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, February 18, 2008

Monday comes to Friday

We're closed for President's Day, today. It's just as well, because I really need a break after the madness of Friday.

I don't know if it was because the patrons knew we'd not be open today or just that we were woefully understaffed, but the usual Monday Madness descended on our heads on Friday. Worse yet, it descended on MY head, as I was basically the only guy working for most of the afternoon.

My boss, Mrs. A, was out of town. Mrs. B, Ms. D and Ms. M were all out with other obligations or days off, Mrs. J left after 2 and that put me and Mrs. C as the only staff members in house. Everything seemed okay, at first. Traffic was very slow, the computers weren't busy and I even had time to shelve most of the book cart while being the only guy running the desk. Then Mrs. C announced she had to leave for some "liberry" errands. No sooner was she out the door than someone blew the crazy whistle and the needy patrons poured in.

Suddenly, it seemed that all returning books came in quantities of ten, with multiple family members bringing back their limit all at once. These quickly piled up beyond my capacity to check them in at point of return, mostly due to my having to help all the other needy patrons circling the area. In the space of fifteen minutes, I had one guy who wanted 21 photocopies made from a text book. Another usually needed to print two five page documents on legal paper, requring me to feed each sheet into the printer by hand. While I was doing that, a lady signed up for a computer. I explained I'd be with her in just a moment. She waited 20 seconds and then announced she would have to come back later because all she wanted was to use a computer very quickly RIGHT THEN.

"Ma'am, I can get a computer for you, but it's going to be a moment," I said, gesturing to the printer and pages directly in front of me to indicate that I was in the middle of something that was difficult to break away from to fetch her a computer RIGHT THEN. She began to protest that she simply didn't have the time, but as I was nearly the final page of that particular document, I cut her off saying, "I'll be finished with this in ten seconds and then I can get a computer for you." It was difficult for her to argue with that. Ten seconds later, I finished up and fetched her a computer. True to her word, she was on it for less than two minutes before leaving for good.

She wasn't the only computer person. What started out as an innanet crowd lull soon took on storm-like proportions and most of our computer patrons arrived spaced at intervals coinciding with my busiest moments at the desk. The upside of this was that I was able to boot Gene Gene the Geneal0gy Machine, who'd been on for five hours already, and he actually left the building rather than signing back up.

And then there was the phone—OH THE %#&!ing PHONE! It's long been a cardinal rule at the "libery" that the phone takes precedent over nearly everything else. Normally we have enough employees around that if the phone rings there’s someone else to answer it while you deal with your patron, but that was not the case Friday. It rang throughout the desk rushes, forcing me to break away from helping needy patrons to help other needy patrons on the phone. Or to continuously explain to the callers that the employee they wished to talk to was not in today and would not be in today and, no, I did not know where they were so that the callers could call them at that other location. The most infuriating, however, was a woman who explained, very slowly, that she had not been to the library in several weeks because she had been very sick and had even had to go to the hospital at one point, but was feeling a little better now and it was a good thing too because her daughter was coming into town over the weekend and her daughter thought that it might be nice for them all to come down to the library and have a look around and maybe check out some books and maybe pay a fine or two and could I tell her what our hours would be over the weekend? This I told her as swiftly as I could, but she had to take her time to write the hours down first, confirming each one with me after writing it. And, naturally, her followup question was to ask our hours on every other day of the week as well. It took her so long to write each of these down, despite my condensing it into a "Tuesday through Thursday, we're open..." style, that I’m pretty sure she was embroidering each set of hours on a pillow as I spoke. Whatever the case, it took an unnecessary amount of time for her to write it all down and confirm it. Then she wanted to tell me more about her daughter at the end, but I was at last able to excuse myself. (Now that I think about it, I don’t believe I told her we’d be closed today, which probably means today's when she'll hobble on up.)

By 3:45, I was driven nigh on to madness. Then, the moment Mrs. C returned, the patron storm-clouds vanished, the seas of crazy calmed and other than the brimming shelving-cart, the place looked for all the world like a non-busy library. Mrs. C believed me when I assured her that I had been ready to set people on fire just ten minutes before. She'd gone through a couple of waves of it herself during the morning.

9 comments:

libwitch said...

This makes me very happy for having 1. a written service policy that list the order of service (with in house patrons taking precedence over phone calls)

2. a voice mail system

3. a system that tells users to press 1 for hours

4. a mute button to turn off the ringer on the phone

Juice S. Aaron said...

That sounds simply blissful.

In my ideal world, we would have such a voicemail system.

And software to ride herd over the innanet crowd so that we didn't have to constantly keep track of who got on first and who's time is up next.

And a cappucino machine would be nice, too.

Maughta said...

Ah, yes, you really need innanet software. Ours allows patrons to sign themselves up and kicks them off after 55 minutes. It's glorious!

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the callers who believe a little ol' library must never, ever be busy, and that all staff members are simply thrilled to spend twenty minutes discussing a patron's life story.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I work 4 evenings a week at our liberry alone. Some nights it's crazy, and the next day, the day staff just looks at me as if I'm making this stuff up. But boy oh boy, let one of them cover a two hour shift during the day alone. The tales. The wringing of hands. My response? Welcome to my world. We have a crazy system for computers. They sign in, pick an open computer, and stay as long as they like. We have two patrons who will actually sit at a computer for 13 hours. I have to practically turn it off while they are clicking away at closing time. And they think that closing at 9 means they can click click away until the clock strikes 9. ugh!

Juice S. Aaron said...

Officially, we're supposed to shut the computers down at 15 til close, which is supposed to make people finish up their crap, stop printing, pay for their prints and get out so I can count the cashbox and won't have to keep recounting and doing math because some kid forgot to print one last page of video game cheat codes. I tend, however, to give people until 10 to close.

At 20 til close, I announce that we're closing in 20 minutes so I'm shutting computers down in 10. Then, at 10 til, I start shutting off machines and cleaning the greasy leavings off the computers. Rather than be sprayed by cleaning fluid, most patrons then leave.

Anonymous said...

Is it really library policy that you help phone users rather than ones who are there in person ? That's the complete opposite of every library I've ever worked in. Don't your 'physical' users get annoyed if you go off to answer the phone when there's a queue of borrowers waiting ?

Juice S. Aaron said...

This is indeed our policy.

I think it has something to do with our former president of our Board of Directors, Mr. Kreskin, getting royally torqued if he phoned the library and no one answered right away. And because we only had one phone line for years, we also had a related policy that if call-waiting kicked in while you were helping a patron on the phone, we were to excuse ourselves and click over to the other line to make sure it wasn't Mr. Kreskin.

Mr. Kreskin's not been on the board in years and we now have three lines for our phone, so the mechanics of it have changed somewhat.

And, like I said, on most days this is a non-issue as we usually have someone there who can answer the phone if we're busy at the desk. Ditching in person patrons for the phone happens far less often. But if you're the only one there, it is still a factor. I'd much rather excuse myself and answer the phone than let it ring forever.

crsunlimited said...

We gave the same policy on phone use. It's in effect for several reasons:

1. People on the phone can't see the line of 1,000 patrons waiting and will think we are closed.

2. After thinking we are closed they will call City Hall and indeed ask weather we are closed or not.

3. City Hall gets irritated about having tell them that we are indeed open, and then having to call down here to make sure.

4. Ringing phones are considered disruptive in the library.