I'm joining the entire Red Room community in writing a short blog post on this week's topic: "Bad Manners." We'll choose at least one of these blogs to be featured on Red Room's homepage next week, and we'll choose three blog writers to receive free books from Red Room Authors. Submit your blog entry by Friday at 10:30 a.m. PDT [GMT-0700] for consideration. Be sure to tag the entry with the keyword term "bad manners” so we can find it.
Many of you know I worked at my local library system for ten years. For three of those, I was a substitute clerk, filling in when regular library workers were sick or on vacation. For a while, I liked going to different branches within the system and seeing what they were like. People would look at me and say: “Where’s so-and-so?” as if they secretly believed I did something to the person and took their place. Mostly I smiled and nodded, checked their books out, and told them the person would come back next week.
For a year I worked at a new library in a well-to-do town. They couldn’t hang on to people, and I needed the work; so, three days a week I would do some writing in the morning, then at 11 I’d take the bus to the library. I would get there an hour early and I would walk around the town, where they had a great bookstore and a good Starbucks. Then I would head for work. By the end of the day I would be limping out, feeling beaten up. This library had the rudest patrons I ever worked with. They wouldn’t know manners even if manners tapped them on the shoulder and said: “Remember me?”
The first thing I noticed is when it came to “holds.” Back then, people would get a note in the mail saying a book they’d reserved was waiting for them. They’d pay twenty-five cents per book for the library to hold onto it for them. When the patron came in, I would fetch the holds and I would tell them how much they owed. Then, normally it would go like this:
Patron: You have to pay for holds?
Me: Yes, a quarter a hold.
Patron: This means I have to pay (usually a dollar) for requesting a book?
Me: Well, normally on the computer screen it says how much it is…
Patron: I can’t believe I have to pay this much for reserving a BOOK!! Isn’t it bad enough you get a percentage of my taxes?
Finally, they would pay whatever amount it was, but it was like old-fashioned taffy-pull.
Having people pay fines was like getting teeth pulled. Normally, once I told patrons what their fines were, they would hit their forehead, say “Oh yeah! I remember now!” They’d pay their fines, I’d give change, all would be good. At this branch it was awful. You had the following types of people:
1. “I think it’s silly I have to pay fines.”
2. “I never checked that book out. It’s obvious you all put the book there so you could get money.”
3. “What do you mean two dollars? You charge that much for a book?”
One time I had a woman who marched in, then shoved books at me. “I just found out these books are overdue.” She wore a Chanel suit and a Rolodex on her wrist.
“Okay, let’s see how much it will be,” I said, trying not to look rattled. The bill came out to be twelve dollars. She wrote the check, and then threw the check towards me. “I bet this makes you happy. Taking money from us.”
I didn’t say anything. “I’m going to print you a receipt now,” I said.
“Don’t bother. I know your racket. Charging fines when books are late. I bet that’s why you stopped stamping books, isn’t it?”
“People were getting sick with the stamping, ma’am.” This was true. I knew a woman who had to retire because she didn’t have use of her wrists.
“Sure they were. In the meantime I have to pay for your salary and the damned marble countertops!” She walked off before I could yell at her: “Those damned marble countertops were donated by the Friends of the Library!”
I have no idea why people were so rude. I wondered if maybe it was me. However, my coworkers told me they were always like this. “It’s just gotten worse since we’ve moved,” they commented. One librarian told me this “A woman came in, looking around. She asked me if this was the rec center. I said no, it was the library. She then asked me if I was sure, I must be mistaken.”
People looked for any excuse to fight. One time I was checking out books and told them they had an extra day on a video because we were closed on Martin Luther King’s birthday. “You’re going to be closed next week?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, because of Martin Luther King’s birthday?”
“There’s a Martin Luther King holiday?”
I debated asking if this person lived in Arizona when Evan Meecham was governor. “Yes ma’am, it’s a legal holiday. All state and federal offices are closed.”
“I just can’t believe his birthday is a holiday. It wasn’t like he was president or anything.”
By then I was very close to saying: “You caught me. I made it up so you don’t have to come back next Monday.” I didn’t. I gave her the book receipt, took a deep breath, and started to help the next person.
One day we were getting ready to close for the night. I made an announcement over the loudspeaker, and a gentleman came over and said “Why are you closing?”
“Well, it’s almost five.”
“I’m not done yet with my research.”
“I’m sorry, we have to close.”
“This is very inconvenient for me,” he said, then walked away. I didn’t know what to say. Sorry we were closing? Sorry we couldn’t stay open for him?
The rudest patron I had was a woman who called in for a hold. I got it for her, and then she took the book from me and started to walk away. “Ma’am?” I said. “We need to check it out.”
She looked at me and said: “I don’t have to check the book out.”
“Yes, you do. It will only take a minute. Do you have a library card?”
“Stop being silly,” she said. “I don’t want a library card.”
“Ma’am,” I said, “if you want to check out the book, we need to get you a library card.”
Then—I’m not making this up—she stomped her foot. “They told me at the other library I don’t need a library card to check out.”
I took a deep, inward breath. “Perhaps the person was mistaken, ma’am. Do you have your ID? I’ll check to see if you are in the system.”
She gave me her ID, shaking her head. “I just can’t believe I need a library card. They told me I didn’t need a library card.”
Another deep inward breath. “Well, it looks like you don’t have a card, ma’am. Let’s get you started and get you one.”
“They told me that I didn’t need a card! You don’t want to check the book out to me!”
By then I was getting a bit woozy. She was raising her voice so people stopped what they were doing and looked at her. I kept going. “This is only going to take a minute, ma’am. I know want the book, but the rules say people have to have a library card. Is your information up to date?”
She looked at me for a moment. “It’s correct,” she said.
In three minutes, I got her a card and a Welcome packet, and then checked out the book. She finally left. A coworker came up to me. “Go take a walk. Come back in fifteen minutes. You handled it great.”
I sat outside for a while. Why were people so rude? I couldn’t understand it. Was it the money? Was it me? I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand how day after day I was getting people who didn’t have manners, who felt it was perfectly okay to be rude to people simply because they could. It just confounded the heck out of me.
It wasn’t all bad. The nannies who brought in the children for the Mommies and Me storytime were always pleasant. One time a woman walked in, looking so befuddled. She looked at me and said: “I need books on raising twins.”
I smiled at her and said “Congratulations. The information desk librarian will help you get started.”
She looked so grateful she was about to cry.
Eventually a good friend of mine sat me down and said: “You keep on complaining about this library and the town. You know, you don’t have to work there.”
I know this sounds silly, but it was a light bulb moment. “They need me, though,” I said.
“They need to find someone permanent for the job. Someone who works close by.”
I knew she was right. I gave notice that I couldn’t take any more jobs with them. They understood, and a month later, they hired a new library aide (who made double what I did) to take over.
Working there wasn’t a total waste; it taught me that no matter what, money doesn’t buy manners, that I didn’t lose my cool does matter, and that when I know something is a bad situation for me, it’s time to go.
Also no matter what, I would pay a quarter for a book hold.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries