One day, Larry’s girlfriend passed out in front of the building and we called an ambulance. He continued playing video games.

Another day, Larry arrived at the branch four hours before opening and slept by the front door until we asked him to move.

Once, Larry was caught burning CD’s with pirated music and selling them outside the branch to school kids.

These are the kinds of things that larger city libraries encounter every day. But somehow, it feels more personal in a small branch. In the years that Larry has been coming here, people have reached out to him. He was given jobs, food, clothing, and even money. But he continues to make other choices. He’s our little lost sheep, I guess.

Oh, look, he’s back today. He just couldn’t stay away. Like I said… we’re family, warts and all.

The Hand Stamp

One of the big delights for our youngest crowd is the hand stamp. It doesn’t really matter what it is (although they do get to pick from a changing assortment: fish, dinosaur coming out of an egg, heart, cat, etc.). Some have been doing it for so long, they have developed favorites and some even request a particular color of ink.

But what is delight here? I think it’s proof they’ve been somewhere!

My kids are now teenagers but if they go to the hospital or the local carnival where wristbands are affixed, they will often leave them on. The message: I’ve been somewhere.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone thought about the library as a place of importance? Wouldn’t it be great if people could tell their neighbors were at the library today?

Hmmmm. I wonder! Maybe we should offer hand stamps to adults? Never know! 🙂

When is Shhh! Still Appropriate?

Ok, honestly, I thought I was being as kind as possible: “Excuse me, ma’am, but it’s getting a little loud…”

The woman was having a hard day with her four kids, all below school age and all wired for sound. They were challenging her and eventually, the noise level was challenging us. At what point do you say something?

There are loud days at the library and there are quiet days. On the loud days (usually at the full moon), everyone is a little wild. The teens are up a notch, the adults are questioning their fines a little louder than usual, the cell phones are ringing, and the kids are running.

But yesterday was a quiet day and so, poor mom and her kids were sticking out like a sore thumb. We all toughed it out for about 30 minutes, but then, we figured it was time to say something. Was there a better way to say it? Probably. Rethinking the experience, I would say, “Is there something I can do to help you?” or something like that…

In the end, it went from bad to worse. The mother was offended, gathered her ducklings, and announced to the branch and her kids that they were being asked to leave the library. Not true and yet, she “felt” like she was being asked to leave and that made me feel bad…. for us and for her.

We want our small branch to feel welcoming for everyone. Where is the balance point in today’s library? When is Shhh! still appropriate?

Library Hours

OK, it’s been about a month that our library hours were changed and still, we get befuddled patrons coming up to the door and yanking on it when we’re still closed. I feel badly for them, really. I mean, I’m delighted they come here, but I’m not sure where the disconnect is…

Are they infrequent users and really know that we’re closed on Tuesday and Thursday mornings instead of Wednesday morning? Or, is it just a habit. Or, is it that their expectations are that the library is always open.

In the end, it’s probably the last reason. If we could be open 24/7, there would be people who would come in. 🙂

Now, if we could just get them to stop yanking on the book drop when it’s closed.

Quiet in the Library

Generally, it’s pretty darn hectic in our small library. We have children blazing through from the front door to the children’s department where they can drag a giant stuffed caterpillar around or put together a gigantic puzzle. Teens are huddled over computers checking out their updated MySpace. Others are scanning the DVDs for the latest movie. People are lined up at the circulation desk to check out materials or asking the librarians for help. It’s just a lot of activity in a small space.

Today, a patron came up to the desk and in a pretty loud voice complained about the noise. He was working on something important, he said, and he needed quiet. Amazing: there was a like a hush that fell over everyone. Not a single Shhhh! was spoken, but it was viral. For about 30 minutes… it was like the libraries of old… everyone was whispering. Pretty funny, really.

Of course, as new people came in and the middle schoolers plopped in, the photocopier started humming, the quiet was broken. Interesting while it lasted. I’d forgotten what that was like.

Extra Service

There’s really no way around it. In a small branch, when someone comes in who really needs help, it’s gotta happen. Busy or not, we need to extend that extra service.

Today, a wheelchair-bound older patron came in and needed to order something online. From searching for the item, to placing the order, to creating an email address, it took almost 60 minutes. In between, we were helping people sign on to computers, adding book requests, refilling the copy machine, finding the restroom key, unblocking computers for MySpace, and printing guest passes. The hour went by quickly.

We are also running a promotion here called “Get Carded @ the Library” to encourage customers to sign up for a library card and to win a prize. At the end of September, we’ll be drawing names for an MP3 player (thanks to the generous donation of our Friends of the Library). Each day we draw for mini prizes: “Thanks a Mint” mints, stuffed bears, polka dot puppies, and book marks. So far so good!

It’s settle down now. Knock on wood, as they say. We expect a rush at 4 or 4:30 as people make a last minute run to the library for videos over the holiday weekend.

Tuesday, we will be facing a mountain of materials inside our book drop and the new fines and fees schedule.

Day After the Event

OK… here’s the good news: the speaker showed up, he was charming, cordial and interesting.

OK… here’s more good news: we had more than 10 people. Altogether, we had 33. The room was full and the participants were engaged and interested.

OK… maybe this is the best news: both a local reporter and the paper’s photographer were there and we’ll probably get a nice article.

So, here’s the question, was it worth all the work? Out of curiosity, I should have logged my time in promoting the event. Do librarians really consider ROI? How do we measure the pleasure of the few vs. our own time? There are so many intangibles.

And then, just to round out the day, our electricity went out at 6:10 pm. Apparently, about 2000 households in the center of town were without power. It was really interesting to watch our customers try to figure out what to do: wait (because the electricity usually comes back) or call it a night. In the end, all but one patron left… he was still hopeful. We waited an hour (fortunately, we are still on “summer light”). The lights came back up by 7 pm and we were back in business. Within 6 minutes, the computers were maxed out again.

I guess our lights were like beacon… or the local lighthouse… here! Come here!

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