Tag Archives: library

What if I pay you in pebbles?

11 Dec

Yesterday I stopped by the library on my way home from work to pick up a book. My least favorite librarian, Rita the Regulator, was manning the check out desk. I’d actually surmised that before I set foot in the library, when I called from across town to see if they would be able to use my license rather than my library card.

This is how she answered the phone: “This is the Z- Branch of the District of Columbia Library. This is Ms. X- speaking. Go ahead.”

Um: Go ahead? Are we on walkie-talkies?

Anyway, fifteen minutes later I was in line, waiting to check out a book. Rita was informing the young woman in front of me that she had two fines she’d need to pay before she could borrow another book.

“If you’re going to pay cash, you’ll need to go to the main library – the Martin Luther King branch. Or if you’re going to pay here you’ll need to bring in a certified check or money order. Or you can go online if you’d like to use a credit card.”

The woman looked stupefied. “Well, how much is the fine?” she asked.

“Ten dollars,” Rosie told her. “Five for each item.”

The woman paused, looking thoughtful, then asked, “Will you accept canned goods?”

SERIOUSLY? I think you’ve gotten your wires crossed, ma’am. This is not a high school dance, a pub crawl or an office holiday party. Where else do cans constitute currency unless you’re ten years old?

Original Image Source: http://www.christmascharitiesyearround.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Canned-Food-Drive-2012-resized.jpg


To Rosie’s credit, she didn’t berate the woman. In fact, her literal interpretation of the world must not leave any room for humor, because she simply said, “No. I’m sorry. We cannot accept cans.”

Good to know. 

But I just wanted to borrow a book…

23 Mar

Yesterday I walked to the library to pick up my book club’s next selection (In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien). When I got there, the sole librarian behind the counter was the woman I mentally refer to as Rita the Regulator.

Rita is not the librarian of your childhood who warmly comments on your selections or makes customized recommendations. She has no social skills and her job seems to bring her nothing but annoyance. If she had a visible thought bubble over her head, I’m pretty sure it would say, “Everyone is an idiot.”

Yesterday I had a chance to study her because she was on the phone with her back to me as I approached the desk. It sounded like she was having an argument with a patron. “I told you,” she said. “I looked. There’s not a book back there for you… No… I checked… spell your name again for me… yes… that’s the name I looked for, and I can tell you – there is NOT a book with that name on it… you will need to call back in a few hours… a few hours… because maybe then there will be a book back there with your name on it!”

Rita: Hates people, Loves Buffet?

I observed that she was wearing a brightly colored short sleeve button-up shirt featuring large parrots, and it made me imagine her at the store, picking it out. Had she liked the colors? The birds? Or was it a pragmatic decision made simply because of the shirt’s fit and weight, with no thought of the parrots on it? In any case, she looked like a Hawaiian tourist, which was an interesting look for the DC library in March.

The thing that makes Rita interesting (aside from everything else that fascinates me about her) is the fact that she can only perform one task at a time. Whatever she is doing has her full attention, and if you try to interrupt her you will receive a very terse reprimand. Knowing this, I patiently waited for her to complete the phone call while a line of slightly more restless patrons formed behind me.

When she hung up the phone, she turned and assessed the line, and her face seemed to read, “Great. Even MORE idiots to deal with.” In any case, she completed my transaction (which included updating my phone number in the system because there was a message on the computer prompting her to do so, which she was unwilling to override even with a line of people bearing down on her).

Book in hand, I exited. Or rather – I tried to exit. The library has two sets of automatic glass doors you pass through. I made it out the first set without issue, but then found the next set locked. I should’ve been clued in by the fact that a woman with a stroller was standing there, just hanging out between the doors, when I entered.

“It’s locked,” she said. I tried to muscle my way out, but it wasn’t happening. I turned around to re-enter the library, but the doors wouldn’t open because they’re triggered only by the pad inside the library. I was able to wrestle one open just enough to squeeze through so I could tap the pad and let the woman out.

I approached the desk to tell Rita that something was wrong with the doors, but she wouldn’t interrupt her transaction to look at me. “There’s a line,” she informed me without making eye contact.

I leaned toward the next person in the line, “You might want to let her know that the doors are locked and people can’t get out.”

Duty done, I returned to the entrance and reversed my way out, prying the doors open with some effort as I realized that the library was something of a fire trap. I held the door open for the baby stroller lady as I went, and we both laughed with relief when we finally made it to the sidewalk.

Like this, but not Spiderman, and not in a glass. So actually, not really like this.

The way the library is laid out, the entrance and exit face each other because it’s a bit like a horseshoe. While we were rejoicing in our newly found freedom, I looked up to see a guy – the guy who Rita had been helping when I tried to inform her about the doors – stuck in the exit foyer, grabbing the door handles and shaking them with a slight look of panic in his eye.

He was so absorbed in his task, he didn’t even notice me, sitting there staring at him, and it made me wonder if someone had watched me do the exact thing. It was not unlike watching an orangutan behind glass at the zoo.

And suddenly I understood why Rita shook her head and thought we were idiots.

I’m just here for the books.

11 Oct

Happy Columbus Day, old man.

I walk to the MLK Jr. branch of the DC public library on Saturday to pick up a book I had on hold. It was a gorgeous day, so I was glad to invent a purpose for a four mile walk.

The city was kind of odd — despite the great weather, it was desserted in areas that are normally nuts on the weekend, and over-run with people in areas normally desserted. I suppose I could’ve solved that mystery earlier by picking up a copy of the Washington Post, and realizing a) It was Columbus Day weekend, so many locals were traveling, and b) It was Columbus Day weekend, so Taste of DC was luring people downtown on the weekend.

In any case, I was caught off guard when I approached the library, and saw a virtual party in motion. Lining the street in front of it was a MetroBus with representatives handing out literature about the bus schedule, and a Whitman Walker van providing free HIV testing.

On my way into the library, I passed Mayor  Vincent Gray, glad-handing with a few fans while his bodyguard looked on. (At least, I assume that was his bodyguard. Or his especially thuggish looking cousin. You never know in DC.)

This dog belongs in a library.

Inside the library, the trip continued. A live gospel/jazz band was playing (on Volume 12!) while 50+ people (mostly senior citizens wearing shirts made of Old Glory) looked on, clapping and bobbing. I threaded by way through the crowd to retrieve my book from the Holds shelf.

I got distracted in the Popular Collections room, browsing CDs while tapping my toes to the band’s version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” but apparently not as distracted as the woman who had walked her two DOGS into the library and somehow lost the leash of the massive Golden Retriever. I looked up just in time to see it sprint out of Popular Collections, into the main foyer and across the stage where the Jazz Band was performing.

I can’t really get on the owner for being slow to the draw, because when I went to check out my book, I asked the clerk what the occasion was. “Is this a Columbus Day festival?” I asked.

He looked at me with some degree of incredulity before scanning the crowd, which — as I followed his eyes, I realized — was made up primarily of people sporting wheelchairs, canes or walkers.

“This is in celebration of Americans with Disabilities,” he told me.

And suddenly, it all made sense — the extra-loud music, the free medical tests, the dogs in a library, the flag-themed clothing.

As someone wearing a tank top and sporting a yoga mat strapped to me, I felt especially foolish for having trotted through the crowd. Next time? I’m going to take advantage of that free vision test.

News Flash: apparently when I’m sick, I’m cranky.

5 Feb

Admittedly, I was feeling rather sorry for my sick self yesterday when I reported on my recent experience at the library, so my tone was probably a bit more bitchy/whiny than pithy. In fact, it’s hard to be pithy when you’re sick.

Anyway, it wasn’t one of my funnier posts. Unfortunately, it drew a record number of hits, apparently because a librarian stumbled upon it and tweeted it out, presumably to an audience of other librarians. And in case you hadn’t made the connection: librarians read.

The link was teed up as, “These posts make me so sad. Another lost library patron…” which left me scratching my head.

Did the tweet mean that the library had lost me as a patron or that I was a clueless human being? Was my post sad because of how it was written or because of the service I had received?

(I re-read my post and was embarrassed that my self-pity had come across as a mean-spirited assessment of the librarian’s mental capacity.)

Then I saw that this same tweeting librarian was playing with the idea of offering a reward for non-librarians to write something positive about libraries. And the thought that librarians feel like they have to pay for positive publicity made ME sad. Because the truth is, I love libraries.

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Computer says “no.”

4 Feb

Based on the unemployment statistics, it sounds like the market is filled with overly-qualified people seeking work. And yet I continue to run into people in customer-facing roles whose only demonstrable quality is a pulse.

Last night I went to the library to pick up a book I had put on hold months ago. My book club just selected it as our next pick, so imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email notifying me that the book was ready and waiting for me at the library. Awesome timing!

So yesterday, despite feeling like crap (meaning I was coming down with a wicked cold), I hoofed it to the library on my way home from work, anticipating the reward of a hot bath, mug of tea, and escape into the novel’s initial pages.

But the library had other plans for me. If the librarian helping me had had a sense of humor, she might’ve screamed, “You’ve been Punk’d!” and pretended Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out from under the counter. Instead, she just frowned at the computer screen and said, “Computer says it’s unavailable.”

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