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.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Superfreak!

We've officially had our first complete patron freak-out about the new library cards. I only wish I had been there to witness it first hand.

Let's call the superfreak patron in question Rick James, just to establish a theme and for no better reason than I happened to see the real Rick James on a rerun of the Surreal Life a few nights ago. Our Rick James is a guy about my age who, being the wrong race to begin with, of course looks nothing like the real Rick James. In fact, he looks kind of up-tight most of the time. As far as his patronage goes, he's actually only an intermittent patron at best, coming in only once or twice a month, sometimes skipping several months on a stretch. Even with infrequent visits, though, Rick James has skirted the edges of Rogue status on a couple of occasions in the past.

For instance, Rick James is a big fan of our books on tape. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him check out an actual, honest-to-God book from us before. So, one time Rick James checked out one of our books on tape and managed to break one of the tapes. Mind you, this would have been okay with us, as we know that the tapes do break due to the constant wear and tear. We wouldn't have even made him pay for it. However, Rick James not only broke the tape but then tried to repair it on his own. I don't know how exactly he did this, but images of glue and nails come into my head whenever I think about it. In the end, he failed miserably at the repair job, screwed the tape up even more than it had been, then returned it to us. He explained what he'd done and suggested we could probably do a better repair job than he did. I wanted to say, "So could most paraplegic rhesus monkeys," but refrained from doing so.

Now, that's certainly annoying. However, Rick's actual claim to fame is his utter refusal to check anything out on his own card. Ever. It's not that he's even a Seefile or anything--he just refuses to use his own card.

On the first several occasions that I had to deal with him, I would ask his name so I could look up his record, as per our old VTLS system and library policy. Rick James would just shake his head at me and tell me to put it on the card of his girlfriend. Rick's girlfriend, Gladys Knight, used to come in with him fairly often and they always checked their items out on her card then too. I figured it was therefore an authorized move and began putting his books on her card when he was in solo; and it was cool with her. Sure, it was odd, but we didn't care if he used her card so long as she was okay with it. And Rick James was far from the only person to exclusively use someone else's card. Several male patrons used to use their wife's card, which we just chalked up to laziness on their part. With Rick there turned out to be another reason.

For the past several months, Rick and Gladys have seriously cut back on their visits. If I'd thought much about them, I might have assumed they'd moved, but I don't so I didn't. Rick just suddenly popped up again a couple months back, causing me to think, "Oh, yeah, the book-on-tape-won't-use-his-own-card guy. I remember him." And, of course, Rick also returned to checking out more books on tape to Gladys's patron record.

Neither Rick nor Gladys have been in for the past four weeks since we upgraded to our new circulation software system, however. That is until last week when both of them stopped by.

(Again, I only WISH I had been there, so most of the following dialogue is paraphrased from second hand information.)

After bringing their book on tape selections to the circ desk, Miss E told Gladys that she would need one of our new library cards before she could check out. No prob for Gladys Knight--she's easy-going. She even had her old card with her, proving she's a responsible patron. Miss E then asked Rick if he needed one too.

"No, I'll just use hers," Rick James said.

Sorry, but no. We no longer allow patrons to share cards like that. You'll need one of your very own.

Rick James grumbled and griped at this, but went over and started filling out a new card application all the same. It didn't take him long to find something to whine about.

"Hey, why do you need my driver's license number? Do I have to give that?"

Yes, you do.

"But why?"

All of our patrons have to have a unique ID number so we chose a driver's license number since most people have them.

"How come?"

Because we need to be able to tell patrons with the same name apart.

Naturally, Rick didn't like that one little bit.

"This is just the government!" he said. "The government is trying to get this information and keep tabs on what we're reading. Your new system probably keeps a record of everything we read!"

Now first off, the government ALREADY HAS everyone's driver's license information. After all, drivers licenses are issued by THE GOVERNMENT in the first place.  Secondly, our system does NOT keep records of everything our patrons have read. Some patrons wish that it did, because they can't manage to keep track of what they've read by themselves and wish we could tell them so they didn't keep checking out the same Patty Cornhole book. But, no, we don't keep patron book records. Even with the new circulation system, we only have the ability to see who the last patron to check out any given book was, and this is for purposes of tracking down patrons who might have allowed their dog to have a bite of a book should we wish them to pay for it. It's hardly a grand scheme of the Homeland Security Conspiracy, but there was no telling this to Rick James.

About this time, Mrs. C stood up from her computer where she'd been listening to Rick James's ranting.

"It's not the government," she told him. "We have nothing to do with the government." (Well, outside of a miniscule amount of funding.) "And we don't store records of what patrons read."

Mrs. C then explained that the drivers license number was necessary to differentiate Rick James from any other Rick Jameses who might be patrons of one of the libraries in the surrounding consortium counties, (or indeed the real Rick James). We're in essence trying to protect our patrons from having other people with the same name check things out on their card, saddling them with the bill if the items aren't returned.

Rick tried to grumble some more about this but relented after Gladys told him it made perfect sense to her. He finally put his license number down and turned in his application to Miss E.

As she was typing it in, Miss E noted that Rick's listed address was a post office box.

Sorry, if your mailing address is a post office box, we'll need a physical address as well.

This is what ignited the powder keg.

"You need a physical address?!! You need a physical address?!! Why would you need a physical address?!!" Rick was really starting to shout, getting far more angry than necessary.

Mrs. C stepped in again and tried to explain that people change post office boxes and telephone numbers all the time and we really have to have a backup method of contacting patrons when we need to.

"But why would you need a physical address?!!" Rick continued to shout, ignoring everything she had just said. It was like his brain was stuck in a loop and just kept repeating, Why would you need a physical address? Why would you need a physical address? over and over, drowning out all explanation to the contrary.

Then a new voice entered the fray. Our head librarian, Mrs. A had come downstairs just before Rick's tantrum began, had witnessed it and now she was having no more of it.

"Now look here!" Mrs. A said. Rick immediately stopped grousing and looked here. Mrs. A marched up to him and said, "The reason we need your physical address is so we'll know where to send the sheriff when you don't bring our books back!"

I love Mrs. A.

Rick didn't have much of a defense for that, but he still had a fallback position: "But why do you need a driver's license number?!"

"Because we don't want anyone getting more than one library card in our system. And if we require a unique ID number like a drivers license we can stop people from getting multiple cards."

"But why..."

"No. Let me explain," Mrs. A said. "Before we put this system into place, there was a patron in another county who got five different library cards from five different libraries with five fake home addresses. She then checked out ALL the arts and crafts books from those libraries and has now disappeared with them. Thousands of dollars worth of books are gone because we didn't require proof of ID to get a library card. Now that we require the drivers license number, if we try to make a new patron record and type that license number in, any existing records with that number will pop up automatically and we won't issue the patron another card."

"But why do you need a physical address?"

Yes, indeedy, Rick had waited through all that just to default to But why do you need a physical address? once again. There was just no talking to him.

Gladys Knight went ahead and accepted her new library card, but Rick James refused to supply the necessary information for his and left saying he'd do it some other time. Our guess is he'll try to go to another area library and see if he can sneak past security measures there. He's not the only one. We've already discovered another guy who has already managed to get two cards at other area libraries by telling them that he has no driver's license or state ID. He also supplies them with faulty contact information, which is why it's important for libraries to follow policy and demand to see some form of identification, if only a current bill and a photo-id. We've now got a "liberry" APB out on that guy and have just added Rick James to the watch list as well.

The Rick James situation, however, does put me in mind of another patron and former almost-rogue who, coincidentally enough, I was already in the process of composing an entry for....

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