Thursday, March 13, 2008

Library fatigue

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.


HelenMWalters said...

Your library sounds like it's a thrill a minute! Not sure about the skeletal head and the smell of poo though!

Lane Mathias said...

I think when you've finished Operation Marzipan, you've got a whole new book there waiting to be written:-)

DAB said...

Me thinks it's time I took a little trip down to my library. (mental note, take peg with you just in case) ;-) I've lost my library card with my purse lets just hope no one has cloned me and taken out the entire collection on Barbara Cartland (comics) sorry, novels!
Question: Please Ms Librarian, Will I have to pay for a replacement library card? Tommo X

Paul Capewell said...

I think haven is the right word for upstairs. It's certainly quieter and slower, but it can have its moments. We had the aforementioned smelly/strange man in too. I've seen him in before and find him incredibly difficult to deal with. It's those sort of situations when it is one on one that I'm most concerned about...

But anyway, great post! I like your observations.

Jumbly Girl said...

Sounds very like a library I used to work in - lots of opportunity for character observation and for compiling descriptions of smells! Have you read Library Confidential: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchett yet. Its written about a library in California but I think there are a lot of similarities. (Wish I'd thought of writing it - damn!)

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

What a fascinating place to work, certainly never dull. Mind you I don't think I would relish the smell off poo, or wee come to think of it.

Karen said...

helenmh - It's not always that bad, honest! Sometimes it doesn't smell of poo at all :o)

lane - A library would be a surprisingly good setting. They say truth's stranger than fiction, and some of the customers are pretty damn strange!

tommo - We no longer stock the works of Barbara Cartland I'll have you know.

Anyway that'll be two shillings and sixpence for a new card, and make sure you put it somewhere safe this time :o)

paul - Welcome back!
I know, I dread 'dealing' with someone one to one - especially if they've been drinking. We were going to send him upstairs at one point, but frankly don't think he would have made it!

sarah - I've never heard of that book but it sounds great! There are a series of novels set in a mobile library, by Ian Sansom, that are supposed to be good, but I haven't got round to reading one yet (too close to home maybe!)

Karen said...

debs - I'm glad I only work there part-time to be honest...I might be overcome by fumes otherwise :o)

Leigh Forbes said...

Poo? Wee? Alcohol? Noses wiped on sleeves? Raucous renditions of The Wheels on the Bus? Piles of books?

Sounds just like home!

Casdok said...

I love libraries! And am used to the smell of poo!!

Yvonne said...

I read this yesterday before I went to bed and was laughing like a loon! I was watching the Mitchell and Webb Look and they had a sketch about an evil was hillarious. Not sure if you saw it?

Poetess said...

I always wanted to be a librarian.

A few weeks ago i was in our local library and I found a letter within the pages of a book. I was so tempted to read it but felt like all the book had eyes and would see me snoopping. I didn't take the book home either. Curiosity killed the cat and all that. It did however figure in one of my assignments for my course and I got an A for that story so was quite pleased for the inspiration.


Karen said...

leigh - lol :) Now you mention it, it does sound a bit like home from home!

casdok - Aren't we all? :o)

yvonne - Bugger! I love Mitchell & Webb, but missed last night's. I hope it's repeated sometime. Evil librarian has a definite ring to it :o)

poetess - We occasionally find postcards or letters inside books and look at them to see if they're important - mostly they've been used as bookmarks and aren't too revealing, thank goodness. It's great that you found inspiration for an essay though - what a great idea :)

Faye said...

Oh my Karen! Any librarian worth her/his (I'll figure this out some day. . .) salt would wear long sleeves so she can poke her kleenix up in there for the ready. I understand your dilemma though--am sure that loud snuffling is forbidden in the stacks.

At least you don't put on airs and call yourself a media specialist.

FPDuck said...

You can't tell them off at all? Not even for damaging (and/or disrespecting) library property?

I bet that's frustrating...


Karen said...

faye - Ooh - media specialist? No you're right, it doesn't have the same ring!

mike - It is frustrating at times, but no, we're absolutely not allowed to in case there's some sort of parental backlash. If mine were running around causing havoc, I'd hoick them outside, personally.

j said...

I love this! I remember in grade school, you knew when you walked into the library to shush or ELSE. Our librarian was a no non-sense kind of gal. But she had the best reading voice and the times that we went to her to be read to was such a treat!


Karen said...

jennifer - Thanks for popping by! Our school library was the same, but our librarian was lovely. She was the one who encouraged me to keep writing :o)

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