I am a bibliophile who wants to throttle most librarians.
This, of course, keeps me in a constant and heightened state of conflict, as I rely heavily on libraries and read several books a week. I want my books. I need my books. But I don’t like most of the people in charge of my books; they are crabby and often snappish and need a good bitch slap.
Here’s the rub: librarians love information and books and periodicals and cataloguing, but they really don’t like people. Yet their job is one, essentially, of customer service…you know, helping people all day.
So pretty much, the librarian behind the counter is an intellectual, an introvert who just wants to absorb factoids and be left alone to stroke, repetitively, the long braid thrown over her shoulder while memorizing the order of the English monarchs. And then she wants to spend the second half of her shift reading her manga before biking home to eat a solitary meal of lentil soup with grated cheese on top.
Invariably, as the librarian strokes her braid and bones up on her anime, I walk in. You know, wanting books and stuff. And my need pisses her off. And then she heaves her bulk out of the rolling chair to show me where I can find the Civil War Magic Tree House book, stomping, sighing loudly, never making eye contact.
The librarians and me? We’ve missed a lot of potential precious moments together, due to the whole attitude issue. No matter what kind of bookish small-talk I throw out there (“Aren’t we all excited for the new Harry Potter?”), I know Librarian and I will never be running towards each other in slow motion across a flower-strewn meadow, arms extended.
In the town where I live, it got to the point where I actually filled out a comment card about the librarians in the children’s area, noting briefly, “Maybe the library could staff the children’s area with workers who actually like children.” Shortly after dropping this card into the comment box, I took my stack of about 40 books–for both the kids and me, enough to last three weeks–up to the Circulation Desk, whereupon the checker-outer dude rolled his eyes at the size of the stack, snickered with a co-worker at how ludicrous our reading intentions were, and then, handing me the foot-long receipt at the end, snarked, “Make sure they’re all back on time.”
My reaction to this is to think, “What? You’re pissy because my kids will grow up saying ‘Our house was always full of stacks of books that we were expected to read’? Or is it because I’ve disrupted the quiet order of your day by coming to this public place and drawn you out of your reveries about The Renaissance Festival?”
And right about here? Yea, the bitch slap.
My ongoing librarian issues were highlighted yesterday here in Billings, my childhood town in Montana. Needing to check email while we’re on this road trip, I went to the public library. And I had the audacity to ask the man at the Computer Service Desk if I could, devil that I am, use a computer to get onto the modern thing called “Internet.”
Such a query opened the floodgates of resentment and discontent that plague this profession full of Garbo-like professionals, who just “vant to be alone.” The little man, who looked amazingly like Larry “Bud” Melman of the David Letterman show, reared up out of his desk, reaching his full height of Jocelyn’s Clavicle, and exclaimed, “Well, as you can see, all the computers are being used. I just signed up someone else before you, too, so I can’t even begin to tell you when you can get onto one.”
“Really?” said I. “You have no general sense of when any of these ten people have to be off their computers? Are there any time restrictions?”
“Well, everyone gets an hour, and we do have that registration system over there, where you can make a reservation for the next open computer, but other than that, no, I really can’t tell you.”
Realizing that bitch slapping a 60-year-old white-haired man who was a foot shorter than I would yield little in gratification and a great deal in court fees, I tried the talking thing some more.
“Just to be clear: I can go to this station right here and sign up for the next open terminal? And it will give me a time that I can get onto that terminal?”
“Yes, yes, yes. That’s what I said. Here, I can walk you through it, as it seems awfully hard for you. Now, do you have a library card?”
In an attempt to move towards Dr. Phil’s principles of honest and open communication, I responded with, “Actually, I don’t. See I’m from out of town. But is there some way..”
“WHAT? NO CARD EITHER? WHAT IS IT WITH ALL YOU PEOPLE THESE DAYS? EVERYONE JUST NEEDS TO BE ON THE COMPUTER ALL THE TIME. IT’S ALWAYS, ‘GET ME ON THE COMPUTER; GET ME ON THE COMPUTER.’ DON’T ANY OF YOU PEOPLE READ BOOKS THESE DAYS? WOULD IT KILL YOU TO READ BOOKS?”
Keeping my bitchslappers glued to my sides, I warmed up a little with, “You’ll have to pardon me, as we don’t know each other in the slightest. But you don’t want to get me started in a ‘who reads the most books’ contest here, because I’ll win and would have won by age eleven. Also, I came here today, to the public library, where you offer free Internet access, to get on the Internet. All I need is five minutes to check my email. See, I’ve driven here from Minnesota to help my 72-year-old mother empty 115 boxes and a household of furniture out of a 120 degree storage locker, sort through it, arrange a garage sale, and distribute heirloom items to my siblings. And, see, my brother lives in Portugal and has sent me an email, telling me if he wants my dead father’s music bureau or not. Exactly where am I in error here in wanting to access that message from him before we load up the trailer tomorrow?”
Keep in mind, this was just a shot over the bow. Given any more provocation, I’d have had him in a half-nelson and talked low and mean in his pasty ear until his spit dried up and he begged for mercy.
Luckily for his neck and his saliva, he backed down and offered to help me sign up for a terminal, so long as, he noted threatingly, I kept in mind that each terminal was individually named (The Sweetwater; The Poplar; The Rosebud) and made sure only to log-on to my assigned terminal. As I sat for the next twenty minutes, reading a book, waiting for my turn on my assigned terminal, The Maple, I watched him berate and harangue the next three people who also were interested in gaining free Internet access.
I got my turn,
read the email,
shared my terminal with a woman who had logged on earlier in the day to print an article and then, getting home, realized the article had only half printed, so she came back to try it again, only to be scolded by Larry “Bud” Librarian for trying to sneak in a second session in the same day, when the rules clearly state that every patron is only allowed one session per day,
and, after logging off, I stuffed that little, bespectacled troll of a librarian into The DC Comics Encyclopaedia. There the pint-sized Mister Mxyzptlk, Superman’s nemesis, ushered Librarian into a whole new world of control games when he pounced on Larry “Bud” to give him the noogie of a lifetime, promising only to let up if and when Librarian could pronounce “Myxzptlk” backwards while simultaneously checking in overdue items and forgiving the fines.