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.
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.