Please Don’t Say This to a Librarian

Oh, the things people say to librarians. When I’m dealing with the public, I’m usually sitting at a desk, out in the open, trying to look approachable enough so that people feel comfortable in asking me questions. This invites all kinds of verbal shenanigans: Everything from “I don’t think children should be allowed in the library! I never went to the library as a child!” to “The eighties were great for drugs. You just can’t get good cocaine anymore.” I expect a certain amount of lunacy: I work in a large urban library system. Just anyone can walk off the street and tell me pretty much whatever they want. This is encouraged to a certain extent of course, and, in some cases, I kind of enjoy it. You never know what you’re going to hear and I like having a good story to tell my boyfriend at the end of the day. There’s so much variety in the crazy.

Ryan knows the patrons drive us crazy sometimes.

Then again, there’s the sorts of things I hear over and over again. We’ve ALL heard patrons shout the all-too-familiar: “I PAY YOUR SALARY!” Charming. Just charming. My mother said that she heard someone say this very thing to my childhood librarian who, in turn, threw 35 cents down on the Reference Desk and told the patron that they could have it back. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it sounds really satisfying (please do not attempt in the current job market).

Thinking of things most commonly said to librarians, I posed this question to librarians on Facebook and Twitter: “As a librarian, do you get repeatedly told well-meaning but ultimately rude or uninformed things?” I got many answers, most of which I have heard in my years as a librarian. I don’t think the patrons who say these things intend to be rude, but sometimes librarians hear things that are offensive. Librarians can turn this list into a drinking game: Take a shot for each one you’ve heard before. Non-librarians: Take note and don’t get too offended if you’ve said these things in the past. Hopefully your librarian was kind enough not to call you out on it. And now, without further ado:

Don’t Say This to a Librarian (Please)

  • “Are you a volunteer?” Things they don’t tell you in library school: People will assume you’re a volunteer a lot of the time. Granted, many libraries have a significant number of volunteers who provide invaluable services, but I was not ready for this question when I became a librarian. The first time someone said it to me, I had finished a Toddler Time class at the library I used to work at. A father complimented me on my class and then said, “So. How did you get roped into this?” I was baffled by this question and was not really sure how to proceed with an answer. It turned out he thought I was doing some sort of high school community service requirement (I was 29 at the time, but no matter). I explained that I had a Masters in Library Science and that I enjoyed teaching Toddler Time classes. This was not the last time I heard the volunteer question and I still find it so weird. If you enjoyed the class, why is it so hard to believe that I’ve studied Library Science and Children’s Services and have dedicated my career to this very concentration?
    Before you ask someone in a library if they are a volunteer (especially if they have provided a good service), consider the following:

    1. Librarians require a Masters degree in Library Science. Many of us have written theses. The person who helps you with research, finding a book or teaching a class probably has an MLS. The person shelving the books or working a the checkout desk? Sometimes this is a librarian or another paid library worker. In my experience, very few of the people in your library neighborhood are volunteers. Of course, all libraries are different.
    2. Would you ask the same of a person teaching a class in your child’s elementary school? What about the person taking your blood in the Emergency Room? How about the person driving a local bus? No? These are all skilled positions, as is being a librarian or working in a library. If you wouldn’t ask this of a teacher, a medical technician or nurse, or a bus driver, why would you ask this of a librarian or a library clerk?
    3. Many people have suggested that library workers be laid-off in favor of entirely volunteer-driven work forces. When asking a librarian if they are a volunteer, you might be inadvertently suggesting that just anyone could provide the kinds of skilled services we do.
      Sort of side note, but it should be said that volunteers are not the answer to fixing a library’s financial woes. Take this from someone who has supervised volunteers. Volunteers are a vital addition to a skilled workforce, not a solution to a monetary problem.

  • “It must be so nice to read all day!” and other things that imply that we just sit around.

On a very basic level, I kind of get where this one comes from. Libraries are full of books, librarians are supposed to be bookish, the libraries shown in movies and TV are quiet and the people in them are always getting shushed, therefore librarians read all day long in a sort of meditation-zen-spa-like atmosphere. It’s super relaxing and the only real stress comes from deciding what to read next, right?

Oh dear. I wish. I try to read as much as I can, but most of that reading happens on my commute and my lunch break. I used to take a book with me to desk in hopes of reading it, but I’ve since given up. Most of desk is running around, helping people find books in the stacks, fielding research questions, offering computer and resume assistance, and keeping the peace among patrons. In some cases, you might see a librarian preparing for an upcoming program or working on maintaining the collection. Sure, there must be librarians who get to read when on the Reference Desk, but rest assured that isn’t the bulk of their job. If all librarians did was read, the library would fall apart. Collection development, programming, patron service, and outreach compose most of our days. Sorry to burst your dream of retiring and working at a library! If you’re looking for relaxation, I’d like to suggest an Enya CD.

  • “I hate to bother you!” or “Are you busy? OK, this isn’t annoying at all, to be honest, but I just don’t get it. Hey, patrons! We’re here to help! You’re not bothering us. Seriously! Did you have a mean middle school librarian who yelled at you every time you asked a question and then peered over her glasses in a disapproving manner? Not cool. Just ask. Don’t feel bad about asking as many questions as you need to. Don’t apologize for not knowing the Dewey Decimal system or where to find a book. Don’t feel the need to admit to us that the last time you were in a library was 10 years ago like this is some sort of confessional. Unnecessary. It’s our job to help you. This shouldn’t make you feel bad or like you’re a nuisance. 
  • “Know what I really miss? The card catalog.” Know who says this to me? HIPSTERS AND MY GRANDMOTHER. Yes, yes. I will be the first to admit that they’re kind of cool. When my last library got rid of some empty card catalogs, I really wanted one (my ex talked me out of it and I’ll never forgive him. I could have put socks in there).
    Now, my grandmother misses the card catalog because that’s what she’s comfortable with. She, like many others, enjoys being self-sufficient. Computer catalogs are out of her area of knowledge and she’s not the kind of lady to ask for help. This is all understandable. New technology will always come along and some patrons will always be hesitant to embrace it. “Well,” my darling Grandma says, “what if the computers go down? THEN what will you do, you little smart-ass?” This has happened before and I was just fine. If you know your collection and the Dewey Decimal system, you’ll get by.
    And also, have you ever seen someone loading all those freaking little cards onto the card catalog spools? That looks like a special kind of hell. No thanks.
    Now, unlike my stylish and bird-sized Grandma, I have no sympathy for hipsters who want the card catalog back. I can’t tell you how many bearded-and-covered-in-flannel-even-in-the-summertime dudes have nostalgically opined to their acid-washed-jeans-wearing girlfriend that the library just isn’t the same without the stupid card catalog. Oh and the way it smelled and the discovery of filing through the cards and isn’t it a shame we’re all so dependent on computers? STOP IT. Our information finding systems aren’t a novelty or meant to be adorably ironic. The dream of the 1890s is not alive in my library. Beat it.

    Hipster, please.


  • “Are you single?” or any variation thereof. This is the one that can never be considered well-intentioned. I do not tolerate being hit on at my place of work. Here’s a pretty typical and recent example: The other day, I’m at the Reference Desk and I see a young man looking at me kind of strangely. I figure he has some sort of question that he’s hesitant to ask, so I do what I usually do: I smile and ask him if he needs some help. “Are you married?” he asks, “Single?” Me: “NO. NOT SINGLE.” He says, “Well, I like the way you look. I like your style,” and he walks away. Now, because I am in my place of work and am surrounded by children, I let him walk away. I do. I don’t need the toddlers and other assorted little ones seeing Miss Ingrid lose her cool. That’s what makes sexual harassment in the workplace the absolute worst: You feel uncomfortable but yet you have to keep working. You want to tell him off, but you must keep up appearances.
    I don’t always keep it together: I’ve had situations where I’ve had to kick patrons out of the library (drunkenly yelling “I LOVE YOU BABY!” at me at 10 A.M. is no way to endear yourself to me. It’s a way to make sure you and your whiskey cleverly stored in a see-through Powerade bottle are swiftly transported off library premises). I don’t know any female librarian who hasn’t been harassed or asked out while at work, and there many men who have dealt with similar situations (I know one male children’s librarian who often gets hit on by his Toddler Time moms).
    The truth is, it’s our job to be patient, smile, and look approachable. This is not an invitation to ask us out or tell us how you feel about our appearance. We don’t smile at you because we’re interested in you. We smile at you because it’s part of how we relate to patrons. Librarians are supposed to be friendly and helpful. Anything else you sense from our demeanor is not intentional.
    Bottom line: If you are sincerely convinced that the librarian in front of you is the love of your life, keep it to yourself. We’re here to work, not to fulfill your pathetic timid but passionate librarian fantasy. (Librarians: please read Sarah Houghton’s The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis for tips on dealing with harassment in the workplace. It was a good refresher course in standing up for myself. Though it pertains to being harassed by other librarians, the overall message can be applied to patrons as well).

So, librarians, what did I leave out? Library users, did I just totally upset you and turn you off libraries forever? Spill it. Miss Ingrid wants to know.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

169 thoughts on “Please Don’t Say This to a Librarian

      1. Which is why I am finding it very lucrative to teach cataloging at those libraries where they thought that then became a member of a union catalog that said, “sorry. you need to clean up your database first.” 😛

    1. Rosa

      Worse, the department chair who said to me “I have a crazy professor whom I can’t put in front of a class anymore. Can he work for you in the Archives?” Um – no! I wrote a firm but polite reply saying that just because he’d done research in the archives did not mean he had a clue how to do the actual work of arranging and processing materials according to a long list of archival standards. What I really wanted to say was that I had no use for her crazy cast-offs, and that the librarians and archivists were also publishing faculty, and that saying that the fact that someone had worked with archival materials no more made them an archivist than being Jewish, for example (the chair taught Jewish history), would make a Chemistry professor qualified to teach Hebrew.

      Another favorite – asked by the Dean of Medicine at Harvard, of all places – yes, really – “Why do we need libraries anymore when we have Google?”

      1. Lorna

        At my old job, a member of the faculty was in trouble for fraud with the school. He was a highly respected and well liked, and because of his mental health, the school was trying to decide what to do. A librarian suggested in the lunchroom (thankfully!) that he should be given job in the library instead of dismissing him. I understand wanting to support a colleague you’ve known for years, but that is not what we’re for and a that’s just asking for a disaster!

  1. Assuming that we don’t do anything during program breaks. I had a very nice grandma come up to me last May and say how much they were looking forward to coming back to storytime when it started up again…and how nice it must be for me to be able to sleep in and take a vacation. I was lugging 50 pounds of book boxes on my little dolly and as politely as possible informed her that I was coming back from a 4 hour visit to the middle school, starting at 8am. Just because you don’t see us, doesn’t mean we’re not working!!

    1. This times a million: ” Just because you don’t see us, doesn’t mean we’re not working!!”Exactly. My library once closed down for repairs and we were all sent to different branches for the summer. I can’t tell you how many patrons thought I was about to have a paid vacation.
      Also, they don’t tell you in library school that children’s librarians better be strong. We lug more crap around town than anyone.

  2. Patrons do say the darndest things! I heard the ”I pay your taxes” rant a lot. It\’s always interesting to listen in on how librarians handle situations.

    1. Kathy

      We used to tell my dad, a Federal Employee, to “work hard, we’re paying your salary” for fun (most of my family are teachers, so we “get it”). He would reach in his pocket, pull out a penny, and say to us,”Keep the change!” We thought it was funny!

  3. Karen

    how about “those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins?”” (from Terry Pratchett, Going Postal)

    1. Erika

      My friend and I had a (less than sane) patron say he needed to talk to a “real reference librarian” once. She, being the adorable Library Associate she is, pointed at me and said “she’s a real librarian.” He wanted to know when the next Stanley Cup game was. Because only a real librarian can go to and look that up. He also had to explain to me what the Stanley Cup is, because I am a girl and therefore know nothing about sports (nevermind the fact that the team I root for had won it the previous year). Later he asked me how long the current weather pattern was going to last.

  4. Allison

    I have a serious question for you all.

    How do you listen to this stuff all the time and still remain positive? I’m a reference librarian at public library and get these questions all the time (particularly asking me if I’m single, or asking if I’m a volunteer). Maybe I just have little patience, but I get so tired of these questions. I grin and bear it at work at then go home and get so down about it. Any advice?

    1. That’s a really good question and one that I’ve grappled with a lot. You’re always going to have patrons that drive you coo-coo bananas, no matter how great of a library you’re in. If you’re in a stressful situation at a library (budget cuts, hostile coworkers, etc.), troublesome patrons will upset you far more than they should.
      My advice is: Focus on the positive. Try and remember the good thing you did for some patron that day. Try and remember the patron that was nice to you, etc. At a rough library I was at, I put cards from the kids all over my desk. That way, I’d always remember that there were good times at the library. Also, find fellow librarians to commiserate with. Drinks after work? Walks in the park during lunch? Idle Facebook chit-chat? Other librarians will remind you that you’re not alone. We all deal with difficult patrons.
      Last, don’t take your work home with you. Or the bad stuff anyway. Find non-library stuff to occupy your mind. It’s important. Librarianship is important, but it’s not all we are.
      I’d love for other people to weigh in on this, please.

      1. Kendra

        Read blogs like this! Seriously, though, I think you just have to have a sense of humor and take it all with a grain of salt. Most of the time all this crap isn’t personal. When it is, that’s the time for drinks with co-workers or whoever will buy you one!

    2. I decompress with other librarians (helps especially with the ones whose management intelligent than my own director). Nothing like a little schadenfreude. I also carry on long monologues in my head telling patrons off as I drive home. Then I go on a walk, breath deeply, and let it go.

    3. Sarah

      Randomly replying, hope that’s okay. I think I do a lot of what Ingrid mentioned. I keep some drawings from my kids on my desk. I have to grin and bear it when I know a patron is lying to my face about damaging a book but then I go home and vent about it and put it behind me. Another day, another person to help. I also try to talk about all the good things about my job for people who are unfamiliar with what I do. Reminding them reminds me about why I love my job (mostly). And definitely, definitely I have learned to stop taking work home with me, mentally, as much as possible. I need to unwind from the library and I don’t think there is anything bad about that.

      (And as a fun sidenote, at my last job, we kept tallies of the week for the repeat questions, just for shits and giggles. It was fun to compare weeks about how many times we had been asked about printers or whether or not we were volunteers. A little levity on the job.)

      1. Thanks for replying, Sarah. The more people who weigh in, the better. There are so many dispirited librarians out there, and sometimes I’m one of them. The idea about tallying is genius, only because you should take joy and fun where you can find it.

    4. Bourbon. Lots and lots of bourbon.

      Like Miss Ingrid, I have all the pictures and cards that the kids have drawn me where I can see them on a regular basis. I have a mental file of all the good and silly things, like the look of sheer amazed delight on a 9-year-old’s face when I showed her how the shift key could make capital letters or the time when a kid said something so funny that I laughed so hard I couldn’t breath and another one shouted ‘OH MY GOD! YOU BROKE MISS JENNIE!”

      Basically, it’s just a constant reminder that for every crazy person, I have many more wonderful ones.

      That, and I have awesome coworkers who I can vent to.

    5. Jenn

      I’m a school librarian, and although the kids don’t usually ask annoying questions or say irritating things, sometimes the teachers do. One teacher told me last year that it must be nice to work in such a clean place (we had just taken down all displays because statewide testing was starting).

      I deal with it by writing down all the funny things the kids say in a journal. On bad days, I pull the journal out of my desk and have a good laugh. I also have a Smile File, which is a file folder where I put funny hall passes, notes from kids, drawings, etc. It helps on tough days!

  5. Sarah

    I always tell people who say “Oh I hate to bother you!” or some variation that it is never a bother and it’s my job to help you. In fact, I enjoy doing it. It always gets a smile or two! (I know you weren’t asking for “advice” but just sharing). I can only think too that they’ve had really bad experiences where they had to ask someone for help. It’s very sad.

    And let me tell you, the hitting on thing?? SO GROSS. I am by far a very, very plain and pretty normal (ie nowhere near all that attractive person) but still, the comments! I had one dude hit on me because of my red hair and how much he liked it. He then decided to call me honey and holy cow, I was creeped. I’m not a fan of affectionate names like that even from my most dearest of family and friends. Creepazoid at the library DEFINITELY should not be saying that to me.

    It’s so good to vent. I do wish people understood how hard I work and that I am an educated professional, not just your run of the mill clerk or something, which, yes they work hard and are great staff but I have trained for this. I deserve your professional courtesy.

    1. RED HAIR. Holy Jeebus. I used to have dyed red hair until this 3000 year old man would lech on me and call me his “2nd favorite red head”. Know who was his first favorite? HIS WIFE. Ick. I bleached out the whole to-do not long afterwards.

    2. Kristy

      >>>>not just your run of the mill clerk or something, which, yes they work hard and are great staff but I have trained for this. I deserve your professional courtesy.<<<<

      Run of the mill, huh? Thanks a fuck of a lot.

      1. I’ll approve of this comment despite your bile. Clerks are the backbone of the library. The library as a whole would be lost without them. “they work hard and are great staff” shouldn’t bring out too much anger.
        But I’ll be the first to say that clerks deserve more respect and more pay, no doubt. No doubt at all. Be well.

      2. Library Owl

        I know this is six months too late, but I wish I could upvote this!

        At my library there is only one “real” librarian: the director. The library is staffed almost entirely by those “run of the mill clerks”, most of whom have nothing more than a bachelors, if that. Granted we are a small, rural library, but those of us who work here certainly don’t need an expensive piece of paper to look up James Patterson’s newest book or help someone attach their resume to an email.

        As much as I would love to be a “real” librarian not everyone has either the money or opportunity to do so. We may not have a fucking degree, but we deserve professional courtesy also.

    3. When I got married, I got the largest, fattest silver ring that would fit on my finger. The unwanted advances stopped.

      I had seriously considered buying a ring before getting married, and I know people that have. It works for all but the crazies, and sometimes even then. 🙂

      1. I used to wear a big old fake diamond ring, just for everyday wear in NYC before I became a librarian (this is when I was in my early 20s). It worked for a LONG time, until one day a man said, “I bet you wear that fake ass ring so people don’t hit on you.” I’m terrible liar, I lost my cool, and haven’t worn it since. It is a good idea though!

      2. Lynn

        I don’t have a problem getting hit on at the library. I guess eventually you age out of it. There are some really nice things about being over 50. Most people don’t realize I’m a student reference assistant!

    4. CT

      I once had a patron over the phone ask if he could come in and watch me work, because he liked the way that I typed and my voice, and proceeded to ask me what my private extension was, so that he could continue to talk to me

  6. And yeah, we’re public servants, we expect to take some crap, etc. but there’s a limit and your management should protect you. After several years of abuse from a particularly nasty lady, all the department heads got together and complained to our director, repeatedly. She finally sent the lady a letter basically saying “be nice or be banned” and while we still wince when this woman comes in, she has toned down her vitriol and is bearable now. (alas for the poor folks at Target and Kohls who are unable to do this…)

      1. Matthew Williams

        And telling your supportive management is the key. They are not mind readers. They can’t fix what they don’t know about.

    1. gingerlibrarian

      Actually, we are in public service–as librarians we serve the public, but are servants to only whom we choose. As a professional, I require respect for me, for my staff, and for my volunteers (whom are trained and have been compensated with chocolate most often, but are there to supplement, not supplant the librarians, techs, assistants, and pages who have studied, trained and are paid to to their work that they do so well). In the public service, I tolerate little nonsense, not inebriation, nor guns, not (obvious) porno, and not harassing comments, lest my staff or members of the public should have to withstand a hostile and uncomfortable (by accepted social standards) work environment. Libraries and their staff work too hard to provide everything the public has become accustomed to, to put up with that. A few ignorant Iquestions are not going to stop us–but educating the public is our jobs, and educating them in what we do and how we serve the community as a whole will benefit everyone–right down to teaching the children on library tour how their parents collective taxes pay for a common good–and no, you don’t pay my salary, actually, I do that by writing as much in grants as I earn every year, but thanks for noticing that I am able to eat, and keep a roof over my head in the community in which I work, even if I still can’t manage to pay off the loans I took out when earning the degree in the field I enjoy working is so very much.
      Thank you for doing so.
      I’m going to get off my soapbox and put in my bite splint now.

  7. When I worked in a public library, we didn’t have name badges. However, there would be patrons who would listen to how colleagues refered to one another, then get our attention by calling to us by first names. I found somewhat disturbing and maybe a bit rude. I had no problem with our lovely regulars using our names as the familiarilty was there. But strangers? It seemed very wrong. Is it odd that I was bothered by that?

    1. Not at all, Laura. I wear a nametag with my first and last name on it. As a woman who lives in a large city who also has a unique first/last name combination, it worries me sometimes. After all, when I do chat reference, I do it with a fake name. I almost wish the library gave me a number. “Good Morning, Miss 361-42!”

      1. Rosa

        I won’t wear a name tag, even when it is ‘required’ by the job. These were brought in at one place I worked, and I refused, telling them – truthfully – that I’d been stalked and had no wish to repeat the experience. They backed down.

  8. Great post.

    I have a few thoughts.

    One: Thanks for the laughs in the way you’ve written this!

    Two: Though I’m not at a public service desk any more, i was asked those questions as far back as 1980. In a rural library. (Though in fairness to the customers, I wasn’t yet a real librarian.)

    Three: I think people say “I hate to bother you” or “Do you work here?” or other similar things just was a way to start a conversation with someone when they’re not 100% sure they have the right person. Or even when they are 100% sure. I know that I’ve found myself using a similar kind of beginning when I need help in a place that I’m not familiar with. Perhaps it feels awkward just to start in with the real question. I’m not sure.

    Thanks again for an interesting post.

  9. I have to confess to missing the card catalog – but mostly because I had just barely figured out how to work it when our local library started phasing in computers. I felt so cheated – this awesome system right in front of my my WHOLE LIFE and I had only just figured out that it was useful, and then boom. Gone. (The computer system is so, so much easier for me to work, though.)

    Even working in retail, I heard the “I hate to bother you” from customers a lot. It always felt so strange to me – that was kinda what I was getting paid for!

  10. Followed a Twitter link to this. I’m not a librarian but I use our local libraries all the time, and do try to make a point of telling the librarians how much I love our library system. It’s so great! I have three kids and we have so many books out, all the time. I do admit to missing the random aspect of the card catalog–I’d often get side-tracked by something interesting I spotted on the way to the book I was looking for–but I couldn’t keep track of all our due dates without the computer. It even emails me when books are due! All the children’s librarians at the branches we go to know my children by name. They are fantastic.

    1. You’re awesome, Amy! Dealing with families is my favorite part of the day, especially during programs. It always means so much to me when someone tells me that they enjoyed a class or a book. You’re wonderful for being so nice to your local librarians. I’m sure they appreciate it. Nice, thoughtful patrons keep us going. Take care!

  11. Zach

    How in the hell can you consider it “sexual harassment” if a guy politely asks you if you’re married?!?! Obviously I wasn’t there, but that first situation you described seemed about as normal and banal as they come. Guy is attracted to you. Guy inquires as to your status. You respond that you’re unavailable. Guy walks away. OH THE HUMANITY!! HOW DARE HE?!?!

    A) You should be flattered that he thought you were worth approaching.
    B) Most people aren’t so incredibly uptight that they consider it a mortal sin to flirt with someone in their workplace. (Seriously, have you never seen *any* movies?)
    C) You should appreciate that he didn’t waste your time beating around the bush with playful banter, like most guys would. He came right out and asked you directly if you were available. You shot him down, he walked away. Sounds like a pretty well-adjusted guy to me.
    D) Your threshold for what constitutes “sexual harassment” seems to be extremely low. I hope I never encounter you on a subway, and accidentally bump into your elbow, garnering a scream of sexual assault or attempted rape.

    (But the “drunkenly yelling “I LOVE YOU BABY!” at me at 10 A.M.” is certainly quite messed up and inappropriate.)

    1. Annie

      Most people prefer not to be hit on when they at work. Most people would prefer to not be hit on by drunkards in the morning when they are at work. Just by being women, we have to put up with a lot of b.s. from dudes who just don’t get that we’re not looking for a date AT WORK. What kind of guy does that? A desperate one. Life isn’t a movie. Ryan Gosling isn’t going to really walk into the library and say “hey girl, let’s get some froyo and you can tell me about the latest steam punk novel.” no.

      1. Zach

        Well, your claim of what “most” people prefer is not any more or less valid than mine.

        Furthermore, to answer your rhetorical question, the kind of guy that “does that” is the guy that happens to find you attractive enough to boldly take a little risk. He’s playful, adventurous, and confident. The kind of gal that reacts like you would probably get dumped after the second date anyway, because you’re clearly pretty damn uptight, and you take life a little too seriously.

      2. Matthew Williams

        I’ve known clerks that definitely were and talked about the guys after they left. Knew one that married a guy that asked her out. So, I’d say some are and some aren’t and when a guy (or girl) does that just say yes or no. It’s pretty simple.

        Now, if they are saying sexually charged stuff to you or touching you or following you or don’t take no for answer that is way different.

    2. gingerlibrarian

      Zach–remember context is key. What you might find enticing, we would rather not deal with at work. If I want someone to ask me if I am single, and I am at the grocery store, alone, on singles night, then very good. If I am on the subway without my wedding ring on (because it pulls my finger off half the time) so be it. If I am at a bar with my gfs, very well. I might even be flattered. Maybe. But at work? At work, my mate makes apologies for the interruption–because I am AT WORK–and your little fantasies will have to wait (for you and you alone to carry out). Oh and I have seen movies–so if you stand by my car and wait for me to leave for home to ask me to go out, prepare to not be able to use parts of your anatomy again. Because that is creepy, and I know how to handle creeps.

      1. Zach

        And the point I was trying to make is that IF the guy isn’t being creepy (I totally agree that waiting outside by your car would be WAY creepy…), then there should not be any problem with a respectful, polite question. If you get offended by the type of simple, innocent, polite advance described in the initial post, then maybe you have other social problems that need to be addressed…

        If your preference is that you’d rather not receive overtures of ANY kind, that’s your business. But you can’t expect that the entire rest of society is going to magically conform to your personal eccentricities.

    3. I’m glad Zach could lucidly demonstrate phallocentric work arrangements, in which the advances of men (administrative or otherwise) are privileged with the casual grace of sexual forwardness. Women, on the other hand, shouldn’t be so uptight(?), or so readily grab their rape whistle on the subway…? Because… because men don’t beat around the bush! Not the GOOD ONES, at least…? Sorry Zach, I’m lost. TEACH ME MORE ABOUT THE WORLD. PLZ. KTHNX.

      1. Zach

        You have no idea how off base you are here. I am the most stridently liberal, progressive, feminist-minded guy of everyone I know. I was at the historic Women’s March in DC in 2005, and I volunteer for NOW regularly. I’m the “pussy” who calls out the macho “tough guys” when they’re being sexist dickheads. I’m usually on your side on most topics.

        There is absolutely nothing phallocentric about what I was proposing. If anything is sexist here, it’s the fact that there is an implication that women should be treated differently in the workplace than men.

        There is no rule, or policy, or paradigm, that implies that asking a person out in their workplace is inappropriate, provided that it’s done respectfully and politely. I don’t understand where this idea is coming from. I’ve lived on both coasts, and I was raised halfway between them. I’ve worked in a number of industries, from Sales to Education to Coporate Cubicle farms. In all places, it’s always been normal to ask and be asked out by others from time to time. If the person is polite, respectful, and non-creepy in their approach, I can’t fathom why any reasonable person would be offended.

        The only conclusion I can draw is that you’re unusually uptight, and you’d rather stick to being alone at home with your cats and your horrible teenage grammar.

    4. Oh my lord. “You should be flattered”?!? HOW did I overlook this?

      You clearly lack any concept of whether or not an advance like this – no matter HOW innocuous – might make a person uncomfortable. It’s not flattering.

      Consider this the teachable moment upon which you learned that *if you even have to THINK about* whether or not a female co-worker wants you to ask her out (at whichever bi-coastal job you’re at, in whichever industry), just don’t do it. Play it safe. Don’t ask. No matter how “playful” or “adventurous” it makes you feel.

      1. Well, it actually depends on your employer. I have indeed worked for companies that have had policies against workplace romances.

        But what hasn’t been mentioned here (that I’ve seen) is that librarians are more vulnerable to this kind of approach because our field is one of public service. What we do is inherently open. Annie and gingerlibrarian have already reinforced the point that this is our workplace, not a social outing. You (this can be a general you, if you wish) can walk into any library, up to any person, and ask them what you wish. Appropriate or not, you have this ability unless or until you are banned from the building because of the nature of our workplace.

        However, let’s change the context. Would you walk into your local Ernst & Young office (to pick a random company), identify a woman, and ask her the same question? Firstly, I doubt it, and secondly, I imagine her response and the security response would be somewhat different than in the average public library, if you were even allowed past the receptionist’s desk.

      2. Emilie

        I’ve entered this conversation (years) late, but I wanted to take the time to contribute some thoughts. I’m absolutely not defending the “you should be flattered” mindset that some folks use to justify uninvited comments/advances, but I do wonder if biologically there’s a different set of wiring at play that makes that viewpoint so common.

        For instance, I get the impression that many guys *are* flattered by similar comments/unsolicited flirting. I know guys who have lamented that they can not remember the last time someone flirted with them out of the blue. With that in mind, if guys tie ego to how often someone flirts with them/sees them as desirable (and lets them know it!), it’s conceivable that they expect women to feel similarly or to react the same way.

        Thus what women often find creepy and uncomfortable, may be a huge confidence booster for a man on the receiving end of a similar interaction. It makes me wonder if the thought process goes something like this:

        Guy (thinks to himself): Man, I’d love it if someone complimented me/asked if I was single, etc… I really like ___ about that librarian. I’m gonna tell her, it’ll make her day!

        And then, well…it doesn’t. It just creeps her out. Even if the guy has the best intentions, there are so many interactions that happen where really, it’s just a creeper, that anyone working a public service desk feels the need to be somewhat on guard all the time.

    5. I wouldn’t necessarily call a patron asking me if I’m single sexual harassment–I WOULD call it something that can very easily be a prelude to harassment, therefore making some wariness about it understandable–but I do think a lot of the language you’re using here is language that’s used to defend/excuse harassment all the time, and you might want to consider that before using it. “You should be flattered he thought you were worth approaching”? Please.

      Here’s what would bother me about a situation like that: if I’m at the circulation desk where I work and a guy starts asking me if I’m single, it could be harmless curiosity and he could be a nice man I would enjoy talking to–or he could be someone who’s about to proposition me, or harass me, or declare his love for me. To an extent that’s true of all librarian-patron interaction, but by bringing up my relationship status he’s instantly added that dynamic to our conversation, which, as I said above, makes me wary.

      And if I’m at the circulation desk while this conversation is happening, because it’s my job to be there, then the ways in which I can disengage from this guy are limited. We’re also not in a situation where I can feel like we’re on equal footing–we’re in a situation where it’s my job to serve him. Can you see why that might make the question a little more sketchy, from my point of view? Would you ask a cashier if she was single while she’s ringing up your groceries, or a waitress while she’s taking your order? To my mind, they’re similar.

      1. Hey Caitlin. Thanks for your comment. I’m thinking a lot about the sexual harassment example I’ve used+wondering a) why it made Zach SO angry (I mean, really, really angry! You didn’t see all the posts of his that I deleted where he called another poster an “uptight bitch”) and b) if it was the best one to use.
        In truth, it was the most recent, but here’s why it bugs me: It’s not the first time. If it was an isolated incident, it would be irking, but not a huge deal. But many librarians (and women in general) deal with this weekly or daily. Every time I get hit on, I brace myself, because it had escalated or gotten out of hand in the past. I am not the only librarian I know who has been transferred to another branch due to chronic harassment by a single out-of-hand patron. I won’t be the last. I’ve been followed on the train, approached in public, threatened, and yelled at when I didn’t return advances.
        So, when someone hits on me, I think: “How far is this going to go? Is this going to be an isolated incident?”
        I don’t understand Zach’s comment about how we should be flattered. I don’t need to be flattered. I need to be respected.
        Thanks for your thought-provoking comment, Caitlin. Be well.

    6. Deanna

      Hitting on anyone when they are not free to tell you where to go, nor avoid the person has hit on us is always rude.
      The workplace is a place where we are not free to respond how we would like, nor do we have the option to walk away. Our only option is to call security if the patron goes too far.

    7. CT

      I think it is more that it can be very uncomfortable to deal with that on a daily basis. When I was younger I worked at a movie theater, a guest asked if I was single, and when I said no he walked away…. only to follow me into a theater when I was by myself and trying to clean. He kept coming closer and closer to me and was very frightening. Thankfully, one of the big burly guest relations man (security) walked in because they needed me in another area. We don’t know whats going on in his head when he asks the question, and we don’t know what he may or may not do. Besides, it is an inappropriate question to ask when that person is at work and can not necessarily discourage them as much as they would normally.

  12. N

    The thing I’ve found with being approached by men is that they feel that because I am female, I must feel flattered to be hooted at/asked if I’m single.

    If someone politely asks, “are you married?” that’s one thing. I got that there was a little bit more forwardness in this exchange, and if it made Ingrid uncomfortable, then that’s fine. I will mention my own husband in passing or in amusing stories I regale students and coworkers with.

    I do enjoy conversing with people while I’m at the desk if it goes both ways.

    Being leered at, propositioned, asked my marital status aggressively – that makes me feel more like an object than a person. And that’s never cool.

    1. gingerlibrarian

      In the harassment thing–I wonder if we all shouldn’t have minored in social work here. Depending on where you work, you could get a drooling nerd student/prof, a soon to be divorced, or all manner of lonely folk. I frequently have a mix of them speaking to my chest. It is not what I am wearing, I assure you. The librarian fantasy will continue, regardless, and it is all in the handling. But a low nonsense or occassionally flip approach is best—and I’m sorry to say, Zach, but yes, simply asking someone if they are single can be harassment, especially when they just had you fax their divorce papers. It’s creepy.

      After that, I repeat whan N said:

      I do enjoy conversing with people while I’m at the desk if it goes both ways.

      Being leered at, propositioned, asked my marital status aggressively – that makes me feel more like an object than a person. And that’s never cool.

      1. Zach

        I think you’re playing the oft-abused “anything can be harassment” card here.

        Leering is creepy and inappropriate, for sure. Suggestive inflections or tones of voice are also to be refrained from, always. Aggressiveness in any form is *off limits*, of course. But if I haven’t had you handle my divorce papers, and I’m treating you with complete respect and courtesy, I don’t think it would be rational to get offended at the simple question of marital status.

        So far, in all the critical responses my initial post has garnered, not one individual has suggested what they feel the appropriate course of action would be for a person to take when they wish to kindly inquire as to the status of a person who’s at work in a library. What is a guy *supposed* to do? (And don’t just say, “Nothing; he should remain silent or leave.” That’s a cop-out non-answer…)

    2. Zach

      Hooting is never cool. Nor is aggressiveness. If I even remotely implied that I think aggressiveness or catcalls are acceptable, then I failed in my message, and I apologize. I’m just trying to defend the practice of politely and respectfully asking the simple question, then immediately disengaging if the response is a denial.

      1. N

        Okay, asking once is different, but again – context. If you ask, “Hey, where’s the copier? Oh, by the way, are you married? Single?” Then that’s weird. That’s way too soon. If we have been having an enjoyable conversation, that’s different.

        But the fact that I’m sitting behind a desk brings complications. If a man flirts with me and I’m on desk duty, maybe I can’t leave, like I could elsewhere. Maybe my boss will see and think I’m flirting with patrons, which is inappropriate. Maybe I just don’t want to have this conversation at all. Whatever the reasons, if I don’t want to flirt, then fine. There are several regular patrons that I enjoy talking to. As Matt said below, if a man is only valuing me for my sexual availability, that’s creepy in and of itself.

        There seems to be an expectation that any female should be flattered to have male attention any time, regardless of how appropriate it is or what she is doing. You don’t seem to be arguing that women reading, say, on trains should put down their books and listen with rapt attention to men complimenting their skin or other creepiness, and that is good. I don’t see that women expressing “I wish people wouldn’t hit on me at work” as that wrong. It’s something that is changing, but will only change if we continue to address it.

  13. Kate

    “Did you have a mean middle school librarian who yelled at you every time you asked a question and then peered over her glasses in a disapproving manner?”
    This. Yes, I did. Guilty of the “Are you busy” ask ALL THE TIME. And not just at libraries. I’m trying to stop.

    1. Aw! I had that same mean librarian, but in high school (seriously. My friend had an overdue book so the librarian took her winter coat!). I think you’re just trying to be polite. That’s cool. Like I said, it doesn’t annoy me, I just don’t get it.

  14. Kate

    I don’t know when card catalogs *started* to go out of style, but I know they were DEAD in 2000 because I used to write notes on the backs of the old cards! I would always flip over the card first to see which book it used to catalogue. I don’t know why our school didn’t just recycle the paper.

  15. Matt

    I have no clue if asking a librarian about their marital status is definitively harassment or not. But I want to point out that it would never work for me. I’m not Fabio (or whoever the ladies swoon over these days) instead I’m an overweight middle aged physically intimidating man they don’t know (that might not be the case with other guys). So asking out some random attractive woman ANYWHERE is going to get me nowhere. (and since asking about marital status is a transparent precursor to asking a woman out I consider them the same basic thing) Now if I was a regular customer, and I knew them on a first name basis, and they smiled when I came over to ask them for help, then I’d go ahead and go for it, because then we have a personal connection and I’m not some random yahoo off the street so they’d be familiar with my personality and might choose to ignore the fact that I’m not exactly Adonis. Even then, I wouldn’t have ever bothered to ask about their marital status. I’d either have discovered it through repeated conversation at random, (“Do anything fun this weekend? Yeah. Me and my husband …”) or that would be the excuse they used to shoot me down, which I would appreciate because I could pretend in my mind and when telling my friends that I got shot down, that if it wasn’t the case, I totally would have had a chance.

    On top of that, I wouldn’t ask about a woman’s marital status because it really shouldn’t inform my interactions with them. If I think a woman is worth talking to, they’re worth talking to. That interaction should itself be worth my time. Walking up to a woman and asking about their marital status and if they’re not available, taking the hint and walking away, a guy is essentially saying “If there’s no chance we date later, I’m not interested in you in a person.” which is further compounded by the fact that since we (as guys) talk to married or otherwise unavailable women all the time for no other reason than the benefits of the conversation (either for the interaction or for the information etc…) that choosing NOT to talk to one (the walking away part after discovering she’s not available) implies that those things (from her) hold no benefit to him. Then he’s in the position of just having implied both that he’s only interested in this woman if there’s a possibility of a relationship AND that he finds no inherent value in talking to her, which reads “Hey, interested in bending over and shutting your mouth later?” which isn’t at ALL what he wants to convey because that OTHER librarian that WAS interested now thinks he’s a douche. Add to this that in the specific case of librarians, he’s dealing with a segment of the population who is viewed by many men as sex symbols and even with the best of intentions, the scenario comes off making him look like a slimeball. It’s just a bad move.

    So all in all, regardless of it’s status as harassment, it’s just not a smart move. If a guy is interested in their local librarian, they should be a regular customer, take the time to get to know each other for a while and then ask about a date. Sure, they might have “wasted” some time becoming friends with someone there’s no chance they’ll ever have a romantic relationship with, but that’s not really a problem.

    1. Kelley

      I think this is pretty much the issue. Being hit on by strangers can be really disconcerting and not something many people want to deal with while at work. When there’s a bit of familiarity, it’s usually much less awkward and easier to handle.

  16. Ruth

    This amuses me, but then I think of ‘weird things customers say in bookshops’:

    and then there is ‘The customer is always right’ and another site about weird things people say to design professionals.

    I have worked in a bookshop and had the whole ‘I read a book with a green cover once. Do you have it?’

    I have simply come to the conclusion -in every profession there are weird people with strange comments.

    (Also I go to the library all the time and get accosted by drunk men whilst browsing at 10am. Or laughed at by the teenage boys who hang out on the computers. But I still love it)

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  18. I know how much I pay in taxes to the library …. a whole $7.00 a year. I absolutely hate it when people tell me they pay my salary or buy our books, etc. Our library is solely funded by property tax…..which makes the comment so much more idiotic, because most of our patrons dont own property!

    1. Matt L.

      At one of my previous jobs we kept a breakdown of how people’s property taxes were spent. Not only did it take the heat off of us when they found we got about 1%, but they always found the information really interesting. In fact, I often had people ask how we manage to stay open with so little money after that. People rarely know how their tax dollars are spent.

    2. JGO

      This is one of my pet peeves. Even if a person doesn’t own real property, most live in a rented apartment or house. They pay property taxes indirectly because landlords pass them through in the rent they charge….

      And yes, the bang for your buck in library taxes is one of the best values around.

      (Also, I think Zach is a troll. I’m ignoring him.)

  19. I worked at the help desk at an academic library. One of the questions I was asked was for information about Somerset County. OK. I entered that into the terminal. So, does the person want to know about the Somerset county in England, Ohio, Massachusetts, etc. What about Somerset County. No, just “Somerset County.” I politely told the person that I would love to help her, but that if she had a more specific question, we could get further with it. The patron seemed happy with the answer and promised to come back later. I suppose that’s a good outcome.

  20. In the original post, it’s mentioned that librarians have masters’ degrees. Unfortunately, in the move to cut costs, para-professionals without masters’ degrees are often behind the reference desk. It seems as though the local governments have the same idea many of the patrons discussed above have, that “anyone can do your job” or that “since all the person does will be to check books in and out who needs advanced training for that job.” Or, a personal favorite: “Why does someone need a master’s degree just to put books back on the shelf.”

    So, now that we have agreed not to bring back the card catalog, let’s all agree to bring back the professional librarian!

    PS: I am not suggesting that paraprofessionals don’t do a great job. Clearly they do. I think many of them would be well-advised to take the next step and get a professional degree and come back to supervise the person in your former position or one like it at another library!

    1. We don’t really have paraprofessionals at my library, more like P/T librarians (they have an MLS or almost an MLS but we can’t pay them full time). I’ve heard a lot about paraprofessionals replacing librarians and I’m afraid that people think that it’s the future of libraries.
      But still! They’re not volunteers! I’d rather patrons think everyone they see is a librarian than assume we’re ALL volunteers, therefore meaning a library isn’t worth staffing with paid workers.
      Thanks for all your comments Adam.

      1. Anna

        I’m 24, and about to go back to school for my MLS. I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to be a Librarian, but I have very little money, and I’m not the best student. I searched for a job for months, and i am extremely grateful for the “Library Aide” “paraprofessional” positions I’ve managed to attain. I work circulation, childrens, and reference. I catalog, I run the outreach program, and this summer, I was hired by a third library to run a teen summer reading program. Despite my lack of money, and academic prowess, I feel that due to the positions I managed to get (without an MLS), I am in a much better position to succeed academically as I begin classes this fall, already knowing quite a bit about librarianship. Everyone has to do things in the order which works best for them. In my area, it’s getting a lot harder to get a non MLS position, which is sad, because you need to start somewhere.

    2. Jean

      I manage a small town library. I have no education in library sciences at all – I do, however, have experience in administration. I find that to be just as valuable, as my library has a larger budget (thanks to the grants that I have accessed), more programming, and a larger and more varied selection of books than it did when was run by a person with a MLIS. I realize that I am not as qualified when it comes to reference questions but am more than capable of researching the answers to most of them. I find that a lot of people in the library world are academic snobs. One does not need a universistiy degree to be articulate and intelligent.

  21. Librarian

    One thing I think some people do not realize is all the various things we librarians do. For example, I am more of a tech librarian. I oversee two servers, an ILS, and a few hundred computers. Volunteers are great but it would be awfully hard to replace me with a volunteer. A trained IT professional yes, but as we have seen in our library, not all trained IT staff are good with the general public.

    There is a reason we get Masters Degrees. We are trained to find things. I know librarians that can craft search queries that impress PhD holders. Add to that the outreach work librarians do, the working knowledge of aspects of copyright, and their career placement and advancement work. We have to know a lot, some of which are dedicated fields of study. That is a lot to ask of any volunteer.

  22. KnowledgeMama

    I’m not even called a librarian. I work as part of a corporate marketing team. I love it when people say “What?! you don’t look or act like a librarian!” or “wow! how do you know how to do this kind of work? aren’t you JUST a librarian?”

  23. Great post!

    A personal peeve of mine, although I can understand where patrons are coming from with it, is “can’t you MAKE [this thing that I want to happen happen]?” The best example I can think of is if one patron has an overdue book and another patron wants it–yeah, I can charge them fines and send them emails, but if they choose to disregard those things, then no, I can’t MAKE them return the book. I am flattered that you think I have that kind of power, but…no.

      1. Rosa

        Another comment I often got – and hated, though I was polite – when I worked in a public library was a request to watch someone’s children. Um – there are over 800 people in this building, I am busy answering questions and giving my attention to the patrons at the reference desk, and I am not your unpaid babysitter. They were always shocked when I politely informed them that the library’s policy was that we would call Children’s Services if there were unaccompanied children under the age of 12 in the library. And yes, we did. The local bylaw was that it constituted child abandonment. Now, I visited my public library alone all the time when I was a child, but it was in a small town – the one I worked in was in a city of several million.

  24. Deanna

    I had a regular patron’s caseworker call me and ask whether I would be filing charges after the patron told me he had a gun when I couldn’t help him find some information, the caseworker told me that she had discussed why this was inappropriate with her client. I didn’t press charges. Said patron was later asked me if I was single.
    I’ve also baked a black chocolate cake for a coworker when she got her first chat reference death threat.
    P.S. I’m a Lib Tech

    1. I think it’s experiences like this (Oh, the stories I could tell! But won’t. As I’m not really supposed to talk about them) that make us wary of certain kinds of interactions. I’m sorry this happened to you. That’s so scary and upsetting.
      The chocolate cake was a nice gesture as chocolate is a good medicine for most maladies. I’m sure your coworker appreciated it.

    1. Ha! I once was helping a woman set up an email account. “I want to email my sister” she said. “OK,” I responded, “What’s her email address?” “I don’t know!” she snapped, “Her name is Miriam and she lives in Florida!” When I told her that she needed to figure out what her sister’s email address was before we could contact her she said, “They should really staff this floor with someone who actually knows how to work a computer.” #wompwomp

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  26. Your comment about card catalogs gets a big plus 1 from me. I worked in a library that had one that we still updated (this is 2011) and dealing with it was about 1/3 of my job. Trust me it wasn’t romantic, it was hell! Those rods that keep the cards together were designed by Satan himself.

  27. I’m a medical librarian, and the thing that annoys me more than anything else, “I’ve never heard of medical librarians…..” said in the tone like I just told them i’m Bigfoot.

    Or the variation, “Why would hospitals possibly need a librarian?”

    Or another variation, “I’ve never seen a library in a hospital.” Right. Because we just stick them right next to the ER.

  28. hubbit

    The Card Catalogue! In my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, both the Indiana University library system and the Monroe County Public Library eliminated their card catalogs sometime between 1986 and 1988.

    Both went to amber display Hercules monitors (Graphics? What were those?) with touch-cell screens. I have no idea what memory system they used back then, but I do very clearly remember doubting that all the information that once lined walls and banks of card catalog storage could *possibly* fit into a little computer. *Surely* items were left out. The whole concept was difficult to comprehend in those days of primitive computing.

    Today, any patron can whip out a smart phone and browse their local public library holdings online, logging into the very same server they’d be using on the premises. In many systems, one can even log in and reserve items to pick up at the circulation desk. There are so many more useful options for patrons today than there were 20-25 years ago when card catalogs started being phased out. We have it so much better today than anyone ever could have dreamed of then.

    I don’t miss card catalogs one damned bit. 🙂

  29. encyclomania

    Hi there,

    I’m not a librarian, although my dad was one in his youth. He would tell me stories of how the kids would finnagle him into dropping fines, when he knew that they would spend the cash on snacks.

    I am an avid reader and I must say that I absolutely LOVE librarians! Some of my best memories are spending time with my high school librarian, Mrs. Cinnamon.

  30. My all-time favorite question (when some electronic database is down) is “Do you know when this will be back up?” I usually say that if I knew, I would be the queen of the library.

    1. YES! “When will the printer be fixed?” “When someone comes to fix it, I guess…” Those questions are hard to answer because we’re usually just as frustrated as they (the patrons) are.

  31. Oh the things I could add. lmao. Unless you’re over the age of 65, my husband or my parents, don’t ever address me as “Honey,” “sweetie” or “baby.”

    There was a time when a very nervous father came in trying to find books for his son. He also wasn’t very computer literate so I helped him put books on hold. He asked for a number to call to find out when the books would be in, so I gave him the reference desk number. An hour later, he called the reference desk, refreshed my memory of who he was and then asked me on a date.

    Can a black woman bring up race and not be called paranoid? Well, I guess I’m about to be paranoid. Lots of times, I’ve had patrons refuse my offered assistance to ask the white co-worker sitting next me. (And these are patrons of all races!)

  32. OH! Here’s two of my favorite things said to me. “Is it required here that all librarians are unattractive or does the job do it to you?” and “You NEED a graduate degree to sit around and read book all day?”

    1. People really don’t know that patrons say things like this to us and that it can be hard to keep a positive attitude. I’m sure you’re a great librarian. Keep on being awesome.

  33. I’ve just completed my library degree, and while looking for a library job I’ve been volunteering in a well-known public library system in New York City. I often find myself in the opposite situation to the one you’ve been describing. Patrons will ask me if I’m a librarian, and I’ll say, “I’m a volunteer, but perhaps I can help you.”

    1. We have more volunteers w/Masters than I wish we did. By this I mean, I wish we could give them Full Time jobs. I have my fingers crossed for you and I hope that one day, very soon, you’ll get a job that makes you happy and pays you what you deserve.

  34. Alyssa V.

    I once went on a date with a guy who had the nerve to say, “I can’t possibly understand why you would need a master’s degree to be a librarian!” Needless to say, we did not go on a second date.

      1. I had a guy email me on a dating site with a message along the lines of: “What’s a library? Isn’t that the place we used to go in the 90s to get oudated paperbacks?” We didn’t go on a first date.

  35. Lori

    Sorry, can’t dredge up sympathy for getting nicely hit upon, as in the author’s example. Yelling, “Hey, baby I love you!” just shows no home training and should be pointedly ignored. But the guy that says, “I like the look of you.” You say, “Not single.” He leaves. Pleasant and tastefully done. When one stops getting those nice inquiries, you really do miss them.

    1. It’s not the isolated incident that bothers me (re: are you single?), it’s the fact that it’s a weekly occurrence. I guess some people enjoy those kinds of inquiries and I respect that, but I simply do not understand it.
      I have been harassed, followed onto the subway, followed out of the library, and have had inappropriate comments made about my anatomy. So yes, when inquiries are made about my relationship status, I immediately become suspicious and wary.
      As for politely ignoring the man who loved to yell at me at my place of work “BABY I LOVE YOU!”, it might be your style to politely ignore it. All librarians have different styles. I do not allow yelling my library, let alone open harassment of library workers. I don’t think it sets a good example for patrons of all ages. The last thing I want the library’s kids to see is the librarian being openly harassed without any consequences. I would hate for them to think that it’s appropriate behavior for the library or life in general.
      I respect your difference of opinion. Thank you for reading.

  36. Paige

    Along the same lines as the volunteer thing…I work at a university library, and I get students AND faculty (including faculty I have worked with in the past) ask me, “So what are you majoring in?”

  37. I had a young mother offer to “make it worth my while” if I hacked her ex-husbands Facebook account for her from my desk, and then tried to rub herself up against me while finding books for her 3yo child.

    1. Oh no! Repulsive. I think some male librarian should write posts about sexual harassment in the workplace. It happens to you all, too! I hope it doesn’t happen much. Stay strong, David!
      On the other hand, isn’t it nice that she thought a librarian could handle hacking into an account?

  38. Tricia

    I’ve become used to getting some of these comments from the public or certain non-librarian co-workers on my campus, but what is really depressing is I *still* get versions of these comments from relatives. Even after very carefully explaining, for the past 20 years, what it is that my job entails. One of my brothers still sends me job postings for library jobs I’m clearly not qualified for because “all library jobs are the same aren’t they?” And this man is a doctor!

  39. erin@sdpl

    Okay, I work for a big city library branch that is basically awesome, but my two least favorite things I hear all of the time are:

    1. Don’t work too hard!

    I think this boils my innards because whenever someone says this, I’m always running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, working fricking hard. Sometimes I’ve been known to say “THAT never gets old!” It seriously drives me nuts. Blegh!

    2. After being told how much someone owes for library fines, from $1.00 up to one MILLION dollars… “I could have BOUGHT the book for that!”

    Okay, yeah, maybe you should, from now on, go buy books for a dollar instead of relying on a library which has historically charged fees if your items are late. That sounds like a splendid idea!

    Everything else on here is great. I love this post and I also love the Ryan Gosling library-related meme. It restores my faith in library humanity 🙂


  40. Dori Molletti

    I like your blog–very funny! Thanks!
    Here’s how I’ve answered these questions in the past…
    “Are you a volunteer?” I used to be, but not since I became a librarian.
    “It must be so nice to read all day!” Yes, it must be! Be sure to tell me if you ever find a job that’ll let me do that–I’d love that job!
    “I hate to bother you.” It’s impossible to bother me–how can I help you?
    “I miss the card catalog” I do, too. I just love antique furniture with little drawers–it’s a great place to store all my flash drives and CDs.
    “Are you single?” Yes. I’m a single librarian married to a single engineer.

  41. Candace

    Hi all, My very good friend is a young librarian with her recently attained MLS. She tweeted this link to Facebook which interested me enough for me to read it, including all the comments. Obviously I am not a librarian, but I am a ‘volunteer’ who is retired from her profession in medicine which required a master’s degree. I hear the horror stories from the reference desk, and there are some doozies! I love the library and most of the people I work with…and, yes, I said work with, even tho I am ‘just a volunteer’. Several things here concern me. First, getting upset when asked if you are a volunteer. Many of the general public have little knowledge of the various strata of the people working in the library. Most think that all of the paid staff are ‘librarians’. It seems that this question would give you a great opportunity to educate and inform them. Or you could say ‘Almost, considering what I am paid’ (haha). Next, getting upset when someone asks if you have time for them. Since i am retired, you can guess at my age and to me,asking that question is simply good manners. Add to that the fact that I am sure many people are unsure of what all the person sitting at the ‘reference desk’ (which may or may not be marked as such) is responsible for. Lastly getting upset when someone says they miss the card catalog. It’s just an individual
    Opinion and thought…I don’t think they are holding you personally responsible. I might say that I miss my 69 VW bug but it does not mean that I don’t like my 2010 Subaru or that I wish all cars were still made like they were in 1969 ! I love books, the library and you all but chill out and don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m sure I have offended a few but hopefully I have given some of you food for thought?

    1. Candace, you make an excellent point. These questions really aren’t the problem. In fact, the problem is us, the librarians (I think). None of these questions is particularly annoying — it’s just that we get tired of hearing them constantly. As librarians, we often feel undervalued and these kinds of questions seem to make it worse. But… you are correct in saying that we shouldn’t really get all fired up about the questions. They are harmless. I hope we understand each other!

    2. Not offended at all and glad that you added to the conversation. Maybe I wasn’t clear but here it is again: some of these comments patrons give me don’t offend me on an isolated basis. However, repeated questions/comments on the same topic do get under my skin sometimes. We have many overqualified volunteers at our library. They are so wonderful and helpful and deserve a F/T job. We can’t afford to hire them. My main problem is that people think the ENTIRE library is staffed by volunteers, therefore thinking the library is not worthy of funding. The comment doesn’t make me hate being compared to volunteers (like I said, so many of our volunteers are experienced, helpful, kind, and often overqualified). The comment makes me upset that people think the library doesn’t deserve to be funded and fully resourced. I would never call someone “just” a volunteer.
      I don’t think I ever get “upset” when people miss the card catalog. But, perhaps take a trip to certain parts of Brooklyn and take a gander at the unnecessary fetishization of outdated technology. After a month or so, it might wear on your nerves too.
      And again, I don’t know if I’ve made myself clear enough, but here goes: Sometimes these repeated (not isolated!) comments irk me, but I don’t retaliate (unless the patron is becoming hostile/physical). I often try to smile through it. I’m a new blogger, looking for ways to convey exactly how I feel. I’m working on it. Sometimes things don’t read quite the way I want them too.
      I value volunteers and your comments.

      1. Candace

        Anyone who has a job needs to vent sometimes and I guess a blog is one way to do it but instead of just your friends, everyone gets to chime in…like me. I understand the frustrations of working with the public since I did it for 40 years as a nurse practitioner. I often felt under appreciated because I wasn’t ‘the doctor’ when in many ways I was better and others not. My job was high stress and my public had usually reverted to about 8 years old because they were sick. Now I love being a library volunteer. Unlike you all I get to pretty much do what I want and come and go as I want while still having responsibilities…but no stress. I wish that you all got paid way better. It is so unfair to require an advanced degree and the expense acquired and then pay you so little! I liked my ‘real’ job very much but I was well paid. You guys have to really love what you do and surely know that the good guys out number the butts. That’s what kept me going. Keep up the good work and ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundum’……

      2. Nurses work so hard! My mom is one. I’d almost always prefer to see a NP or RN rather than a doctor. They seem to be so much more in touch. I salute all the amazing work you did as an NP. We need to appreciate our nurses more.
        Thanks so much for joining the conversation. Be well.

  42. The ones that get under my skin the most are the patrons who make really biased statements as though they are fact (political, religious, racist, etc.) and then sort of stare at you, waiting for you to agree. It’s like, “Um…I’m not going to agree with you. Nor am I going to argue with you.” So I just blink a couple of times and then move on to the actual question at hand. (I’m a reference librarian.)

    1. Ugh. Yes, having have worked in several culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse neighborhoods, I completely understand what you’re saying. You’d think NYers would be used to living with all different kinds of people, but, alas, I’ve heard some terrible things. Sometimes I let it go (the rhythmic blinking in hopes of them going away), but often I tell them to keep it down or to not share these kinds of thoughts with me. One man LOVED to tell me racist jokes and I’d always cut him off before he could get too far. He’d tell me that I was too sensitive. If being not racist equals being too sensitive, sign me up!
      Keep fighting the good fight, Lisa! Your library is lucky to have you.

  43. Elise

    My least favorite comment about being a librarian (which I don’t really get from patrons at work) is when people tell me that they love old books or the smell of old books and assume that I feel the same way. Ugh, I’m not doing this to smell books all day long.

    1. Ha! I get that FROM librarians about why they don’t like e-books. It makes me cringe, but I’m not sure why. I don’t even like my NOOK that much. (Not when there are so many ARCs I’ve yet to get to).
      I think you need a t-shirt that says “I’m not doing this to smell books all day long.”

  44. MaddyP

    Thank you to all of you wonderful librarians. Dealing with the public can be stressful, and you are on the front lines. Nevertheless, now I am stuck with a song in my head about a librarian who did fend off the guy for at least half the movie: “Mar…ian – – – madam libra…ian!”

    1. Maybe I’d be more open to flirtation if it came in the form of song complete with a massive chorus and dancers (I’m serious). Thanks for your comment. This has been a rough day and this was such a lovely thing to see. Much appreciated. Take care.

  45. “Did you have a mean middle school librarian who yelled at you every time you asked a question and then peered over her glasses in a disapproving manner? Not cool.”

    Agree! SO not cool! And people like me & my PLN are trying to change those perceptions or at least raise a new generation that views us Middle School Librarians as grinning mock evilly over our glasses & jumping to help & answer questions. Keeping fighting the good fight & Sequins \\FTW//

    Oh and sincerely sorry for spoiling your Walking Dead experience, too. We can all be nerdy eager asshats sometimes! There is a strange convivial communal joy to be live Tweeting something you are passionate about like Zombies & Dr. Who. Not a great reason but it’s all I gots.
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Walking Dead

  46. Chatting with a patron at the circ desk, I mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with a book she brought up because I don’t keep up as much with adult fiction since I’m the Teen Librarian. She gave me a consoling look and said “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”

    1. People who work with kids/teens, librarians and otherwise, are always considered to be less serious or important. Personally, while I appreciate the work that Adult Specialists do, I have never aspired to be an Adult Specialist librarian. Adults are the worst.

  47. Avant indietro

    I agree with all of this, but I cannot seem to understand why do I have to turn into a mental/intellectual eunuch in order to successfully pass library school, hold down an internship or job in a library, and to engage in professional library discourse!!!!!??
    Please enlighten me fellow librarians…I’m all ears. 🙂

  48. I know I am super late on this, but I used to be a circ/clerk and what would really peeve me is when patrons would come in and ask a reference question and I would smile and say something to the effect of, “They will be able to assist you better with this at the reference desk” and point 10 feet away to the reference desk, and it never failed the patron would either stomp off, or tell me “but I don’t want to bother them.” The implication that I’m clearly not doing anything, or what I’m doing is less important. So let me tell you, I’m also frustrated by patrons not wanting to bother the reference librarian. Personally, I’d be happy to do reference for someone, but the place I worked they really wanted the job duties separated, and having a circ staff enmeshed in a long involved reference problem keeps them from being able to help with those quick customer service problems they’re supposed to be helping with…like self-check-out, or account queries.

    I also get aggravated by not patrons, but general public comments to the effect that no one uses libraries anymore and that we don’t need libraries because we have google. People that clearly don’t know what they are missing.

    1. Hey! Thanks for pitching in on this. First of all, if clerks/circ staff feels comfortable answering reference questions, then I think they should go for it. However, it’s always been my opinion that circ. staff is too darn busy to do two jobs. As am I too busy to do two jobs. Patrons don’t understand the distinction between our jobs and sometimes that makes them frustrated. We have similar problems with our book shelvers. Some are quite young. Some are adults with special needs. Others are just overworked adults who don’t have time to answer reference questions. Patrons will get quite angry with these workers when they can’t have exactly what they want when they want it. I try to be apologetic and helpful, but sometimes people will hate you no matter how nice you are.

      As for Google? Google will get you the most popular answer. I’ll get you the right one. Thanks for reading!

      1. I have the opposite problem. I’m a children’s aide, about to move up to referral clerk. Our library has a strict policy that only librarians can answer reference questions, clerks only if there is no librarian available and not likely to be for some time, and aides and pages never. Patrons get so angry sometimes when we send them to the reference desk, I’ve had people ask me why I’m there if I “can’t do the job”, I’ve even been asked “why aren’t you a librarian?” I really wish more people understood there are different jobs and levels in libraries, just like any other business or company.

  49. Upset me or turn me off libraries forever? Um, no. Personally, I’m bothered by anyone who doesn’t believe that–and behave as if–librarians have actual super powers. (You think I’m kidding–I’m not kidding. Ninja reference skills are to be worshiped. Not to mention all the other skills that contribute to maintaining libraries as idyllic alternate universes in which to spend one’s days.) I was trained young by my beloved childhood librarians.

  50. Surprised and pleased you listed “Are you a volunteer?” first. I roll my eyes, curse inwardly, etc. for the other complaints, but this one always insults me.

  51. CT

    One thing that has always bothered me, not necessarily on what they have said, but when they go around the desk to where you are sitting. The desk is there for a reason, and unless I have invited you to be there (showing them something on the computer for instance) you do not belong there! I had a man who was hitting on me do that and it was very intimidating… and he knew it
    Not cool!

      1. That drives me nuts, especially in the children’s library when parents allow their young children to go behind our desk. Sure, we have toys and puppets and candy back the but there’s a reason they’re stored behind the desk. They’re usually for programs and some is our own personal stuff, doesn’t even belong to the library. I even caught a child going through the library’s purse once *grrr*

    1. Betsy

      My desk has audio books shelved behind it. I regularly have people behind my desk–I’ve even had people sit at it if I’ve walked away. I always have to lock my computer or they will try to use it. I can’t get angry with them being there, though it’s always a little disconcerting–if I’m working on e-mails, I quickly switch to a web browser or something.

      That being said, I’m in charge of Digital Media among other things, so I regularly have to bring people around my desk to show them how to sign up for eAudio accounts and things like that. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have had a person use it as an intimidation tactic.

  52. Rosa

    I once had a man tell me he really liked my wedding & engagement ring (they fit together interestingly). That one was definitely not a guy hitting on me! 🙂 He just actually liked the jewelry style. But seriously, I don’t get offended if someone just says they like something I’m wearing. I do (or rather did – at age 48, harassment’s over, happily) get offended when they ask if I’d go out with them, or make suggestive remarks. And yeah, it happened long after I was married, in my mid-20s. And I always wear my rings, so it was ultra-creepy. I used to just say “My husband wouldn’t like that – and he’s a Hell’s Angel.” (Not true, though he looks like a central casting version of a biker – but they invariably left me alone!)

  53. Pingback: Mental Health & Library Patrons |

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