Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage

A post over at the Annoyed Librarian about the upcoming book of Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library sparked a great set of comments here. Before I continue, I just have to say that I love the Annoyed Librarian. I love her writing style, and I agree with many (not all - I'm still thinking through the big discussion that's taken place over there about the purpose of the library) of her positions regarding the ALA and the library universe. As with most of the blogs I read, it's possible that I actually enjoy reading the comments even more than the entries themselves. This is probably because the Annoyed Librarian is intelligent and well-written, but several of the comments....aren't. Which leads me back to the point of this post. One of the commenters over at AL stated: "However, if your kids weren't in the public library, where would they be? In their violent public schools? In dangerous mass transit? Trolling a mall (unsupervised)? At least we provide some protection against perverts and criminals."

Really? Really? I knew librarians weren't necessarily the best at PR, but come on. That's the best you can come up with? My brain translates that statement "Yes, the library is crappy. But hey, at least we're LESS CRAPPY than the Metro or the mall!"

So I started thinking - what other fun ways can we advertise the library? I'd like to propose making posters and billboards that say things like:

Come to the library! It's better than....
....Supermax prison
....having a cat scratch your eye
....getting food poisoning

....hanging out with the crack heads down by the river
....Wal-Mart on Black Friday
....the middle school cafeteria on chili day
....churches where you have to handle live rattlesnakes
....the bathroom on a Greyhound
....Guantanamo Bay

I'm sure I could continue, but I won't. Anybody else have any ideas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

All the Small Things

Over the past week or so, my department has been going on one of our semi-annual binges where we clean and organize everything in the office. J, my fabulous assistant, actually does a lot of cleaning and organizing on a regular basis, but every few months she goes through the dozens of boxes that we have in the office, puts all of the craft supplies, prizes, random papers, leftover books, and assorted junk into some type of logical order, and labels everything. During her mad cleaning spree this time, J discovered that for some unknown reason, we have no fewer than 5 "lost and found" boxes, including one that was clearly left from last winter (it contains coats and gloves). We've been having a lot of fun digging through them.

My staff members are often surprised by the things that they find in the lost and found box, asking themselves how our customers can be so careless. I am also surprised by the bizarre things that wind up in the box, but for two reasons. Although you'd think I would be immune to the carelessness of teens, I still do not understand how one forgets a winter coat when it's below freezing, a single shoe, or an ipod. The second reason I am surprised is that in order for something to get in the lost and found box, a member of my staff has to pick it up, put a label with the date on it, carry it into the office, and put it in the designated area.

What we've found so far....

Several textbooks.
A single shoe.
Several pieces of jewelry.
3 winter coats.
A pair of pantyhose.
The aforementioned ipod.
A rose made from duct tape (this one is pretty cool, actually, and I'm going to keep it on my desk).
A garage door opener.
Several sets of keys.
A cat teaser.
Half a pack of gum.
2 cell phones.
Various types of sporting equipment.
A switchblade.
An opened bar of soap.
A bikini top.
$52 in cash.
Several uncashed paychecks.

We still have three boxes to go, so I'm sure there will be more random objects as the week continues.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Anything But Ordinary

Every fall, we do library card drives with local middle and high schools. Making library cards makes me feel incredibly old, as I'm forced to realize that people who were born the year I graduated from high school are now in middle school or high school themselves. Besides the constant feeling that I'm ancient, though, the thing that most sticks with me about making library cards is that so many of the kids have names that really make me wonder what their parents were thinking. In addition to the "creative" spellings that have almost become common (Crystal/Krystle/Kristal or (Jenifer/Jenniffer/Genniffer), names seem to fall into a few broad categories. To quote Dave Barry - I'm not making these up.

Cars and Other Brand Names
Lexus, Corvette, Ford, Celica, Porsche, Jetta, Chardonnay, Bacardi, Chanel

Vegas, America/Amerika, Ireland,

"Unique" Names That Aren't
There are at least 3 people with each of these names who have library cards in our system
Unique, Princess, Queen, Charisma, Special, King, Divine

Bad Role Models
Judas, Adolf, Charlie Manson, Salome

Stripper Names
Bambi, Sugar, Kitty Kat, Bunny, Princess, Sassy, Peaches

Why Do Their Parents Hate Them?
Sugar and Candy Kane, Dick Stroker, Max Dick, Chlamydia, Harry Cox, Harry Beaver,

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

As Cool as I Am

We're in the process of doing strategic planning for teen services both at my library and in the county. Overall, I've really enjoyed the strategic planning process, and I'll discuss it more in future posts, but I did die a little inside when someone asked the question I loathe. I hear it all the time, read it in journals and on blogs, have been on at least one panel discussing it at a conference. Whenever I give a presentation, someone in the audience will ask this question. It's very rare that anyone likes my answer.

The question: "How can we make teens think we're cool?"

My unpopular answer: We can't.

Librarians in general seem to have some major desire to make the world think that we're "hip," as with the articles in the New York Times and elsewhere about the New York Hipster Librarians. Why is this? I know quite a few people who work in various IT jobs, and they don't sit around worrying that they're seen as geeks. They embrace their geekiness and joke about it. Do doctors, lawyers, social workers, project managers - pick a career - do any of them put out press releases describing their leisure activities? Why do librarians? Here's the thing - once you start screaming "I'm cool" from the rooftops, you've guaranteed that no one will ever find you cool again.

It's even more unlikely that anyone attempting to be "cool" will be seen as such when working with teenagers. Teen cultures (and there are many, not just one monolithic "Teen Culture," which is another of my pet peeves that I'll get into later) change frequently. By the time something becomes obvious to adults, it's probably already passe. If you honestly enjoy reading the books, listening to the music, watching "High School Musical 2," hanging out in the mosh pit, snowboarding, skateboarding, buying jewelry at Claire's, seeing teen sex comedies, texting, creating a myspace or facebook, or doing any of the other millions of things that make up parts of teen culture...good for you. But if you do those things because you think "Oh,this is the new cool thing," you've already lost all credibility.

Here's another sad truth that the well-meaning people in our strategic planning sessions don't realize. We're old. Even if we're only in our mid-20s, or early 30s, we're still old. The best we can hope for is that we'll be seen as "not that old." I once had a teen tell me that I must have enjoyed doing something during "my childhood in the 60s." When I pointed out to him that I wasn't born until the late 70s, he thought about it for a second, then shrugged and said, "To tell the truth, once you're over about 25 you all seem the same to me." I threw a pencil at him, but when I remember my own teenage years, I do remember classifying people into a few large categories: little kids, kids, teens, college students, adults, and old people. It was incredibly rare for an adult to fall into the "cool" category. The ones who did were the ones who treated me with respect and seemed to enjoy their own lives - not the ones who desperately tried too hard.

During strategic planning, and in general, there are a lot of questions I want to see asked. How can our department be relevant? What do we provide that serves the needs of our users? What do they need or want, and how do we determine that? What are we doing well? What should we be doing?
What should we stop doing? What place do we have in the community? These are all questions that I think are vital and should be asked over and over again. Do libraries have a place in the lives of teenagers? I believe that we do (at least, I certainly hope so). Does "being cool" help us find that place? Not in the slightest.

"Cool" is ephemeral. Friendly, useful, helpful, fun, caring, respectful, dependable, thoughtful, passionate, inviting, positive, kind - those are the words that should be important. Those are the words I want people to use when they're thinking about the library. Those are the words that last.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Back to School

Ah, the beginning of the school year. The first month or so after school goes back in session is by far our craziest, busiest time. Our department is always fairly well-used, but in the summer people come and go, making for a relatively smooth flow of traffic. During the school year, everyone comes in between 3:15 and 4:00. According to the Fire Marshall our computer lab is rated to have no more than 24 people at any one time; we regularly surpass this every day by about 3:45. Of course, we don't have enough computers, chairs, or other resources to keep all of these people occupied, so they wander aimlessly about, shouting at the top of their lungs, attempting to make out with their significant others, practicing their dance moves, or chasing each other around until we have to ask them to leave.This fall we've been implementing some structured activities like crafts and movies, which will hopefully cut down on the chaos a bit.

In addition to the sheer number of people, they're all hyped up because they've spent the past 7 hours crammed in a classroom. The least disruptive thing people do is shout and run around. The most disruptive thing - well, we've already had
one fight on the library steps (it would have been IN the library, but fortunately our security guard got there in time), plus there have been rumblings about a huge fight that's planned to take place at the library sometime in the near future. Too often they'll discover some huge feud at school that follows them to the library. We just finished training on disaster preparedness, so I have visions of a West Side Story-style knife fight in my head every time two kids start yelling at each other. Of course, I doubt they'll be kind enough to couple their fighting with synchronized dance moves.

Only 2 weeks until I go on vacation.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Overheard Conversations 2: Electric Boogaloo

One of the things adults often complain about with teenagers is that teens tend to carry on conversations at the level of a shout. Personally, I love that about teens, because it allows me to overhear some incredibly entertaining conversations. Some of the conversations leave me highly amused, others leave me really wanting to know more, and more leave me deeply confused.

Girl: I don't think I could do that for money.
Guy: So what would you do it for?
Girl: Just, like, the glory.

Boy (to friends): Let's go over by the bathroom and get high!
Me: I can hear you.
Boy (in whisper): Let's go over to the bathroom and get high!
Me: (calls security)

Girl: I need something to read. You got any ideas?
Girl's Friend: You in a library!
Girl: So? You think they got any movies?

Girl: Where'd he get a goat, anyway? I mean, who has a goat? Do you just, like, walk into a farm and ask for a goat?

Sweet-looking fourteen-year-old girl: Do you ever think about how many ways you could kill somebody?

Guy # 1: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Guy # 2: I'd want to read minds. What about you?
Guy # 1: I'd want to be a robot.
Guy # 2: How is being a robot - never mind.

Girl # 1: So then I was like, 'no!' and he was like 'you know?' and I was like 'no!' You know what I mean?
Girl # 2: Totally.

Guy: What are you doing this weekend?
Girl # 1: I dunno. Probably washing the rabbit.
Girl # 2: Is that, like, a euphemism for masturbation?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Techno Syndrome

Woeful from @ the library posted this today, and I've also seen it on myspace, so I decided to play along rather than finish any of the four half-done posts I have saved. My musical tastes are very schizophrenic, so I figured the results would be funny.


1. Are you a male or female?
Imagine - John Lennon

2. Describe yourself:
Pity the Child - Chess (Original Cast Recording)

3. How do you feel about yourself?
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria - Sound of Music (Original Cast Recording)

4. Describe your ex boyfriend / girlfriend:
For Good - Wicked (Original Cast Recording)

5. Describe your current boyfriend/girlfriend:
Splish Splash - Big Bopper

6. Describe your current location:
Paintings in My Mind - Tommy Page

7. Describe what you want to be:
Wings Tattered, Fallen - Black Tape for a Blue Girl

8. Describe your best friend:
Under the Sea - Little Mermaid (Original Cast Recording)

9.) Your favorite color is:
High Enough - Damn Yankees

10.) You know that:
Daniel - Elton John

11.) What is the weather like?
Light My Candle - RENT (Original Cast Recording)

12.) If your life was a television show, what would it be called?
Hang the Bastard - Cannibal! The Musical (Original Cast Recording)

13.) What is life to you?
Fascination Street - The Cure

14.) What is the best advice you have to give?
Son of Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield

15.) If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
Romanticide - Nightwish

16.) What will you repost this as?
Techno Syndrome - Mortal Kombat

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bittersweet Symphony

This summer has been a difficult one for me. In addition to the fact that I hate SRC, as mentioned in my previous post, I have been trying to forget that 5 of my primary TAB members have graduated and are leaving at the end of the summer. CB, current co-president of TAB, has been my assistant in a computer program that we run for younger kids since he was 13. Tonight was his last night doing that program, and I now have to face the fact that they're really leaving.

We have graduations every year, of course, and I miss all of the teens who have worked with me, but this year is especially hard. 4 of the 5 teens who are leaving this year have been working with me for 5 years. They were there when I started TAB, and have been an integral part of running it, serving as officers, creating programs, and providing guidance to the younger members. All of them have been summer employees, and two have been worked for me year-round since we opened the teen department in October 2005.
Five years is an incredibly long time in the life of a teenager, and that they've spent so long with me and at the library - well, the way it makes me feel actually defies description. I've literally watched them grow up from goofy 13-year-olds to mature, responsible, intelligent 18-year-olds (who are, let's face it, still goofy). I look forward to seeing the adults they'll become, because they're all pretty amazing as young adults, and I can only imagine that they'll just keep improving as they grow older.

I'm proud of them all, but man am I going to miss them.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The End of Summer Reading Club

So basically, I'm a horrible blogger. I don't even have an excuse. Work has been crazy, but it always is. I think I'm just lazy. Is anyone still looking at this thing?

We're coming up on the last week of Summer Reading Club, and it's time for me to share a dirty little secret that probably makes me a horrible teen librarian.

I hate Summer Reading Club.

Hate, as they say, is a strong word, but it's actually not strong enough to describe my feelings of intense loathing for SRC. I know I can't be alone in this, but I realize that I'm probably a distinct minority. Every time I go to a conference, talk to other youth services people, or read blogs, I see people chatting about how amazing their Summer Reading Club is, and how fabulous it is to see all of the kids and teens using the library.

I understand the reasons for Summer Reading Programs. Reading over the summer helps kids maintain their reading levels, they get people into the library, they provide a great public service for kids and teens, especially lower-income kids and teens (which most of our population is). We give out some pretty sweet prizes in the teen department, so quite a few people sign up and do a lot of reading, which is great.

So theoretically, I think SRC is a great thing. In reality, however, it is incredibly annoying. My hatred of SRC begins in approximately January, when planning supposedly begins. The planning for this summer's program was the most
disorganized it has been in the 7 years I have worked at this library. The two women who were supposedly "in charge" are hard-working and well-intentioned, but are also the most disorganized, inefficient people I've ever encountered. Since my TAB members are responsible for making all of the copies of fliers and reading logs, putting prize packets together, and stuffing the goody bags we give away to registrants, I spent most of the months between January and June begging other people to do their work so that my TAB members could do theirs. When things weren't ready 3 days before SRC, guess who got blamed? My supervisor, P, actually asked me why "my kids" weren't ready when they had had so much time to work on things.

In retrospect, it's amazing that my answer didn't get me fired.

Moving on to the summer itself. For some unknown reason, P can't
see any reason for us to move to an online registration process. Instead those working at the SRC registration table (again, my TAB members) have to write down all of the information (name, age, library card number, address, etc). This hand-written information is then typed into an Access database. We do this for over 3,500 kids and teens every year. Not only is this a bunch of extra work and a huge waste of time, the database is actually useless in many ways - for example, if I try to print mailing labels for teens, it prints out mailing labels for everyone who has ever registered for the teen program - including people who graduated five years ago, people who have moved, etc. Many of the other reports that are generated are also useless, because apparently nobody in our entire library system knows how to use Access, except one woman who only works every third Tuesday or something.

In addition to the annoyance of the Access database, there's also the reality that a bunch of teens in the library is, well, a bunch of teens in the library! And since our administrators, in their wisdom, gave the teen department fewer computers than any other area in the building, ridiculously hard and uncomfortable furniture (I think it was originally designed for prisons), and dim lighting, the teens get justifiably bored and spend their time wandering aimlessly through the rest of the building, carrying on conversations at the approximate decibel level of an idling semi truck. Strangely, they're much louder and more obnoxious in other departments, because my staff and I have all developed versions of "The Look" which is guaranteed to stop 90% of obnoxious behavior before it even starts.

So outdated procedures, extra teens, bratty children who try to hide in the teen department (we kick 'em out until they turn 13), obnoxious parents, and the constant calls from increasingly irritated staff in other departments all combine to make me loathe SRC. I am not alone in this. Several of my TAB members have suggested that we have a ceremonial bonfire and burn all of the leftover paperwork on Saturday after our final SRC program.

I told them no, of course, but if some items happen to fall into a completely spontaneous bonfire at our end-of-SRC party, I can't really hold anyone responsible, now can I?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Stupid Parent Tricks

I have come to the conclusion that I have never met a child or teen who can possibly irritate me as much as the adults, especially parents, who come in to the library.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of caring, involved, intelligent parents out there, many of whom I've had the privilege of meeting. Unfortunately, there's something about summer at the library that brings out all of the idiot parents. Here are just a few that I've had to deal with lately.

1) The "my child is a genius" parent. So far this summer I have had to explain to three different parents why I wouldn't register their eight or nine year olds for the teen book discussion. I don't care how high her reading level is, I'm not putting her in a discussion group with 17-year-olds. End of discussion.

2) The "my child never does anything wrong" parent. No matter what the issue is, it is always somebody else's fault. The kid who brought a knife in and threatened a staff member? Clearly the staff member shouldn't have made the kid mad! The child who pushed another child down the stairs? Obviously, the other kid should have moved faster.

3) The "she's really responsible" parent. I don't care how responsible your six year old is. You still can't leave her in the library for seven hours while you go to work. If you leave this building, I'll call child protective services. Also, a ten-year-old can't be left in charge of three toddlers and a baby. And why are all these kids in the teen department, anyway?

4) The "he needs something to do" parent. Yes, I agree that we live in an area without a lot of good services and activities for teens. However, your teen has done something which meant that we banned him or her from the library for a period of time. I will not change that banning period because she's bored, or because he "really wants to come back." Perhaps next time he or she will think twice before cursing out a staff member, damaging library property, or having sex in the stairwell.

5) The "more, more, more" parent. When we plan programs, we try to be as accommodating as possible - offering two different times for the same program, adding extra sessions, etc. If you can't make it to any of the programs, we feel bad. However, we will not schedule a special program just for you because Susie has a swim meet or a birthday party on the original day of the program.

6) The "late but whiny" parent. I can't sign your kids up for the computer program, book discussion, or the annual lock-in because they're full. We have a limited amount of space. We buy 24 books for the book discussoin, and there are 24 kids signed up. We only allow 25 teens at the lock-in, and they're already signed up. See how that works? No, I won't take someone off the list because "my son just wants to go so much!" Other kids want to go too, and they actually signed up on time. Next time, call ahead.

7) The "it's not good enough" parent. Here's the thing, lady (it's always a woman). The summer reading program takes us months to plan. We get sponsors, we plan programs, and we work our butts off so your kid can have a good time. And it's completely free for you. So if you come in ONE MORE TIME and complain that the prizes are "crap," the books you want aren't here, and the library is too full of "dirty little kids," I am going to do something drastic. If you don't want our "cheap, crappy prizes," don't sign up. There, see how easy that was?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ALA: Part One

I'm attending my very first ALA Annual Conference this year, and I've come to 2 conclusions. The first is that 90% of librarians look alike. I keep thinking I see people I know, but it turns out it's just someone who looks exactly like them. It's kind of eerie. When walking down the street, I play "spot the librarian." They're easy to pick out of a crowd - heavily Caucasian, primarily middle-aged, with sensible shoes and easy care hair.

The second conclusion I've come to is that these eminently respectable-looking women and (few) men can drink more alcohol than any other group I've ever encountered. It's awe-inspiring, really, to watch a frail-looking older lady in a sweater with a kitty cat on it down pretty much an entire bottle of wine in approximately 12.7 seconds.

Of course, I'm doing more at ALA than watching people imbibe their body weight in alcohol. I've attended workshops, visited the exhibit hall, and met a bunch of really cool people. More on my experiences will follow, plus more tales from my library. I've really been neglecting this blog shamefully, and my goal is to begin updating at least twice per week. Let's see how long my good intentions can last.....

Friday, June 1, 2007

Questions from Parents

I actually do enjoy talking to the parents of teens. Many of the teens who come in to the library appear to have been raised by wolves, so it’s nice when a parent is interested and involved in their teen's life. However, some of their questions can be, well…..

“I want a book for my fifteen-year-old. It should be teen book, but without sex or violence, and the kid should get along with her parents.”

“Can you make sure my daughter doesn’t talk to any boys?”

"Why did my son get kicked out? He only hit his sister!"
"Hitting people is not allowed in the library."
"But it was only his sister!"

“I need a book with no conflict.”

“Are there any Harry Potter books without magic?”

“I don’t mind fantasy in books, but I don’t like evil. Do you understand the difference?”

"My son was here for three hours yesterday. Tell me everything he did and everyone he talked to.”

“Do you have any adult movies?”
“Yes, they’re up on the first fl-"
“No, I mean, you know, adult movies. Like, in a different section?”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Eight Random Things

A few days ago, Woeful from @ the Library tagged me with the "random things" meme. So, here are eight random things about me.

1) I am currently watching "Dirty Dancing." My mother wouldn't let me see it when it first came out because it was PG-13 and I was only 10. When I watch it, I always have a slight thrill like I'm somehow getting something over on my mother.

2) I think the world would be a better place if people occasionally broke into synchronized dance routines or musical numbers.

3) On our first date, the man who is now my husband kicked my ass at Scrabble.

4) My cat snores loudly enough to wake me up.

5) New Orleans is my favorite city, and I would live there if I could even though it's hot, corrupt, and could sink into the Gulf of Mexico at any time.

6) I watch "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" two or three times per week.

7) I have a recurring dream where I'm trying to find something in a maze.

8) I have a strange obsession with helper monkeys.

I don't really know any other bloggers well enough to officially tag them, so if you want to play, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bratty Girl

Some people are very angry.

Last night, one of my co-workers told a girl who does not have permission to use the Internet that she couldn't share a computer with her friend who does have that permission. The girl refused to leave, so I got the pleasure of talking to her. She was informed that she needed to leave the computer lab or she would be asked to leave for the day. Her response?

"Shut da fuck up, bitch. Get out of ma face."

This is, of course, not the first time I've been sworn at. It's not exactly a frequent occurrence, but probably one out of every ten or fifteen people who get told to leave the library decide to swear at and insult either me or the library on their way out. It's pretty rare, however, that people get to that point after a conversation of one sentence.

I always wonder about people like that, people who are so entirely rude to pretty much everyone they meet. Do they get results with that kind of language and attitude elsewhere in life? What benefit do they derive from it? What possible good can come out of being such a jerk?

As for this girl, I don't know if she honestly thought I was going to turn around and leave after her statement, but what actually happened is that she got escorted out of the library. As she continued to swear at, insult, and threaten me (she said she was going to "come back and meet me later" if I insisted on walking her out), she also got banned for six months.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Teenagers Are Great!

When I tell people what I do for a living, many of them reply with something like "Wow, teens. That must be really hard!" Others say something like "How can you work with teens? They're so disrespectful/loud/obnoxious/fill in your preferred derogatory term here."

I wish those people could have been at my library today. We closed the library for the day to have a 7-hour program dedicated only to serving teens. We had workshops on interesting topics such as film making, college preparation, jewelry making, and others, as well as a career festival, a presentation by a YA author, raffle prizes, and a band performance. We had students from 9 different high schools (half of the districts in our County). The reviews from the participants have been great; the students had a chance to experience something they probably wouldn't have gotten to do without their library.

Even more important than the good feelings from participants, this program was a showcase of the dedication and leadership of our Teen Advisory Board. TAB members planned this entire event. The planning process started over 6 months ago. Members of TAB created the budget, planned the workshop, contacted performers, dealt with all of the pre-event publicity, talked to schools to get their students to come, and took care of all of the myriad issues that need to be handled to pull off a major event.

Last night, TAB members came in after the library closed to help set up for the event (we had workshops in every meeting room and several public spaces). Today, they served as hosts and emcees, helped out in the workshops, served as guides to their fellow students, and generally made the event run. Everyone on TAB did a truly remarkable and amazing job. I was truly awe-inspired by the leadership ability and dedication showed by the members of our TAB.

I'll be back with the snark later. Right now, I just want to think about how amazing all of the teens I know are, and how thrilled and grateful I am to have the opportunity to help guide them to things like today.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Brief Update

For the past 6 months, I've been working on the biggest program of my career. The last two weeks have been awful. From performers suddenly backing out to the fear that I wouldn't have enough teens to attend, my days have been spent calling people, chewing my fingernails, scrambling to fill unexpected holes in the schedule, and having brief fantasies of public humiliation.

The program takes place on Wednesday. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Annoying Customers: Hyena Girl

Friday afternoons are traditionally the quietest day at the library, and last week was no exception. On Friday, there were perhaps 9 people using the teen department, all quietly and intently focused on myspace and runescape. The few conversations were held at the level of a whisper, as everyone knows that if they're quiet and well-behaved on Fridays, I'll give them an extra 15 minutes of computer time at the end of the day and perhaps some type of cookie or other treat (my boss calls it bribery, I call it positive reinforcement. Either way, it works).

Suddenly, from the top of the stairs, we hear it. The echoing sound is so loud that literally every person in the computer lab jumps. I look up, and realize that we have a Hyena Girl.

Hyena Girls are most often found in their native habitat of shopping malls or other retail establishments, rarely venturing into the library. The Hyena Girl appears normal, perhaps even soft spoken, until she finds something funny. Once she does, she emits a sound that is a cross between a hysterical hyena and The Joker in the 1960s Batman TV show.

This particular girl not only had the hyena laugh, she was also on one of those Nextel walkie-talkie phones, which allow us to hear both sides of the conversation. Hyena Girl came down the stairs, cackling madly the entire time, then screamed into the phone.

I approached her. "You'll need to keep it down or take your conversation outside."

Dirty look. Hyena Laugh. Continued shrieking into the phone.

"Your conversation is too loud. Please take it outside."

"The libary lady says I gotta stop talking. Bye."

I returned to my seat in the computer lab. Thirty seconds later, a blast of hip-hop music from the phone.

"You need to keep the music off, please."

Dirty look. Another blast of music.

"If I have to talk to you again, you're going to have to leave."

I returned to my chair. I hear a final blast of music. As I rise, the Hyena Girl races up the stairs, cackling wildly.

One of our regulars starts laughing. "Wow, I guess she showed you! It really proves how cool you are when you run away!"

A second regular chimes in. "What a loser. Her laugh sounds like a hyena."

Everyone in the computer lab starts laughing at the Hyena Girl. I give them all Oreos.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Storm Has Arrived

The calm times at our library are officially over, and the teens are apparently feeling especially rambunctious to make up for the week of peace and quiet. Monday was busy but everyone was relatively well-behaved. On Tuesday, someone accidentally (?) sprayed pepper spray in the teen computer lab, necessitating our evacuation of the teen department. Fortunately no one was made ill, as we got every one out quickly.

Yesterday we had more excitement. A teen who had been previously banned from the library for one year decided to come back in. Since he had been banned for threatening and yelling at one of our staff members, that staff member waited until I came in to deal with him. I gave him another copy of his banning letter and escorted him out of the building. He left peacefully enough, and I returned to my desk thinking "wow, that was strangely easy."

Why do I test the library gods like this? Thinking "that's easy" inevitably means that something is going to go wrong very very soon.

Sure enough, about two minutes later I got a call from the Children's Department that our friend had returned. He screamed and swore at the manager of Children's, raced through the building, ran outside and threw things at the windows, and knocked over our book drop. For some reason, the Children's staff were trying to reason with him. I simply called the police.

He left by the time the officer arrived, but we're filing trespassing charges against him. I'm sure his parents will be thrilled when they receive the notice.

I wonder what fun I'll have today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Job Applications

Summer is coming (although you wouldn't know it by the 30 degree weather and snow), so we have started getting applications from teens looking for summer jobs. We typically hire four or five teens over the summer, and receive several dozen applications. Below are several tips that I wish that someone, somewhere, had shared with our intrepid job hunters.

1) When applying for a job, it is generally a good idea to put your full name on the application. This does not mean your "street" name, but the name that your mother gave you the day you were born.

2) If you have neither a phone number nor an email address, it is very difficult for me to contact you for an interview.

3) If I have kicked you out repeatedly for swearing at other patrons and looking at pornography, it seems unlikely that I will now hire you.

4) The correct spelling of our place of business is "library."

5) "Because I need money" is not a good response to the question "Describe why you want to work here or why you love libraries."

6) Just because you have been arrested, it doesn't mean I won't hire you. If, however, your arrest was for stealing from the library, your chances of getting hired may be slightly lower.

7) If you're old enough to have a job, you're old enough to fill out the application yourself. Sending your mother in to do it does not impress me.

8) "Because my boss sucked" is not an appropriate answer to the question "Why did you leave your last job?"

9) If you are 15 with no job experience, no one is going to pay you $10.00/hour.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Overheard Conversations

When I'm working at the desk in the teen area, or in my office with the door open, I often hear teens carrying out "private" conversations. I put private in quotes because these conversations are often carried out at the level of a shout, despite the fact that other people are less than two feet away. Some of my favorite conversations from yesterday....

Guy to Girl: Let's go somewhere else. All these books make me feel dumb.
Girl to Guy: Ain't the books that make you seem dumb.
Guy: What's that mean?
Girl: You dumb!

Girl on Cellphone: Girl, if that rat's still in my house when I get home I'm letting the cat have it. **pause** I don't care if it's your pet, get rid of it!

Guy to Girl: Why you gotta be so mean? You know I love you!
Girl: Dude, you're my cousin.

My personal favorite overheard conversation EVER. First, a bit of background. We often have spontaneous craft days in the teen area when it's particularly busy or when the teens seem especially bored. One of the favorite activities is bead jewelry making. We put out stretchy cord and a variety of beads and let them have at it - some of them are amazingly talented and make beautiful pieces; others make things that are less attractive but everyone has fun.

During one of these events, a group of regulars sat down. These kids are between the ages of 13 and 14 and desperately want everyone to believe that they're gangstas. Real gangstas laugh at them, so they spend their time talking tough in the library.

Since they spend so much time trying to act tough, it was something of a surprise to see them happily making bracelets with hemp and alphabet beads. The ringleader of the group approached his friends, and the following conversation took place:

Ringleader: C'mon, yo. Let's go!
Beading Guy: Just a minute, I gotta finish this.
Ringleader: Man, what are you doing? You makin a bracelet?
Beading Guy: Yeah. Wanna make one?
Ringleader: Man, that's not gangsta!
Beading Guy: It's fun.
Second Beading Guy: Yeah, sit down and make something.
Ringleader: That's not gangsta, yo! Come on!
His friends ignore him
Ringleader: How we gonna be gangsta if you be makin a bracelet, yo?
Snarky Librarian (Chokes hysterical laughter into a cough)
Ringleader (sitting down): They got any purple?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Calm Before the Storm?

This week has been ridiculously quiet. All of the teens at the library were well-behaved and friendly. One of our regulars brought me a picture she'd drawn because she thought I'd enjoy it. Another volunteered to help cut things, while yet another turned off the computers each night and helped organize and straighten the room before he left.

I'm not really sure how to handle this. Are they all planning something horrible for the future? Have they all been secretly replaced by aliens? Is it some elaborate April Fools prank that has gone on too long?

I'm so confused.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Annoying Customers: The Broken Parrot

Some members of my staff and I were talking about our least favorite customers, and I realized that most of the kids who annoy us can be broken down into a few types. I also realized that for most of the kids, I am actually less annoyed than amused, and that the hardest part of my job is keeping a straight face when they go off onto their rants.

Anyway, for today.....the Broken Parrot.

The Broken Parrot is almost always a girl between the ages of 13 and 15. She usually has an elaborate hairdo, frequently a weave or extensions, and nearly always has large hoop earrings, too much makeup, and long claw-like acrylic nails. The Broken Parrot is nearly always trailed by two or more friends who say nothing.

The main characteristic of the Broken Parrot is that she never says anything original, just repeats instructions or conversations of others in a loud, mocking voice, while changing instructions given to her into questions aimed at someone else. For example....

Staff: There are only two people allowed at each computer. Please find something else to do.
Broken Parrot: What if I don't want to find something else to do? Why don't you find something else to do?
Staff: If you don't go sit down, you'll be asked to leave.
BP: What if I don't want to sit down? Why don't you go sit down?
S: It's time for you to leave now.
BP: What if I don't want to leave? Why don't you leave?
S: You need to leave, or I'll call someone to escort you out.
BP: Why don't you get escorted out?

By this time, we're into the hardest part of my job....not responding in kind. I always have an intense desire to begin mocking the girl by either repeating everything she says, or just laughing in her face. I don't do either, of course, but sometimes it's a hard battle to win.

Next time: The Wannabe Gangsta!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Don't Know the Year I Was Born!

I love it when teens try to scam me, mostly because they're almost always incredibly bad at it, but they think they're the most clever and intelligent person ever. Tonight was apparently the night for attempted scams, as I had several enjoyable moments.

A young man came in and asked to use a computer. When we looked him up in our circulation computer, we discovered that he was only 11. Kids need to be 13 to use the teen area, so we told him to go to the Children's Department. I then had the following conversation with the kid.

"I'm thirteen!"
"According to your computer record, you're only eleven. When's your birthday?"
"August something, 1994"
"Well, that would make you twelve, not thirteen."
"No! 2007 minus 1994 makes 13. I'm thirteen."
"You'll be 13 in August if you were born in 1994."
"Oh - I meant I was born in 1995. I mean 1993. No, wait!"
He didn't get a computer.

I had another kid swear to me that he had already paid his fines, a girl who tried to convince me that she was her sister (despite the fact that her sister is a volunteer, and thus very well known to me), and a boy who told me that his mother was an invalid and couldn't come in to sign the paper to get him internet permission. This was my favorite, as approximately 2 minutes later his "invalid" mother appeared behind him and said "Boy, I told you you wasn't getting no Internet, so stop lyin' to the lady!" before dragging him away.

I managed to not laugh until I had reached my office, which I think really deserves some kind of prize.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chillin out, Maxin', Relaxin' All Cool

Some days, the teens who come into the library make me want to tear out my hair. Other days, they just make me want to laugh hysterically. Today I spent a lot of time fluctuating between those two states.

We have one kid who owes $53 on his library card. Ordinarily, people have to pay 25% of their fines before using the computers, but with kids and teens, we often set up payment plans with them instead of making them pay the entire amount at once. So this kid only needs to pay $2.00 to use the computers. A good deal, right?

So why do I have to remind this kid every time I see him about our deal? I think it's because he's trying to see if smoke will actually come out of my ears after the 12th time I tell him that, yes, he has to pay $2.00 every time he comes in. And no, I won't loan him $2.00, and neither will anyone on my staff, and if he continues to ask the other patrons, I'll have to ask him to leave.

At the other end of the spectrum, two of our regulars decided to break into a thrilling dance routine as we were attempting to herd them out of the building at closing time. It sort of looked like the Carlton Dance from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and it was accompanied by an off-key rendition of the "Fresh Prince" theme song. So I got to finish my night with a nice laugh.

Of course, now the "Fresh Prince" song is stuck in my head.

Monday, February 26, 2007

This Was My Day

This was my day: escorting 14 different people out of the building, one call to the police, five teens calling me a "fucking bitch," two threats from patrons that they would be "waiting for me later," one fight, and three almost fights.

This was also my day: helping a 14-year-old get his first library card. I had to read most of the questions on the library card application to him, as his literacy level was low. Once I handed him his card, his entire face lit up. We then went up to the 2nd floor to find books on dragons. We had a nice talk, and at the end of our transaction he said "Thank you so much! Thank you for today!"

I think I had a good day after all.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Do You Mean, It's Not Appropriate for My Four Year Old?

Last night, we had a talent show for teens. We had a wonderful turnout, although I was surprised at how many people brought their entire families with them. Normally we only allow teens at teen events, but I did make an exception last night since everybody wants to see his or her kid perform. I did have one conversation, however, that reminded me of why we normally keep adults out.

Angry Father: That other girl (one of my staff members) told me that this might not be okay for my four year old!
Snarky Librarian: That's true...
AF [cutting me off]: That's ridiculous! Are you telling me that kids might curse? This is a library! Don't you have standards? I'm going to write a letter to somebody!
SN: Sir, all of our performers were given guidelines, and inappropriate performances are not allowed. However --
AF: I'm writing a letter to someone! What if some kid stands up and is all grabbing his junk? [standing up to demonstrate - what the hell?] You going to let that happen?
SN: Sir, inappropriate performances will be stopped. However --
AF: I'm writing a letter! Cursing at the library! I'm writing a letter!
SN: Sir, what is appropriate for a sixteen year old is different from what is appropriate for a four year old. I can't guarantee -
AF: I'm writing a letter to someone! The library is about education! Anything you do should be okay for everyone!
SN: Sir, this was specifically advertised as a teen event. If you feel that it is not appropriate for your four year old, my best recommendation is that you not expose her to it. Is there anything else I can help you with right now?
AF [wandering away]: I'm writing a letter to someone...[mutters to self].

My favorite threat - a letter to the mysterious "someone." Why do people insist on dragging their young children to everything? Who would have imagined that a teen event might not be appropriate for a four year old? I know I'm dumbfounded by the very idea!

Later, the winner of the talent show was a very obviously, openly gay guy who danced to a Christina Aguilera song. I overheard Mr. Appropriate telling everyone in earshot that it was wrong for a "fucking fag" to win. Yes, his four-year-old was right there as he swore.

I really hope that he includes
that in his "letter to someone."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cast of Characters

Meet the strange and wonderful folks who work with the Snarky Librarian. Right now I'm using initials to identify them; but I may come up with fun nicknames later.

J - My assistant. J is an artist who hasn't decided what she wants to do with her life; in the mean time she's beautifying the teen area with her fabulous displays and decorations.

KS - Another staff member who splits her time between the teen area and the Children's department.

KL - Currently works only on Saturdays as he is student teaching, so you probably won't hear much about him.

A - Nearly 18, A has served as a volunteer and staff person for nearly 5 years. She's graduating this year, filling me with both joy for her and sadness for me.

C - Another teen staffer who has served as volunteer and staff member for 5 years. He is the current co-president of the teen advisory board (TAB) as well as working in the teen department.

E - Serves as co-president of TAB along with C. Highly intelligent and deeply strange, he is often misunderstood when his goofiness is mistaken for lack of responsibility and immaturity.

P - The head of youth services, and thus my boss. She has worked in library-land for over 30 years.

This list will almost certainly get added to, but these 7 people are the ones who spend nearly all of their time at the library and therefore interact with me, our customers, and each other the most often.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I've been contemplating starting a blog for some time, so here goes. What you'll find here will be random, semi-anonymous observations from a teen librarian (that's a librarian serving teens, not a teenaged librarian, in case you were confused). I expect to update every week or so; perhaps more if anyone actually reads this.

As you may have gathered from the title, there will be plenty of snark here, because as much as I love my job, there are a lot of really strange and amusing things that happen there. So if you don't like sarcasm and snark, this may not be the place for you. Consider yourself warned!