After my original post about library patrons behaving badly, other categories started coming in. Among them:
1. The Isolated Eccentric
This is usually the patron who will stop by the reference desk and make conversation, usually assuming the librarian isn’t all that busy and has time to chat. It’s fine to get to know patrons, especially regulars, but unhelpful when they keep the librarian from helping others.
2. The Stalker
This was referenced in relation to a bookstore, but libraries have these people too. I have a co-worker who always asks if a certain patron is in the vicinity. If he is, we usually shut the door to our department. He’s relatively harmless, but he always interacts with her (and no one else) and his interruptions tend to keep her from getting her other work done.
3. Late Kate
This is the patron who comes in five minutes before the library closes and needs everything under the sun because her paper is due the next day. “Can you print this paper?” “Can you help me find sources?” “Can you help me cite in MLA?” All in the next five minutes.
Another “writer librarian” I’m in touch with posted about an unpleasant interaction with a patron on her blog, The Mad Ravings of a Feaky Snucker. Kudos to Feaky Snucker for keeping a straight face with this patron!
So what does all this mean for all the libraries and librarians out there? Are bad patrons a significant enough problem? Some people I work with are so used to all the crazy phenomena that they just shrug it off as being “usual.” It might be usual for a patron to bring in a bottle of alcohol and leave it in the bathroom, be kicked out by the police, and eventually return when another librarian, unfamiliar with his antics, lets him back in. It might be usual for librarians to permit patrons to view pornography on the public computers, because librarians, as a rule, are told they need to “err on the side of free information”–and can only intervene when said patron is looking at illegal content (i.e. child porn)). But what about the patron sitting next to the porn voyeur who is uncomfortable? What about their rights?
It may be usual, but that doesn’t make it right.
On the flip side, what about librarians who feel uncomfortable approaching someone who is behaving badly, who would rather look the other way than confront a potentially dangerous person? Are libraries (especially those without a security staff) offering security training to librarians? Should they?
It’s time we get the word out–that while libraries still are the places of quiet and learning that most people perceive them to be, that some individuals are slowly picking away at the integrity of this structure. It isn’t until the perception of the library as quiet, pristine place is dispelled that we will be able to make any headway–to convince those in power that we need a better way to deal with people who disrespect libraries and librarians.
I think Stewie from Family Guy says it best:
Ok, I’ll step off the soap box now. Stay tuned for the next post, in which I’ll revert back to my writing stance to talk about partial submissions.
I now feel lucky that the only library I've ever worked in was at an elementary school. Our patrons had their own distressing subcategories (nose pickers, book chewers, the kid that always smelled like bologna, etc.).
I'm glad I never had these characters to deal with!
OMG How could I forget Late Kate?! I hate that chick. She's so demanding…
It definitely was uncomfortable to go use the bathroom and be offered drugs. Especially because I was like, what about me says I'm the type of person to buy drugs in a library bathroom?
@Laura–Very true, but I'm sure kids have their own challenges!
@Angelica–there's a clip from Family Guy that elaborates on this, found here I'll also add it to the blog post.