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, January 21, 2008

Pulling Teeth

We've had a string of royally bad Mondays over the past couple of months—Mondays in which a world's population of needy and innanet-seeking patrons have descended upon our heads, all signing up for computers at once and then demanding to know things such as "What do you mean they're all full and you don't know when I can have a computer?" and "No, really, when can I have a computer?" They've been the sort of Mondays that cause your teeth to grind and your match-striking fingers to itch.

Not so today. Sure, we've been open every single MLK day probably since the holiday began, but most of our patrons are blissfully unaware of this. In fact, in the past, I've had patrons who've walked into the building on MLK day, through a clearly unlocked and open door, approach the circ desk and ask me to my face if we're open. So our Monday was largely hassle free. Oh, we did plenty of computer and circulation business, but it felt more like an average afternoon, rather than the usual Monday Madness.

The only real annoyance during the day came from Ms. Green, who had some kind of brain fart that impaired her communication skills and caused her to make a run back toward her former status as a very annoying patron.

Ms. Green has been in a lot recently helping her son with his homework. And by "helping" I mean she's basically writing his book reports for him, taking dictation from her kid as to the actual events of the book. So, he's allegedly done the reading part, but is getting no chance to develop his writing skills to convey this. At one point in the afternoon, Ms. Green approached the circ desk and asked me if it would be okay for her to come behind the desk. Now, she'd just been behind the desk to venture into the staff workroom to talk to Mrs. B, so I wasn't sure why she was bothering to ask permission now. In fact, I'd barely heard her request at all because she was mousewhispering it to me, as though what she was conveying was the greatest secret in the world.

"Are those... those..." she whispered. Then she whispered several other things I genuinely couldn't understand at less than two feet from her face. Her gaze seemed to be staring back over my shoulder at something on the far end of the counter behind me.

"I'm sorry, what?" I asked.

She then whispered something to me EVEN MORE quietly.

"You're going to have to speak up. I cannot understand you," I whispered back.

"Letterhead," she whispered.

"I'm sorry?"

"Letterhead. Is that what it's...? Letterhead," she said, finally at full voice. Again, she was staring over my shoulder where I had by then guessed she'd spied some of our thank you letters to fund drive donating patrons, which were indeed printed on "liberry" letterhead and were stacked on the counter, waiting to be signed by a board member. I didn't know what she wanted with our letterhead but I wasn't going to give her any. In my experience, patrons wanting library letterhead are up to no good; and yes, we've had examples.

"Are those bills?" she then asked. Then several different thoughts seemed to come to her at once and she stuttered several unintelligible things at the same time followed by the phrase, "A letter."

"A letter?"

"A letter," she repeated, in a tone that suggested what she was saying somehow made perfect sense.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"A letter."

"A letter? I'm not sure I follow you."

"A LETTER," she said, emphasizing each word.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're asking me. What about a letter?"

"A letter," she said, not frustrated, just seemingly without a clue as to how to put her request into an actual interrogative phrase.

I looked at Ms. Green's daughter, who was standing there looking at me as if she somehow understood what was going on. "A letter?" I asked her. She offered no explanation. I returned my gaze to Ms. Green. "You're going to have to help me, here," I said. "I don't understand what you are asking me."

She paused here, her brain clearly firing behind her eyes, but nothing seemed to be connecting anywhere.

"Nevermind," she said.

"What?"

"Never mind." And, again, she wasn't angry, offended or frustrated. She'd just given up. Either I was too dim to figure out the very obvious thing she was implying or she had realized she was not capable of communicating on a higher level at that moment in time.

"No, really," I said. "I'm perfectly willing to help you out with whatever it is you need. I just do not understand what it is that you are asking me."

"Never mind," she said with a smile.

"Never mind?"

"Never mind."

Ms. Green walked away, leaving her daughter standing at the counter. The girl looked as though she were somehow waiting for me to say something to her.

"Can I help you, then?" I asked.

"Nope. I'm just standing here," she said. I imagine she sees a lot of this sort of thing and it probably amuses her. The daughter broke off from the desk and returned to the computer where her brother was busy not writing anything on his own.

I helped a couple of other patrons, but still felt a little odd about the exchange. I was no longer sure if it was my failure to be intuitive or her failure to #$&*ing spell out what she wanted, but I was beginning to suspect a bit of both. Not wishing to further damage our recently established truce of conflicting personality types, I went over to pretend to reboot a computer near Ms. Green's, hoping a thought might have by then congealed in her brain. And, glory be, it had!

Upon seeing me, Ms. Green explained in actual sentences that her son was in need of an example of what a letter looked like because he'd been assigned to write a letter to his favorite author. Instantly I became all service-oriented, and stuff, and fired up the letter wizard template in W0rd, which spat out an example of the format. This seemed to do the trick and Ms. Green thanked me for my help.

I walked away very quickly, lest my urge to pat her on her head like she was a four-year-old and say, "There, there, was that so hard?" assert itself further.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really think that psychic communication was missed when I went to library school.

Anonymous said...

Don't fuss at Mom too much! She may have been told to do this by the teacher...

Having two sons (a 14 year old and a 4 year old), and having worked at their Montessori school in both a volunteer capacity and as a teacher, I have observed that many boys have a great deal of trouble getting their words on paper. They often can talk up a storm, telling wonderful stories, but can't put those same words down on paper.

One technique to help them develop is dictation; have them dictate and transcribe exactly what they say. That helps them see the verbal words in printed form and begin to create their own connections so they will be able to write their own.

Another technique is to require journal writing, every day, working up to writing at least a page a day. Prompts - open ended questions - can help get the journaling process started.

There are more, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with.

My older son is, now, a pretty good writer on his own - pages and pages and pages. However, for about 4 or 5 of his elementary school years I would have sworn that he would never be able to write more than a sentence or two.

My personal opinion is that many boys aren't ready to write as early as we would prefer them to demonstrate that talent, and so help to get them over the hump is often necessary.

Jean Marie
just up the road in Virginia