Archive for November, 2009

Regular Oddities

Every library has at least one or two “characters” who are regulars but behave oddly. Sometimes, these folks are a problem and require action, but generally, they are just gentle souls who are struggling with the challenges of living in this world.

One of our regulars is primarily concerned with identify theft. We have been through periods when she is certain that one of the librarians has stolen her identity but usually, it’s someone from the outside world like a stranger at the drugstore or grocery store. As a result of this fixation, she often needs information assistance to find websites and/or contact information for various legal organizations, judges, and identity theft professionals. She has written letters and made dozens of phone calls to lawyers and judges and editors of various newspapers.

We actually do our best to make her time in the library comfortable but it does seems like something always happens to turn things upside down. One day, when she was still carrying a lot of her belongings with her (again, to protect her identity), she set the bags down in our foyer. Unfortunately, that same day, another patron was collecting clothing to donate to charity and assumed those bags were donations. It was very difficult to convince our friend that this was an accident and not an intentional theft of her personal belongings. Everything was cleared up and returned the next day, but for her, the items were no longer viable as she believed they had been worn and so she discarded them and started over.

Another day, we assisted her in photocopying pictures of models from Vanity Fair. The magazine is larger than a standard piece of paper and so we had to adjust the copier settings. Once we got everything ready and she made her copies, she thanked us kindly and then showed us the pictures saying, “I forgot what I used to look like.”

Another day, she needed pictures of herself to send to someone. We apologized that we really couldn’t help her with that. In the end, we turned around to find her pressing her face up against the copier glass and was copying it… front and side.

It’s funny sometimes but it’s also sad. And what is our role as public servants to our troubled patrons? Will we know or recognize that day when this woman might need an intervention or professional assistance?

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Getting a Red Card!

We have been really struggling with some of our teen patrons. Mostly it’s just regular old teen rowdiness which is OK and expected at times, but there’s one group of girls who have really started dropping what we call the “F-bomb” in the library….and I mean loudly and inappropriately.

One day, it got so bad that we had to ask a group to leave and as one of the staff escorted them out, they regaled her with a string of expletives that would embarrass a sailor. We had to do something.

So, here’s our plan: it’s the old soccer “red card” system modified. First, we’ll use a gentle verbal warning and explain that we’ll be doing “strikes” or “penalty cards” after that. We tell them we would prefer NOT to do this but we’re finding it’s the only way to get a handle on noise and inappropriate behavior (we also have small signs to this effect in each work station). If the same person (or group) goes to the next level, we pass out a yellow card that says, “Please be considerate of others around you.” … The next level is an orange card that says, “…Strike Two is for behaviors that are not appropriate in the library.” And finally, the RED CARD, that says, “Please leave the premises for the rest of the library day.” This red card will also generate an internal incident report and hopefully a name to start building documentation.

Here’s the funny part: so far, in two weeks, we have only handed out one yellow card… most of the kids who were asked to leave that one day have not been back. On the day we started the plan, I spoke to one of the ringleaders and explained what we would be doing. I told her that she had to understand, no matter how angry a person is, one cannot attack library staff verbally. It’s simply not right. When I asked her if she would speak to her grandmother or aunt that way, her eyes got very wide, “No way!” she said.

Well, let’s see how it goes.

How do you handle truly offensive behavior in your library (whether adults or teens)?

Book Mites

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday and I’m the one who who gets the goofy phone call.

The woman was quite pleasant and said several times that she was not complaining at all, but she thought we should know that our books had book mites. She said she was quite the bookworm and she knew for a fact that most books (particularly old ones) have mites and usually, she simply microwaves all of her books before she reads them.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t considered that our library books have RFID tags (aka, metal) in the back of the book and so, she managed to burn a hole through the back of the book. No problem, she said, she would pay for the book, but… what should she do with the next library book?

I asked her if she was sure it was our books that had mites? “Well, she said, “the mites are crawling up my arms.”

So back to the real reason for her call: how should she get rid of the mites in our library books since she couldn’t microwave them but she really wanted to read them. Uh… my brave answer: I have no idea!

Like any good librarian, I took her name and phone number and said I’d get back to her. After telling my nearest colleague about this conversation and chortling for several minutes, we began discussing some of possibilities and searching the web … but what if they’re not book mites at all? What if the lady has bedbugs? (They are coming back, you know.) What if it’s some other kind of bug? What if she has just regular lice and doesn’t realize it? Sigh.

After a careful search (well, the 4:45 in the afternoon kind of search)… it appears that book mites do exist. They do not, however, eat books. They eat glue and they love dark places. Were they crawling up our patron’s arm? I doubt it. Book mites (also known as book lice) love dark, moist places. They are not fond of human skin, hair, or anything else. The only way to really get rid of book mites is to remove any and all humidity. Good luck with that. One article did mention that one could put the books in a freezer (at 0 degrees) for four hours.

So, I dutifully called our patron back and gave her the bad news: low humidity, light, and maybe a freezer. “Well, she said, I think I’ll put them in a plastic bag and try the freezer method. Thanks so much.”

I guess I’ll have to warn the Circulation Department … if we get any frozen books in the book drop, we’ll know the culprit. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see the microwaved book and its RFID tag burned through the back cover!