Please Don’t Sneeze in My Mouth and Other Requests from Your Local Librarian Who Tries to be Friendly Even with a Mouthful of Someone Else’s Snot

This is another rant-y angst-y librarian post. These kinds of posts tend to get me a lot of hits and shares, along with a  bucket full of criticism from people saying I have a bad attitude (I sometimes do), to others claiming that my posts aren’t very data-y (that’s a quote from a reblogger. “Data-y”. And they’re not. Data-y. Pretty much ever). I think, though, it’s important for us to commiserate and brainstorm and pop the angry, bitter zits of our librarian souls. So here. But if you’re not in the mood for my crankiness and gross vomit GIFs, I suggest clicking here and getting the hell out of dodge.

Brace yourself, because I am going to go to town on the behaviors of parents and caregivers in the library. I fully expect an internet bitch-slap from mommy-bloggers and the like, but that’s OK. I don’t think I’m about to say anything that’s unreasonable. Of course, some people might have a problem with the fact that I’m not a mom and, therefore, I should never talk about kids ever. It’s true. I have not made a baby come out of my body. No baby resides in my butter dish-sized apartment. However, I worked in day cares for years. I was a nanny for over 7 years. And now, I see children of all ages all day long. Does that make me an expert? HELL TO THE NO. I am but a humble observer who witnesses lots of baffling behavior in the library and I’d like to draw some attention to it. Please hear my pleas.

As usual, this is peppered with completely unnecessary GIFs. Welcome to the internet everybody!

☹ “It’s OK if your child is having a bad day. We all have bad days. No one will judge you if you need to step out or try coming back another time”. 

baby meltdown

Before I begin storytime, I usually start off with an announcement quite a lot like this. It can not only be applied to story time and library programs, but to just being in the library as a whole. Hey guys, we’re all together in this tiny room/building, singing songs and having a good time and getting excited about reading. If your kid is screaming or crying or bouncing off the walls (more than is typical for a child of their age), hitting other children (or being aggressive in some other fashion), they aren’t going to learn anything. This, however, is what’s going to happen:

  • Your child will get more and more upset the longer you keep them in the program or the library. Maybe the room is too hot (I sweat like a pig during storytime. This is a fact. I’m gross). Maybe it’s too loud. Maybe it’s overstimulating. These are things your child can probably get used to over time. But not right now. If they’re screaming, please take them out of the room, if only for a change of scenery until they calm down. Try the library’s vestibule if there is one, or maybe some fresh air will do you both some good. When everyone feels better, you can attempt to rejoin the program or re-enter the library. There is no shame in this. Please remember, your child is not receiving any of the educational benefits of storytime or a library environment when they’re upset. 
  • Other children and patrons will start to have a bad time! Not only is your child not learning when they’re screaming or crying or running in circles, neither are the other kids! You as a parent or a nanny know that a child’s attention span is temperamental and fleeting at best. Same goes for other children. If your child is being disruptive during storytime, no one else gets to listen to the story or song. If your child is screaming/yelling/destroying things in the library, they’re interrupting one-on-one storytimes, research, and people doing their homework. When we’re in a public place, our behavior effects other people.  It should go without saying, but it’s good to remember that we all have to occupy this space together.  Most library workers are more lenient towards the behaviors of children, but even that has a limit. Take some time away from the space so that other people may enjoy the library.
  • My ability to do my job is compromised. I have a pretty high tolerance for noise and chaos, as noise and chaos are a Youth Service’s librarian’s bread and butter. I can deal with more screamy-kid sounds than most people. However, I’m not immune to everything. My storytime auto-pilot is pretty incredible, if I do say so myself. I can still tell a story when a kid is methodically untying my shoelaces. I still know all the words to the Squiggly Fish song when your toddler is trying to gnaw on my elbow for whatever reason. I have somehow managed to be able to keep the attention of 30 or so kids at a time, even when I’m simultaneously attempting to convince your child to not pull that girl’s ponytail. BUT, I am not a magician. I am a human being. I get distracted. I get flustered. I give a much better class when I’m not trying to calm your child down or break up an infant boxing match or dodge a plastic truck being thrown at my head. Same goes for my work on the reference desk. I can deal with a lot, but I do better work with a semblance of order. And yeah, I’ll admit it, sometimes the screaming/aggressive behavior of a child TOTALLY throws a wrench in my ability to do my work. It’s true. Give me a hand and let me give good customer service? All kids have meltdowns, but can you whisk your child away until it’s over?

☹ Have a child? Put down that phone. 

dad on phone

I have a hard time relating to chronic phone users/texters. While I am a total long-winded chatterbox in person, I hate talking on the phone. I have a crappy flip phone that has pathetic texting capabilities, but that’s OK with me. I only call my dad and my boyfriend. It’s good for emergency situations. But me and my phone are not sitting in a tree/K-I-S-S-I-N-G. I have some pretty intense misanthropic tendencies and a phone just cramps my semi-hermitty style.

But hey, I enjoy some pretty stupid things, like episodes of SVU and Ice-T’s acting and Baby-sitters Club books. I’d hate for you to take those away from me. So if playing Angry Birds are whatever you crazy kids are into, if that’s your thing, far be it from me to tell you to stop. But there’s two reasons why parents and caregivers should curb their phone use in the library:

  • Do it for the kids! Your child, whether you are the caregiver or the parent, looks up to you. Do you want your child to pay attention to the story and the librarian? Do you want them to participate in class? They will, but only if you do. But if you have your face buried in your phone during storytime, they’ll learn that paying attention is not important. If you participate, so will your child (Or they will in the future. Sometimes these things take time). You can’t be present while you’re texting or answering emails. Even if you are partially paying attention, your child won’t pick up that distinction. Also, there is reason to believe that your preoccupation with your phone can harm the bond with your child. Isn’t a trip to the library with your child all about bonding?
  • No library is child-proof or a completely safe place. A library may take steps to ensure the safety of your child, but anything can happen at any time. I’ve seen children run out the front door and towards a busy street, unattended. I’ve seen them put loose change, paper clips, and other choking hazards in their mouths while their parents weren’t looking. I’ve seen them trip, fall, and smack their heads on the ground, sometimes drawing blood. Don’t let the cozy atmosphere and the smell of books or what-have-you make you put your guard down in the library. An article called The Perils of Texting While Parenting should scare the phone right out of your hands. Kids and phones can be a dangerous combination, especially since I think parents and caregivers believe that they are at least sort of paying attention to their child, kinda. The most telling part of this article is when the researchers discuss that most people are on the phone for much longer than they realize or admit to: “People tend to underreport the amount of time they spend on their mobile devices. Device users don’t consider themselves distracted when checking email, for example, something they put into a different category than watching television or reading newspapers.” For example, a woman whose child tragically suffered a fatal accident while she was on her phone insisted that she only took her eyes off her boy for 20 seconds. However, security camera footage shows that her eyes were on her phone, not her child, for around three minutes. Put your phone down! Watch your child!

I understand that parents and caregivers need to have close proximity to their phones for all sorts of practical purposes. I would never argue with that. But your child is your main attraction. Not your phone. Pick up a book, work on some homework, and enjoy the library. All the other nonsense can wait.


☹ “I love the smell of diapers; I even like when they’re wet and you smell them all warm like a baked good” –Sarah Jessica Parker



SJP, you know you’re my girl, and I loved the hell out of Square Pegs, but most of us don’t feel the same way about diapers. Not to mention other kids’ diapers. I am not squeamish about this kind of  kiddo pee/poop/puke/boogers stuff; like I said, I have worked as a nanny and a day-care worker where the following has gone down:

  • Marathon diaper changing. I am the fastest diaper changer in the west. Try changing 15 kids’ diapers all in a row. I’ve done it. I’m a machine.
  • I’ve been puked on a bunch of times. Unfortunately I’m the type of person that pukes when I see puke. So the puking multiplies. And we all lose. barforama-o
  • I once had a class of five 3 year-old boys and one day three of them got the stomach flu, which I had to manage for hours until their parents could come get them.
  • A kid stuck his booger up my nose. celine
  • I have cleaned every kind of of nasty thing up off the floor. It usually had chunks of chicken nuggets floating in it.

I’m not a day care worker now. While I still clean up nasty things once in a while, it doesn’t take up much of my job anymore. Why? Because it’s your job now! If your kid does something schnasty in the library, clean it up! Be aware that whatever is emanating from child may not be so appealing to other patrons. SO:

  • Barring some sort of emergency room situation or something that requires that you immediately rush home, please clean up whatever mess your child makes, whether it be puke or a spilled bowl of Cheerios. Be sure to alert the staff as well! We can often provide cleaning supplies and even lend a hand if things aren’t too crazy. This sounds like it shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ve found feces in kids’ section and in the storytime room (David Sedaris says that people poop in department stores all the time. SEE ALSO LIBRARIES.). Once, another parent alerted me to the fact that a kid (not hers) peed on our carpet. Instead of taking care of the situation, the mom picked up her kid and left. NOT COOL! All kids have accidents. They can’t help it. But we can all work together to keep the library from being gross and dirty.
  • Please be careful where you change your child’s diaper. I’ve worked in libraries that have had little or no windows, therefore, the air doesn’t circulate too well. In this case, the bathroom (which hopefully has a changing table) may be the best place to change your child’s diaper, so that the whole library doesn’t have to smell those smells. Please don’t change your child’s diaper during a crowded storytime. It’s disruptive, we can all smell it, and I can tell you’re not washing your hands afterwards. You’re not going to touch all the library toys after handling a soiled diaper, are you? Please don’t change your child’s diaper on top of a library table. Kids do their homework there. They eat their snacks there. The tables get cleaned maybe once a day. Have some respect for the space.
  • Did your kid just snot/spit up/wipe jelly all over your friendly children’s librarian? No big. It’s not the end of the world. But please apologize. It acknowledges us as real people with real feelings. Not so long ago, I was helping a parent find a book. She was holding a very cute toddler. When I was mid-sentence, the kid let out a tremendously snotty sneeze right into my mouth. Her reaction? To cuddle her toddler and laugh. Oh, how adorable! We have fun! OK, lady. I am real! I exist! And I didn’t like that. A simple apology isn’t that big a deal. I think your kid is super cute, but not so cute that I think his boogers are dewdrops from the angels. Also, I got strep throat not long after this incident. I blame this, not on Sneezy McToddlerPants, but on his unapologetic mom.


☹ Want to take my picture? Want to record my class? Please ask first. 


I know my picture is all over this blog. I do programs for up to 50 or so people at a time. I’m not exactly shy. Except for when I am.

The thing is, I choose what pictures go up on my blog. I choose to conduct large classes. You cannot take pictures of me without my consent. You cannot video tape me without my consent. It’s not like I am hiding magical Toddler Time secrets from the public (OR AM I?) or I don’t want you to commemorate your day at the library in pictures. I’m just a lot more self-conscious than you think. And it’s nice to ask. It’s polite. And I’ll usually say yes unless I’m extra grody that day. I’ll especially say yes if you want a picture of me with your kid, because, honestly, I think that’s just sweet and way less creepy than you having a photo that’s just me. But if you just start snapping pictures of me, without even bothering to ask if it is OK with me, I feel like your dancing monkey librarian.

By the by, does this happen to other librarians? This happens to me all the time!

Above all, please remember: Librarians and library workers do not act in loco parentis.

That’s right, boys and girls! In loco parentis means “in place of the parent.” And ooh, girl. I am not the parent. I will look out for your kid. I will do my best to ensure their safety. If there’s a problem, yo I’ll solve it. But watching your kid is not my main function. I’m doing reference and reader’s advisory and homework help and getting ready for programs and class visits. Your child is your responsibility. Many parents use the library as one massive babysitter. I realize that, in many cases, mostly due to the economic climate, they have no choice in this matter. Like any public place, the library can be unpredictable. If you’re concerned about your child’s safety or don’t think they are independent enough to be on their own, then your place should be by their side. I can help in a pinch. But do not exclusively rely on me (Or librarians. Or libraries) as your childcare provider. I cannot keep my focus on your child all day long. It’s simply not possible.

Alright, kids. I’m done for now. Librarians, what are your major parents/caregivers in the library pet peeves? Parents, do you hate me now?

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

25 thoughts on “Please Don’t Sneeze in My Mouth and Other Requests from Your Local Librarian Who Tries to be Friendly Even with a Mouthful of Someone Else’s Snot

  1. Meghan

    Don’t forget the parent or caregiver who watches their kid pull all the books on the shelf and then just wanders away like the mental toddler they are. Pick-up after your kid, jerk! I had a Dad once who refused to leave the library after his kid puked in my children’s room. He wanted to check out his books and settle up his library fines first! I ended up yelling at him (I was polite for a LONG TIME) that I wasn’t going to clean up his kid’s puke if he did it and again and that he need to leave NOW. Of course, he didn’t.

  2. Miss Julie

    A lot of these could apply to teachers with groups of kids, too. I’ve seen people use the children’s department as a makeshift preschool. Parents were coming in to pick the kids up and everything, and the teacher would allow the kids to go across the building to the bathroom alone. She also used the librarians as a threat/discipline tactic, which drove me nuts.

    1. Ugh. I’ve seen that too. Teachers using their library visit as a massive coffee break while I chase their kids around. Not fun.
      And yeah, the whole, “If you don’t stop running/screaming/whatever, the librarian’s going to yell at you/throw you out/tar and feather you” Please don’t use me to scare your children.

  3. Kim

    One morning, I walked to the far stacks and found a beautiful little girl sitting and playing by herself in the open area. Maybe one year? She could walk, but was pre-verbal. No parent in sight; no adult/sibling/anyone anywhere in Children’s, for that matter (it was a winter morning with no programming). I walked her to the desk with me– no fuss on her part, BTW; paged (“Will parent of unattended…) and mom showed up, surprised and huffy that she couldn’t just park her kid in the Children’s department while she effed around in Adult’s to her heart’s content. It was a quiet, but good-sized library in a “nice” suburb, but still. Still.

  4. A few years ago, we had a couple cute little boys appear in our library during school break week. They played on the computers all day. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Well, except this isn’t a public library – I work in a medical library at a university! We have absolutely nothing for children, we have no filters on the Internet, and we’re used by all kinds of, um, interesting community members. There is no security or supervision whatsoever. The mom worked in a research lab and didn’t want to pay for day care while the kids were off school, so she thought she’d just leave them in the library. They didn’t speak much English, so we couldn’t figure out where they belonged. We tried our best to keep an eye on them, but we really aren’t set up for that. And she managed to come and get them without us noticing – so obviously if someone else had snatched them, we never would have noticed. The next day when she brought them in again we told her we’d call the cops if she did it again.

    1. Oh sweet Jeezo! That’s awful. In the 80s we heard about people using the TV as a babysitter. Today I see people leaving their kids with our computers all the time. Kids that are way too young to be left alone.

  5. Pretty soon after I started working at my library I noticed a gaggle of adults in the teen area so I went to go politely kick them out. But then I discovered that one of them was changing a baby on the study table.
    Me: Uh… excuse me… uh…. we have changing tables in the bathrooms?
    Man: I didn’t know.
    Me: Uh.. in the future… could you please use the changing tables in the bathrooms?
    Woman: We didn’t KNOW.
    Man: We’ve never BEEN HERE.
    Me: OK. Well… now you know.
    Woman: (SUPER sarcastically) Thank you for being sooooooo helpful.

    And THEN I had to tell them that they could not eat Cheetos in the library. They hated me so much but I was just incredibly flustered and grossed out by the whole thing.

    Also I hate it when grownups don’t cover their mouths when they cough/sneeze. I get it from kids, whatever, but adults should know better and many of them clearly do not. AUGH.

  6. Our library was doing a story time and craft program for kindergarten, and I was reading stories to a bunch of five year olds. Long story short, teacher was actually a substitute, and while I was reading, she LEFT HER CLASS TO CHECK OUT BOOKS. One of her kids did a MASSIVE crap in his pants, and I had to go find her, and tell her what happened. She looked at me expecting me to clean her kid up. I gave her a ziploc bag, baby wipes, and wished her luck.

  7. We have a big issue with people parking their kids in the children’s room and then going to use the computers, especially since we’re in a summer resort/vacation area. I had one woman wander away from her kid and when the 4yr old looked up and she was gone he, understandably, FLIPPED OUT. Another woman had to comfort him while I went and tracked her down. She hugged her kid but said the ‘I was just around the corner’ thing to him. Because obviously he knows the layout of a library hes never even been in. Another woman was perplexed when I explained it was against the rules to leave her daughter alone. Even when I expressed our concerns for the child’s safety and several nearby parents ALSO explained why that was a bad idea. She remained annoyed even when I explained that if someone came in and KIDNAPPED her daughter I would have no idea that the child wasn’t supposed to go with them.

    1. Parents may not realize that any space (library, playground, grocery store, etc.) can look much bigger and much more maze-like to a child. Some children, especially a child as young a four, need to know that their caregivers are nearby in order to feel comfortable.

  8. Shannon

    As a library worker and a parent myself, I think all of these things should be common sense! While I have left my kids for a few minutes in the kids section, they are old enough to handle it, plus I *work* there, so they are very familiar with the building and I always tell them exactly where I will be. We have, luckily, not had to clean up any poo or barf…knock on wood. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about this blog. You said what needed to be said, and you did it in a nice way!

    1. I thought people would complain because when I confront these situations at work, even if I approach parents/caregivers with the most gentle manner I can manage, I often get lots of hostility, or worse, total apathy and dismissal. As a parent, why do you think this is? Do you think they think I’m judging them as parents?
      Also, some kids are fine in the library by themselves. If they are verbal, can comfortably ask for help, and can use the bathrooms by themselves, I’m game.

  9. Ummm…. so selfishly happy that I am an Adult Services librarian. And your post is why I never complain (well, not too much, anyway) about the patrons I deal with, and why I give a lot of credit to everyone who works in our Youth Services department. 🙂

  10. Stacy

    Our YAC raised money for great furniture in our Teen area and it is being destroyed by patrons! I am amazed how much adults and older teens are the offenders!

    1. Adults who can’t behave in the library=me getting so angry. Teens can learn, still. Adults are beyond help, often. People think children’s librarians/teen librarians have patience? I disagree. I’m always witnessing teachable moments. Adults don’t want to be taught. I’d make the worst Adult Services librarian of all time. Well, maybe not of all time, but pretty bad.
      Can you ban furniture-wrecking offenders from the teen area?

  11. Beth

    I hate having to tell parents that it’s time to change their kid’s smelly diaper. And I don’t know why it happens so often. There was one instance of this a few weeks ago when the mom didn’t even have a diaper with her. Another mom nearby offered her one, but she said “No, we’ll head home in a few minutes.” Twenty minutes later she finally left and we Lysol’d the crap out of the kids’ room (pun intended).

    1. That was awkward when I taught Mommy and Me classes. As they were paying customers, I couldn’t really say, “PLEASE CHANGE YOUR KID’S DIAPER!” I did manage to find some nanny and parent allies, who were kind enough to sort of announce, “Oooh! Someone’s stinky” And have them make a big show of checking their kid’s diaper. That would usually shame the offender into changing their kid.
      What REALLY bugs me is that, when you don’t change your child (or the child you’re paid to take care of), you’re tempting fate to bring your child a diaper rash or a UTI or worse.
      Lysol is a necessary library staple!

  12. Once when I was a wee librarian, still wet behind the diploma, I ran into a patron at the post office down the street from the library during my lunch hour. She said, “I left my son at the library. Is that okay?”
    I had never met her son, and somehow assumed he was ten or fifteen. “Sure!”
    I went back to work and discovered a bright-eyed four-year-old in my children’s area, playing on a computer, with no parental in sight.
    When she got back, I pulled her aside and explained to her that, although I had been such a blithering moron as to state otherwise, she could NOT leave a child that young all by himself. She stared at me blankly. “But he’s very bright! He knows all his states!”
    Great! Then he can tell us all the state lines that he crossed after the man took him to see the puppy in his van.
    People think children’s librarians are creatures of sweetness and light. I myself am a cynical, snotty, and cold-hearted crone, and proud to be so.

  13. In addition to put down that phone is “put down that laptop”. So many parents who wind up in the Children’s room because they have their children with them but they are glued to their computer and ignoring the kid. The kid gets bored and the parent doesn’t care- just stays on the computer doing what they’re doing. Child comes to the librarian looking for something to do and we do our best but we have other demands on our time and a lot of the time the child is at the age where they need a lot of attention. Parents, please remember your children have limits to their patience and attention span. If you have to do something on the computer for HOURS at a time, find a sitter. I know this is hard/expensive/not always possible but you cannot expect a child to sit in the library with you for hours on end and not get crazy. The worse story I have of this is where the 2? year old, pre-verbal child managed to get down the elevator and out the door before she was stopped by a security guard and brought back to mom who didn’t even notice the kid was missing because Hey! Candy crush!

    1. I now work in a library that tends to have security stationed at the doors. In other libraries, I have chased more than one kid out the door, usually to have the parent say that I didn’t need to do so. Oy vey.

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