The Regulars: Public Library

I often say my job would be so much easier if it weren’t for those pesky customers.  Patrons: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without . . . their stats.  Seriously, most patrons are not a problem, and some are even fun to get to know.  And boy do you get to know some of them.  In every library, there are the regulars.

If you’ve never seen one
 of these, I hate you

A lot of business at the public library comes from the very young, the very old, and the computer lab users.  The very old are desperately seeking the past, whether in actual history or books on tape – you know, cassette tape.  If you haven’t ever heard of these, I hate you.  Anyway, old people also love to chortle when the electricity goes out and our card catalogs go down, as well as our ability to check out books.  In their day, there were card catalogs with actual cards in them, that didn’t disappear with the pulling of a plug.  If you don’t remember these either, see above.

Puppet Master

The very young, and their harried mothers, are the public library’s next most popular customers.  They come for story time, because that is fifteen or so minutes out of their day that the children’s attention is focused on something other than them.  Even if it is the children’s librarian.  At the library I once worked, we called her “The Puppet Master” for reasons that went beyond her job description.  Every once in a while, you’d hear her talking to the puppets.  Not for practice, just because.

How far can I get
 this into my mouth?

Anyway, the children are a great help.  They weed the shelves (by yanking out books and destroying them), they shelve (the books just about anywhere, backwards, and upside down), and help decorate (once they made a new carpet entirely out of books).  Not that they are that interested in the books, because there are two computers in the childrens’ area.  They aren’t connected to Internet, so no porn.  Instead there’s Barney’s ABCs turned up to full ear blasting volume, which I will argue is even worse, at least for the people forced to shelve nearby.  These people are newbie staff, and the children’s section is what we like to call “Boot Camp”.

The third group consists of those who regularly fill the computer lab every day.  They are limited to one hour a day, and because of their happy cooperation with this rule, we came up with ways to force them to get off when their time is up.  Basically, they put in their card number and after an hour – whoosh, the computer shuts down.  I can’t begin to describe how wonderful this is for staff.  No more trying to get someone off a computer, getting informed that we can go do naughty stuff to ourselves, and finally being forced to actually UNPLUG the computer.  Now this program tends to make the computers a little screwy, but is totally worth it.  For staff anyway. 
There’s a few different computer user types.  There’s the old people who ask for help with the simplest things (What is this clicky thing with the cord on it?)  There’s the mothers who get online and leave their children across the library in the children’s section, completely oblivious to their one year old wandering out the front door.  And then there’s the just plain weird ones, like the cowboy who would come in wearing hat, boots, and even spurs, jingle jangling all the way to the computer lab.  I used to picture him tying his horse up to a post outside the library.
Yeah, tell her you’re 25
and a professional wrestler!

The only time the usual regulars change is during Summer Reading Time (a special hell that deserves it’s own blog entry) when the school children are released from their cages and set free on the library.  So the normal library users often head for the hills for their own protection.  For the “tween” generation, not quite old enough for a driver’s license, but old enough to make their parents want to strangle them with their I-Pods, the library is their playground.  Lots of free fun.  There’s the computers that they, with their endless youthful patience, will manage to hack despite our best security measures, downloading bizarre stuff that can take us weeks to get rid of.  Yet these same little geniuses would leave their MySpace profiles up on the public computers detailing every last detail of their lives for their future stalkers.  If they get bored with the computer, there’s always chair races up and down the library.  Thankfully, these patrons are temporary.

My favorites were the older people, retired for years, who remembered when libraries were THE entertainment.  They appreciate us like no one else does, or possibly ever will again.  And I love to talk to them, especially the old men.  Flirt with them a little, and they love it.  One man even brought us a chocolate cake.  Twice!  Yes, I have no shame.  But really, they loved it, and so did I.  We are losing this older generation everyday, and the world will truly miss them.  Even the most fragrant ones.  (I never could figure out how people could afford a DVD player, but not a shower.  But I digress)
I could identify with the SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms), but only to a point.  I only stayed home a few years, after which I was willing to pay someone else to let me out of the house for a few hours.  Some of these ladies were great, but others had definite entitlement issues.  What did I mean they couldn’t check out more than 50 books at a time?  Or that maybe junior should stop emptying the shelf.  Or that they should shout into their cellphones in the lobby instead of the middle of the library.

There were others, like the guy who tried to convert us to Jeezus (he slammed his hand on the desk and said Jesus was there – I was like, on the Circ desk?) despite the fact that my coworker was already Catholic.  And the woman who plowed her car into the side of the library.  And the one who swore that was not her son’s library account with the overdue books, but the account of her sister’s son, who happened to have the same name, birthday, age, and residence as her son (the coincidences!).  But these people were not, thankfully, regulars, just more of the spontaneous fun you encounter at the library.

Now I’m at an academic library, and the regulars are a totally different breed.  But that’s another story.

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