Career Confidential: A Librarian Deals With Creeps, Crazies And Husband-Beaters
If you think libraries are quiet places, think again.
I worked at a big-city library for four years. The creepiest time I ever got hit on there was when a guy asked if we had any movies about morgues. He looked like a member of the Leatherface family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I asked if he was looking for a feature film, or maybe a documentary? He said, "Anything." While I was searching in our database, he said, "Heh heh, you're pretty." I said thank you and that I couldn't find any movies about morgues for him. I never saw him again.
Another guy wasn't creepy, he just made me feel bad. He was there every day, and one day he checked out a book about dating — something like Dating for Dummies. A while after that he asked me out. I said no, and then I felt really guilty about it. He kept coming to the library, though, so I guess it was okay.
The dating requests weren't the weirdest questions I got at the library, though. That would probably be the time a woman asked for information about getting cosmetic surgery for her knees. At first I thought she had some sort of injury, but it turned out she just wanted to have better-looking knees. Later she wanted information about rhinoplasty — she pointed to four-year-old girl and said "she has a great nose." I think she might have been addicted to the idea of plastic surgery — she also wore a ton of makeup, and looked like she was about 50 but still shopped at Forever 21.
Another guy called the library and started describing a dream to me. When he was done I asked what I could help him with, and he said, "I want to know what my dream means." I felt like I was being treated as some kind of oracle. But I actually got a book about dreams and tried to help him interpret it.
Sometimes I'd have to ask people to leave the library. One night it was getting really close to closing time, and this woman who had been hanging around for a long time not doing anything suddenly turned to me, pointed at a man, and said, "He hit me." It was obvious that he hadn't actually hit her. She was being aggressive, and I had to call the police. It probably took them seven or eight minutes to get there, but it felt like an eternity. During that time she walked up to some kids and said she was going to find them at school and jump them. She read my nametag and yelled my full name at me, and asked, "Do you think the police have your back?" I had to sit and watch while she yelled, and I felt really powerless. As a librarian, I wasn't trained to deal with a physical altercation.
Sometimes when homeless people would come to the library, other patrons would complain that they smelled really bad. That was an awkward dilemma because the library is there for all people, including homeless people. So I'd have to ask myself, do I let that person who smells bad make the library smelly for everyone, or do I force them to leave?
Then there was an elderly couple who used to come into the library regularly. The woman was more able-bodied than the man, and she obviously didn't care for the trips to the library. She would swear at him or smack him in the arm, and she was just generally so disrespectful to him. As the librarian I had all their contact information — I knew where they lived and everything. It's considered unethical by the library to do anything with the information of a patron, but I did send an anonymous letter with their information to social services. I couldn't stand by and watch this woman abuse her husband and do nothing.
Ultimately, I stopped working at the library because I just wasn't happy there. I didn't like having to be on edge all the time, not knowing if someone who caused problems was going to come in, or if someone was going to have some kind of outburst. I still think libraries are fantastic and librarians are amazing. But there's nothing library school could truly do to prepare you for all the surprises that happen during a normal day at the library.
As told to Anna North.