Sunday, December 2, 2018


I have been writing about library work life for well over five years now, and though I have covered the vast array of standard library subjects ranging all the way from animals in the library to the various substances that cover returned materials, I suddenly realized that there is still one issue I have never addressed.

It is possible I have never talked about this issue because it is so mundane. But I believe its mundanity is merely the bland face it uses to hide the real reason it is not discussed. It is taboo. It is unmentionable.

No one in library land discusses it. No one admits to it. No one acknowledges how it makes them squirm.

Yes, I am going to talk about the single thing library circulation staff hate more than anything else.

Well, as they will tell you, they don't hate it, they're fine with it, if only...

Ha! They hate it.

They will do anything to get out of it.

They know it's not that bad of a job, or even that hard. The good ones even know that their willingness to embrace it, do it well, and even invite it is a testament to their professionalism.

But they hate it.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

It's going to be disappointing.

Okay then.


Library card registration.

What? You cry. Library card registration? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

Although even I'll admit it's all a little mysterious.

There's something about the way that a card registration always takes a fair chunk of time, no matter how fast one is about it. There's something about its sheer lack of variety. There's also something about all the canned speeches that have to go with the process. But there's something intangible about it as well. I have seen library clerks all over the country try to squirm out of registering a card, but act like they're not squirming. I have seen them try to invoke rules to dissuade people from getting cards. I have seen them make up rules to stop people from getting cards. I have seen clerks make every argument in the book as to why it's not in someone's interest to get a card just then. I have seen library staff go into hiding at the prospect of a library card registration. All of it while being as pleasantly passive aggressive about it as possible.

But no, ask one of my colleagues about registrations and -insert series of minor complaints here- they're fine with it.

If I haven't made it clear, I don't believe them.

Over the many years my co-workers have ranged from excellent to execrable, but one thing even the least capable of them has been able to do is smell a library card registration coming from a mile off. And in all my deep studies of library front desk dynamics I have noticed one thing: no one likes a registration. Some people are complete assholes about it, blithely ducking out of the way, as if by accident, or lingering with a patron to try and evade a likely upcoming registration, and some try to overcompensate for their evil inclinations by cheerfully inviting a registration. But I recognize the tell tale signs of wilt, of quailing in everyone, even if it be dauntlessly covered over in the blink of an eye. Even if some of those people refuse to acknowledge it fully to themselves.

I cannot be convinced otherwise. Because after 24 years I have glimpsed the very heart of the God of Library Circulation Staff.

And it's not pretty.

Though it's not all that ugly either.


  1. Card registration memories:
    * One of my first, for a profoundly deaf patron. Doable, with a feeling of satisfaction, but soooo slow and difficult.
    * Subbing at an unfamiliar branch, family had huge fines on everyone's, says Dad, can I get a card for the baby? Well, yes, I had to do it (I checked with more experienced staff) and I just hated it, because I knew he was just gaming the system.
    * Cards for a large immigrant family with accents I found unusually difficult.
    * Any situation in which I knew there was an exception of some sort, but couldn't remember exactly what I was supposed to do about it.

    But the best was always:
    * A young kid getting his or her own card and totally thrilled about it.

    But yes, if there was any way to finesse a registration and hand it off to someone else...I'd do it. Mea maxima culpa.


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