Monday, April 30, 2007

5th Week Event

As there are 5 Mondays in this month, I was careful to note, well in advance, that I was scheduled to work the last one today. Didn't need another repeat of the last Monday I nearly failed to work.

Other than an extended session of irritation from Ms. Green—in which she hogged up all the circ desk counter space, taking her time as she wrapped a package to mail out to somebody, like we were the post office, or something, and attempted to give me a bit of trouble over a hold she was supposed to have picked up by last Thursday (a date she set) but which she rolled in to pick up today only to find we'd given it to the community college as an inter"liberry" loan last Friday, not to mention interrupting transactions I was trying to complete with other patrons, y'know, the ones who had to squeeze in on either side of her just to get their books on the desk to check out—not much went awry. It was the usual Monday Madness, minus most of the madness.

Oh, and Birthday Lady phoned. She wanted to know the birthday of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who died last week. The answer, according to Wikipedia, is April 11, 1978. She mentioned that she was a big Cardinals fan. I believe this marks the first non-Hollywood birthday she's asked about.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who's Got the 10 and a Half (minus the half) 2007?

My fellow "liberry" ass. and former newbie greenhorn, Ms. M, is almost always willing to fill in whenever any of the rest of the staff have pressing outside scheduling conflicts. I had one of those earlier this week and she was kind enough to fill in for me during it. She's actually racked up quite a bit of credit with me in that regard over the past few months, so when I heard she needed Thursday off I figured it was time to pay her back. Granted, I was already scheduled to be at work from 9 to 1 today, which would turn this into a 10 hour shift. I agreed all the same. It's been a while since I've had a 10 hour shift, but in the past they've been great blogging fodder. And at least with Mrs. A, B, C and J present, it wouldn't be a 10 hour solo shift, which is what my previous 10 hour shifts have usually been. The drawback to it being a near full staff shift, though, is that it's difficult to blog it in real time. So I spent the day jotting notes to myself on scrap paper and tucking them into spare pockets to be able to reconstruct the day later.

9:02 a.m.— I arrive at work 2 minutes after 9 due to leaving the house a bit late. However, it was completely necessary for me to make a new thermous full of coffee.

9:05 a.m.— The Coot arrives for what will likely be a 10 hour stay himself. He heads for his favorite seat outside Mrs. A's office where, as in accordance with tradition, he will groan and wail and burp and fart whenever Mrs. A has to use the phone or, indeed, her voice.

9:15 a.m.— I process the huge stack of periodicals that have piled up since I was last here. As I do so, Mrs. C and Mrs. B are inspecting the general fiction walls, pulling shelving slips out of books and noting whether or not they are shelved correctly. Newbie Greenhorn Ms. S, as per usual, has several that are misshelved, a surprise to no one.

9:37 a.m.— The staff discusses the fact that we have to move story hour from our usual activity area to the upstairs nonfiction floor due to the fact that we're having a class of violinists and their instructor in today to play for the story hour kids. We put signs up to that effect on the activity room door and then another on the library's front door in the hope that our traditional late comers, (i.e. little Kayla's family), will note them and be quiet when entering.

9:41 a.m.— Gene Gene the Geneal0gy Machine arrives for his first computer shift of the day.

9:45 a.m.— A few months back, Ms. S ran out of her usual orange shelving slips. At that point, she cut out and carefully initialled a large supply of pink shelving slips and in the intervening months, she's continued to use both orange and pink. Recently, former newbie greenhorn Ms. M ran out of her yellow shelving slips, so she too cut a bunch out of pink ones and carefully initialled them, apparently so that they wouldn't be confused with Ms. S's pink shelving slips. While sorting the various slips that Mrs. C and Mrs. B pulled earlier, I make a command decision and announce to the rest of the staff at hand that I am throwing away both sets of pink slips on the grounds that it is moronic to have them in the first place.

9:54 a.m.— The Bakers arrive for story hour. They bring 12,000 books to return. Amazingly, all of their books are from our library branch.

9:55 a.m.— Mr. B-Natural arrives for his first computer session. He puts 10:00 as his signup time, no doubt thinking it will give him five extra minutes. I start his timer so it won't.

10:00 a.m.— Story Hour begins. Kayla's family fails to arrive, a surprise to no one. Tuning of stringed instruments can be heard through the very floor above my head. I'm sure the Coot is thrilled.

10:05 a.m.— I start checking the shelves for this week's overdues.

10:10 a.m. — Little Kayla's family still has yet to arrive.

10:27 a.m.— Mr. B-Natural departs, inquiring about the violin noise as he does.

10:46 a.m.— While still checking shelves for overdues, I see that someone's flagged one of the books I shelved as being misshelved. I double check it, but cannot determine how it is misshelved. It's a mystery book shelved in the mysteries section, it's way too old to be in new fiction, and it's author, Davis, is shelved neatly after Davies and before Debin, just as it should be. What gives?

11:00 a.m.— Story hour concludes. I notice Gene disappeared at some point, for he is no longer on his computer, nor the can, nor elsewhere in the building.

11:16 a.m.— No way. It's not even noon and the mail has already arrived. Glory be!

11:28 a.m.— I sneak away to my hidey hole in the supply cabinet and retrieve my emergency toothbrush, with which I head to the sink outside our little public restroom under the stairs to brush my teeth and rid myself of coffee breath. No sooner is the brush in my mouth than the Coot squeezes past me to use the can. No good can come of this. I hurriedly brush my teeth and flee the area before he can release any fumes at me.

11:30 a.m.— I spy the Coot outside, headed for his car. He better have flushed.

11:40 to 11:47 a.m.— Mrs. A, Mrs. B, Mrs. J and I all stand around and tell Ms. S stories, chronicling her latest misadventures in dumbassity.

11:50 a.m. — While pulling some shelving slips Mrs. C and Mrs. B missed, I find another pink shelving slip, this one with Ms. S’s initials on one side and Ms. M’s initials on the other. Damn, they’re conspiring together now!!

12:03 p.m. — I walk down the street to the local market to pick up one of their impressively generous and patron-awe-inspiring salads for lunch.

12:10 p.m. — I return to the "liberry" and begin eating my impressive and tasty salad.

12:18 p.m. — Mr. Little Stupid arrives for a computer.

12:28 p.m. — I finish my salad and go brush my teeth again. Eww, salad breath.

12:34 p.m. — I receive a phone call from one of the New Devil Twins Auxiliary League of Neighborhood Kids. I think it's Delbert. He inquires as to whether or not he will be allowed to use a computer should he turn up at the library. It's our policy, you see, that school-aged children of appropriate computer-usage age, even equipped with a permission slip on file, are not allowed to use a computer during school hours, unless they are home school students doing genuine research. According to Delbert, though, he is being schooled in an alternative school, which means he's gotten in trouble at regular school and has been sent there for reform. The alternative school doesn't meet until after 4, so he thinks this is a loophole. I bring it up to Mrs. A and C and they say he can only use a computer during normal school hours if he has a signed letter from his alternative school teacher saying he can, and then can only use it for genuine research. He can't come in and surf MySpace. I gleefully inform him of this.

12:40 p.m. — Jimmy the Anonymous Snitch arrives for computer time. He brings his mommy with him, who I believe he still lives with and is likely his only means of transportation. What a colossal loser.

12: 42 p.m. — The rest of the staff leave for lunch. It is Mrs. J's birthday and they're taking her to Crapplebees. Wow, and I thought we liked Mrs. J.

12:57 p.m. — Jimmy and mommy leave.

1:00 p.m. — I get a few minutes of peace and begin typing this up in hopes of putting some of it up on the blog early.

1:04 p.m. — Sudden rush on computers, including a usually clueless wireless guy who will no doubt have trouble logging on and then have to get me to help him.

1:10 p.m. — Our first "What are your hours?" call of the day.

1:13 p.m.— Mr. Little stupid approaches the desk and asks me how to spell the word "talk." I tell him.

1:15 p.m.— Lennie arrives for his Thursday shift. He complains that "it's so hot you can't stand it." He notices me typing and becomes very interested. I stop.

1:30 p.m.— An old man with a long silver beard arrives saying he has 25 boxes of book donations for us, where do we want them? Since we aren't busy at all, I tell him to drive around to our storage area (i.e. the basement) and I'll come out and help him haul them in.

1:31 p.m. — There's a sudden rush on the desk, with checkouts and reference questions. The phone also starts ringing with people calling for Mrs. C. I'm the only one on staff, except for Lennie and now can't leave the desk to go help this old man haul boxes. Instead, I send Lennie out and tell him to go unlock the basement and help haul boxes. He leaves.

1:38 p.m.— The patron tide stemmed, I dash out to the basement door. The old man has two other slightly younger men helping him haul boxes out of a truck and into the basement. Lennie is standing there idly, saying that he'll lock the door back when they finish. I tell him that he's supposed to be helping them, but he doesn't move. One of the old men tells me that they have quite a few more boxes of books they wish to donate. I tell him he'd better give us a few days to get things sorted and cleared out to the BIGGER storage area, before bringing in any more. Mrs. B, our resident donation sorter and reboxer, is going to faint when she sees all these boxes. She only just yesterday got the basement and current crop of book donations sorted and sent off to our larger storage area, off property.

1:40 p.m.— I dash back inside where a patron is waiting.

1:56 p.m. — Lennie won't quit snooping whenever I try to continue typing this up. I don't know how much he's capable of reading, but I learned long ago not to underestimate him. He seems to sense that I'm doing something of interest, though, and keeps asking me questions, like "Who are you writing a letter to?" "Myself," I tell him. I switch from the screen to a scrap of paper, but he's even now trying to get a gander of this very note.

2:00 p.m. — The rest of the staff returns from lunch.

2:07 p.m.— I ask Mrs. C and Mrs. B why my book in the mysteries was flagged as misshelved. They say they weren't the ones who flagged it, though. Must be a dumbass newbie greenhorn who did it as some sort of half-assed revenge for my flagging all their misshelved books over the past few months. They can't even get that right.

2:12 p.m.— I leave for an extended break. Mrs. C tells me I can take more than an hour, as I'm the poor soul on til closing.

3:30 p.m.— I return. Mrs. C says that drama has occurred in my absence. She says an older lady phoned and asked Mrs. B if there was a man here delivering books to be donated. When told that there had been some men delivering books earlier, who were now gone, the lady said she wanted to leave a message for the man that he needed to phone home. Then the lady burst into tears and hung up. No idea what that was all about. The other news, though, is that the old guys who donated the books took all the empty boxes we'd been saving to sort donated books into. Mrs. B had been begging for some for a week and now they were gone. Lennie told Mrs. C that the men asked him if they could take the boxes but he didn't answer them, so they took them anyway. We'll get them back, most likely in a few days when they bring more books.

3:45 p.m.— I see that Delbert, the aforementioned Neighborhood Auxiliary League Member, is now using a computer. It's after school hours are over, so there's no rule against it. However, he's been on for over half an hour now and I have to bust him off for another patron. Mr. Little Stupid is still around too, but had, apparently been busted off before because he's now on a different computer than when I left. When I go to reboot Delbert's station, Mr. Little Stupid asks me how to spell "work."

3:59 p.m.— Fatty Manchild arrives for a computer. He's not wearing jams, per se, but he is wearing shorts. They look to be of the no-print, off-white, board-short variety.

4:06 p.m.— Mr. Little Stupid finally leaves.

4:18 p.m.— A woman and three children, each of whom is whining for books, approaches the desk. I hear her tell them that they can't have any books from our library because they have their own library at school to borrow from. They persist. She tells them that kids aren't allowed to have library cards at our library. Nevermind the fact that they just exited the CHILDREN'S room, this is what she says. I suspect she's lying to them to get them to quit whining. They continue. She spies me and says, "Kids can't get library cards here, can they?" Her "can they?" seems loaded with intent. "Um... I guess that all depends on what answer you're looking for," I tell her. "The truth," she says. "Okay. Sure, kids can get library cards here." This is not what the woman (their baby-sitter, I think) wants to hear, because she immediately tells the kids that she didn't trust them to check books out on her card since they'd lost so many from school. "But I only lost one, this year," one of the kids says. I gamely try to back her up a bit by telling them that we're really serious about getting our books back and will send our enforcer, Mrs. J, to come get them. They leave with only the sitter's books.

4:30 p.m.— Yay! I get to make a trip to the post office. People hate us at the post office. Not the postal workers themselves, who seem incapable of caring how many packages we have to mail each week; it's the other customers who hate us for clogging up the lines for 10 minutes at a stretch. I feel their pain. Fortunately, we only have one box and an envelope to mail and I get them sent off without incident.

4:47 p.m.— I return to find that someone has had a blowout in the public restroom while I was gone and the whole reference hall is super butt-fume stinky.

5:05 p.m.— Everyone else on staff leaves for the day.

6:00 p.m.— Been pretty slow going. I've called all my holds and had time to type a bit.

6:01 p.m.— A patron brings in a book for return. He looks ever so slightly miffed that he actually had to come in the building to do this, as the book return stays locked during hours we're open.

6:05 p.m.— Wow, an honest to God reference question! A lady wanted organizational information about the W0rld Hea1th Organizati0n and the Pan Amer!can Hea1th Organizati0n. We have no books specifically on them but EBSC0 had loads of articles, two of which seemed to suit her criteria. I print them for her. She writes us a check for a whole dollar.

6:18 p.m.— A little kid—who's here with his mom and is maybe 7 years of age, if that—comes up to the desk to tell me about how much he likes Shrek and Shrek II and Shrek the Third, even though he's not seen it. He has matching fake tribal tatoos extending from beneath his short sleeved shirt down his arms nearly to his wrists. At least, I hope they're fake; his mom is sporting a few real tatoos.

6:24 p.m.— Some child is screaming outside. It's that sort of high-pitched, make a dog's ears bleed and your spine seize up sort of squeal that should be reserved only for occasions when murder is about to be committed, but whatever kid it is seems to be flinging it around the neighborhood pretty liberally. It's not a cry of distress. Most likely it's more a scream meaning: "It's raining and I'm getting wet!"

6:45 p.m.— Closing duties begin in earnest.

6:47 p.m. — the Purple Nun's brother arrives, but leaves within a few minutes.

6:55 p.m.— And I am alone and nearly finished for the day.

6:56 p.m.— Some goofa pulls up outside, no doubt with 400 books to return.

6:56 p.m.— False alarm. They were just parking here to walk downtown.

7:00 p.m. — We are officially closed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #78

(SETTING: The computer hall of my "liberry" where I've come to roust a female patron from her computer, where she has basically set up a nest for herself, having stayed on it for the better part of the afternoon. Alas, someone else has come in and the other computers are full.)

ME: Excuse me, ma'am, but we have someone waiting for a computer.

PATRON: So... what? I get off?

ME: Well, I wouldn't phrase it that way, but, yes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nearly Killed a Neo-Hippy

A female neo-hippy happened in the other day to inquire about our free tax preparation service. (And for the record, this was an I-like-to-wear-patchouli-and-be-kind-to-the-earth-but-am-not-in-your-face-about-it-all-the-time-cute-granola-mom hippy, as opposed to an Everything-in-this-whole-country-is-wrong-and-it's-somehow-your-fault-(AND-George-Bush's)-and-you're-part-of-the-problem-because-you-won't-let-me-check-out-without-my-library-card-Where's-my-disability-check? hippy.) I had to explain to her that our free tax preparation program, despite what H&R Block and the other members of THEY keep telling people, is non-existent. Haven't had one for nigh on a decade and have no plans to aquire one. We've heard too many horror stories from other libraries that offer such programs—stories that include patrons being audited and blaming libraries for it, when, in fact, it was the fault of the tax preparer who volunteered at the library, or the fault of the patron themselves. No, sir. Don't need any of that.

Our neo-hippy patron then asked if I knew where she could get such free help locally. I explained that another area library still foolishly does offer such a service, but only to the elderly. For people her age, I knew of no other such service. And believe me, we've had an ear out for such services, cause we'd like nothing better than to roll that ball into someone else's court. (Course, now that I think of it, I could have told her the name of Amateur Accountant Tax Form Lady Who Plagues Us Every Year, except that might legally constitute giving tax advice and possibly poor advice at that.)

After she was satisfied that we weren't hiding such a program, she asked to use a computer and went off to have some internet time. Within 20 minutes or so, our printer began spitting out paper and continued doing so for a couple of minutes. Mrs. B and I were chatting, so I didn't notice the excessive printing until the neo-hippy came up and began freaking out at the mass of paper still spewing from the guts of the printer.

"Oh!! Ohh!!" she squealed, waving her hands in panic. "It's printing too many! I didn't print that many!"

I reached over and pressed the Cancel Job button. After a page or so more, it stopped printing. Then it started printing her next job, which from the "Page 1 of 60" at the top, was nearly as large as the last. I cancelled that one too. And then the 80 page third job that followed it.

"I didn't tell it to print that many," the hippy lady insisted. "I only wanted it to print the three sections I highlighted."

Ah, yes, the old No, I Only Printed the Highlighted Bits flawed theory of printing from the innanet. I explained to her how wrong she was in assuming you can somehow highlight stuff and hit print and actually get only that highlighted stuff without first going to the print menu and clicking the little box by SELECTED.

"What a waste of paper," the hippy lady said, gathering up the 70 or so pages she had coming to her. "I only wanted the three paragraphs I highlighted."

Obviously my first lesson hadn't taken. So, on my own screen, I called up a website, highlighted some text, went to the print menu and showed her the SELECTED option. "This is what you need to click next time," I said.

"What about this time? What do I do with this?" she said, holding out her quarter ream of paper, sympathy-seeking expression on her face.

"We charge 10 cents a page," I told her.

The lady, to her credit, didn't argue and paid us the $7.

Friday, April 20, 2007

FAGIN ATTACK!

It's been years since we last saw hide or hair of the infamous Fagin family–those rogues among rogues responsible for stealing hundreds of dollars of library books in our county and beyond. I was certainly not expecting one to appear this week, but appear he did.

It happened midway through my afternoon, shift. I had just been straightening up the periodicals section from where it had been attacked and rearranged by The Coot and various handicapped patrons. Afterward, while descending the staircase, I passed some teenage kid and his girlfriend, who were on the way up. Arriving in the front room, I found the circ-desk to be awash with staff-based activity. Mrs. A was seaching something up in our circulation computer while Mrs. C was digging frantically in a filing cabinet.

"Do you know if Karl Fagin is a Seefile?" Mrs. A asked when she saw me. She was referring to the files we keep, organized by year, of deadbeat patrons who've failed to return our books.

"Hell, yes, he's a Seefile," I said. "Why?"

"He's in the building and wants to check something out."

"No way," I said, pointing back over my shoulder. "That was him?"

"Yes. He's got a card from TOWN-D. And the community college."

Ah, yes. Now I remember. Two years back, when we switched over to our new patron circulation computer system, I was assigned the task of going through all the Seefiles and cataloging the worst offenders into a list of banned patrons we were never ever to issue new library cards to. Karl Fagin had been on that list. And, after a year or so under the new system, I rechecked every name on it and noticed young Mr. Fagin had been allowed a card in Town-D–a branch that has nearly as much reason to hate the Fagins as we do. At that time, I'd loaded his patron record up with notes and pop up warnings to the effect that no library in their right mind should ever check anything out to him, because he and his family owe pretty much every library in the area for "lost" books. Yet, here he was again. And not only did he still have a patron record with Town-D, but he'd managed to get one with the community college to boot. Not that this was surprising. Under the old computer system, the classic Fagin modus operandi was to go to one branch, aquire cards for every family member in their massive brood, check out their limit in books from that branch, then head off to another branch and do the exact same thing. Under the old computer system, this was possible because there were no security features to throw up red flags at repeated names. The security features of our newish circulation software, however, has put a serious crimp in their thievery over the past few years. Clearly there are still ways around our defenses.

All the Fagins really have to do to get back into the system is find a library with a new employee who is potentially unfamiliar with their familial empire of monograph mayhem, then send in a pre-driving age kid to fill out a library card application. Being a kid, they won't have to put down a driver's license number. They won't even be expected to have ID. Then, if the computer flags them by name, the kid will claim he or she is a different person with that same name. And because they've moved around a lot over the years, often their listed addresses don't match up to further send up warning signals.

Karl Fagin had apparently done this with the community college and was likely trying to do the same with us, except Mrs. A recognized his surname and double checked the computer in advance. She sent him off to find whatever book he was looking for to give us time to get our evidence in order, because she couldn't exactly ban him or keep him from buying a replacement card if we didn't have such evidence at hand.

And this was really the whole reason behind compiling a list of Deadbeat Patrons Never To Be Issued Cards Again, as I did two years back. Unfortunately, that original printed list, which used to live by the circulation computer, has gone missing. And because the computer I composed it on did not truly have all its files shifted over into the one that replaced it, as our tech guys told us they had, it no longer exists there either. I didn't learn this, though, until I'd joined the search for evidence. Meanwhile, Mrs. C was having to go through all the physical Seefile folders from 2002 back to confirm Karl Fagin's history of treachery. She was still looking when Karl and his girlfriend came back with his book.

Karl Fagin must have known the jig was up, because he didn't even try to press the issue on getting a new library card. He didn't bring up the subject at all. Instead, he passed his book into the hands of his girlfriend who produced her own library card and checked it out for him. There wasn't a thing we could do about it, either. Likely, we'll never see that book again and she'll soon join the ranks of patrons banned from checking out materials at our branch. They'll probably get married, spawn, and within a few years will be sending their brood in to visit us, too.

A minute after Karl and his girl had left the building, Mrs. C found one of his Seefiles from 1992.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dishin' It Up: A Cautionary Tale (OH, LORDY, ANOTHER EPILOGUE)

I received another piece of mail from the evil and ass-sucking DirecTV; this, after having been assured by a previous piece of mail that I was finally finished with them for good.

This new bit of mail contained a note that read:

Dear JUICE

We regret that you recently cancelled your DIRECTV service. We hope you enjoyed the diverse programming DIRECTV offers and that you consider DIRECTV in the future for your home entertaining needs.

Our records indicate that we have sent you a final bill for $258.68, but have not yet received payment. It is important that we receive payment in full in order to clear your account. Please be aware that you may be billed additional charges if the commitment term was not completed. If there is an unresolved issue you would like to discuss, or to make an immediate payment, please contact our customer service department and a customer service representative will be happy to help you.


The note went on to list the many convenient ways I could send money to them and ended with a sentence reading, "If you have already made the payment, please disregard this letter," and was signed by a manager in their collections department.

I immediately phoned DirecTV up and asked them what, if anything, their computers claimed I still owed them. The operator I spoke with (who did not sound as though she were located in Delhi, though she did sound very guarded, as if ready for a fight—indicating that my account has likely been flagged as "problem customer"), said that her computer showed that I owed them nothing and that I actually had $16.32 in credit.

Now, I hope that this note from the collections department was something automatically generated and sent out, perhaps around the same time that the previous note was sent. My suspicion, however, is that I'm looking at the opening volleys in a war between DirecTV's collections department and their credit claims department. If so, I'm the poor asshole caught in the crossfire.

While I had Miss Phone Rep on the line, I did inquire as to whether or not DirecTV would actually be paying me the $16.32 they say they owe me, or if I should just forget it? She said that as I am no longer technically a customer, and therefore cannot receive credit on my next bill, they would be issuing me a check within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

We'll see.

(TO BE EPILOGUED YET AGAIN...)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"...and I'll take a 1040 EZ, if you got it."

I rather expected today be a full on tax day nightmare, with patrons hounding me for obscure tax forms covering multiple states and even extradimensional realities the whole day long. Astoundingly it wasn't.

Oh, people came in for tax forms, all right, but I noticed that many of them did it almost as an afterthought. They'd browse the shelves, find a couple of books, pick a couple of nostrils, check out their selection, and then half-way out the door of the building, their foot hovering in mid-step, they'd pause, look thoughtful for a long moment, then turn around and pick up a tax form or two, as though they had weeks and weeks to get them filled out and mailed. This happened repeatedly.

No, the most trouble I've had out of the tax people recently was during the chaos of Friday the 13th, when a kid of barely employable age came in seeking a 1099. Now, I knew we didn't have any 1099s and that we couldn't print them from the IRS site due to the form being a carbon copy layered form, but I thought it would be both an object lesson and amusing to see how perpetual newbie greenhorn Ms. S handled the situation. We've given her instructions on all aspects of her job in the past, but she has yet to listen to any of us. Let her fire up the ol' innanet and see how far she gets, I thought.

"What sort of 1099 do you need?" she asked, after locating the IRS forms page in just under a minute.

"Um... a 1099," the kid repeated.

"They don't list a 1099. It has 1099-A, 1099-B, 1099-C and lots of others, but not a 1099. Which one do you need?"

"Uh... Um... I don't know."

There was a long silence. After it drew out into an uncomfortable one, I stepped in.

"Why don't you try loading one of them?"

"Huh?" Ms. S said.

"Load one of them."

"Which one?"

"It doesn't matter."

She looked at me blankly, so I stepped over to her terminal and pointed to the 1099-A.

"Load that one."

She loaded it and the little note explaining that the 1099 forms are not to be printed from the website and are shown only as an example of what such forms might look like if encountered in the real world, popped up on the first page. Ms. S still didn't seem to get it. So I explained to the kid the nature of the form and how we couldn't print one for him even if he knew which form it was he required.

"Well, how do I find out what form I need?"

"I don't know. You should probably ask your employer."

The kid didn't seem to like that option, but persevered with, "Well, where do I get the forms?"

"I don't know that either," I said. "LOCALLY OWNED OFFICE SUPPLY PLACE has carried them in the past, but they might make you buy a whole pack. You might also ask your employer."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Friday the 13th!

When I arrived for work on Friday I found Mrs. C riding the desk alone and looking very harried. There were two people waiting to check out and other very needy looking patrons circling the desk, wanting computers and the like. No other staff members were present.

One of the circling patrons—a woman who while not actually lurking still gave me the impression that she was anyway—eventually realized I was an employee and nonlurked over to ask me questions. She was looking for some specific books among our c0ntract0r's manuals and had evidently been talking to Mrs. C, earlier, for she already knew that one of the ones she wanted was already checked out. She asked me about two others she would need to take her license test. As Mrs. C was still very busy with the computer, I chose to show the woman where we kept the manuals so she could check for herself.

A few minutes passed and the other needy patrons cleared out and, emergency rush abated, Mrs. C left for lunch. Soon, though, Mrs. NonLurker came to the desk bearing our state's primary c0ntrac0r's reference manual, which she wanted to check out.

"I probably have fines on my card, though, so I'll need to take care of those," Mrs. NonLurker warned. Of course, she didn't have her card on her and claimed not to have seen it in many a moon. So I agreed to sell her a new card and asked for her license as proof of identity. I brought up her account and noted that while she did have fines, they were with Town-C's library for a book she'd had out since 2005. She claimed it had been her son's and she would have him find it and return it as soon as possible. I forged on, noting next that her patron record also had two different patron barcodes already. This is not allowed under our consortium's policy and either meant she'd tried to get a new card in the past and someone screwed up when replacing the original barcode, or she'd somehow sweet talked her way into getting a second card without replacing the first. (My reasoning for thinking this will soon be clear.)

Now, I should have told her right off that she couldn't check anything out from us until she took care of the lost book from Town-C, but it was a kid's book and it seemed likely that her son probably still had it. Her address on her license was different than the one on the patron record, (as was the state her license was issued from, as I would later notice), so it made sense that she might not have received an overdue notice. I deleted the other two barcodes and asked her if she wanted a wallet card or a key card.

"Both," she said.

"No. We can't do that," I said. "Has to be one or the other." She looked a bit put out about this, but didn't complain. Instead, she said she had to go to her car to get her check book in order to write us a deposit check for the manual. While she was gone, I noticed that while only one library had issued fines to her, she actually had two books checked out. The other book, checked out from Town-F in January of 2005, was a copy of the very same c0ntract0r's reference manual she was now trying to borrow from us. When she returned, I pointed this out.

"What? No, no. I returned that one. I had borrowed it for my husband to take his test, but I brought it back."

I found this to be very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Regardless, she was a bad credit risk for deposit books and so I told her we would not be able to check anything out to her until she'd cleared this matter up with Town-F.

She whipped out her cell phone and gave them a call. From her end of the conversation with the person who answered at Town-F, Mrs. NonLurker claimed that she had brought the manual back on time and even recalled picking up her deposit check in the process. She asked if there was any way for Town-F to confirm this. The person at Town-F was, evidently, the equivallent of a newbie greenhorn and could neither find the book on their shelves nor any evidence of a deposit check. Furthermore, none of their actual librarians was present, nor would they be until Tuesday. Mrs. NonLurker calmly explained that she was scheduled to take the test on Monday and really needed the book. She even offered to come and put down a new deposit on the book at Town-F—even though she had allegedly already returned their copy—and then offered to pay for it outright, in order to borrow ours. The newbie at Town-F could not authorize such a transaction nor had any idea what to do at all and told Mrs. NonLurker that she would have to wait until Tuesday.

I fully expected a patron meltdown at this, but Mrs. NonLurker hardly seemed to mind. Instead, she continued to calmly plead her case, pointing out that she was supposed to take her test on Monday and needed the book before then. Every time she made a new suggestion for how to proceed, she would look up at me with hopeful eyes, as though waiting for me to acquiesce when I heard one I liked. I shook my head with each new suggestion. Eventually, she told Town-F that she would need to call them back about it and hung up.

She gave it one last try with me to see if there was any way we could let her check out the book. She offered to put up the full dollar amount of the book up for deposit, but because that's actually standar policy with this particular c0ntract0r's book, this didn't help her cause. I told her in no uncertain terms she was not getting our book until her record was cleared with Town-F and Town-C. Again, I expected rage from her, but she just shrugged, collected her purse and phone, thanked me for my time and nonlurked on outside. The then spent the next half hour actually lurking around our picnic table, talking on her phone. I kept expecting her to return with new and more outlandish suggestions for ways around the rules, but other than a quick pop back to tell us she'd just take it up with Town-F next week, we saw no more of her.

When Mrs. C returned, I told her what had happened and she thanked me for refusing the checkout. She also phoned Town-F up to make sure our understanding of the situation was correct. Mrs. C told me to load up Mrs. NonLurker's patron record with manual blocks and notes to all other libraries (and to our newbie greenhorns, in case she came back over the weekend and tried the same trick again) not to circulate to her until the fines and overdues were cleared up. While I was doing this, I noticed her drivers license number on file was from another state entirely and not the state on the license she'd presented earlier. Unfortunately, I'd not updated those numbers, nor her contact information, so we're a bit out of luck on that front.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Founding Fathers Return to Plague Us Some More

Our “employee” Lennie has shifts on Monday and Thursday afternoons. I’m usually gone by the time he arrives on Thursdays, but toward the end of my shift he came in a bit early. After some small talk, Lennie held up a small pamphlet.

“Some guy gave me this,” he said. “He’s giving them to everyone.”

I took a look at it and saw that it was a gospel tract, the kind given out by door to door missionaries or left tacked to the bulletin board at Wal-Mart.

Within a few minutes, the front door opened and an older man entered carrying a thick manila folder. He wore the largest pair of wrap-around blue-blocker sunglasses I’ve ever seen. I didn’t recognize him, but he recognized me.

“Hi, there. Brian, isn’t it?”

“No.”

“You’re not Brian?”

“I’m not Brian.”

“Is there a Brian here?”

“There’s no Brian here.”

“Huh. But I’ve met you before,” he said. “At least, I recognize you from somewhere. What’s your name?”

I told him my name.

“I’m pretty sure I know you from here,” he said. “I think you helped me out by typing up some documents once.”

I have never in my life typed up documents for a patron, so I was pretty sure he didn’t know me at all.

“Yes!” he then exclaimed. “You typed up the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for me a while back.”

Recognition sucker-punched me and I realized the man’s identity: he was Grandpa Sam, the elderly gentleman who, back in the summer 2005, plagued not only my “liberry” but several libraries in two counties, by phoning them up and asking for copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. All of the libraries had the documents and offered to produce copies of them for him, but ours was the only one he actually showed up at to check in person. We’d provided him with copies of those documents and I had been the one to print them for him from the internet, taking time to adjust the text and repaginate them myself so that they would fit comfortably in around 25 pages so he wouldn’t have to pay a lot for them. And after walking from our building with those documents in his hand, he turned around and phoned up some senator in Arkansas and made the false claim that we’d refused to give them to him. Yes, this was the same Grandpa Sam who had showered us and all our patrons with gospel tracts back then, proclaiming himself an associate pastor at a local church—a church I phoned after we later learned of his deception to make sure their real minister knew the full story before Grandpa Sam had a chance to spread false rumors to their congregation. The pastor had then told me that Grandpa Sam was sadly suffering from Alzheimer’s and had likely done what he had in some sort of delusional state.

For an Alzheimer’s sufferer, he certainly was doing better job in the memory department than I was. I would never have recognized him, for Grandpa Sam looked quite a bit thinner than during his previous visit.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Now I remember.”

Grandpa Sam then brandished his manila envelope at me. He explained that since we’d been so kind as to type of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for him, two years back, he had another typing job he wanted us to do for him. He then told me that he’d been doing a lot of writing recently and had composed something of a memoir of inspirational stories from his life, in long hand, and was hoping to have the whole thing typed up.

“I’d pay for it, of course,” Grandpa Sam said.

Sensing the danger of the situation, I quickly explained that we hadn’t actually typed anything for him when he last visited. We’d only printed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the internet. We didn’t type them up ourselves. Furthermore, typing documents for patrons was not a service that we offered at the library. We offered computers on which people were welcome to type documents, but we ourselves did not type them for patrons.

"But, I’d pay you for it,” Grandpa Sam reiterated.

“I understand, but this is simply not a service we offer.”

Grandpa Sam didn’t seem very happy about this. It seemed to him that if he brought something to us to be typed and offered to pay, we should type it. I told him he was welcome to speak with our library director, but she was out at lunch that moment. He didn’t press the issue further. Instead, he asked where we kept our exercise books. He said he’d been sick for the past few months and had lost a lot of muscle mass that he was looking to get back. I wrote down the call number for him and directed him toward nonfiction. He passed out a gospel tract to a nearby patron, gave one to me, and off he went.

Normally, I might consider doing a bit of typing for cash, particularly for an elderly patron who clearly didn’t have the skills to do it himself. However, for this particular elderly patron, I was not having any of it. Anyone who phones around to all the area libraries, demands copies of historical documents, is given them and then phones up some senator’s office, in a seemingly random state, and then lies and says we refused to give him the documents, even if only doing so under a delusion, is not someone I’m interested in doing business with.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dishin' It Up: A Cautionary Tale (THE EPILOGUE)

If you recall from the DirecTV saga in February, we told DirecTV off, assuring them that we had no intentions of remaining with their service, nor of paying their $258 cancellation fee, due to the fact that they mislead us on numerous occasions by, essentially, promising us that we could have distant networks when it turned out we couldn't. At that point, after nearly 40 minutes of holding and waiting and speaking to managers and then the manager of the managers and then requesting to speak to the manager of the manager of the managers, the 2nd manager of managers we were talking to finally relented and said he'd been authorized to give us a confirmation number that would allow us to get out of paying the cancellation fee. The trick, he explained, was that we had to wait for our final bill to arrive with the $258 fee on it, then phone them up with the number and they would credit us the $258.

Three weeks back, we received said bill, phoned DirecTV up and completely expected them to tell us the guy we'd spoken with before had been talking out of his ass. (There are lots of examples of this very sort of thing floating about the net.) They did not, however. Instead, after nearly 20 minutes of waiting on hold between their phone rep in India and the Crisis Customer Counselor he'd rolled our particular ball of dung to, the CCCounselor came on the line and told us our account had been sent to their credit-claims department and it should no longer be a problem for us. We'd heard that before too, so our skepticism remained strong.

We've now received a notice from DirecTV saying that they had credited our account $275 and we owed them nothing. In fact, because they'd only billed us $258.68 for the cancellation fee in the first place, we have a $16.32 credit with them, which means they now owe us money. They owe us an apology too, but I think we'll get the $16.32 sooner.

(TO BE EPILOGUED AGAIN...)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Bad Friday

There’s been a nettin’ war brewing between Gene Gene the Geneal0gy Machine and two members of the New Devil Twins Auxiliary League of Neighborhood Kids. Actually, it’s really between Gene and anyone who gets in the way of his geneal0gy research. On Friday things began heating up.

Gene must have had the day off for Good Friday, because he settled in fairly early in the morning hoping for a full day of computer time. See, Gene’s learned that despite its DSL speed, our innanet connection slows way down in the afternoon about the time the West Coast crowd kicks into gear. So instead of haunting our computer hall in the afternoon, he’s been trying to come in earlier in the day. Unfortunately, Tony and Delbert, the aforementioned NDTALONK members, also had the day off and nothing better to do than surf the net, so in they came too.

After all three had been on for over half an hour, another patron happened in wanting a computer and Gene had to be busted off since he’d been on the longest. He immediately signed up for another session, causing Tony to be busted for Gene. Tony then signed up for another session, causing Delbert to be busted for Tony. Then Delbert signed up for another session and the cycle began anew. My coworker, Mrs. C, was running the circ desk solo, at that point, for Mrs. B was out for the day, and she rapidly grew tired of having to run back to the computer hall every ten minutes or so to bust someone off in favor of someone who’d already been busted off several times already. She decided she’d had enough and resolved to reinact an obscure bit of library computer policy that hasn’t been enforced in years. Our policy has already been that patrons who sign up for computers are given one half hour’s worth of time, on a first come first served basis, and are not asked to get off unless we have someone else waiting to use the next available computer. The reactivated bit of policy would add that patrons who have already been given a full half hour’s worth of time may sign up for another session, but will only be granted a computer when one becomes available, rather than us busting anyone else off to give them one.

Mrs. C thought this would not only cut down on the number of trips amount we’d be making to the computer hall but it would deter abusers from abusing the system in the first place. I knew this was very very wrong. What it would do is give Gene more than enough excuse to sit around the circ desk, yammering on about his damned relatives to anyone who would stand still long enough while he waited for the next computer to open up. This is far more torturous than having to run back and bust people off every few minutes, but with the new policy addition effectively ties the staff’s hands in getting rid of him. (And on that note, I’ve been lobbying for the purchase of a Geneal0gy Taser, to be used on any geneal0gy researchers who attempt to tell us about their research--which would be all of them.)

By the time I arrived at work, Gene and the boys had been told of our revised policy. Mrs. C and Mrs. A then told me about the policy and about how Gene and the boys had been told as well. Then they make a fast break for lunch, leaving me solo. Sure enough, within minutes someone else came in for a computer and I had to go bust Gene off for them. Gene knew that the boys were both past their half hour limit too, so he ran to sign up for another session, no doubt in the hopes I hadn’t been told about the policy.

“That boy on the first computer is out of time,” Gene said, helpfully as he signed up anew.

I ignored him and went back to typing spine labels. I kept my back to Gene and made no eye contact, lest it give him an opening to talk about his relatives. The more I typed, though, the more something about the policy bugged me. I can understand not busting new computer patrons (Tier 1) off in favor of ones who’ve already had their half hour (Tier 2), but what about patrons who’ve already had more than their share of time, such as Delbert and Tony? My brain rationalized that it seemed unfair to allow them to remain on the computers while other Tier 2 patrons such as Gene had to wait. To me, it seemed fair that once a patron became a Tier 2, they could effectively compete with other Tier 2 patrons for computer time, but not with Tier 1s. I didn’t much want any of them in the building, but it seemed far less dangerous to have Tony & Delbert busted off than to have a bored and conversation-starved Gene lurking around the desk.

After a few more minutes, I went back and told Tony someone was waiting for a computer. Tony logged off, then came to the desk and complained that Delbert was actually next in line to be busted off.

“Fine,” I said, and went back and told Delbert he had to get off too. Tony & Delbert were confused as to what this meant and what they were to do next, so they both wound up leaving instead of Tony taking one of the two free computers. I gave one of them to Gene, who then managed to stay on it for at least the next four hours.

I still don't think this policy adjustment is going to work. Meanwhile, I'm comparison pricing tasers.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cap'n Cold

Turned a bit nippy on us yesterday. Temperatures dropped, snow was spat, wind was howled and Cap'n Crossdresser was appropriately attired in a ladies' gray sweater with fleece pullover, mauve-colored slacks, a brown woolen wrap and big, black, clunky, snow boots.

That is all.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #77

SETTING— My "liberry." Two ladies are searching through our collection of tax forms, trying to figure out which forms they will need for their respective tax preparations. At this point, one of them had already approached me for tax form advice, which I refused to give on the grounds that I have no business giving anyone advice on taxes even if library policy allowed me to, which it most certainly does not. We provide forms, we do not provide advice on what to do with those forms. So she returned to our tax form display and continued her search.

LADY 1— They say you can go on the computer and it will tell you everything you need to know. (NOTE: By "they" she was referring to THEY, not us.)

LADY 2— Hm. You should go to the library and do that.

(Pause)

LADY 1— Go to the library?

LADY 2— Yeah. You should go to the library and check on that.

(Pause)

LADY 1— This IS the library.

(Pause)

LADY 2— Oh, yeah. (Pause) I meant the library in TOWN-M.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

You open a mere hour and a half late and they never let you hear the end of it! Shiiiii

None of the staff was upset that I neglected to open the library on time, Monday. The patrons, however, haven't stopped talking about it.

When I arrived, yesterday, Mrs. C said that people had been coming in all morning long and mentioning how we were not open immediately at 1 on Monday. Mr. B-Natural came in a couple of times to bring it up again. And people who hadn't even attempted to come to the library during its unfortunate extended closed hours dropped by to mention it, having heard about it from the mouth of Lennie, who has apparently told every single person he's encountered since that we didn't open on time and that he "did good" in tracking down Mr. A to let him know. (No one has yet been able to figure out how Lennie knew where Mr. A works, nor where exactly in the building his office is located, but find it he did.)

With my luck, Mr. Crab was probably one of the folks who turned up at 1 and this little hour and a half incident will become transformed by Mr. Crab's legend-spinning abilities into The Week and a Half the library failed to open.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Monday Attack!

So there I was, enjoying my Monday off, when round about 2:20 my phone rang. It was Mr. Piano, a recently added member of our "liberry" board of directors.

"Hey, JUICE, is the library open today?"

"Yeah, it should be--" I began. Then a horrible thought passed through my skull. I dashed to my fridge, where my brand new April work schedule was attached with a magnet. Sure enough, my horrible thought was made real. "Aw crap," I said. "I'm supposed to be there."

Mr. Piano wasn't calling to bless me out, or anything. He'd simply dropped by to pick up something board-related and found the place locked up. I told him I'd be there in 20 minutes and made a break for the car.

As I've detailed here many times, Mondays are evil evil things at the "liberry." We're only open from 1 to 5, but this time limitation does not limit the amount of chaos we experience. Instead, it compresses the amount of chaos we experience on a normal 10 hour day into a four hour block. And while we went through a rather enjoyable year or two of having two employees scheduled to work on Mondays, thus having enough staff on hand to help stave off the Monday Madness, traditionally and currently it's been a solo effort.

For years, Mrs. C used to do them by herself. Then, after I had to fill in for her one too many times nearly being driven insane by the process, I successfully lobbied for double employees and was given the job of being Mrs. C's Monday wingman. After Mrs. C took maternity leave the day fell to me and a revolving cast of corhorts and greenhorns. Upon her return, Mrs. C realized how much more enjoyable life is without Monday shifts in her life, and stopped doing them altogether. Then Mrs. A decided she couldn't justify having two employees on a day with such low circulation numbers and for the past several months it's been a revolving solo shift, with each "liberry" ass. taking one Monday per month. Well, I say "solo shift," but Lennie, our mentally slow volunteer "employee," works them too.

As I was nearing the library, fully expecting to find 20 innanet crowders lined up at the door, feet a-tappin', I spotted Lennie standing on the corner and looking very concerned. I imagined that he had probably been confused to show up for his Monday shift only to find the place locked up. There were no patrons banging on the door to get in, but there were quite a number of boxes of book donations. (We always tell people not to bring book donations on Mondays because we don't have the staff on hand to deal with them. What day of the week do you think we get the most? You guessed it!)

At 2:34, I unlocked the back door and then broke a speed record for opening duties, before actually unlocking the front door. Lennie was the first in. He didn't mention anything about the "liberry" being closed earlier, preferring to default to his usual conversational topic of the latest basketball scores for WVU. He helped me carry in all the dontations.

I tried to phone Mrs A at home, to let her know what had happened, but got no answer. After a few minutes, though, Mr. A phoned and he seemed relieved to hear someone answer. He said Lennie had walked down to his office to let him know that the library wasn't open, but he figured he'd call first before phoning Mrs. A at home.

"Well, we weren't open on time," I admitted. "In fact, I was trying to phone MRS. A to let her know, but didn't get an answer."

I thought telling Mr. A about the situation was remarkably good thinking on Lennie's part. I told him so, giving him a new conversational topic of the day: "I did good, didn't I, JUICE?"

The only patron who said anything about our odd hours was Mr. B-Natural, who'd probably been lined up at the door at 12:45, hoping to get the first computer of the day.

"Somebody sleep late today?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Somebody forgot to look at his schedule."

Around 3:30, Mrs. A finally phoned. She too seemed thankful to hear my voice and wondered how I found out the library was closed. I told her the story of Mr. Piano's call and of Lennie's attempt to save the day.

"It was MS. S's day, right?" she said.

"No, it was my day."

"No, it's MS. S's day," Mrs. A said.

"No, it's mine. I'm looking at the schedule right now and it says me, 1-5." I then paused as a warm thought passed through my skull. "You know, I should have just kept quiet about that and we could finally have been rid of her."

"Dammit, JUICE, why'd you have to say anything?!" Mrs. A said.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Been Locked Out

Having now owned it for 12 weeks or so, I find I still really love my Mp3 player, the Creative Zen Vision-M which I have dubbed Juice's Vision. It has, however, required something of an adjustment to my life that has not been without problems.

I take my Vision practically everywhere I go—cause you never know when you're really going to need to listen to an episode of This American Life—so I almost always listen to it during my 15 minute comute. Remembering to take it in the house with me when I return home, though, is a newly added step to the usual steps I have to take in parking my car. It's actually even more complicated than that.

By now in my driving career, the steps of parking my car—putting it in park, turning it off, taking the keys out of the ignition, remembering to lock the doors, etc.—are so ingrained that I don't have to think about them to perform them. Adding the Vision into the mix, though, adds quite a few more steps than simply remembering to take it into the house. I have to first bookmark the Podcast I was listening to (making sure to bookmark it over it's previous bookmarked position and not start a new position to clog up my list of other bookmarks), then turn the player off, disconnect it from its audio cable and cram it in a pocket, then make sure I've done all the other steps for parking before heading into the house. These additional steps sometimes prove too much for my feeble brain, which only seems interested in counting how many steps I've done, not whether or not they were the correct steps. As a result, I've occasionally found myself forgetting to put my car in park first before attempting to turn it off, or forgetting my keys in the ignition, or forgetting to turn the car off at all. Granted, I've gotten better about that over the weeks of Vision ownership, but it still plays havoc once in a while, particularly if I add even more steps to the process.

Take Friday.

Before work I popped down to the courthouse to renew my license plate. No problem there. On the way home, after work, I talked to my wife via cell phone. She said she had about an hour's more work. I figured I'd go home, start dinner and have it ready by the time she got there. I pulled into my driveway, put the car in park, took my keys out of the ignition, bookmarked my podcast, disconnected the player from its audio cable, made sure to put both the player and headphones into my shirt pockets, put my cell phone into its pocket, put away my new registration and proof of insurance, gathered up my new license plate sticker, fished out my container of Wet Ones with which to wipe the old sticker before applying the new one, opened the driver's side door being sure to lock it with the Lock-All-Doors thingy, climbed out, closed the door, headed back to the license plate and I was just pulling a Wet One from its container when I realized I'd left my keys in the car. Oh, sure, I'd remembered to take them out of the ignition, but I'd not kept them in my hand because of all the other steps I needed my hands for. They were left lying on the passenger seat.

Because we've not gotten around to hiding a spare key outside again and because we've long since fixed our security oversight that allowed us to break into our own house nearly 2 years back, I was well and truly screwed.

"I locked my damn self out of the car and the house," I said after phoning my wife back. I figured I might as well fess up, as she would find out sooner or later. She laughed at my dumbassity and offered to drop her work and come home early, but I declined. After all, it was a very nice day, the sun was shining, the air was warm, we had only just reinstalled the cushions into the patio furniture, and I had my Vision and headphones at hand. What more could I need to while away an hour than the crisp nasal voice of Ira Glass?

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.