I spent the past summer working as a book clerk at the public library, which -either by destiny or circumstance- is how I've spent almost every summer since high school graduation.
The other day a friend sent me a link to Scott Douglas's Dispatches from a Public Librarian. Reading through the entries gave me flashbacks.
"It's common in the library for me to approach a person doing something that most human beings would consider inappropriate library behavior (such as spitting sunflower seeds on the floor) and ask them to stop. The response is frequently not "Okay, sorry," but rather, "Where does it say that?" It is for this reason that the rules of conduct at most public libraries around the country are some of the strangest rules you'll ever see. Below, I have posted some of the stranger rules from libraries around the country."
Imagine my surprise and, dare I say, delight when I saw that the library I worked at made the list:
West Florida Public Library
INDECENT EXPOSURE, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO HAVING SEX AND/OR EXHIBITING LEWD AND OFFENSIVE NAKEDNESS, IS PROHIBITED.
Any well adjusted person would read this and think "do you really need to have specifically stating that this sort of thing is not allowed?" The answer is a resounding YES.
Now that I'm officially retired from the biz, I think it's safe to relay my testimony of the seedy underbelly of the West Florida Public Library System…here some observations, experiences, and life lessons I've learned over the course of four summers spent abiding by the dewey decimal system and whatever kind of higher moral code that kept me from hitting someone over the head with an encyclopedia.
Life lesson #1: be prepared
And more specifically, do not forget to pack a lunch. You will be embarrassed when someone catches you eating the stale fortune cookies the have accumulated in the break room over several months (Saturday is Chinese takeout day). If you do get caught, do not try to hide the evidence, you will only make a mess.
Life lesson #2: people are pretty much all alike.
There was a drive-thru at the library I worked at this summer- it sounds weird, I know- and a lot of people thought that this was pretty hilarious, or something. Anyway, it was inevitable that everyday at least 4 or 5 different people would make the same joke about it: "can I get fries with that?" they would say or variantly, "supersize it." I would have to laugh and pretend like I was hearing it for the first time.
Life lesson #3: people are stupid. And I mean really stupid, even more stupid than you think they are.
here are some questions I've been asked on the job:
"how long can you take out the '7 day loan' books?'
"how much do the books cost?"
"unless you don't return them on time, borrowing books doesn't cost anything"
"I mean, how much to BUY?"
"this is a library."
"my grandbaby said that you got movies here"
"yes, we do. Are you looking for something on DVD or VHS?
""y'all don't have the round ones?"
"Where was the hotdog invented?"
"I don't know. Sorry."
"while you're at it, look up where french fries were invented."
(line begins to form)
"how do you send an email?" (this question X 10 everyday)
"do y'all have cake pans?"
"could we borrow a cake pan?"
"we don't have any pans."
"oh""we do have books, though"
Tales of disorderly conduct and debauchery: Sex, Drugs, and Violence
There are no doors on the stalls in the men's bathroom at the downtown branch of the library. The reason for this, I was told, is because people would lock the doors while they were shooting up heroin and then overdose and die, only to be discovered by someone who whose bowels were in such desperate need of emptying that they finally grew impatient and forced the door open after waiting for 20 minutes or so. This is perhaps the most inopportune time to encounter a corpse.
On one memorable occasion, I was physically assaulted by a woman after I told her that it wasn't really appropriate to have a conversation (with her drug dealer) on speakerphone in the children's department.
Watching porn on the computers at the library is a pretty popular activity. Once a man actually printed out a photograph of a woman with the tailpipe of a rusty pick-up truck wedged into her nether-region and propped it up at his computer station.
I've been solicited for sex by patrons on numerous occasions. Here is an example of the subtlety and finess usually involved in these propositions: A man called to ask if the library was hiring "no" I said, "sorry""oh, that's too bad" he said, and after a pause "wanna meet up some time? you sound hot""I'm not… I have warts on my face…have a nice day,sir" I hung up the phone.
some of the strange (and also tax-deductible) donations people have made to the library:
-a pamphlet published in the 1960s entitled "the Civil Rights Movement: Is it Civil? is it Right?"
- an unopened pocket Kama Sutra kit complete with flavored massage oil and mini feather wand
-"Tai Chi for the Elderly" complete 3 volume instructional guide on VHS
- Make Your Own Gag Gifts: Party Favors, Voodoo Dolls, Fake Poo and More!
a few bizarre items that have been discovered in the book drop box
-kittens (this has happened on several occasions, actually)
-large masses fake hair
-underwear and bras
-a home video-recording of a middle aged man with a pot-belly wearing nothing but white briefs and dancing to Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back"
-a package of hotdogs
- a bouquet of flowers