Thursday, July 27, 2017

On determining

A man calls me at the library. It takes him awhile to form a sentence. "Can you renew my books?" He asks. "That I have out?" He adds. "Over the phone?" He adds again. "From the library?" He slowly concludes.

A long transaction for some relatively simple issues follows. And the whole time we are on the phone I am wondering if I should put his card on our "Persons with disabilities" status, or if he's just really stoned.

And that's the thing in working with the great and diverse public I encounter daily; I frequently find myself trying to fuss out dichotomies, trying to come to grips with the status of the person before me. Are they newly arrived from Somalia, or do they have a speech impediment? Are they living out of their car, or did they spend the morning hobby gardening in front of their swanky house? Are they sociopathic liars, or victims of a splash of freakish bad luck?

Sometimes it matters whether I know, sometimes it's idle curiosity. Are they hard of hearing, or just distracted? Did they lose a bet, or do they really believe what their T-shirt says? Are they dangerously angry, or do they just have a cantankerous personality? Have they never been to a library, or are they merely in need of constant reassurance? Do they know me from somewhere, or are they just wildly committed to being friendly? Are they a well-adjusted precocious child, or is something really wrong here? Is this for scholastic purposes, or are they slowly losing their mind?

I'd like to know. I could use the guidance. I make my best guess. And I only know one thing for sure. They're not, none of them, normal.

That is the one guiding thing I have learned working with the public; No one is.


  1. Thank you for very fine blog post.
    Sweepingly thoughtful, and then somehow winsome too. ^_^

  2. Sometimes the shoe is on the other (the librarian's) foot. I visited four libraries up in the Arrowhead region today. At the first, there was only one staff person. I didn't realize at first that she was on the phone. She looked at the bookmark I provide that explains the blog; she turned her attention from the phone long enough to give me permission to take interior pictures. For the next 15 minutes or so, I wandered around the library and listened to her side of a conversation, which included repeated statements like "I just can't understand what you're saying."

    When I write this post tomorrow, I won't mention her. And it will be a rather slim entry.

    You, sir, and I when I was in the library business, try very hard to keep any unavoidable crankiness on the librarian's side of the desk.

    Or in the break room.

    1. I too am frequently shocked by such behavior, agreeing so emphatically with the "not allowed to be cranky" interpretation. Sometimes when I'm working crankiness will slip out and I'll feel bad, but then the patron will conclude (not sarcastically) by thanking me for being so incredibly kind!


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