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Friday, January 28, 2011

Kids Say the Darndest...Well, You Know

In case you didn't already know, I’m a children’s librarian. As a result, I spend a lot of time on the children’s reference desk, which is located on the second floor of the library. The adult reference desk (at which I also spend time, but not as much) is located on the first floor. Admittedly, it can be a bit Lord of the Flies-esque on the children's floor at times. It takes a lot of patience, the ability to drown out loud noises, and a high tolerance for being grossed out to work a shift on the kid's ref desk. (A woman recently made her grandson blow his nose into her BARE HAND. I'm still recovering from that.) A couple of the adult specialists refuse to even do it. Out of respect, I won't publicly call them wimps.

Although I love working with kids, sitting at the children’s reference desk can sometimes feel like sitting on one of those tiny deserted islands you see in cartoons where sharks are circling around a disheveled, dazed-looking cartoon character. Here's a rough depiction:
(This illustrates why I loved pass/fail art classes in school.)

As you can see, the children's librarian is isolated, yet completely surrounded. The kid-sharks do various things: some completely ignore anything else around them and play on the computer; some ask only what they need to ask and leave; others still loiter around the reference desk for extended periods of time, chatting incessantly, asking for homework help, showing off songs or dance moves they've learned, etc.

To some people, this may be distracting. However, I appreciate that the kids like me enough to just want to hang out with me (they often can't go home after school and the library is a safe place for them). It's absolutely one of my goals to make every kid that approaches the desk feel comfortable and welcome (thus my stick figure's smile in the picture. That was no accident). The upshot of doing children's reference - besides the rewarding feeling of helping kids and promoting literacy and blah blah blah - is hearing the unintentionally hilarious things they say. 

I often post my favorite kid quotes to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Here is a recap of some of the recent gems I've heard:

1) Girl: "I need a book that's not too short and not too long. I need one that's just right."
 Me: "What are you, Goldilocks?"
 Girl (touches her hair): "No, I'm Brownlocks."

2) During a discussion about what the kids wanted to be when they grew up (during which they asked me when I was going to get a "real" job, by the way) one of the girls said: "I want to be a teacher so I can yell at people. I love yelling at people."

3) A girl offered me some candy. I politely declined. She insisted, and I declined again. The girl said, "Come on! I didn't poison it." Just to quiet her down, I took a piece of candy and put it in my pocket. The girl said "I DID poison it!" and then laughed.

4) A boy was simultaneously playing a video game AND a board game with his friend. When I marveled at his multitasking abilities, he said: "I know. I'm awesome."

5) A girl said to me: "Your teeth are white." Then she said: "Your nail polish looks weird." Children giveth, children taketh away.
6) Kid: "Where are the biographies? Me: "I'll show you. Do you need books on someone specific? Kid (after a pause): "Humans." (This one was my fault; I really should have been more specific.)
And my personal favorite:

7) A girl approached the desk and asked for books about William Pennect. Suspecting this wasn't right, I asked to see the note she was holding in her hands. It said "Get books on William Penn, etc."

Kids are the best.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

When Nerd Vandals Strike

Yesterday, a patron requested several of the Harry Potter books as she had never read them before and wanted to start them now that she was out of college. (Better late than never, right?) The transaction reminded me of when my sister and I, during a trip to Scotland last May, visited the coffee shop in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling did her writing in the early days. You know, before she became the most famous writer in the world and a children's literature icon and a target for the religious right and a millionaire. Those days.

My sister and I had hoped to be struck by divine literary inspiration or at least breathe in some of the air particles that potentially contributed to Rowling's success. So we got a pot of Earl Grey and a few scones and, like the classy American tourists we were, took pictures of ourselves in the cafe. Here's a riveting photo of me drinking tea:

Ahhh, I can feeeel it woooorking.
Sadly, the only thing by which I was struck was a caffeine-induced headache. But all was not lost! In the restroom, I discovered some amusing things scrawled on the walls by tea-crazed Harry Potter enthusiasts. (There's nothing weird about taking photos from inside a bathroom, right?)

Avada Graffitia!

1. Apparently, Lord Voldemort, Hermione, Sirius Black, and Bellatrix had all used the restroom and felt the need to deface its wall. (That goody two-shoes Hermione would do this is a surprise, and I'm a bit disappointed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named signed with an ordinary black pen instead of with fire or blood, but you can't win 'em all.) 

2. "Remus & Dory" is a sweet declaration of love, but I don't recall the nickname "Dory" ever being used for Nymphadora Tonks. (Harry Potter fans, correct me if I'm wrong about this.)

3. The statement "J.K. Rowling started the book!" is a bit confusing. What is the nerd vandal really trying to say here? Is there a deeper meaning? Do we even want to know?

4. Lower Right-Hand Corner: "In Memoriam to George's Ear." Very cute, although I'm not sure George would appreciate this being written in a bathroom.  (Or would he?)

And finally:
Now that's what I call "art appreciation."

A picture I took of a plaque in a Glasgow art museum. This has nothing to do with Harry Potter, and it wasn't even taken on the same day or in the same city. I just found it hilarious at the time. (Please note that I was jet-lagged and whacked out on antihistamines for most of the trip. I think I was allergic to every plant, animal, and highlander I encountered.)

Thanks for the memories, Scotland!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Dumbass Civil Servants

Believe it or not, working with the public is one of the things I love most about being a librarian. Sure, I could have pursued a glamorous museum library job, or an ambitious academic library job, or a high-paying corporate library job. But then I would miss out on the satisfaction of: helping grandmotherly-types unabashedly order erotic literature at the reference desk; throwing out a kid’s used gum; pointing grown men in the direction of the bathroom as they try to explain WHY they need to use it. (Really, gents, you don't need to tell me. Even if it's just hand-washing, I'd prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of any matters pertaining to the public restrooms.)

In all seriousness, the job is usually very fulfilling, especially when patrons are expressively appreciative. However, dealing with the public is not always rainbows and sunshine and unicorn hugs. After all, as *Plato famously said, "People be crazy."

(*Citation pending.)

This brings me to the notes posted below. Apparently, a patron was unhappy with the service he received at the library and felt the need to express himself on scrap paper. I'd like to make clear that I was not present for the reference interaction that sparked these little slips of pain, so I cannot speak to how this sort of reaction may have been prevented. However, I WAS the person who actually found the notes when I started a shift on the adult reference desk last week. Naturally, I was curious about their origin.

I asked the librarian who had been at the desk before me if he knew the who/what/why of the notes. Unfortunately, he didn't see who left them. He could only speculate that they had been written by a man - one of our more "eccentric" visitors (catch my drift?) - who had been irrationally upset by the fact that his computer session could not be extended. Based only on this hearsay and the information provided in the notes, I'll try to give a brief analysis:

Note #1: Questioning the Intelligence of a Library Worker's Ass

While the syntax is a little confusing, I find this note to be otherwise straightforward. The language is clear, the adjectives are strong, the punctuation is poignant. The patron doesn't seem to grasp the nuances of civil service or working in a library, and I don't think the profanity was necessarily helpful in making his point, but whatever. He's mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore. Fair enough.

Note #2: Adding Insult to Injury

Well, I can't comment on whether or not there IS a test to work at McDonald's (and please note the misguided copyright symbol after "McDonalds." Brilliant.) Perhaps there is a drug test. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. It seems to me that this message was designed purely to hurt the librarian's feelings and diminish the hard work that it takes to become a librarian. I know some people think that anyone off the street can do our jobs, but...listen. Librarianin' ain't easy. We actually go to SCHOOL for this. We have to get a Master's Degree and do a thesis. There are, like, tests and stuff. Have a little respect, man! (Also, the subtext of this note indirectly insults people who work in the fast food industry. This is just unnecessary. Do you know the strength of character it takes to work around food all day? Do you have any idea how disgusting that is? It's almost as disgusting as dealing with public restrooms in the library.) Anyway, I don't mean to make light of this patron's frustrations or discourage anyone from speaking up if a true injustice has occurred at the reference desk. I merely want to make this point: librarians are here to help, but we're also human. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words, the very thing on which we base our careers, can hurt us. (Or at the very least, they give us something interesting to talk about during a two-hour reference desk shift. Thank you for that, sir.)