Friday, February 20, 2015

Lost stuff

One young man lost a phone. Lately it's often the phones. Why not? They're little and expensive and full of information. It's a good thing to freak out over. This kid, twenty or so, was convinced his chair ate it. The chair looked innocent to me, an amazing feat when one considers the hard life it has lived. Teams of people were brought in to poke at that poor chair. We hunted down our smallest worker who then forced her arm into a small gap in the back part of the seat of the chair in order to find nothing. Judging from her hard veterinary work you could easily see it would have taken a mallet to drive a phone into that gap. But the patron was not mollified. Something in people's desperation when they lose a valuable drives them mad and gives them a strange and vital energy. Ultimately the "Buildings" people were called upstairs. Before long they were disassembling the chair. All at the assertive patron's persistent instigation.

I am not always pitch perfect at when to say "no" to patrons. Sometimes my "No" is late and a bit licentious, and sometimes it cuts it all short. But I think my average is about right. For lost items I lean towards the early "No." I take losing things very hard myself, so being softer and more sympathetic would be more consistent, but that has to go up against all my experience. I have spent a lot of time looking hopelessly for patrons' items that I know I won't find. I don't mind looking when finding is possible, but when the desperate patron just wants me to keep looking for looking's sake, because they don't want to face the loss directly, I put my foot down. If that chair had been my call, if I were the point person on the chair I would have said "No. Enough." I knew it was not in the chair. I will look while hope is alive, but I don't like humoring.

It doesn't help that these intensely persistent people are never particularly nice about it. There's always a faint air of accusation. "My phone has gone missing in your library. What are you going to do about it?" Or "It's your chair that ate my phone!"  I helped a man today who lost his wallet. "I lost my wallet after you helped me. Do you have my wallet?"

"No. I'm terribly sorry." I look all over for it. I am looking in any possible spot. I am even humoring him. "No" I say "It hasn't shown up here. It's always worth checking back later." All of this is fine. Indeed I am even still sympathetic. But then he just stays there, staring at me. When he won't move on, my warmth starts leaking from me and pooling on the floor. "Do something" he seems to say in his futile occupying of my line. But there is nothing left to do. And there we are, at a stand still. If only his wallet would come join us.

Thankfully he returns to himself, with a visible effort of will, and he moves on. But it is not always like this.

A man left his expensive phone in his bag to go get a coffee yesterday. When he came back it was gone! He had many suspects, basically all the African Americans in the library, ample reason to stonewall him right there. He had staff members running to and fro. The police were brought in. He had elaborate theories. He wanted to see the video footage. His phone was called while staff walked by certain possible suspects, listening. I didn't have anything to do with that one, but if I had been around for any of it I would have put an egg in my shoe and beaten it as soon as I could. He was a "No" every chance you got as far as I was concerned. Some people just are. Let the manager have them as soon as possible because that's who it'll end up with anyway.

And did we find anything? I don't know about that wallet, but both the phones showed up. No one is operating a phone theft ring in our library. Our chairs have not developed a freakish taste for small electronics. The phones were in their respective bags all along. 


  1. I am amazed at how certain things can be lost without the patron knowing it - kids have no real nerve endings so I can understand them leaving their coats in the dead of winter. But how can anyone not be aware of when they lose a lens out of their glasses?!

    1. You make an excellent point. Car keys amaze me. "They'll be back for these" I think, but no. I guess they decide to just push the car home, or maybe they just carry three sets of keys at all times.


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