Johnny Mercer wrote a song called “Fools Rush in” and if he was writing this song pertaining to the habits of library patrons, it would go something like “fools rush in… and forget their library card, money for print jobs, and a crying baby in their car.”

What’s the deal? I know we all rush sometimes, but when rushing ends up taking more time than your regular pace, it’s time to take a step back. Before yelling questions to library staff from the entrance on your way in, before running to a computer you think is available only to find out it’s in use by someone, think to yourself “Am I actually saving time?” No, you are not.

Here are my tips for having your library business taken care of expeditiously:

Pay attention and we’ll get you out as soon as we are able.

Think about what you’ll need from your car or home before you leave that place. If I can’t check a book out to you because of your outstanding overdue items, bring those items to me.

And most importantly, never forget to be nice no matter how fast you think you need to go. Niceness is like library Ex-Lax- it’ll make you just slide right through. Conversely, being mean will make your transaction last all day. Library staff doesn’t have a whole lot of power, but if you’re mean to them, they’ll take every chance to make sure they have every detail, every due diligence, everything in its right place. If you’re extra, they might even have to ask someone else about something that looks a little off.

All in all, the S.O.S. Band had it right when they said “Baby we can do it, take your time, do it right.”

The Mysterious Box of Keys

If Nancy Drew were investigating a strange occurrence at her local public library (likely vandalism or an abandoned child), her sleuthing would almost certainly include the uncovering of the library’s Mysterious Box of Keys, which she would find inexplicably tucked away in a deep dark recess of the manager’s office.  As none of the keys would have labels, Nancy would need to use her powers of deduction to find the key that unlocks the secret door on the east side of the library, where she’d find the graffiti artist/deadbeat parent living in the library’s electrical room.   The vagrant would then threaten her life, and she would be forced to call the police and have them issue a trespass warrant.  This is probably why Nancy Drew stuck to investigating cheerier things like old clocks and cults.

A week into my first library job, my manager dropped a large metal box full of unlabeled keys on my desk and similarly tasked me with finding their corresponding doors, cabinets and safes.  This was a terrifying exercise.  The library had a “good key box” affixed to the wall of the staff room, and all of these keys were labeled and ordered.  The box on my desk was where misfit keys had gone to die.  Every library I’ve worked at since has had its own mysterious box of keys.  One library, a new construction, had carried its misfit key box from the old location over to the new, “just in case.”

I’m sure that libraries aren’t unique in this; every company and office building must have a similar box of random, unlabeled keys lying around.  Still… shouldn’t librarians hold themselves to higher standards?  How is it that we can correctly input MARC records, but we can’t grab a friggin Sharpie label a key?  Does this seem supremely f’ed up to anyone else?

Labeling keys: librarian kryptonite.


Homebrew Formatting in Microsoft Word

These days most of our time at the Reference Desk is helping people with their job search, research papers, or some other kind of document. Evidently, most of the people I help are more comfortable with a typewriter than a word processor. I’ll tell you how I can tell:

  • Formatting happens as they type
  • They use manual double spacing
  • They might even press the return key when they run out of space on the line

These are deeply troubling to me and I always get the same response when things go (even more) awry. “This computer is always getting in my way!” Here’s what’s really happening: you’re getting in your own way. You have your job, which is to put the words on that screen, and the computer’s job is to help you move them around after that so they will look right on the page.

My most common analogy is about arranging your furniture at home in your living room before said furniture has arrived. You can’t really tell how your room is going to look until you can actually see the couch in the spot you think you want it. Yeah- it never works on patrons, either, but at least I try. How do you let someone know that adding in a line of spaces won’t be a good idea when trying to tweak the margins later? It’s all Greek to them, but it’s very important to know, right? What could one say to make sure people just relax enough to format the thing after the words are down?

Hey, Quick Question…

No, it’s not.  We all know this.  Because you know what you do when you have a quick question?  You ask it.   No one feels compelled to introduce a short question with a statement describing its length.  Yeah.  It’s a quick question.  You can tell by how quick it is.

When someone states that they have a “quick question” it usually means one of two things:

1) The question is complicated, but the asker feels guilty about asking

2) The question is complicated, but the asker needs an answer quickly

But here’s the thing about the library.  We’re paid to answer questions!   And it doesn’t matter if the question is quick or astonishingly complicated.  There’s no need to develop any sort of preface to the question explaining how simple the question will be for us to answer.  We’re going to answer it anyway.  It’s what we’re here for.

In other words, your complex, difficult question is your librarian’s job security, so make it as convoluted as you like.  Just don’t call it quick when it’s not.  We prefer to deal in facts at the library.