Saturday, January 17, 2015


One of my oldest library jokes, which probably isn't really a joke, says that library patrons will no longer be known by the antiquated term "patrons", rather they will be known from now on, to better reflect on their role in our library system, as "suspects". This is hard to count as a joke not because it isn't hilarious. It is. It's very hilarious. But rather because it is so functionally true.

Most of us here at this library are pretty nice and at least fairly good at our jobs. Only my crappy co-workers are out at the front desks getting all cagey and begrudging with the people they're helping. Some of us even really like the public. But behind the scenes, in private co-worker conversations, in spontaneous back room discussions, in glancing drive by comments, patrons are regarded with a grave suspicion. The stories about them tend to be dark, or outraged, irritated or wounded. I would hazard a guess that no more than five percent of the people who come to the library are any kind of trouble at all, but 95 percent of the discussion will be about that five percent.

It's easy for me to joke about because I don't much share this tendency. I'm not above loathing an occasional patron, but I tend to find the enormous swath of them all sort of dear and heartbreaking. And I think, as much as we can, we should give them what they want. We are the public library. They are the public.

So I find, on most issues that I have a say in, and ever so many I don't, really, I am more on the side of the patron. And often enough, when I am the instigator on some small new addition to our library, it involves something I think the patrons might like.

For instance, our counter of office supplies.

For years and years if a library visitor needed a stapler or scissors or pen or paperclip or envelope they'd have to come to the desk and borrow one. I proposed a little office supply area on a counter near the copier, one with all of the above tools and a few more besides. It was low profile enough to win approval without too much fuss, and I set it up. It went okay. And though I think on the whole my co-workers liked it, perhaps mostly because they no longer had to hand over the stapler six times a day to the same guy, I also heard a lot of suspicion. There was a good deal of worry that everything would just sort of disappear.

"Are we really going to trust the patrons with scissors, a stapler?"

I guess so. We did. We wrote on everything we could to identify it as property of the library and, about a year ago, put it all just out there. Unsupervised. Chaos.

Things seemed to go pretty well, and I haven't much thought about it lately. Until today. Today was a scissors census.

We usually have about seven pairs of scissors around for our diverse staff. Over time the scissors scatter and I have to hunt them down in the far corners of the library.  But today I looked everywhere in the library, and I could not find any more of these scissors. They were gone! Six pairs of staff scissors were lost for good, all now needing to be replaced. They weren't scattered. We are down to only one pair. 

Of course, that's not counting the patrons' pair of scissors. It is in fine condition. Sitting in it's accustomed place, a year later, along with all it's friends; the stapler, the staple remover, the highlighter, and so on. For them, the wild and unscrupulous patrons, I have not had to replace a single thing.


  1. First I'd like to say how joyful I am at to read about yesterday's walk (see prev. post); it reminds me of two teenagers playing in a snowstorm in their underwear in the New Jersey forest (1).

    Second, I share some of your feelings about patrons, but in my field they're called students. I find that most are trying their best, often engulfed in work and circumstances that tire them so; some want to quit and walk the streets of New York (2). I'm ashamed to sat that too often I find myself complaining about one or two of them with my colleagues; of course, in my field, one or two problematic students can interfere with the class quite a bit, but I still focus too much. The *truth* is that most students are nice to be with. In face I feel rather humbled to be their teacher. I joke with them. Sometimes I stand on a table and recite Walt Whitman (3). They have to staple their own papers, though I sometimes ask if anyone has a stapler. Of course, someone almost always does. Then I say, "Sell him a staple for 10 cents!" And then someone chuckles. And then someone else chuckles. And then...It's like a group of kids on a sleepover resting their heads on each others stomachs while lying on their backs and saying "ha" until the room is filled with laughter (4).


    (1) see The Tracker, by Tom Brown
    (2) see Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
    (3) see Dead Poets Society (film)
    (4) see The Brady Bunch (TV) "The Slumber Caper" (Season 2: Episode 3, original airdate: October 9, 1970)

    1. Not to dissuade anyone else in the future, nor to denigrate any other comment I have ever received, as they have nearly all of them been lovely, but, like, this, this, is my dream comment!


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