Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Library Responsibility Vs. Common Sense

One of the most difficult parts of my job for me - and I know a lot of people don't have this problem - is maintaining a composed exterior in the face of things that are just plain wrong. I have never been able to hide my feelings, good or bad. Even when I try, people know something's up because a fake smile on me looks a lot like this:

I can help people find things and do all the stuff that librarians are expected to do when they get hired. It's the weird stuff... the gross stuff... and the stuff that is just pain wrong that throws me for a loop and makes me wonder when I will finally break - when that safety lock of "I enjoy being employed" will fail me - and I will ask someone what goes through my head a hundred times a day: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Every library - every building where the public is allowed to spend their time - has their crop of weirdos. I know this. I've done a few other types of jobs before I found myself at the library. And there are some things we are allowed to say to our patrons, such as:

  • Please put your shoes back on.
  • Please pull up your pants.
  • Please don't smoke that e-cigarette inside the library.
  • Please don't smoke that real cigarette in the library.
  • Please take your break up fight outside.
  • Please don't look at porn on the public computers.
  • Please don't hang out in the teen or children's sections if you are creepy middle aged man with no teens or children.

And then there are things we're not allowed to say because instead of being a matter of breaking library rules, the problems in question are a matter of breaking the rules of common sense. And enforcing the unspoken rules of common sense is not a librarian's responsibility. I can't say things like:

  • No I don't want to handle your library card after it's been in your sweaty bra all day.
  • I think you're a terrible parent for doing your kid's homework for them.
  • In 2014 there is no excuse for you to not have at least a very basic understanding of accessing the internet.
  • Just because you're old, you don't get to also be mean.

Those are the times when I have a hard time keeping to myself.

My dad used to be a corrections officer. There are days when I feel like our jobs were not that dissimilar. A lot of times, he probably wasn't allowed to say things either in the interest of not rocking the boat. And that leads me to the uncomfortable idea that every job is like that of the corrections officer. We're all at the mercy of the people we serve - in the interest of not rocking the boat. The customer is always right... or else. At least my customers don't carry shivs on their person. Probably.

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