At work today, an elderly customer looked across the library at a small child running amok with a full nappy (judging by the smell), while his mum cackled with her friends in a corner and took no notice. 'Haven't libraries changed?' she said wistfully.
They have. And that's a Good Thing mostly. They're less stuffy - more user-friendly - than they were in the Olden Days, but people still expect a certain code of conduct in a library.
What they do expect to see are -
a) Smiling, friendly and helpful staff. I think we've shaken off our image of fusty, bun-haired fogies in hairy cardigans (and that's just the men) who crochet furiously and shush people for breathing. We're even allowed to wear denim. Though that's a Bad Thing in my opinion (see earlier post).
b) Rows and rows of nicely jacketed, up-to-date books in a variety of genres. Yes, we do occasionally come across a Terry Prachett with the pages missing or worse, stuck together or worse still, harbouring what might once have been a scab (and still is, frankly) but we're very quick to banish these offending items from our premises - with tongs.
c) A varied selection of films and CDs, featuring everyone from Doris Day to The Rock/ Elvis Presley to Dizzee Rascal. Some of the staff have never heard of Dizzee Rascal, but I have coz I is down wiv da yoof, innit? D'ya'll get me? Etc.
d) Interesting displays featuring World War 2, knitting or cuddly animals a la Beatrix Potter. (We did a Halloween display last year, comprising a skeletal head rising out of a shroud, which scared the bejaysus out of the little 'uns so we probably won't do that again.)
What they don't expect to see are -
a) A scruffy man lurching drunkenly round the aisles. When approached, he said he was partially paralysed. This might have been feasible had he not smelt of alcohol and wee. (I suppose he could have been incontinent and drinking brandy for medicinal purposes but my gut - and nose - said otherwise.)
b) Children knocking over displays or thwanging DVDs around like frisbees. We're not allowed to tell them off unless there's a danger of throttlement. Sometimes it's tempting to initiate the throttling.
c) A man playing the guitar loudly, while thirty children and their mums/nannies sing along to Wheels on the Bus. (To be fair it was World Book Day although I still don't get the "Book" connection. Probably because there wasn't one).
d) A member of staff surreptitiously wiping her nose on her sleeve after sneezing. (I was out on the "shop floor" okay, and couldn't find a tissue. It only happened once. God, you're so judgemental).
Overall though, I think libraries are less intimidating than they were. The study centre upstairs is still a haven of peace and quiet (mostly) if that's what customers want.
I did feel sorry for the poor customer though. It's much harder to choose a book when the air smells like poo.