This series of articles came out a month ago, I know, but somehow I missed it. Fortunately, a kind reader sent it on to me. "Top 20 things librarians in public libraries wish patrons knew or did" can more or less be summed up in considerably fewer than twenty things: Shut up, listen to us, don’t waste our time, don’t smell bad, and remember we’re here for you! But five points and eighteen words couldn’t have filled four (!) separate articles spanning an entire week. I’d tell those Examiner people that brevity is the soul of wit, but I think we all know that would be the pot calling the kettle black.
It does my heart good to see librarians breaking away from the puff pieces the ALA likes to see and really tell people how it is. This is almost like librarians talking amongst themselves about the things that annoy them. We always do that at the Annoyed Librarian, but normal people don’t read the AL, just librarians. What do the librarians polled by the author want the public to know?
My favorite was, "9. Practice good hygiene." Wow! That’s telling it like it is! Maybe libraries could put up little signs telling people to bathe. Or signs with the universal symbol of a stinky person with a no symbol on it. Then somebody could take a picture of it and the Webtamer could post it on his blog! This probably wouldn’t work, though. I hardly think the public is likely to take grooming tips from librarians.
"8. Please listen to us the first (or even second) time we say something. This goes for when we answer a reference question or ask you to lower your voice." I like this one, too. Along with "12. Hang up your cell phone when you come to the reference desk (or circulation desk)," it really gets the message across to library patrons: shut your yap and listen to me, or else!" After all the blather I’ve had to read about library "customers" this is refreshing. What we all know but don’t tell the stinky public is that we know what we’re superior to them and they’re a bunch of yahoos we tolerate because we’re a lot nicer and more refined than they are.
Number 11 telling the public the library has a lot of DVDs goes well with number 2, wherein they are also told librarians will check out Nightmare on Elm Street to 6-year-olds. They do this under the guise of "intellectual freedom." I guess a 6-year-old watching a slasher flick is what passes for "intellectual" among some librarians. "Number 2" describes their intellect well.
Number 14 tells the public to thank librarians more, because librarians "often deal with patrons who test our patience," so it’s nice to be thanked. It goes well with number 13: " Please be patient with us," in which the public is informed that "Waiting is a part of life." The message seems to be that when patrons waste a librarian’s time it’s a bad thing, but when librarians waste a patron’s time, that’s okay. This is absolutely true, of course, I’m just surprised anyone was willing to state it so boldly. I applaud these librarians for speaking truth to power.
"19. Ask us for what you really want, Please be specific!" This one seems designed to make the life of librarians slightly less interesting. Just about the only stimulating part of reference work is trying to figure out what the hell the person really wants. Facility with the reference interview might be the only thing that separates librarians from clerks.
Speaking of clerks, their time is valuable as well. This one deserves to be quoted in full: "7. If possible, check out all materials at once from the circulation desk. This ties up the library assistant’s and circulation clerk’s time. It help avoids a backup at the circulation desk, especially during busy times or when the desk is short staffed. Be mindful of your time at the self checkout station as well." I’m not entirely sure what message this is trying to get across. Is it checking out all materials at once that ties up the circulation clerk’s time? That’s what the first two sentences actually say. However, what I think the writer means is that not checking everything out at once ties up the circulation clerk’s time, and that this is a bad thing. If the job of a circulation clerk is to check things out to people, does it make sense to complain that checking stuff out to people "ties up" the clerk’s time? That’s what the clerk is there for, right? I half expected the next point to tell patrons not to ask any reference questions, as this ties up the time of the reference librarians, but that point had more or less been covered by 8, 14, and 13. I like the final warning to hurry it up at the self checkout station, too. Don’t just waste the time of librarians or library assistants by asking them to do their jobs, don’t waste the time of our machines, either!
After all that, I’m not sure the injunctions to "1. Use us!" will really matter much. I think it’s pretty clear that we don’t want people using our libraries, especially loud, stinky people (and this seems to describe a large swath of the masses). Personally, I found "18. Ask us what we read" amusing. Why on earth would anyone care what librarians read?
The fourth installment of this riveting series begins with the author laying it out for potential library patrons who may have missed it the first three times. "I won’t lie, there are patrons who make our job difficult and often challenging. If you’re afraid you fall into the latter category, go back and read parts 1, 2, 3, and take a look at part 4 below. You may soon find yourself a favorite of your local librarian." Who was the audience supposed to be for this? Are problem patrons going to dutifully go back through all the points here and say to themselves (after a vigorous slap on the forehead), "Of course! I need to listen to the kind librarian, Miss Manners. From now on, I’m going to bathe regularly, keep my mouth shut in the library, queue up quietly, and try to remember that the time of a library clerk is much more important than mine. What could I have been thinking?" Somehow I don’t see this happening. I hate to break it to all you annoyed librarians out there, but those patrons don’t want to be one of your favorites. They just want you to do their bidding, toot sweet.
Still, even though these words of truth are wasted on loud, stinky library patrons, at least we can thank this librarian for trying to get the truth out there.
I wonder what else we could tell the patrons to help keep them in line.