An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

"Parking" Issues

Today was one of the most peaceful and relaxing days I've ever spent at the "liberry". It wasn't boring or slow, just very well-paced. We had enough staff on hand to take care of just about every issue that cropped up, all our computer problems were easily solved and I didn't have to throw anybody out.

I'd almost suspect that word has gotten out that the library is a place of chaos and confusion to be avoided until we get our sealegs back with the new computer system.

The only real strangeness that came up didn't even involve a patron. At around 4, a woman drove up in a red Chevy Cavalier-LS and parked--a word I'm using in the loosest sense of the definition--in one of the half hour parallel spaces in front of the library. Basically, she pulled the front part of her car sort of near the curb, leaving the back half of her car jutting into the road itself, partially blocking it. Of her four tires, only the driver's side front tire was actually IN the parking space. According to Mrs. C, the woman got out of her car and went running down the hill toward Town-A's down-town area. She wore a white button up shirt and black pants, which suggests she was staff at one of our fine local restaurants.

I didn't know about any of this until I came back from my break at 4:30 and found it difficult to find a parking space of my own due to the Cavalier blocking much of the road. I thought perhaps it was a patron who had just run in to drop a book off, but then I heard the above story.

We're beginning to suspect that the manager of at least one of these dining establishments must be a some kind of unholy-terror devil-boss because this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened with local restaurant employees.

A few winters ago, a woman (perhaps the same one) was driving down the hill toward main street when she slid on some ice, plowed into the corner of the building across the road from us, then got out and ran the rest of the way down the hill to her job. The police eventually found her and told her she'd left the scene of an accident. Her reported response: "Well, I had to get to work, didn't I?"

So today, Mrs. C called down to one of the restaurants and asked if any of their employees drove a red Cavalier. Nope.

By this time the car had been in the space for 45 minutes, so at the very least the woman deserved a parking ticket. Mrs. C next called her husband, a local volunteer fireman who knows how to get in touch with the local police department. Note that Mrs. C didn't call the police department itself, for around here that would be foolhardy after 4 p.m. Unless you dial 911, you're not getting the cops after 4.

Around 5 p.m., an officer rolled up, walked around the car a few times and issued it a ticket, telling us he'd check back later.

At 5:45 he returned accompanied by a wrecker which, after gouging a couple of small trenches in the asphalt, managed to winch the car onto its bed before hauling it off to the impound yard. The cop came in and told me where they were taking it, should the owner come back.

That's just great, I thought. Couldn't they have towed it closer to our closing time so I didn't have to be the messenger? I was just imagining the awkwardness of having the owner yell at me because her car got towed, then having to let her use our phone to call for a ride.

Fortunately, she didn't show.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The (Potential) Final Conflict

And So It Begins... Summer Reading.

Day One has now passed and I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Oddly, I don't care.

Normally, I don't have much to do with our library's Summer Reading program itself. However, I've often been recruited to man the desk during Summer Reading while the rest of our staff—Mrs.'s C, B, J, occasionally A and Miss E—ride herd over the 100 plus kids who turn up. As busy as they are outside, working the circ-desk is no picnic either, as Summer Reading takes place on a Monday and Mondays at our library are already horrible to begin with. So I get the usual horrific Monday Madness as well as line after line of Summer Reading kids marching through to check out books as well. This year, however, I got not only the usual Monday Madness AND Summer Reading kids, but these were both compounded by the fact that we've got the new circulation computer system to deal with at the same time.

We tried to head off problems by making all the Summer Readers' library cards in advance. This was very helpful. It was also very helpful that the computer finally regurgitated the new patron records it ate last Friday and seems to have cut back on its cravings for patron record flesh. What completely didn't help was our usual Monday crowd, though. None of these people had new cards and most of them were in a fussy huge hurry to check out and didn't want to wait around for us to make them one. This would have been fine with us, but they decided to wait anyway just so they could grumble about it.

Fortunately, I wasn't there solo. Mrs. A was also on the desk and Mrs. J was our runner, responsible for shelving the billion books that were either checked in or merely knocked off the shelves by yungguns. This way, one of us could always stay on the circ-computer leaving the others free to help patrons, answer the constantly ringing phone, make more cards on a different computer, keep up with the internet crowd, tell the kiddies where the potty was or just answer dumb questions in general.

"Do you know why it's so busy in here today?" a patron asked, staring in bewilderment at the sea of reasonably well-behaved kids around him.

"Yes, I do," I told him.

"Well... Why?" he asked, seconds later after it became apparent that I wasn't going to answer the question he SHOULD have asked.

"It's day one of Summer Reading," I told him. Duh!

Between 1:30 and 3:30, both the interior and exterior of the library were eat up with kids and parents and regular patrons and madness in many forms. At no point during that time were either Mrs. A or myself able to utter the phrase, "Whew, finally a chance to catch my breath without eight pressing responsibilities requiring my immediate attention!" (And I know that Mrs. C, Mrs. B and Miss E outside were run just as ragged by the actual Summer Reading program itself.)

Then there was the phone... THE $#%*ING PHONE! Oh, how it rang!!!

The following exchange happened no less than FOUR TIMES during my shift:

*RING*

ME: Tri-Metro County Library?

CALLER: Is Mrs. A there?

ME: Yes she is, but I'm afraid we're incredibly busy at the moment. Can I take a message and have her call you back?

CALLER: Um, er, sure.

Then there was the call that went...

CALLER: Yes, I have a child at Summer Reading today and my mother is there with her. I'm having an emergency here, can I please speak to her?

So I break my ass running outside to find Grandma only to learn that she stepped away to run errands. Then I learn from our caller that there wasn't actually an "emergency" as per the definition of the word, but more of an "inconvenient situation" which should not have required the breaking of any ass, especially mine.

Around 2:30, at the height of the tumult, Mrs. A suddenly vanished.

There I was, swamped at the desk with a line of kids waiting to check books out and adults waiting to be told they have to leave the desk again and go fill out an application for a new card before they can check books out. Mrs. C came inside, walked around the desk and whispered to me that Mrs. A was currently indisposed as she was busy following the Patron Who Must Not Be Named, a.k.a. Chester the (Potential) Molester.


Chester! Dammit to hell, the absolute last person we needed coming in when we had a house full of preteen, elementary-aged girls was Chester the (Potential) Molester—a.k.a. public enemy #1 of the Liberry Rogues Gallery. When he comes in, we usually spread out the whole library staff in a Chester-watching dragnet, but today of all days we didn't have a soul to spare.

Chester's been conspicuously scarce over the past two months. In fact, seemingly since the day we learned of his recent arrest he's been cutting back on his visits. Oh, he's come in on occasion, but we've had no real problems out of him. Evidently he was just picking his moment.

Well, at least Mrs. A had spied him and was shadowing him. The trouble was, we had barely been holding back the tide of "liberry" chaos when both of us were manning the desk. Now I was left to face it alone, with a huge line stretching into the next room. Could it get any worse?

*RING*

Dammit!

ME: TRI-METRO County Public Library?

CALLER: Yes, is Mrs. A there?

ME: Yes she is, but I'm afraid we're incredibly busy at the moment. Can I take a message and have her call you back?

The caller identified herself as a librarian from a neighboring county. She said she was in the midst of a circulation software emergency and needed Mrs. A's guidance, stat.

ME: Um. She's in a bit of a... Well, she's... Er...

What could I say? Announce to the caller and the rest of the room, "I'm sorry, Mrs. A can't come to the phone right now, she's busy chasing down our resident pedophile"?

ME: Hang on a second and I'll see if she can come to the phone.

I put the librarian on hold, told the kid at the front of the desk to hang on a second and someone would be with him soon, then I marched through the front room, up the stairs and into the non-fiction room where I found Mrs. A and Chester.

Mrs. A was trying to look busy with some shelving while keeping an eye on Chester, who was seated at the nearest table. He was facing toward our shelves where a teenage girl in a short skirt was browsing with some friends. Mrs. A needn't have pretended to be doing anything official, because Chester was oblivious to her presence. His eyes were bulging, his mouth was grinning insanely and his entire head seemed to move in time with the girl's every motion. He was completely transfixed.

Mrs. A's eyes were wide too, though hers from shock. I don't think any of us had ever seen Chester this happy before. He was literally shaking, I presume with lustful glee, and looked to be in danger of falling out of his chair.

"This is a full time job, up here," Mrs. A whispered.

"You've got an emergency call," I said.

"What about..." she said, nodding toward Chester. He failed to notice.

I sighed. "You want to trade?"

"Okay."

Mrs. A left to take her emergency call and I was left to stand and watch this sicko ogling one of our young patrons. It was so odd too. He was staring directly at the girl and I was staring directly at him. Usually when he catches you staring at him staring at a kid he breaks off and pretends he was doing something else, but this time he didn't even register that I was there at all. This made me angry. I was also pissed because he was aiding the chaos downstairs by just being here. After all, I couldn't just leave him there while I returned to work, but I also couldn't afford to stay there and babysit Chester's pervert ass all day—and believe me, as overjoyed as he was to finally have girls to stare at in the library, there was no way in hell he was ever going to leave on his own unless all the kids left first. It was infuriating!

There's a speech I've wanted to give Chester for two years now. It's a speech in which all cards are laid on the table and where I tell him that we know what he's up to and that such behavior is not welcome nor tolerated in our library, nor for that matter is he. Even before Mr. X gave Chester a similar speech a few months ago, I had wanted to do it first. However, I have to admit that I've been too big a coward to actually confront him and give him that speech. I know I would be well within my rights to give it. I know I even have Mrs. A's blessing to give it. But I kept telling myself that giving him the speech would tip my hand too soon. I told myself that what I really wanted was to catch Chester actually doing something wrong, so we would have something to pin on him and the police could finally prosecute him. Trouble is, he's already been arrested in his home town for exposing himself to a girl in a park and somehow the charge was dropped.

I also remembered the advice of my friend Joe, a former teacher, who upon hearing my desire to give Chester that speech, recommended I go ahead and do so. I told him my logic in wanting to catch Chester at something, but Joe said, "No. You don't want that kind of thing happening on your watch."

No. I don't. And still I had not given the speech. So I'm back to a question of cowardice.

As I stood there, a mere seven feet from Chester, watching him grinning in apparent lust as he in turn watched one of my young patrons, I realized that if any moment was perfectly tailored to the application of the speech it was this one.

I walked over to Chester's table, leaned over it toward him and said, "I need to talk to you outside, right now."


I didn't wait for Chester to respond to my summons. I just turned around and started for the stairwell. Behind me, I heard Chester's chair slide on the floor as he stood to follow. He kept several paces behind me as I walked down the stairs, through the computer hall and out the back door into the sunlight.

The Summer Reading program itself was being held further out in the park area of the library's yard. I didn't want to get near it, so I stopped just outside the back door. I didn't want to cause a big scene in front of parents. In fact, the fewer parents to hear what I was about to tell Chester, the better off we all were.

I held the door open for Chester as he came out. His wide perverse grin had been replaced by a nervous frown. Frankly, my nerves were doing none too good themselves.

"I was... I was just..." he started.

"We don't have time for you today," I told Chester. "We do not have time to deal with you."

"I... I was..."

"We know what you're doing here. We know what your deal is. We know that you like coming in here to look at little girls and we don't like it."

Chester wrung his hands nervously in front of him. "But I was just waiting to use a computer... They were all full."

Through the glass of the back door I could clearly see two empty computer terminals.

"No, they weren't," I said, pointing at them. "There are two of them right there. You were upstairs to watch that girl."

"I was just..."

"Look..." I said, holding up a finger to get him to shut up. I could feel the momentum of my speech slipping away. "Look, you've been coming in here for two years now, staring at girls. We know it. We've watched you do it. And we also know about your little visit to the police department back home... from another library." Great, now my sentence structure was losing it. My hands were shaking from adrenaline and my thoughts weren't forming as logically as I wanted. I had to get through this speech before it completely fizzled. At least Chester had the decency to look scared now.

"I was just... I was just waiting..." he stammered.

"No. We know why you come in here. We know what you've been doing and we don't like it. It makes our patrons nervous. It makes us nervous. And we don't appreciate it. We're tired of it. And today, we don't have time to deal with you."

"I..."

"I think right now it would be best if you left and came back some other time."

Even as I said it, I knew how lame a closing line that was. Come back some other time? What happened to Get the Hell out and don't let us catch you here ever again? Fuck!

Still, it did get the job done. Chester didn't offer any more argument. Instead, he made a break for his car--which was parked half-way in the middle of the street, in a handicapped spot no less--and sped off.

I didn't even watch him go, though. My arms were shaking and I felt deflated. I headed back through the front door of the library, surprising Mrs. A who thought I was still upstairs. Mrs. C, who had watched my confrontation with Chester from afar, followed in behind me.

"Well," Mrs. C said. "I was going to come tell him he had to move his car out of the handicapped spot, but it looks like you took care of it."

"Yeah. We had a little chat," I said, trying to sound cool but still feeling mostly blistered. I picked up the date-due stamp and began stamping the books Mrs. A was scanning, but my hands were shaking so much that I kept getting it crooked. Dammit!  This was supposed to be my greatest triumph over a rogue ever and here I was all jittery from it. I didn't even feel good about having done it. Sure, I got the message across just fine, which was the important part, but my execution had been a little off. Granted, I doubt Chester raced home to write up a scathing critique of my speech, but I still felt like it could have gone better. It bore little resemblance to the wonderful speech I'd planned out in my head. For one thing, I forgot to accuse Chester of stealing our Teen People's while I was at it.

I didn't have too much time to dwell on my flawed delivery, though, cause we were indeed still very busy at the desk and soon I was back in the thick of it. It wasn't until the last of the kids left at 3:30 that our library began to calm down once again. The staff then began to assemble at the circulation desk, looking at me expectantly.

"I think someone has a story to tell all of us," Mrs. C said.

"Lord," I said.

So I told them. Every lame ass detail of it. They didn't seem to think it was all that bad, though.

"All I could see was your mouth moving and his head nodding," Mrs. B offered.

"Yeah," Miss E said. "We were going to sneak around the building to see if we could hear what you were saying."

Turns out just about all the staff knew something was about to come to a head from the moment Chester pulled up.

"He couldn't even get his car parked right in the handicapped space before he was out the door of it and grinning at all the girls," Mrs. B said. "He just about stepped on one trying to get in the library."

"He looked SO happy," Miss E said.

"You should have seen him when that girl bent over to get a book in that short skirt," Mrs. A said. "He didn't know where to look first."

We all had a good laugh about it, for as horrible as Chester is there are comedic moments, particularly in how inept he is at his job of being a pervert. I still felt like I'd been run over, though. I wasn't shaky any more--just tired.

Before I left, Mrs. A said she wished she'd been there to hear the speech in person and that she was sure we'd seen the last of Chester. I don't know. I hope so. I really do.

I went home, did some housework and made supper, dwelling on my day the whole while. The wife came home around 7 and asked how my day went.

"It was very odd, but I think it turned out okay."

I told her what had happened. She laughed at all the funny parts and got sympathetically angry at all the infuriating parts. In the end, she congratulated me on doing what had to be done--what should have been done a long time ago.

"But I just don't feel very good about it," I said. "I don't feel triumphant, like I always thought I would."

"You don't need to feel good about it and you don't need to feel triumphant. But don't you feel bad about it either. Just know that you did what needed doing and got him out of there."

And that, I decided, was true. In my flawed, semi-lame way, I'd finally gotten the job done, laid the cards on the table and told Chester how things stood. And in the end, it shouldn't be about whether or not I feel good about having done it, but that I finally did it.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult.

Today was to be a day off for me, but Mrs. A asked me to come in and close with Miss E, who hasn't had as much experience with our new computer system and who might need questions answered. Miss E did fine, but if she'd had any questions she would have had to get in line. The whole day was one question after another from a wide variety of sources and everyone seemed to think I had the answers.

Mrs. D, from a neighboring county library, called five times and two of those were for the exact same question. I don't know what she thought would have changed about my answer of "I don't know" between calls, but nothing had.

In order to celebrate finally going live with Millennium, we held a patron appreciation day and brought in food and lemonade. The food mostly consisted of a box of Nilla wafers, some home made chocolate chip dipping sauce, a few brownies, some mixed nuts, meringue cookies and scones. We figured the food would distract patrons from our taking forever to make them a new library card. It may have helped, but to hear Mrs. A tell it the whole morning was a series of chaos explosions.

We keep learning new and unsettling things about Millennium and each day brings yet another item to our growing list of "Things We'd Better Pay Attention to if we want to Prevent Massive Headaches in the Future."

Mostly, my part of the day went fairly smooth right up until Mrs. A and Mrs. B departed for the day and Miss E and I were left to man the ship. That's when our blessed new circulation program went all Hal 9000 on our ass and started offing people. We were probably lucky to escape with our lives. Several patrons were not so lucky and they began disappearing.

Here's how it went down: A patron would fill out our application, we would input that information into the computer and save it, the patron would then check out several books with their new card, but as soon as we closed out the patron record, according to instructions, that patron record and all evidence of their existence would vanish into the ether.

We didn't discover this until we went back to try and put one new patron on hold for several books he asked us to save for him. When we did, we couldn't find his record. I chalked it up to Miss E possibly not having saved it or spelled his last name wrong, but she insisted neither was the case. Then the next two patrons we entered also vanished without a trace, taking the record of several of our books with them.

Soon, Mrs. D was calling back to ask if our patrons were disappearing like hers were, so we knew it was an epidemic.

Our solution was to start writing down the new 14 digit patron barcode and the barcodes of all of their chosen books just so we'd have some kind of record should the computer eventually start behaving.

My theory was that they were being saved, but that the database just wasn't updating to reflect the new data. Don't know if that's right. I just know that none of my usual computer repair techniques, such as switching the damned thing off and starting it up again, had no effect. I phoned Mrs. A to let her know, in case she wanted to call for the computer cavalry. I'm just glad I wasn't the one to have to deal with it all day tomorrow.

Poor Miss E.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Fever... it burns!

More fun with Millennium today. Still not completely friends with it.

Found out that since we're all one big happy system now it's perfectly possible for me to check out an interlibrary loan from another library that a patron has brought back to us onto to my card. I didn't even realize it wasn't our book, but yesterday spied a copy of a book I wanted to read that had just come back to us and I checked it out. It wasn't until later that I noticed it had the stamp of one of our fine state college libraries stamped on the top edge of its pages. This is odd, because I had checked it into VTLS before checking it out to myself, so VTLS should have let me know it wasn't ours to loan by a slightly altered version of its usual BEEP. It didn't.

And today we had more problems with returned interlibrary loans not beeping properly to alert us. I think we figured out what's wrong. Millennium has subversively taken control over all computer sounds and is no longer allowing VTLS to make sounds proper to its programming. This means we'll have to pay attention to the screen when checking anything in so that we don't accidentally shelve other libraries materials.

We also are having to contend with problems raised by the fact that not all libraries in our new collective have the new library cards to give out yet. They all have the Millennium system up and running, but many can't issue new cards because they don't have them to issue. Not that this is stopping one of them in particular. Town-D's library decided that since they had Millennium up, they were just gonna start issuing new cards to their patrons whether or not they had any to give. What they're doing is entering patrons into the system, inserting the existing 10-digit patron barcode with 4 digits of random numbers inserted at the front of it and calling it a day. They then tell these lucky patrons not to get a library card at any other library and that they'll be mailing them a new one when they arrive. (Can we say, "waste of postage?")

We'd heard rumors this was happening, as one of our part time employees, Mrs. H, also works part time at Town-D's branch and had alerted us. However, we didn't think it was a problem, beyond just being a dumb idea, until one of their patrons turned out to be one of our patrons and came in to get a library card from us despite being told not to do that by Town-D.

I'd already had him fill out the application, choose what form his card would take and told him he would have to have it before checking books out in the future. I then typed most of his info into our computer when his record magically appeared on the screen.

"Do you already have a new card?" I asked, perplexed.

"Yeah," he said, explaining it was from Town-D then adding, "Only they didn't give me a card."

I grumbled and growled about the lunacy of making new patron cards without the $#@%ing cards when I hit upon an idea. Since we're all one big happy system now, I just went into his record and replaced Town-D's bogus 14 digit barcode from the non-existent card with a genuine 14 digit barcode from a real live card, which I then gave to the patron.

He was happy. I was happy. And Town-D will be mighty confused.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Millennium Fever

Today was our first official day going live with our new Millennium cataloging software.

I was frankly expecting complete and utter chaos, but this chaos turned out to be only incomplete and inutter.

Of course, as soon as I walked in the door for work, Mrs. A & Mrs. C grabbed me, ran me through a quick refresher course on how to add new patrons and check out books, said, "You got it?" then fled the building, leaving me at the helm for an hour.

That's okay, though. I had my sea legs on today. Mostly.

Millennium has a lot going for it, but after spending the day with it, we still haven't quite made friends. As clunky and hateful and "1993" as our old VTLS program is, at least I know how to do what I want with it. Fortunately, we're still running VTLS in addition to Millennium so whenever I don't know what to do with one, I can always switch over to the other.

The reason we have both systems running is because all the books that were originally "checked out" with VTLS are not "checked out" with Millennium. So when patrons bring their books back, we check them "IN" on VTLS and only then are they ready to be checked "OUT" with Millennium. In order to do that, we have to make all of our patrons a brand new "Liberry" card for Millennium.

The process for making new liberry cards for Millennium has about as many hoops to jump through as it did with VTLS. And for every advantage over the old way of, there is a new drawback to take its place.

One of the major new changes is that patrons now have to supply us with a photo ID, usually a drivers license, as well as their drivers license number so we can have a unique identifier on hand that will hopefully prevent patrons from getting multiple cards at multiple libraries. We also have to cross check each "new" patron with our old VTLS records to make sure they're not a SEEFILE. And if they are, we get to hit them in the mouth. Well, not really, but it has been suggested.

This leads to the matter of what to do about children who are patrons. After all, what elementary aged kid has the required photo ID or a driver's license? This was a major point of contention for the various policy committees charged with fixing it. Many members of it insisted that each patron, child or adult, MUST HAVE a unique identifying number. However, with children, no one could agree what that number should be. We can't legally use a social security number, but there just isn't any other number universal to all children. In the end, they couldn't come up with any sort of fix to it, so library policy is that kids can have library cards and we can skip the drivers license section of it, but their parents must be present with a drivers license when their kids get the card. Now tell me, just what the hell kind of sense does that make?

Official reasoning is that we're supposed to use the parent's drivers license to verify the child's home address, as children can't apparently be trusted to supply us accurate information on their own. Whatever.

The trouble is, I didn't find this bit of information out until I'd already made quite a few children cards sans drivers license. Mrs. A came back from lunch and pointed out my error. She also added that she didn't really care either way, as the policy didn't make any sense to here either, but she just wanted me to know. Upon hearing it, I was filled with stomach churning waves of frustration. I started to say, "I get chills from the administrative stupidity," but only managed an angry, "I get chills..." before deciding such a phrase was unwise to utter with a room full of patrons and semi-administrative librarian types.

Later on, Mrs. A came up to apologize to me, thinking she'd been the one to make me mad.

"Oh, wait. No. You didn't make me angry," I said. I explained to her that I wasn't angry at her, but at what I viewed as nonsensical policy. Plus I'm still pissed about the noise the upper management has been making about having us rebarcode every book in the building, AGAIN, just to move from a 10 digit barcode to the new 14 digit barcode. As I've stated previously, we just rebarcoded all 33,000 books in our collection last summer in order to move from 9 to 10 digits. The lack of administrative foresight demonstrated in now suggesting we need to do it all over again is practically criminal and is the kind of thing someone should really get fired over. In my opinion, we're already putting the 14 digit barcode on all new books and all new patrons, so we should just let the old books lose theirs by attrition, particularly since the new system is not affected whatsoever by the 10 digit codes. Sure, it'll take years to do this, but I don't see the need for a big rush.

Mrs. A said she more than shared my feelings of frustration over it all and didn't see any need for rebarcoding anything. In fact, she said the only reason they were talking about redoing it all is for statistical purposes, as the new barcode can carry more information helpful for keeping track of various administrative concerns.

They can gnaw on my 14 digit wang, I say.


Another major change in how we do things is that we now offer our patrons a choice in library card design. They can have either the regular sized library card, or a mini key-chain version. We stress to them that they should consider the fact that from now on and forever after they will HAVE TO HAVE THEIR LIBRARY CARD ON THEM in order to check out books. There will be no more looking up their name in the computer, because our database will contain patrons from over 16 counties, many of whom will have the same name. There will also be no more using the cards of other family members when yours gets too full. Screw that.

We also insist on knowing their middle names, as that is one more layer of identifying information to help keep things from getting even more chaotic than they already are. If they don't have a middle name, or just refuse to tell us, we put "NMN" in the blank, for No Middle Name.

Another colossal headache is the checkout system. Not the whole thing, as it's a fairly smooth bit of software to use; just the special unnecessary precautionary measures it takes while doing so.

See, our patrons are allowed to check out up to 10 items on their card at a time. Well, when checking out 10 books for a patron today, I discovered that when you reach 8 books a little warning window pops up and says "This patron can only check out 2 more items on their card. Do you still want to continue? YES/NO" And when you reach 9 items, the window pops up to warn you that there's only room for one more item on the card and again asks if you truly wish to continue.

It's like the system is saying, "whoa! Hold on, Hoss! Let's not be hasty, there. That's 10 books you have on the counter. Are you sure you're gonna need that many? Cause, frankly, we'd be happier if you only took eight."

This warning window has the added drawback of not letting you use a keyboard command to tell it, "YES, I DO BLOODY WELL WANT MORE THAN 8 BOOKS." You have to use the mouse. So you have to stop everything you're doing, put down the barcode scanner, and click YES.

That's something that's going to have to be eliminated quick, because we have multiple families of patrons who come in on a weekly basis, return the 60 books they collectively checked out the week before and collectively check out 60 more. If I have to stop to argue with the computer every 8 and 9 books, either me or the computer is getting pushed into traffic.

Overall, I think Millennium will be a very good replacement for VTLS. Like I said, I'm not friends with it yet because there are still quite a few issues that will require some smoothing out. But it's a fairly customizable program, so any preferences we have should be able to be set... once we figure out exactly how to do it, that is.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Conundrum Attack Spider-man!

A curious couple came in the other night. The female half was a busty, bubbly red-head wearing a t-shirt that some people might judge to be a wee bit tight--not me, mind you. Her husband was kind of a good ol' boy, with a stubble-beard, a trucker cap and something of a mullet going on in the back of his head. He also had a large white bandage wrapped around one of his forearms.

They returned some books and set about looking for new ones to check out. Cool beans.

After a while, wee tight shirt bubbled up to the desk and said, "Do you still have that book I really liked as a kid?" She grinned broadly at this, conveying to me that she realized the absurd nature of the question but had to ask it anyway, as she didn't know the title or author.

"Um... Maybe."

"It had a white cover with a drawing of a girl on a cliff," she said.

Something in my head pinged at this--librarian Spidy-Sense or something. I distinctly felt an echo ping from the S shelf of our Easy Reader section. Still, this didn't connect to anything else in my head.

"Err," I said. "Not ringing too many bells with me."

"It was, like, a book of poems and drawings," she said.

Suddenly it popped into my head--or rather, it didn't, but I knew what it was in a kind of instinctual way. Ping. Ping. Ping.

"Oh! Wait! I know what that is... I do..." My brain strained to recall the author. I could see the book in my head, the girl on the cliff, black and white pen and ink art, and it was indeed in the Easy Reader S-section. Famous kid's author... my wife adores him... I think he lives in New York....

"Crap, why can't I remember his name?" I said. "It's... right.. there... Argh!"

Instead of standing there squinting and droning on like an idiot, I decided to just go get the bloody book. I marched to the childrens' room and began the search through the wildly chaotic Easy Reader section. Everything there is subdivided by the first letter of the author's name, but beyond that there's little order. I hate sending patrons in there for books because they can never find anything so I usually go and do it myself.

Turns out, the book in question was checked out, but I found another one by the same author, Mr. Shel Silverstein. Upon discovering it, the woman became even more bubbly, if such a thing were possible. She gladly took that book.

"Oh, and do you have any books about spiders?" she asked. It seems her husband had recently been bitten by a brown recluse, hence the bandage on his arm. He was actually bitten several days ago, but didn't know exactly what had bitten him. He went to the hospital, but the folks in the emergency room said it was just a bug bite and sent him home, saying it would be fine. The next morning, when the wound had started to necrose into a quarter-sized crater, he decided it wasn't fine and went back to the ER to give the docs another guess. Much treatment followed and he now has a rotting wound of about three fingers diameter and a depth to the first knuckle in the center of his forearm.

"Show him, show him!" the woman said.

"He don't want to see it," the man said. "He might want to go home to dinner."

I really didn't want to see it, though I felt like maybe I ought to have a look just so I'd have something fun to describe to my med-student wife. She would want a look if she were here. Instead, I just winced in sympathy for his suffering. The man said his wound was nothing compared to a friend of his who had been bitten on the stomach and was still in the hospital having to watch bits of his belly rot away. Yowch!

Monday, June 21, 2004

Patrons must follow the rules, unless they just don't want to.

My earlier assessment that we'd only had a few complaints from parents concerning their inability to sign up for summer reading during the allotted week proved woefully inaccurate. Also inaccurate was my earlier guestimate that we would be having upwards of 80 children participating. Turns out it's more like 200 when you combine our two age-group days, (170 for the 6-13 year olds and 30 or so for the under 6 crowd). Thems a lotta kids.

Having so many kids participating is a major reason behind the cut-off on signing up for the program. If we let parents sign up late, we'd have 250 kids instead of just 200, and let me tell you that 200 is going to be utter chaos to deal with--particularly if any of the children from last year return, some of whom run directly into traffic whenever a back is turned. Granted, not all 200 will show up every week, but there will be plenty who do.

So throughout last week we were hassled by parents who were torqued off that they'd missed the sign up deadline. There were a wide and detailed bunch of reasons for this, which we know because each complaining parent felt it necessary to read us their dayplanner for the last month in order to justify why they should be allowed to break the rules and sign their kid up late.

The mantra we've repeatedly heard is, "But I have an excuse."

"Everyone has an excuse," we say. Whether the excuse is valid or not makes no difference to us. The fact still remains, they didn't sign their kid up during the ample time provided, nor did they have a friend come in and sign their kid up for them, so they're SOL. Hell, we would have signed them up ourselves if they had only asked.

"But I was in Los Angeles," they say, as though that changes something.
Or, "I was sick and couldn't get out."
Or, "We were on vacation."

Or, despite the fact that we ran two newspaper columns about signing up, plus about 5 school visits with flyers sent home about it, not to mention the huge frickin' sign that was staked out in front of the liberry for three days before the mayor threatened to make us take it down, "You didn't advertise it well enough."

Yeah, well you didn't call to find out details well enough, lady.

The library assistants like myself actually find it kind of fun to deal with these folks because we have no power to grant their wishes in the first place. They can rant on for half an hour if they want, but when they're done we still can't do a anything about it. We explain that we're not in positions of authority and that they must therefore speak to the Great and Powerful Librarians (who've been curiously scarce this week). We also tell them that the Great and Powerful Librarians won't be any more helpful in this regard, but they're welcome to try.

There is one kid, whose mom failed to sign up, that I actually regret won't be coming. He's an Indian boy named Vishna. He and I had a rapport last year in that I could never remember his full name and he liked to rag me about it. By the fourth week into the program, I finally had it down and then got to rag him that he didn't remember my name. I was all ready to rag him again this year, since I too the precaution of looking up his name in advance and have memorized it. Alas, his mom was out of town during sign up week, so he's not in the program.

It's not as though any of these parents are completely out of luck for summer reading. We tell all late-comers that they're welcome to sign up for summer reading programs at Town-C and Town-D's libraries, which are still open through late in the month. They don't like this though. Probably because it means having to drive 15 minutes instead of 5, which cuts into their THE KIDS ARE OUT OF THE FRICKIN' HOUSE FOR A WHOLE HOUR AND A HALF time.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Even LESS Talented Mr. Ripley

With the mystery of our recent gay porn surfing computer patron in its opening chapter, I thought it would be nice to look back at one of the previous ones.

Our library is no stranger to patrons who want to view porn on our computers. Most of the time it doesn't cause any problems and we just live with it, though with a wary eye. I know it's completely stereotypical and wrong to think that anyone who wants to view internet porn, of any variety, on a public computer is somehow a pervert who's out to do harm to kids. However, considering some of the patrons who regularly walk our floors, like Chester, it's behavior that we do try to monitor on a "just in case" basis.

One of our former regular rogue patrons, The Untalented Mr. Ripley, had certainly viewed his share of gay porn on our computers, but he was at least semi-discrete about it. He kept his windows shrunk down to the bare minimum, so he could get a peek at whatever it was he wanted to see without offending anyone nearby. The only person who ever complained about him was Mr. B-Natural, but Mr. B was mostly interested in trying to get Ripley kicked out so it would free up a computer for him to use.

A few months after I started working at the "liberry", though, we were paid a visit by a far less discrete soul, who I've dubbed the Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley (Mr. E.L.T. for short). We're pretty sure Mr. E.L.T. has more than a few loose screws rolling around in his noggin, cause he was completely conspicuous in his gay porn viewing. I never got the impression that he was doing it on purpose, so that people would notice and be offended or anything. It was more like he was just too stupid to realize that if he was looking at porn on the monitor of a public computer the rest of the public could see it too and not just him. He therefore never seemed shifty or nervous about his viewing habits, because he was completely under the moronic impression that no one would bother to look at what he was looking at.

So about once every couple of weeks, Mr. E.L.T. would come in, plop down and start loading up pictures of hoo hoo dillies for all the world to see. And, like most visitors to porn sites, he'd get attacked by the standard pop-up windows. Only Mr. E.L.T., being very stupid, had no clue how to get rid of them so he'd just shrink em to the bottom of the screen. He also had no idea how to reboot the computer when he was finished surfing, so he'd just get up and leave, with all his porn sites and pop-ups still right there.

One day after Mr. E.L.T. had departed and no other patrons were around, Mrs. A snuck back to the computers and expanded all the pop-ups he'd left there so that they were fully visible on the screen. Then she came up front and told me there was a computer that needed rebooting, figuring I'd go see what was there and be shocked. I went and saw it, but was hardly shocked because I knew full well what would be there cause I knew who had been sitting there the whole time. Instead of making any comment to her, I just kept quiet about it. After a while Mrs. A couldn't stand not knowing if her joke had worked and was forced to ask me about it, thus disarming her own joke bomb. It's nice to take the wind out of her sails once in a while.

The Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley continued visiting us for the better part of a year before his cover was blown and the horror that people REALLY COULD see what he was looking at was made evident to him. While he was in one day, hoo-hoo dillying away, a teenage boy came in to use a computer and the only one available was the one by the staircase, next to Mr. E.L.T.'s computer. Mrs. A reported to us later that she had been on her way upstairs when she heard, "Psst," from the kid.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

The kid silently mouthed something to her that she didn't understand and kept nodding his head in Mr. E.L.T.'s direction.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Mrs. A asked, oblivious.

Again the kid silently mouthed his words and nodded more frantically, but she still didn't get it.  Finally, the kid couldn't take the frustration any more. "He's looking at naked men!" the boy said in a loud whisper, pointing directly to Mr. E.L.T.

At this, the Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley's ears perked up and he looked around to see the wide-eyed faces of the kid and Mrs. A staring back at him. He stood up, left his porn right there on the screen and walked out of the library.

We've not seen him since.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Stanky Patron Mystery Theatre

Today was stanky patron day at the "liberry". (Not to be confused with Skanky Patron Day, which is a whole other problem.)

First up was a woman who had actually paid us a stinky visit yesterday as well. Today she was still wearing the same black T-shirt and still smelled of old dried, re-moistened, then dried again sweat. It followed her in a cloud, sticking to everything she passed so that she left a wake of foulness. Of course, she wanted to use a computer.

Next up, our friendly Drifter wandered in with his own cloud of week-old funky B.O. He too wanted a computer.

Soon the computer hall was awaft with the mixture of their fumes, which I knew would need fumigating later on. Our can of Airwick Breeze is getting mighty low these days. Granted these two have nothing on some of the stank factories that have shambled in here in the past, but it was still unpleasant. Throughout the time they were in, I kept wandering into pockets of funk that refused to diffuse. It was like getting slapped in the face with a dead fish--your eyes start watering and you feel like you've been personally assaulted. I liken it to walking down Bourbon Street at night.

Speaking of the Drifter, he came up to the desk last week and asked me a question no other patron has ever posed.

"Where in the area is a good place to meet women?"

"Hmm," I said. "Not sure, really. I'm married, so that kind of information is of little use to me."

He said someone recommended one of the local redneck dance clubs, which might not be a bad answer, but from what I hear the place tends to get a little rough once the clientele are in their cups. I told him this, adding, "I'd be a little scared to go in there, myself. But then again, I'm not much for the drunken dancing scene, unless I'm one of the drunks dancing."

After today, though, I could have given him a valuable tip on meeting women: The ladies aren't usually IN to the whole stanky pits thing. And neither are we, so please... A shower?

He's evidently not doing too bad for himself. He's working in the area and saved up enough money to buy a small motorcycle. Granted, it's one of these moto-cross style bikes that's not exactly designed for street use, but it's transportation all the same. He's already fallen off of it, though, and spent much of our conversation changing his road-rash bandage in front of me.

Later in the afternoon, after the place had time to air out, one of our regular patrons came in with something of a mystery for us. The way this patron tells it, it seems his two sons had been in the "liberry" last week and were using one of our patron computers when they noticed that the man using the computer just down the line seemed to be looking at pictures of something involving naked people. Naturally, they were curious and kept looking to see the pictures the man had on his screen. Suddenly, the kids realized that the two naked people in the picture were both men. They were shocked and ran home to tell dad.

The dad wasn't mad at us. He just wanted to let us know what his boys had witnessed so we would be alert. He knew there wasn't really anything we could do about it, as it's not our policy to keep people from looking at porn (though how this guy got through the filters is another good question).

The thing is, we have no idea who the porn-surfing patron was. Mrs. C suggested Parka, but I told her I've never spied anything with a Y chromosome on his screen EVER, so I seriously doubted it was him.

However, our usual suspects for that particular brand of porn--The Untalented Mr. Ripley and the Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley--haven't been seen here in months. Though it does turn out that one of them has been SEEN elsewhere.

While we were discussing possible candidates, Mrs. C mentioned that she and Mrs. A ran actually into the Untalented Mr. Ripley while visiting a library in another county last week. It seems he's living in a half-way house in that county and using the library there. They said he didn't look as bad as they've seen him in the past, but was still awfully scrawny.

As to the Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley, he's another story to tell.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

T-Minus 0 Plus Three

Yup. Our new cataloging/circulation computer system, Mill3nnium by Inn0vative Techn0l0gies, was supposed to FINALLY go live last Monday.

Of course, it didn't.

There've been some problems.

A few issues, you see.

Couple of glitches.

They're workin' on it.

Probably be ready by next week.

Uh huh.

We've been hearing that song for a month now. And every week new and more horrifying system glitches are discovered and more librarians lose fist fulls of their own hair as they realize that they are the ones who'll have to do all the work to go in and clean things up.

I don't know all the specifics of this work, but I do know that great heaps of data keep disappearing. Our collection as of September, when the computer people TOOK our data and forbade us to alter or delete any of it til we officially got it back in the form of the new cataloging system, sat at around 33,000 items (books, videos, etc.). And that's 33,000 items that WE had to REBARCODE by hand last summer in preparation for all this. And while we have physically removed books from our collection since then, they are supposed to still exist in our data record. That being the case, when the computer people squirted all our data back to us last week, in preparation for the new GO LIVE date, we should still have had all 33,000 items, right?

Bwahhh! No.

Try 24,000 items.

We're also not the only library who've been handed this can of rancid tamales. So now the great hunt for data has begun. And that's not even the least of the computer worries.

From what I'm told, though, things are rapidly getting better, but it's still unknown when we're going to finally go live for sure. Once we do, I'm anticipating lot's more computer worries. Yep, we're gonna have to walk through fire before getting to the promised land of smooth circulation.

Meanwhile, I've signed up MORE new patrons since we've been actively discouraging people from getting new library cards than in just about any week before it mattered.

One lady has been coming in for weeks promising her little girl that she can have her own library card and has graciously been delaying this in anticipation of the new system. Yesterday, she'd reached the end of her patience, though. As soon as I started my spiel encouraging her to wait, she put up a hand to stop me and said she wanted a card for her kid regardless of its impending expiration date. She wasn't rude about it. She was just tired of hearing her daughter moan about it. So I made her one up and the kid was happy. It really doesn't affect anything for us to add new patrons. We the staff just hate having to do the same job twice.

Speaking of which, remember that whole rant several paragraphs up about our rebarcoding every book last summer? The whole reason we did all that work was to shift our entire collection from a nine digit barcode to a ten digit barcode. We hoped this would eliminate the massive doubling up of barcode numbers within our library network, which was due to morons in other counties who ordered barcodes that used the same numbers other libraries were ALREADY using, despite having been repeatedly told NOT TO DO THAT. This kind of thing would have resulted in mass chaos when EVERYBODY's item numbers were consolidated into one system like we're doing now.

Got all that?

Well, yesterday, Mrs. C let it slip that the Powers that Be, geniuses that they are, have now started making noise that we'll soon need to shift all items to a 14 digit barcode.

"It better not happen til the year 2010," I said. "Cause I'm not rebarcoding another book until at least then."

Unfortunately, every new item catalogued into the new system is already being given a 14 digit barcode.

Good omen? I think not.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #4

ME: Can I help you?

PATRON: Where do you keep your paper system?

ME: Our paper system?

PATRON: Yeah.

ME: (Thinks for a moment, not understanding the question. Decides to repeat question again.) Our PAPER system?

PATRON: (Growing frustrated.) Yeah. The place where you file away and store papers?

ME: (Ponders for a while more, thinking this guy might somehow mean FILING CABINET or CARD CATALOG, then discarding both of those options as they don't make a lick of sense.) Uhmm... Huh?

PATRON: Your PAPER system?

ME: (Stares stupidly at patron some more. Suddenly a thought occurs... ) Wait a second. Did you mean NEWS-papers?

PATRON: Yeah. Sorry. Newspapers.

ME: Ah. I see.

PATRON: So where is it?

ME: Don't have one.

PATRON: You don't have one?

ME: Well, we do keep the past month or so worth of newspapers at the top of the stairs.

PATRON: You mean those piles?

ME: Yeah, that's them. But, we don't have any kind or archive or microfiche or anything. Sorry.

PATRON WANDERS AWAY IN AMAZEMENT.

This is such a fairly frequent occurrence that I should have known right away what the guy wanted. Newspapers are just one of the many things we don't keep on hand here, much to the chagrin of those who think that all "real" libraries should. When confronted with this notion, we point out that most "real" libraries have either the space necessary to keep newspaper archives or a microfiche system, which would also require a bit of space that we don't have.

The next question out of their mouths is, "Do you know of anyone who does keep a newspaper archive?" to which our answer is always, "Have you tried asking the newspaper?"

We're pretty sure they don't keep one either, being as how the paper is usually pretty worthless in most other regards. It's always fun to say this though. The only other option is to consult the crazy old-lady newspaper hoarding population in town, but they don't exactly list themselves in the phone book.

A similarly fun conversation along the same lines is:

PATRON: Do you have old high school yearbooks?

US: No, we don't.

PATRON: Do you know who might have some?

US: Sure. Have you tried asking THE HIGH SCHOOL?

Monday, June 14, 2004

History Lessons

Summer Reading season is upon us. This means that upwards of 200 children will soon descend upon the "liberry" on Mondays and Thursdays to read books, craft crafts, play games and get new library cards. (Unfortunately, the jury's still out on when exactly those new cards will be arriving. Today is in fact D-Day for our new regional, 15 county, cataloging and circulation computer system to go live, but as far as I know none of the libraries in the 15 counties actually have the new library cards they're supposed to start issuing. We'll somehow muddle through.)

That said, last week was sign-up week for Summer Reading. Mostly, it went pretty smooth and we only had a few of the usual complaints from irritable parents unwilling to jump through our oh so complicated process of "come to the library and sign your kid up, you've got an 8 day window in which to do so or you're out." We even had a giant sign printed up and laminated that we stuck in the yard of the library on stakes advertising the Summer Reading program to one and all. And, as is often the case with giant signs staked out within city limits, we had to get a permit in order to put it up. Fortunately, we have an in within the city department responsible for issuing such permits, so we got one right away. Unfortunately, the mayor got wind of it and threatened to walk up the hill to see whether the sign fit within the rigid guidelines of our town's historic character.

See, Town-A of the Town A/B/C Tri-Metro Area is something of a historic town. Part of its whole appeal is that it LOOKS like a historic town. This is due in large part to strict city ordinances governing how each building can appear, from architectural design to paint-color to lawn maintenance. Anything that falls outside of those boundaries is strictly prohibited. This isn't a town-wide ordinance, but does govern all the businesses in the down-town area. And as our library was constructed in 1834, we are even more definitely subject to the rules.

Mind you, I'm not really complaining. It's a system that seems to have worked and the town is quite the hopping tourist attraction due in no small part to it. Other towns in the area, where I live in Town-C, for instance, are actually far more historical but they don't have such ordinances. As a result, they are quite often look very ratty, soot covered and run-down.

However, when the mayor himself threatens to march up the hill and condemn a damn yard sign that's only going to be there for a week on the grounds that it might not look historic enough to match the town's character, it seems a bit much to me. It's not like we're colonial Williamsburg.

I suggested to Mrs. A that she tell the mayor to bite her historic ass, but she declined. Instead, she opted to just take the sign down in advance before it could be condemned.

It's just as well. We've already had well over 100 children sign up for Summer Reading, far more than last year. Granted, most of those kids are not going to show up every single week, but we have enough to keep us busy with the ones who will. The mayor probably did us a favor. We just don't have to like it.

We really don't have the worst of it. A local attorney we know has been fighting with the city for years over whether or not he can put up a sign on his office's property denoting his business. The city says he can put one up, but they're never happy with his choice of sign designs so they keep refusing to issue him a permit. His firm is also located in a semi-historic house which is in need of repainting. There is a list of a select few colors that any downtown structure can be painted and only two of those listed colors are allowed to be used on any one building. It has been suggested to the attorney that he should threaten to choose the two most ugly and contrasting colors from the list to use on his office.

See, as much as I agree with the need for such rules, I also agree with flaunting them to their very boundaries.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Mr. Kreskin Strikes Again

Mrs. A and Mrs C, our librarians, were both out all day at a meeting leaving me and Mrs. B in charge.

Around 4 p.m, Mrs. B asked me if Mr. Kreskin, the semi-psychic president of our library's board of directors had called.

"Nope," I said, "but I'm expecting a call from him any second now."

Mrs. B slid a piece of paper across the desk to me. "Well, if he calls, we're supposed to give him this phone number."

Not if. When.

As chronicled here a couple of times in the past, the only, and I stress ONLY, time I ever hear anything from Mr. Kreskin is when both Mrs. A and Mrs. C are out of town. I know it sounds fanciful and exaggerated for me to make this claim, but I assure you: He DOES NOT CALL unless the two people he is in a FOAM to talk to are NOT there. That's the formula and its more reliable than Old Faithful. And let me also stress that I don't mean to make fun of the man, even though I'm about to do it anyway. He's genuinely a nice person; he's just a pain in the ass to have to deal with when he gets his panties in a wad. And with all the activity and drama he's involved with in the effort to raise funds to build a big new library building for us, his panties are perpetually wadded.

At around 4:30 p.m. the phone rang, I answered it and was hardly surprised to find Mr. Kreskin on the line in an absolute panic.

"Is Mrs. A there?" Mr. Kreskin asked.

"Nope. Sorry, she's not."

"What about Mrs. C?"

"No, I'm afraid she's gone too," I said.

"Well, where did they go?"

"They're both at a meeting in TOWN-Y."

I could tell he was already royally pissed about this. See, before he retired, Mr. Kreskin used to be a big wig in the business world and he's somehow still accustomed to having people he wants to speak with instantly be at whatever number he calls, at all hours, ready to do his bidding. Snap snap, chop chop. And when he does eventually reach the people who are to do his bidding he is unsatisfied that his bidding has actually been done until he's checked behind them in triplicate.

"Did they send that FAX for me this morning?" Mr. Kreskin asked.

"I'm not sure, sir," I said. "I've only been here since one."

"Well, I need to know what was on that FAX, right now! They were supposed to send it to GROVER CLEVELAND and JAMES FENIMORE COOPER. What was on the FAX?"

"Um. Well, sir, I'm sure that they sent it, but I wasn't here so I don't know anything about it for sure," I said. Then I spied the piece of paper Mrs. B had passed me earlier and noted that the name on it was none other than GROVER CLEVELAND.

"Oh, sir. I do actually have a message for you here. Mrs. A said we're supposed to give you the phone number for Mr. CLEVELAND..."

"No, I don't want THAT right now! I have to know what I said in the FAX to JAMES FENIMORE COOPER."

I should mention, Mr. Kreskin has no grasp of modern technology. I think his hold on all things "hi-tech" let go sometime around 1987. So while he knows that such things as FAX machines, the internet and e-mail exist, he can't distinguish between them with any degree of reliability and thus hates them all. For all I knew, he could have been talking about an e-mail he had them send for him.

"Um. Well, like I said, sir, there doesn't seem to be any FAXes here for JAMES FENIMORE COOPER."

"It has to be there somewhere!" Mr. Kreskin said, anger rising in his voice. "They were supposed to send it this morning."

I quickly leafed through the considerable stack of papers on the circulation desk. Off to one side was a set of papers that looked like they might have been sent as a FAX. However, they were addressed to our librarian Mrs. A and not JAMES FENIMORE COOPER. One of the FAX cover-sheet pages did mention GROVER CLEVELAND, again, but not COOPER. I put Mr. Kreskin on hold while I searched through these for him, but still came up dry on any COOPER related material. Mrs. B also knew nothing about it, and she had been there all morning.

I was getting more frustrated by the whole matter. I knew Mr. Kreskin was going to be pissed, not at me but at Mrs. A and Mrs. C who he would somehow blame not only for not being there when he was calling for them in the first place but also for not keeping their staff appraised on his every potential whim so that we'd be prepared to answer all of his questions.

This is hardly the first time we've been through a situation like this with Mr. Kreskin. He once made Mrs. B call a conference center, where Mrs. A and Mrs. C were attending a "liberry" association meeting, so she could ask them what our tax ID number was. From what I understand, Mr. Kreskin has no real business having it in the first place and it was precisely the sort of information that could have and should have waited til the librarians returned home, but that's not how Mr. Kreskin's mind works. Once he gets it in his bonnet that he HAS to know something, whether he actually does HAVE to know it or not, he will not rest until he KNOWS it and he becomes progressively angrier the longer he doesn't. Once he finds out what he wants to know, he usually apologizes to everyone whose fingers he stepped on in the process of getting it, but that's of no consequence while your fingers are being stepped on.

"I'm sorry, sir," I said coming back to the phone. "But I STILL don't have any FAXes here for JAMES FENIMORE COOPER."

"Listen," Mr. Kreskin said, as though talking to a child. "You go over to the FAX machine and pull out the drawer. There's got to be a copy in there."

"The drawer?"

"Sure. There's a drawer... It has to keep copies of what it sends, right?"

"Uh... No, sir. It doesn't."

"Yes..."

"No," I said. "That's not how our FAX machine works, sir. There's no drawer."

"Well. With the state of modern technology these days, I'm very disappointed. It should be able to do that."

Mr. Kreskin hemmed and hawed a bit more and told me to try and call Mrs. A and Mrs. C on the "liberry" cell phone, which I readily agreed to do. I assured him that I would continue to look for his FAX and he said he would call back in half an hour to see what I'd found.

I called the library cell phone and left a message for Mrs. A pleading for help. Then went to the filing cabinet and began rifling through it. I'd never had to do this before, but I'd heard a rumor that Mrs. A kept a file of all of Mr. Kreskin's letters for just this sort of situation. Sure enough, with only a little digging, I came up with an enormous file labeled KRESKIN CORRESPONDENCE. It was full of what looked like old letters, FAXes and e-mails. (Mr. Kreskin get's royally pissed if you don't keep a hard copy of any e-mails, even though he never sends any himself. He can't stand the idea of storing anything electronically.) There at the top of the file, bright and fresh with today's date on it was a stapled series of FAXes. Turns out, it was the VERY same FAX addressed to Mrs. A that I'd had on the desk, only these had additional cover sheets attached with a note in from Mr. Kreskin, in Mrs. C's handwriting, to the recipients, including GROVER CLEVELAND and JAMES FENIMORE COOPER. Eureka!

From the note itself, I couldn't see why Mr. Kreskin was so desperate to know what it said. It was the standard, "Hey, look these over, I'm available if you have any questions," kind of note. And now that I had a chance to look at the FAX itself, it too was pretty damned low-priority. It wasn't like this was a ransom note that had to be paid today. It was something that didn't matter a hill of beans if it got dealt with now or in a week.

I called Mr. Kreskin back, but got his answering machine.  So I left the contents of the cover-sheet on Mr. Kreskin's answering machine, knowing this would be futile because he never EVER checks messages. He didn't. At around 5:30, he gave me a call and we sorted out the FAX matter over the phone.  Get this, though... Mr. Kreskin didn't even really want what to know what his note on the cover sheet said in the first place. He only wanted to confirm that BOTH pages of the FAX itself had been sent. AND he already had a copy of the document there at his house just to confirm the wording on both pages to make sure they'd both been sent. Once again, checking behind us in triplicate.

To Mr. Kreskin's credit, he did apologize for stepping on my fingers in all this and said I was a good man for locating what he needed. He knew it probably wasn't easy. He also decided that I'd probably better give him GROVER CLEVELAND's phone number from the note after all.

Mrs. A and Mrs. C arrived from their meeting shortly after this. They were astonished and angry at what Mr. Kreskin had done, particularly since they had already twice gone over with him all of the specifics that he was calling to confirm, not to mention had told him that they would be out at a meeting all afternoon. Mrs. A also confirmed that the FAX was nothing earth-shattering that such a stink needed to be raised over. They were very happy with how I'd handled it, though.

My guess is, the board of directors will soon be approving funds to buy us a new FAX machine. One with a drawer that keeps hard copies.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Under the Boardwalk, Down by the Seefile

My little FINAL NOTICE note that we sent out with the overdue notices this time has certainly caused a stir with some patrons. These are the same patrons, mind you, that we've sent multiple overdue notices to over the past two years. Suddenly, they can't pay attention fast enough when their ability to check books out from all 33 libraries in our 15 county network is being threatened. I can't say that overdue books are pouring in, but we're definitely getting more of them back than with most overdue mail-outs.

"Final notice? I never got a first notice!" one lady bellowed at us over the phone. The hell you didn't, I wanted to say. Our stats, after all, indicated that her particular overdue had been printed by our computers over 13 times. That's thirteen months to you and me. My guess is, at least three of those months got mailed to her if not more. And she can't exactly claim that we don't have her correct mailing address if this one managed to find her. Nevermind the fact that I PERSONALLY MAILED ONE TO HER LAST MONTH. In the end, she still has to bring her obscenely overdue books back or pay for them, first notice or not. At least we got her attention.

We had another lady come in to sign her children up for our Summer Reading program who coincidentally turned out to be a Seefile from 2001, a year we haven't even bothered to send out overdues for this time around. Turns out she used to live here and moved away, but is now back in the area full time. She even pointed out to me that she probably had fines when signing her kids up. Sure enough, she owed $16.95 for a long lost book.

"Can I pay you something on that?" she asked, offering a $5 bill.

"Uh, sure," I said. We don't normally take installment payments on lost books, but I figured if she couldn't afford to pay all $17 dollars at once, that money was probably earmarked for something more important, like food. I marked both her Seefile and her patron record that she now only owed $11.95 and signed her kids up for Summer Reading and library cards. Granted, they'll all have to get new library cards next week when the new computer system goes online, but they were cool with that.

Sometimes things genuinely do fall through the cracks on our end. One patron called me yesterday to complain that she's now received the same overdue notice on the same Clive Barker book on tape three times and each time she's called us to tell us that she mistakenly dropped it off at a branch in another county and that they still have it. I seem to even recall having taken such a call from her in the past myself. This time I put a note in her patron record to this effect, wrote it down on the note pad to call our "liberrians'" attention to it and assured her this would be looked into. That's the trouble with being high and mighty and sending out FINAL NOTICES; any mistakes on your part get magnified to the same size as the threat you're making. Oh, it's all fine and good when the overdue is for a well-known deadbeat patron who has no excuse, but when the little old lady from down the street comes in to return a book that's been lodged behind her sofa for eight months, you feel a little bad about sending her threatening notes.

Still, quite a number of people are bringing their overdue books back and letting us get our records straight. One in particular was the screenplay to Stephen King's Storm of the Century which has been out since 2003. We're so familiar with it that whenever the overdues are printed we don't even bother looking on the shelf to see if it's there because we've already checked that shelf at least three times before and know full well it ain't there. Yesterday, the lady who checked it out finally returned it and had the decency to at least look sheepish about it.

I'd decided to stop reporting about Parka's activities, since they seemed to have settled into a pretty stable, though highly irritating pattern. However, he came in three times yesterday and not once did he loudly robot drone "MAY I PLEASE SIGN UP TO USE A COMPUTER?" from the door. Nor did he ask what our hours tomorrow are. I wonder if Miss E had to yell at him again.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Books Mislaid

A while back, I found a book about West Virginia in the children's room.

Not so strange, being as how our library is IN West Virginia and it was a juvenile book. Turned out, though, it wasn't our book. We didn't even own such a volume.

The stamp inside the book said it belonged to the Wade Thomas School Library. Curious, I thought. I'd not heard of any area school called Wade Thomas, but I'm not from around here so what do I know? The book sat around the circulation desk for a couple of days before I got around to actually looking up Wade Thomas School on the internet to get an address so we could send their book to them. Turns out Wade Thomas School isn't in West Virginia at all. It's in San Anselmo, California.

The question arises, how the heck did a book about West Virginia owned by a library in California get into our children's room?

Couldn't tell you. Don't know for sure. Our best guess is that some kid from San Anselmo was taking a trip to West Virginia, perhaps during Spring break, and checked the book out at his school library to learn about the place he was about to visit. Why he should visit our library and not only take it inside (bad move) but also leave it behind (worse move) we still don't know.

We called the librarian at Wade Thomas School and told her we had their book. They were thrilled we'd found it and did indeed want it back. It seems their kids had just started book reports about states and they had been relieved that no one had chosen West Virginia because their only book on the subject was out.

Friday, June 04, 2004

...to the Seefiles, the Seefiles of Love

Welllllll, my evil joy at Seefiling may have come back to bite me.

Turns out, that stacks of overdue slips I Seefiled yesterday were only for patrons with bad addresses and phone numbers who we could otherwise not have contacted. There were two even bigger stacks covering 2003 and 2004 overdues yet to work with. Now, I'm all for Seefiling them too, but Mrs. A wants to give the patrons one last chance to produce the books and to know what the stakes are in case they don't. This kind of annoys me, because these are the same cats I had to phone, write or otherwise contact LAST MONTH regarding extreme overdues. Seems like if they haven't brought em back yet, they deserve all the Old Testament wrath the "liberry" can dish out. But, Mrs. A wants us to be a benevolent and loving "liberry" one last time, so now we have to check the shelves to make sure the books aren't hiding there and send the overdues out again.

Mrs. C approved my request to include a FINAL NOTICE note with each overdue explaining that if the patron's don't produce these books or otherwise pay for them by June 30 they won't be able to check out ANY books from ANY of the 33 libraries in our new regional library network. So nyeah!

There were a few patrons among these overdues that I took the liberty of shitcanning in advance, though. One was "J. Fagin", a child of the dreaded Fagin "fambly" who had three books out from 2003 that he has no intention of returning. I tell you, stealing books from the library is a way of life with these people. Pa Fagin has been at it since he was in highschool and he's raised all four of his yunnguns, not to mention his wife, to follow in his footsteps. Pa Fagin's been banned for life outright. He doesn't even have an official Seefile entry, he's been banned so long. His kids, however, are sneaky little bastards. Each one of them and their Ma too has AT LEAST two patron records with us and they've all been Seefiled at least once already. This should have precluded them from getting another card in the first place, but they like to sneak in whenever we have a new employee who doesn't know their evil ways and try to get a new card. They'll swear they've never had a card with us before, look pitiful and on the verge of tears and suddenly they'll have a new card and 10 more of our books which we'll never see again. We're gonna make Wanted Posters for them to hang around the desk.

So I added young Mr. Fagin to our DO NOT GIVE CARDS TO THESE DEADBEATS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES list and, while I was at it, I added the rest of the Fagin clan too.

Other interesting overdues: Matilde the Cranky Wiccan has an overdue for a Bible she checked out in 2003. I didn't realize she even had a card with us, let alone checked anything out. Maybe if we started requiring the Internet Crowd to have clean upstanding cards before they could use the computer they'd be less apt for overdues.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Jesus came in to photocopy lots of things. Mrs. B wound up helping him for the most part, while I struggled with overdues.

And, of course, Parka came in and did his whole schpiel. The man types louder than any human being I've ever heard. (My wife would argue that I hold that title already--I argue that I don't type loud, I just type fast.) He left a full two minutes from closing time. As he lurched through the main room toward the front door, I waited with breathless anticipation for the moment I knew was coming...

Wait for it... wait for it... WAIT FOR IIIIT.

"What are your hours tomorrow?"

Ahhh, there it is!

"Nine to seven," I told him for the 63rd time.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Speaking of losers...

Beyond Seefiling, my day was spent running back and forth to the computer hall every 20 minutes or so to roust yet another member of the Internet Crowd from their joy of joys so another patron could get on. The computers stayed packed the whole day long.

I was also shocked that both Mr. Big Stupid AND Parka turned up before 3 p.m. today, instead of at the crack of closing time. Mr. Big Stupid managed a "Gotney`puters,buddy?" before I could tell him he had a sixteen minute wait. Parka (who, by the way, no longer wears his trademark enormous white parka, being as how it's Summer and all, and has now switched to a ratty, sweat-stained, white v-neck t-shirt, the kind that's made of some sort of synthetic fabric that's really too thin and semi-translucent to be worn as anything but an undershirt but he does it anyway just because he's such a big sweaty mongoloid, instead) had to actually wait in line for several minutes before he could utter his "MAY I PLEASE SIGN UP TO USE A COMPUTER" catchphrase. We had to roust him off after half an hour, but he just kept coming back to plague us more throughout the day. Just when we thought we'd seen the last of him he'd turn back up to chat with his e-skanks and pound the space bar with far more force than necessary. His final appearance was 20 minutes before closing time, which meant he wanted to stay on AFTER closing time. I had to go back and stand there tapping my foot.

"I'm getting off right now," he said, still typing away for another minute.

I've decided that the thing that infuriates me about him the most, even beyond his computer hogging and his whole catchphrase thing, is that he has no concept of what our hours are. Every day. EVERY... SINGLE... DAMNED... DAY... this superfluous butthole in humanity's crack asks, "What are your hours tomorrow?" Now that might not seem like the sort of thing that should offend, particularly when our library does have some degree of variance in hours on weekends and Mondays. But after you've answered the question twelve thousand times and each time the answer is "NINE TO SEVEN" and it still ain't sunk into his pointy little porn-addled skull, you might tend to get a little pissy about it too.

I'm thinking of having a T-shirt made up with our hours emblazoned on it in huge red letters. Or just start answering him with our full week's schedule of hours every time he asks, using a loud Don Pardo voice. Yup. That might be good for a few jollies.

Deadbeat Club

My major project of the day was creating new Seefiles.

Seefiles are the files we keep of deadbeat patrons who have kept our books well beyond the customary loan period, refusing to return them despite numerous attempts on our part to get them to do so. The name comes from the note we put in their patron record so that when they attempt to check anything else out we will notice "Seefile 97" and know that we are to SEE the FILE containing all the deadbeat patrons from 1997. We go to the filing cabinet, drag out Seefile 97, find the deadbeat patron's slip with the offending lost books on it and we show it to them. We then get to watch the deadbeat patron's feigned look of shock and horror that we might even think they've had eight of our books out for the past seven years.

Well, let's see... you're Irwin Wazonkowski, we only have one Irwin Wazonkowski in the system, nay, the state... we're betting it's you. Give us our money. What? No money? Okay, get out. That's right, get out. Get your crappy little car out from in front of the building and don't come back without our money.

(That last bit will only happen in the Tales from the "Liberry" movie version, but the point still stands.)

So, let's recap: Seefile people are scum of the earth. They are the lowest of the low. They are old crusty boogers found stuck to the bottom of our computer chairs. And the Fagins are their royal family.

Well, we didn't have any Fagins in today, but we're shoring up our defenses against them for when our new circulation computer system goes live in t-minus a couple of weeks. So my job today was to take our enormous stack of overdues from the past two years, write the barcode numbers of their books on each overdue slip so we can remove them from our records later, then check those books back into our computer and mark the patron records of the deadbeat patrons who still have them as Seefiles, thus preventing them from doing Jaqueline Schidt at the library until they pay up or return their books. It's incredibly tedious and boring work, but I tell you I absolutely love it. It's one of the most satisfying parts of my job. I know deep down that we're probably NEEEVER gonna see these people again. Hell, most of the ones in our Hopeless Causes pile have long since fled the state, or at least the county and will never again darken our door. Doesn't matter. Cause to me, Seefiling deadbeat patrons is my small way of stickin' it to The Man...

...Actually, this doesn't stand up to scrutiny, cause it's really more like The Man stickin' it to the little guy, when you think about it. Doesn't mean the little guy's in the right, but that's more like it...

...Okay, forget about the stickin' it to The Man part. That was just bullshit. Look at it this way...

...Seefiling deadbeat patrons is my small way of fighting injustice in the world. There ya go. That's the analogy I want. I'm the superhero squashing the scum of the earth, wiping out the very toejam of the rotting foot of crime, putting right what once went wrong, beating the ever-living hell out of poop-brained morons with no regard for how a polite society is supposed to work. It is my joy of joys.

Even better... Mrs. C, who knows full well just how much I love Seefiling, intentionally didn't let Mrs. B and Mrs. J do much of it yesterday just so I could have the pleasure of Seefiling deadbeats all day today. It was wonderful! I spent my day giving off evil cackles of glee as I added loser after loser to the pile.

I suspect I'm really not supposed to get quite so much enjoyment out of this, but dammit, I do.

Don't Taunt the Patrons

We had three boxes of new books come in last week. These represented book orders from three different libraries, not to mention personal orders for various board members and staff. Mrs. C told me that my copy of Fantagraphics Books' new The Complete Peanuts, Vol I, was among the new books but that I couldn't have it unless I opened the boxes and sorted all the orders. No problemo. I'm all about opening boxes, especially when there's a prize for me at that bottom. I started ripping cardboard.

When I'd finished I had several stacks of books sorted by owner and my nice fat Peanuts volume. A few patrons happened by during this and looked over the titles in my stacks with wanton desire in their eyes. Too bad for them. Not a one of these books is gonna hit the new books shelf for quite a while cause we can't catalog shite until our new computer system is live and in full working order. So patrons will have to wait a while before getting their hands on the new Laurie King mystery or the new Tom Clancy non-fiction. And from the rumors we've been hearing, the wait may be even longer as the program may not go live as soon as we'd been lead to believe due to unforeseen problems.

Meanwhile, my Peanuts book is fantastic. It collects all of Charles Schulz's Peanuts strips from 1950-1952. For those of you who've never seen any of those strips, the characters are practically unrecognizable from their later incarnations. Oh, you can spot Charlie Brown and Snoopy, but they look more like a bald Calvin with a much more beagle-like dog instead of Hobbes. Long lost characters such as Shermy, Violet and a decidedly more lady-like Patty (sans the Peppermint and long-suspected "partner" Marcy) help fill out the cast. Schroeder has made an appearance, but as an infant. Later in the book they discover him to be a piano prodigy with a Beethoven bust fetish. Lucy and Linus also make their debuts, however Linus is an infant as well rather than Charlie Brown's peer.

The strips are just brilliant, though. I've always regarded Charles Schulz as one of the true greats in the business, but I can definitely see why the respect is due him. Looking at these strips from a modern perspective, you can see the wide ranging influence he's had over our culture in so many ways. He was the first to do strips of this nature, that reflected a more jaded-yet-still-optomistic look at society. Now everybody does that sort of thing, but Good Ol' Sparky Schulz paved that dirt road a long time ago. I'm looking forward to collecting the complete series of reprints that Fantagraphics is doing. Any librarians listening might wanna order this for their collections too.

This is a high-quality hardback collection, with amazing graphic design and a lot of thought behind it. At $28.95, it's a pricey book to buy... that is, unless you have "liberry" connections and can get it for damn near half-price through Baker & Taylor, like me.