Monday, July 9, 2012

Librarian's Corner: Bad Patrons

Okay, so I know not all library patrons are bad. The vast majority are good, decent, reasonable and pleasant people.

However, I've noticed that the bad patrons tend to end up in one or more of the following ten categories (each of which I've experienced first-hand in all the libraries I've worked). I've highlighted these below:

1. The stinker

I'll combine the usage of this to mean patrons who literally smell (one lady I helped had a combined aura of horse manure and lotion) and those who are snarky/stinky toward librarians and what they do. One man in particular epitomized both of these--his sweaty aroma was so thick that I could smell him from across the room. But I would have forgiven him for that had he not been so rude. He opened with a line I loathe to this day: "Working hard, or hardly working?" I was doing collection development on a spreadsheet, so I answered, "Working, actually." He sneered and said, "Yeah, right." I ignored this to help him find a book he was looking for, but his rudeness gave him a one-way ticket into my first book. I made him into a race of beasts--and they were all just as fleshy and smelly as he was.

2. The non-listener

I can't count the number of times I've explained things to patrons--whether it be a library policy, or how a database works, or why we don't have a particular book--and the vast majority of what I say goes in one ear and out the other (especially if they're typing on their cell phones). This can also happen via chat reference--as the below example demonstrates:

Patron: I was wondering what editions the copies of [redacted title] that the library owns are

Librarian: Hi there--is [redacted title] a periodical?

Patron: no it is a textbook.

Librarian: ok--the library doesn't usually carry textbooks

Patron: The author is [redacted]. If that helps

(But the librarian just said…)

Librarian: if we do, they're probably much older

Later that same conversation…

Patron: i was able to find worldcat and it says that the book is at the library here but i am not sure if it is an older edition

(Okay, but the librarian already said…)

You get the point.

3. The creepy-mc-creepster
This guy is the reason that most libraries have (or need) a security staff. If he doesn't rope you into a conversation you don't have time for, he'll hang around just closely enough to make you uncomfortable. One older guy who frequented a public library I worked at had long white hair and smelled like a suitcase. I tried to keep our conversations short, especially when I was buried under a ton of work. But when he asked me to help troubleshoot problems on a laptop he'd purchased in Costa Rica (complete with Spanish keyboard characters) I drew the line. Probably even worse than him was another, more portly guy (in a separate library) who wore a mesh shirt with nothing underneath.
4. The basket-case
Some readers have requested my library bunker story, and I think it fits well within this category. This was recounted to me by a member of library security: a lady in rags took a bunch of books off the shelf and used them to build a wall around herself--a bunker, of sorts. As she hid behind it, the security member kindly explained that the books needed to go back on the shelf. She rose out of her bunker and pointed a shaking finger at him, saying, "You're one of them!" I'm not exactly sure what happened after that, but I'm pretty sure she wasn't allowed in the library again.

5. The non-descript library user
This type of patron encompasses anyone who doesn't use a library for its intended purpose--like the guy who always brought in an arts and crafts bag (we dubbed him "arts and crafts man") and proceeded to spill white-out on one of our tables (and left it to dry). This also applies to people who seem to have no idea what they're actually looking for, and keep their answers extremely vague, like the following (also fielded via chat):

Librarian: Hi there--are you searching in the library catalog or in a library database? in other words--a book, or an article?

Patron: book

Librarian: what is your topic?

Patron: supervision

Librarian: in a business atmosphere or...?

Patron: yes as a supervisor of graduate assistants in student affairs area

Librarian: okay--you mean specifically at our university?

Patron: lol, yes

Librarian: ah, ok, I thought this was for a research paper

Patron: i figured, nope more for self improvement

Later that conversation, after the librarian googles some pdf articles about graduate assistant supervision…

Patron: that's a good start! And it has references too! Those also provide guidance

I don’t want to put down this patron because they were very nice and sincere—but it just goes to show that sometimes patrons are unclear about what they're using the library for.

6. The non-reformed alcoholic

When I tell people how common this is in libraries, they're usually surprised. The worst was when I had to call campus police to come pick up a guy who wanted me to type his computer password ("Cougar4u") because he was too drunk to type it himself. I would have let that slide, but he was also yelling "Hey! c'mere!" to passing students, most of whom sped up to get away from him.

7. The Tourette's-impersonator
Two examples of this:

A) One day in the public computer area, a woman was randomly yelling out profanities at odd intervals. I'm not sure if it was because of something she saw on her computer screen, or whether she was just accustomed to yelling things anyway. I'm sure I could probably lump her into the basket-case category.
B) Yesterday, a group of men were cussing while huddled in front of a computer screen. When another patron complained, I was about to intervene--but these guys left the building before I had a chance. The unfortunate reality is that librarians aren't usually allowed to intervene unless these people are being actively and purposely disruptive.
8. The non-parent
Another common person in the public computer area is the oblivious parent--I once saw a woman who was so busy on her MySpace page that she completely ignored her toddler and the dirty diaper he was forced to sit in.
9. The porn voyeur
This continues to be a common phenomeon in libraries. When I worked as a graduate assistant, my supervisor told me, "Laptop 3 doesn't circulate anymore." When I asked why, she said, "I don't want to talk about it." Turned out a graduate student (in counseling!) had borrowed our laptops and video cameras to make some not so appropriate videos of himself.

Probably the worst at my current job was a man who improperly combined the usage of one of our multimedia rooms with a box of kleenex. I'll stop there.

10. The snorer
This one's pretty self explanatory--I was in my office one day when I heard what sounded like a buzz saw outside my door. The sound emitted from a weather-faced gentlemen leaning back in a plush chair with his mouth hanging open. I thought about waking him up, since some nearby students were trying to study--but he ended up walking out before I could.

Another library I worked in took the time to write out a policy against people sleeping in the library--which also tends to happen with some frequency among patrons under category #6.

Any other rude library patron stories out there? Feel free to share!


Feaky Snucker said...

How about The Isolated Eccentric? We have this old guy who is harmless, just really spends too much time on his own, but he comes in and talks to everyone. Whether they want to or not. He doesn't understand uninterested body language. He'll keep talking to you for twenty minutes. The worst part is he's nearly deaf, so you hear him corner other patrons, and hear them humouring him... in raised voices. His most popular topics of conversation are his math genius daughter, and his woodworking projects.

The Writer Librarian said...

@Feaky Snucker--Yep, definitely add that one to the list! I've definitely seen a version of that guy too--at least he considers his local library a place of sanctuary! :)

Steve Cramer said...

haha I remember Arts & Crafts guy! Haven't seen him for years.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

We had the creepy guys in the bookstore too--one of which who really crossed the line into stalker and scared me. I had to take the bus after work at like 10 pm, and standing at the bus stop was when I realized I'm not scared of the dark-- but I am scared of people! Though I'm not entirely sure I didn't see horns sticking out of his bald head from a certain angle . . .

The Writer Librarian said...

@Angelica--ooh, that's freaky. Yeah, I agree--people can be scarier than the dark--especially if they have horns!

Anonymous said...

What about "Late Kate?" The woman (or man) who shows up five minutes before closing and wants help printing a paper. And finding more sources. And can't quite remember how to do MLA citation...

Great list, Karen! Really enjoyed this! :)

The Writer Librarian said...

@Alison--oh, good one! Definitely have encoutered all variations of "Late Kate"--particularly in students who want a research consultation the day before a paper is due!

M. said...

There is a woman who comes into the library where I work once in a while, but approaches me and other patrons as if she comes in every day. She is, initially, overly friendly, and it makes me uncomfortable. She then uses this faux friendliness to become emotionally indignant later during her visit, claiming staff has made false promises to her (that she can renew titles she can't renew, have unreasonably long computer sessions while other patrons are waiting, etc.) and other privileges that are clearly not acceptable to provide by our library's mode of operations. She is notorious with the local police department, and often becomes extremely loud when she does not get her way.

An example of this- when a computer terminal is left idle for 15 minutes, a patron is automatically logged out of the computer. She left her station idle, and returned to it to find it logged out. She became irate, accused the desk assistant of turning off her computer and sabatoging her work. She then began to loudly berate the desk clerk in front of the entire library in a tirade of verbal abuse lasting several minutes. The desk clerk apologized for the loss of her work, and offered to help the sobbing patron when the patron she was currently assisting was finished with their question, but continued to sob extremely loudly and berate the character of the desk clerk.

TheMadLibrarian said...

One thing that is becoming more and more frequent are people who need to use our Internet, but have subpar skills and expect us to act as secretaries. We have people who want extensive individualized tutorials on how to make Word or a particular site do what they want (I include people who are told they have to fill out online applications) but either can't or won't handle the basics of using a computer. One gent has created a dozen e-mail addresses, but can't remember any of them, and gets angry with us when he jumbles the passwords and is locked out. I will be happy to show you quickly how to print something, show you the templates for resumes, or download to your flash drive, but I can't hold your hand as you apply for a position at Jamba Juice or update Facebook.