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The #@%& Joys of Library Work

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By Roz Warren

I've worked behind the circulation desk at a suburban Philadelphia public library for over a decade and I'm happy to report that most of our patrons are pleasant, reasonable people who are a joy to deal with. And then there are the others:

The mother who admonishes her kids, at the top of her lungs, "Be quiet, you little turds. This is a library!"

The man who refuses to pay the overdue fine for returning a DVD late because he didn't enjoy watching it.

The dude we catch trying to steal a Bible. (God doesn't want you to steal a Bible from your local public library. He wants you to check it out properly and return it on time.)

The guy who approaches the reference librarian, hums a few bars of a song, then asks, "Does the library have that CD?"

The woman who expects us to do her photocopying for her. "You're so much better at it than I am," she coaxes. Better at placing a piece of paper on a sheet of glass and pressing a button? Really?

The man who hollers, "Stop pressuring me!" when we announce that the library will be closing in half an hour.

The mother who hurries in the door two minutes before we close and demands that we find all 10 books on her son's summer reading list.

The guy who thinks we should let him check out a dozen DVDs even though he doesn't have his library card. Or any other identification. "But you know me," he insists. (No we don't.)

The couple who refuse to pay the overdue fine for the books they forgot to return before they jetted off on a two-month luxury European vacation. "We shouldn't have to pay! We couldn't return them! We were in Paris!"

The woman who tells us that her car -- out in the parking lot -- won't start and when we offer to call a mechanic, says, "Can't somebody here fix it for me?"

The woman who insists that we refund the money she paid to make a photocopy because the copy has a faint line on it. When we give her the refund, she returns to the machine and photocopies the same page again, resulting in another copy with a faint line in the same place, for which she demands another refund. She keeps doing this until we refuse to give her any more refunds.

The woman who expects us to figure out which book she wants, even though she doesn't know the title or the author, or even what genre it is. "It was on NPR yesterday," she says. "Look it up!"

The guy who refuses to pay to replace a missing book because he claims that aliens stole it from the book drop after he returned it there. (You think I'm kidding. Unless you work in a public library.)

The woman who returns a chewed-up copy of "The Dog Training System That Never Fails" and insists it was in that condition when she checked it out. When we suggest that maybe her dog did the damage, she says, "I don't have a dog."

Because we librarians are helpful and courteous by nature, we refrain from telling these folks off. Or telling them to get the hell out of our library. Instead, we smile and do what we can to help them. Which, given what we're dealing with, calls for its own special guide book. "When Difficult Patrons Happen to Good Librarians." Or "Impossible People For Dummies."

Some day I might just write that book.


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