Sunday, January 11, 2015

Attack of the Library Vigilante, or How Not to be a Good Library Patron

Sunday library shifts are entirely different animals from weekday shifts, or even Saturdays. We're only open for three hours on Sundays, but with fewer staff members on duty than weekdays, so we're usually pretty busy. Today started off busier than usual -- the phone was ringing off the hook, and the local schools clearly have a project due soon, because the Helicopter Parents were out in force looking for books for their kids' projects. (Seriously, parents: make your kids do their own homework.) And, as usual, the Internet Folks flooded in to use the computers as soon as we opened the doors. I spend a lot of time on Sundays telling people how to make a reservation for a computer, since they fill up so fast. And there are always, always glitches with the reservation system, or someone will reserve the "next available" computer, and then see someone else leave a computer and another person sit down and start using it, and then they'll be all upset because that isn't fair, and... there's nothing I can do about that, really. Computer use on Sundays is crazy.

Aside from being busy today, though, everything was pretty much fine... until the Library Vigilante came along. She was well-dressed and coiffed, seemed pretty comfortable in the library even though she wasn't a familiar face to anyone, and appeared perfectly pleasant... until about 15 minutes before closing, when she approached the Reference desk to complain that a teenage boy on one of the computers was being rowdy. She said he was playing a video game, and kept cracking up laughing and shaking the table, and it was disruptive. So I told her I'd check it out, and talk to the kid if necessary, and thanked her for letting me know... and then she said "Oh, I already told him to knock it off, and he didn't listen, so before I left I tapped him on the shoulder, told him to take the goddamned earbuds out of his ears and told him 'you know, you're a real son-of-a-bitch!'" Then she smiled, looking very pleased with herself. I was aghast, but tried not to look shocked, and explained to her that, if there is an issue with another patron being disruptive, she should let a staff person know instead of trying to handle it herself, and that it was very inappropriate for her to call another patron names or to use profanity toward them.

Well. She was displeased! She insisted that "EVERYONE over there was yelling at that kid and it didn't do any good!" Which... yeah, I don't care. It's not appropriate to scold another patron, and it's especially not appropriate to swear at them. She argued that the kid would just ignore me, too -- I explained that we have procedures and policies in place for such occasions, and that it's our responsibility to enforce the library's standards of conduct. That's what we get paid for! She was having none of it, and threw up her hands and announced "Well, YOU just lost a customer!" before storming off. (Which was surprising, because again, up until that point the conversation had been fairly calm and pleasant. I mean, I was telling her that she'd done something inappropriate, but I don't think I was remotely argumentative or strident about it. If fact, I was pretty proud of how calm I was, since one of the things I've been trying to work on is keeping my cool during less-than-pleasant interactions at work.)

I noticed that she was headed toward the Circulation desk, so I followed her over to make sure her story didn't change on the walk over -- it's amazing how often that happens! So, the two staffers at Circulation (one of whom is actually my higher-up at Reference! She just fills in at Circulation on Sundays) had, essentially, the same conversation with her -- she again proclaimed that we'd lost a customer because I "gave precedence to that kid over me!!" Which, no, that's not remotely the point. The point is, don't take it upon yourself to try to correct another patron's behavior, because you never know what issues that patron might have. Or the patron behavior you think is wrong is actually permissible.

I suspect that was actually the case here -- I had been in and around the area where this woman claimed the noisy kid was off and on all afternoon, and hadn't noticed any issues. In fact, the only people in that area that I'd noticed being a little loud were an older couple who were working on something on a computer together -- they were talking, loudly enough that I noticed them, but not loudly enough to be a problem. And while I did go over and speak to the kid who was using the computer over there, I did so gently, and the older couple didn't react at all. I really think that, if the Library Vigilante had been telling the truth about the kid being so loud and crazy that EVERYONE in the Art Department was telling him off, the older couple would have reacted to my talking to the kid with a nod, or a smile, or something.

I feel pretty conflicted about having spoken to the kid, in fact -- again, I did so gently, and didn't accuse him of anything, I just told him that we'd had a complaint, and that sometimes it's hard to tell if you're being loud when you have headphones on, and to just be aware of that. And I really only did that because my colleague indicated that I should. I honestly don't think the kid was doing anything that rose to the level of a rule violation. He might have been laughing, but if he had been disruptively loud, I'd have heard him, since I was putting out magazines on the shelves about two feet from him (and again, only heard the older couple talking quietly) and had been in and out of the area helping patrons, etc. As for shaking the table, well, that table is a little wobbly. It's old. And really, I don't care if the kid was swinging from the rafters, don't try to handle it yourself! And for crying out loud, don't cuss at people! (She said she thought the kid was 16. I don't think he was that old; he was tall, close to six feet, but his face and demeanor read younger to me. I think he was maybe 13 or so.)

Honestly, after the second time she told us we'd lost a customer, I wanted to thank her! And on our way out after closing, we were wondering what her actual problem was: was it that the kid was playing a video game? Because they're allowed to do that. In fact, there were at least a half-dozen adults whiling away the afternoon playing online games on Facebook and such. As long as it's quiet, we don't care. Maybe it was that the kid was African-American? If so, then I feel worse about talking to the kid if he really wasn't misbehaving. Maybe it was just that he was a kid? Maybe she was just a nutjob?

What would you have done? Talk to the kid, or not? I still can't get over how pleased with herself the Library Vigilante was after calling a kid a son-of-a-bitch. Who does that?!

1 comment:

  1. I heard once to consider it a gift when the trash takes itself out.