Sunday, January 16, 2011

Librarians: The Naughty Old Grouch

In my last discussion post The Backup Book I wondered about the perplexing "One book only!" parents and talked about the necessity of a backup book. A number of responses touched upon the fact that what keeps some of you from enjoying your libraries are the grouchy librarians and high fines. Once I stopped weeping tears of sympathy, I started thinking about what you said.

Annette from The More You Read, The More You Know (and the always mouth-watering The Housework Isn't Getting Done) said something that especially stuck with me. She said, and I paraphrase, that librarians who complain a lot and set all kinds of crabby restrictions should think about the lasting impressions kids will have when they hear the word "library."

How true is that? Everywhere we go we're a walking billboard for something, and when we're at work, our behavior is constantly being judged as a representation of our profession. So what should we think of when we think of librarians?

I'm going to get a little corny here. Ready?

As a kid, (and, ok, nothing has changed now that I'm no longer a kid) I always thought of libraries as these magical places. A library is like a time machine or a portal to exciting realms. You can travel all over the world. You can meet all sorts of interesting people. Before I ever met that kid in fifth grade whose name I can't even remember now, I fell in love with fictional guys (and I'm engaged to one. Well, not really, that just sounds delusional, but I kinda am. But that's another--totally sane--story, and I promise I will share it with you in another post: Because Fictional Guys Are Better).

Libraries are places of endless possibility. And librarians are the gatekeepers to those opportunities. They are the wise women (sorry guys!) who always knew just the right book to give me. They read to me and they talked about books with such enthusiasm. They made me excited to read. Ok, sometimes they did tell me to use my "Library Voice." But they also introduced me to Laura Ingalls, Felicity Merriman, and Kristy's Babysitters' Club. They sparked and encouraged a joy of reading that very obviously persists to this day. In short, I love those librarians and I treasure the memories they gave me.

Apparently my experience is not quite the norm. If you Google "Librarian" you get a variety of different pictures. Depending on whether you have Safe Search enabled, you'll either find a bunch of sad old ladies or a lot of scantily clad ladies. The number one related search term is "Naughty Librarian." So, erm, yeah.

I then tried typing in "Librarian cartoon" to see what kind of jokes I could find. I love jokes--the cornier the better! But what did I find? Aside from a number of technology/library clashing cartoons, apparently the world sees librarians as:

Cruel beings who needlessly strike fear in the hearts of children


 Silencers of Fun


(and friendless old hags! Hrumph!)

And Murderers

Basically, I'm getting the impression that you'd better return your books on time, shut up, and make darn sure you pay your fines or militant librarians will track you down and maim, torture, and kill you.

Or get sexy with you....But I'm not posting those pictures.

Is this really the image of a librarian we want? Is it deserved? Shouldn't a library be seen as a happy place?

This is the part where I brag.

In my own library, it's just myself an two other ladies. It's a small, one-room library that caters to a small town. We know all our patrons by name and will often drop off their books for them on our way home, set aside books we know they'll like, and order books for them we think they'll enjoy. They come into the library and we have all sorts of books waiting especially for them. It's kind of like getting surprise presents, and who doesn't like getting surprise presents?

Because we're a small library, we don't have many books. Luckily, we're connected to over fifty libraries in the county. And if they don't have what we're looking for, we can even order books from other states. I'm in NY and I've gotten books sent from Kansas, Kentucky, and California. How awesome is that?!

And fines? Pfft! We laugh at fines. Return a book really late and owe us $5? Preposterous! We'll cut that fine in half, at the minimum. Going on vacation and really want to take your audiobook with you? We'll give you an extended due date. Having trouble finding a book you checked out? Don't worry. We'll extend your due date another month or two to give you time to look for it. Lost it for good? Don't even think about paying us the full list price for a replacement. No, no, just go on Amazon or Ebay and pick up a used copy for a fraction of the list price. We'll take it!

 Return a book a day late because you were just finishing the final chapter? Fines? What fines? That book looks on time to me. What, do you really think I'd punish you for keeping a book you were enjoying an extra day so you could finish it?? No way! In fact, if you're liking the book and you try to return it because of a due date, I will refuse to take it back until you've finished it.

Those mean librarians would hate us. They would look down on our library with derision. They would scold us. They would kick us out of our own library because not only do we happily waive fines, but we flaunt our disregard for the second most dire library offense:

We're loud.

I swoon with the teens over our favorite YA books. It is not uncommon to hear OMG!!! and SQUEEE between fangirly hand waving.

I gush with the adults over the greatest latest and golden classic alike. There are even a few among the elderly who are known for their quick wit with the dirty joke (when there are no children in the library, of course!) One couple in particular come in every Saturday during the summer to swap jokes.

I've even been known to shoot a few Hot Wheels cars back and forth across the library. Board books make awesome ramps. (I've even had a few explosive crashes with some very impressive accompanying sound effects, if I do say so myself). Of course, we read the books too.

It can be a quiet and relaxing place to read, but my library is also a place for community. People come in just to say hello and end up staying for an hour or two chatting with us. We're constantly laughing. Even though our library is tiny, people from two towns over come to our little library instead of their own. I love it here.

I like to think we're doing what libraries should do: Making people feel welcome and happy, and encouraging fun reading experiences. Hopefully we're doing our part to dispel the stereotype of the grouchy librarian (and, dirty jokes aside, no one is getting frisky in my library!)

What about your library? Are your local librarians nice? Are you scolded if you talk loudly or slapped with mercilessly high fines for overdue books? Why do you think the stereotype of the mean librarian is so common? Is it deserved? What can we do to make libraries a happy place? All of you other librarians, what do you think about the stereotype? Does it apply to your library?

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  1. Hmm I wish my librarians were like that although I was less afraid of the librarians than of my parents who were always extremely angry when I forgot due dates and/or couldn't find a book I had to return.

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books
    Loving the Reviews Challenge

  2. Your discussion posts always make me laugh! The librarians at my local library have always been nice but unfortunatly they don't waive fines LOL. My council are withdrawing funds though because only 50,000 people come through the doors and 100,000 are needed which is ridiculous considering it's only a large village.
    My school librarian is fantastic and is really good at ordering the latest books in when she can and she runs a school book club which I go to. She does have to tell people to be quiet though because when 50+ girls are talking/laughing really loudly at lunch, no one can read or work!

  3. You sound like an awesome librarian!

    Totally agree with the article - my love of reading was inspired by two wonderful ladies who worked at my local library when I was a kid (in fact, one still does and the other's only just retired) who would encourage me to read anything and everything I could get my hands on. So lucky to have had them to talk to about books rather than one of the type in the pictures above! (If any of them really exist outside of nasty cartoons, that is....)

  4. Dude, where are you located? I may just have to move there when I get a little older :)

    I dislike my local library (not really a fan of the atmosphere, fine prices are ridiculous and they charge you a fine if you drop it off after the library closes even though you return things on the due date) but the library in the next town is awesome. It's about a ten minute ride away and there's big glass windows and comfy couches for reading as well as none of the problems at my local library. I know most of the librarians by face (and one by name) since I'm there so often and volunteered as a reading buddy for my mandatory high school community service hours.

  5. l love this post!
    Your library sounds great!!! And the perfect place to work.
    My library is nice, the people who work there are all lovely but sadly they do have to follow through with fines because people would take advantage otherwise.

  6. I get so, so, sooooo sick of all of the negative stereotypes people have of librarians. In my library experience, I always try to shy away from doing anything that would make the kids/teens/adults look at me as the grumpy old librarian.

    At my previous job, when the teens saw one of my tattoos on my foot, they were almost shocked that a librarian would have a tattoo! LoL So, here's to breaking the stereotype. Great post!

  7. Sniffly Kitty, Haha, true, the parents are definitely a part of the equation.

    Stephanie, Good! Aw, that is a shame to hear about your library. I don’t know where you are, but a lot of places in the US are turning their libraries from public to private to good results. Maybe that would be an option? Your school librarian sounds wonderful. Hehe, I can imagine how loud that group of girls would get (but it sounds like so much fun!)

    YA Yeah Yeah, Thank you! I try. I know a few librarians from a sister library who do behave just like those pictures. We hear all the horror stories of them chasing out crying little children. It’s terrible. I’m so happy to hear you had a positive experience with librarians.

    A Canadian Girl, Haha, I’m in NY and you are always welcome here :) Your library charges you if you drop it in the box after hours?! That is ridiculous, though something our sister library would do. We had a big snow storm a few weeks ago and they tried to find people for not coming out in the blizzard to return their books. We, of course, waived those fines. It was a blizzard for crying out loud! I’m glad you have a nice library to go to as an alternative.

    Books for Company, :) We try, and it is a wonderful place to work. We have a few people take advantage, but it’s not so bad. We do enforce fines when the person repeatedly doesn’t bring stuff back. I’m glad to hear your librarians are nice though. They should be!

    Jessica, Haha yeah, it is a sad stereotype. A tattooed librarian is definitely breaking the mold! Go us for breaking the stereotype!

  8. I enjoyed your musings. Sounds like you have created a wonderful space for your community - maybe you should put this in your local paper! Thanks for the mention.

    It is a little different in a school library. I'm not a "shusher" but I do try to make sure everyone stays busy, and allows those that need to study, to do so. I have a problem because students WANT to come to the library to hang out - which I love - but we really run out of room and computers if they don't have anything to "do."

    I'll say it again - I have the greatest job in the world.

    Librarians everywhere - please think about instilling a joy of reading to your patrons. That's the most important thing. If you keep that perspective, that 50 cent fine doesn't seem so important anymore ...

  9. All the regular librarians know me by name as I've been a patron at my local library since I was seven or eight years old. We've gotten a few new ones in but they don't seem as friendly. One of the regulars asked me yesterday if my volunteer application was still any good because they had several carts of books to be shelved, haha!

  10. I'm in the UK. I think people will volunteer to keep it open as they just did a renovation and extension project through lottery funding but running and heating the building could be a problem! I found an article here: about librarians having the most stressful job which was quite interesting. Apparently librarians found their job unchallenging and repetitive and they hated being stuck between bookshelves all day. I find this quite hard to believe! I'm enjoying readine everyone else's comments :)

  11. My library is small, but I'm not very close with any of the librarians. The only one I know is my friend's older sister and she works there part time, an all the other ones are just quiet...but none ever give me filthy looks! Despite all the books I get out! :P
    I've been thinking about going into library sciences as a career, and I hope I never turn into a grumpy librarian!

  12. haha, it really is a rather unfortunate stereotype. The librarians at my library are always very helpful and love to give me their two cents even if I don't always take it (I was advised to just skip Ink Exchange and move on to Book 3). I have no idea if they would waive my late fees as I am very anal about being late :)
    My high school librarian, however, fits the bill of the stereotype pretty well. She would scowl at us if we whispered too loudly, scraped our chair on the floor, didn't push our chairs back under the table when we left, etc. And she was rather odd, as well... she believed her spirit was inhabited by a cat or something... she would randomly meow every now and then and then excuse herself... lol.

  13. I want to go to your library. It sounds like what I always thought a library should be like: A happy place.

    They just aren't like that in my country. They never had any interesting books - other than the occasional classic. And they never let me get a book out of the public library (I had to read Jane Eyre standing between then shelves because they wouldn't let me take it home :( and all four seats in that section were taken, and they also wouldn't let me take it to another section).

    I got kicked out of the National Library when I was 15, because I was thinking too loud.

    And my school's librarians were the type to over-charge fines, make you wait for hours to get a book because it got on their way of their gossiping, and ofter refused to open the libraries on time, even if a bunch of us were huddling outside the door (admittedly) trying to get out the cold.


    I've always loved libraries though, the place itself. The sight of all those books together just gave me warm fuzzies. It's like a world of knowledge and possibilities just waiting for you at the tips of your fingers.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this post. I work as a substitute librarian in a system of 17 libraries. I worked for four months at one of the branches, then I was transferred to our customer service department. I'm going to grad school to get my master's in library science later this year, and I would love to work in a small library like yours, where I can really get to know the patrons. I agree that librarians need to be kind, welcoming, encouraging, supportive, and so on, so I would love to work in a library with people who are like that, and that's the kind of librarian I hope to be.

    But honestly, what really stuck out to me in your post was all the talk about late fines. It's interesting to me that at your library, you guys are so willing to waive fines. I think something that wasn't mentioned and maybe needed to be was the reason for late fines. I probably have a different perspective, coming from a system with 17 libraries, especially since I work in the customer service office and deal with patrons and late fines on a daily basis. It sounds like the library you work in is really different from the system I work in, especially when it comes to late fines, and I think it's unfortunate that people never really consider the reason behind late fines. It would take too much space to go into a lot of detail, but we do charge late fines (though they're not daily fines, and if you return the items in good condition, we'll waive the fines; or you can purchase items that are in new or like-new condition as replacements, provided you purchase the exact titles that are checked out to you, for cataloging purposes), but when it comes to late fines, our system's goal isn't to charge our patrons high prices for items or discourage them from using the library, or whatever--we jut want to get the items back so that other patrons can use them.

    It's interesting to hear everyone's point of view on this, and I know my perspective is very different, because of the customers I work with on a daily basis, but I have to say, I wish people wouldn't get so upset over late fines. I can't speak for any other librarians, but in my system, we don't charge late fines to be mean. We charge them so that we can either get our items back in circulation or replace those items. I'm willing to bet most libraries will work with their customers, at least to some extent, when it comes to late fines.

    Anyway, I've said to much. Great post!

  15. LOL ok first that was awesome, as per usual I love the pictures.

    The librarians at my library are not mean per se, but they always look really miserable, like 'ugh gosh I have to check out your books? *sigh* bring them here'. I mean, if you don't like your job, and can't even bother to smile at your patrons, why are you working there? It makes me feel like I'm being a hassle. I wish I could work there and show them how it's done!

    On the other hand, there's a smaller library near my old high school, there's only 2 or 3 women working there and they are SO NICE. The few times I've been there, they smile when you come in, say how are you, and tell you have a nice day when you leave. Much better! They're just so cheerful. If it were closer I would definitely choose to go there more often, it's a much better environment. Makes you feel comfortable :]

  16. Annette, Thank you :) I love that your school library is a place kids want to come to. I think it can be a little different in a school library too, where you want to create a place where kids can be have fun and have a quiet place to study. I love your perspective on libraries.

    Bookish Hobbit, Haha, did you shelve them? It’s nice when you can create a relationship like that (not they hey do our work part, but the being on a first name basis).

    Stephanie, That would be very nice if they could keep it open with volunteers. I can’t believe that article! Tired of being between bookshelves all day?? I love that! I’m never bored at work. When all my regular work is done (which usually only takes a short while) I’m talking with patrons or reading my own books. It’s never dull. Those librarians in that article need to learn how to entertain themselves and have fun!

    Maggie, Hehe, good thing you don’t get filthy looks! I don’t have a degree in library sciences, but I would like to get one eventually. Just keep in mind that picture of the snooty librarian at the end and I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about turning into that!

    Aylee, Yay for good librarians! Meowing?! And then excusing herself?! Hahaha oh gosh, that’s too funny! So strange.

    Anime Girl, I feel so badly for you! How can they not let you take a book out?! I’m glad those librarians didn’t tarnish your love of libraries and reading.

    Kelly, We do consider the importance of late fines. I hope I didn’t come across as if we didn’t! We’re a system of over 50 libraries, but each branch seems to be more independent than your branches. You’re absolutely right when you say that you just want to encourage people to bring their items back so other patrons can use them. We try to find the line that best serves that end goal, and for our library we seem to have found a system that works for us.

    We don’t waive fines completely. We have the luxury of being very small, and so we know our patrons really well. We kind of get a feel for who is lying, who is a chronic problem, and who isn’t a problem. So, for instance, the 90 year old patron who couldn’t get out to the library because her aid was off sick that week? We’ll waive her fines. A person returns a book one day late so they could finish it? We’ll waive that fine too. As readers ourselves, we get that they want to finish it. Plus, returning it one day late really isn’t undermining the library system.

    On the other hand, the family who always returns stuff weeks after their due dates? We don’t waive their fines. They’re a chronic problem. We cut almost all fines in half, except for when a book/movie is damaged. Then we require either the full replacement cost or an equal replacement copy. Cutting the fines in half gets the point across to our patrons well, but it also goes a long way to creating a friendlier atmosphere here.

    Still, our sister library does fit the stereotype badly. A little girl had a ten cent fine on her mother’s card and they wouldn’t let her take out any new materials until it was paid. Ten cents! I think there is definitely a line libraries need to find when it comes to fines. I definitely agree that fines are important and do serve a purpose, as you say, but I think it is important to also be flexible with them. What we do works for our library and our patrons. It may or may not work for others.

    Laura, :D Glad you liked it! Ugh, yeah, I know those types of librarians (and people in other jobs). I always feel so badly for them. They seem so miserable. I’m glad you have a better alternative!

  17. I'm from little tiny towns and have volunteered in libraries most of my childhood. Yes, there are those I detested, and those that I loved. There was certainly a sense of community in those libraries.

    Now, I'm in a large city and I adore my library. The people are beyond friendly, but it can seem a little cold. I check out books and renew them online as well as downloading e-books. While it's a great library with most every book that I could want it's still not community.

  18. Whenever I move to a new city I make it a point to check out the nearest library. So far there are three of them that I have gone to.

    In the Vista library they have a security guard that stands at the entrance of the library glaring at everyone who walks in. If you get louder than a whisper he will tell you to be quiet and if he asks you twice he will kick you out. He once kicked me out because I was sitting too close to someone who was talking loud. I didn’t even know them. The librarians who work there mostly ignore the patrons unless they need them to quiet down or turn off their phones.

    I don’t really like the Oceanside library. The atmosphere was too sterile for me.

    Right now I mostly go to the San Marcos library. However I try to avoid the librarians. One of the librarians that I talked to was not very nice. I had been asking if I could use my Vista card there since it was the same district and she did not even let me finish the question before very rudely pointing out that they were the both in the San Diego Country district. I was forced to assume that meant yes because she had walked away as soon as she could. I don’t know if she is always that mean or if it is because I am so young or it that was really just a stupid question but I was very thankful that they got those impersonal self-checkout machines.

    I will admit that most of my public library experiences were with the stereotype however I always get along with my school librarians. I still have hope for a librarian like the one from Matilda. Finally I get jealous of your library every time you talk about it.

  19. Your library sounds like an amazing place, especially for young readers that need a nurturing place to love books. I don't remember ever having strong feelings about my librarians. They weren't awful, but I guess they weren't that amazing, either!

  20. Wow, three libraries and they've managed to make them all killjoys. That's terrible! I don't think your question was stupid at all. How are you to know how their library system works?

    If you or Anime Girl or anyone else who has a bad library are ever in my area I am treating you to the full nice librarian package. I will even make sure we have some brownies and chocolates on that day for you. (oh, yeah, that's another library rule we break. We often have bowls of chocolate on our desk for patrons)

  21. Logan, I guess a lack of strong felling is better than strong negative feelings! My only complaint about my library is that our book selection sucks. Our sister library does the ordering, and they do a terrible job. We've tried to combat this by bringing in our own books or getting used books to supplement our shelves. So far it's been pretty good.

  22. Wow, great article, and really great comments, too!
    As a children's librarian myself, I feel that my friendly interactions with kids will turn them into life-long library fans.

    I am surprised by how many people are terrified of fines. Usually it's only a couple of cents a day, so, even bringing in a book a month late (a whole month late! While other people were waiting for it and couldn't get it!) will only cost about $4... a bargain, if you compare the price of buying it, usually.

    I used to be a real stickler on fines... unfortunately, there are some patrons who'd never bring a book back, if it weren't for fines. But the library system where I am now has a policy of going real easy on fines, so I've forgiven more fines in the past year than I have in my whole career and it's actually kind of fun!

  23. Book fines are a bargain. If a person has a huge book fine here it's usually because they lost it. Now movie fines, that's where they build up the debt fast! Some libraries in my system charge two dollars a day in late fines!

  24. Love.Love.Love! Working in a small college library, we don't have fines (because I don't want to collect on them). Stuff gets lost all the time. Eh. The students eat and laugh and have fun in the library and I like it. I'd really like to work in a small town public library like yours.

    Now where can I get me some cat-eye glasses...

  25. Your library sounds so laid back. I love it! It sounds like you've made it a really nice place to be.

  26. I want to stalk you and your library and spend my days there. It sounds soooo nice.
    (don't worry, I'm on the other side of the Atlantic... For now.)


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