Public Library Urban Myths that Aren’t Really

I have often said that Public Librarians wear their war stories on their sleeves. I thought I’d share a couple of mine. Actually, I consider these success stories, because I came through a difficult situation, despite the adversity.

  • The Falling Man

My manager caught a man drinking a flask of vodka in the stacks and asked him to leave. My job was to make sure he left. So, I did, making him feel as comfortable as possible and informing him he could come back when he was sober. The issue here, of course, was not his social station but his behavior.

So, he walks out the door where there is a concrete platform raised above a lawn. Then he disappears. I ran outside and found, to my horror, he had fallen about four feet. I am not sure if he was unconcious or just past out from drunkeness, but we called an ambulance to go pick him up.

  • Ryan Plays O-line for A Group of Young Men

A young man (say 11 or 12?) asked me to sign him up for a computer (with the old fashion sign-up sheets — this was before we got a booking software). At the same time, an older man (about 30?) showed up quite violently inebriated. The young man looked at the older man and began to laugh (out of nervousness I think). The old man went after the young man.

The young man ran to his friends, who by now were also laughing their heads off at the situation. Meanwhile, I acted as if I was trying to keep Laurence Taylor from mangling our quarterback to bits (Actually, any contact between the older man and me was incidental and/or because he pushed into me). Anyway, with lots of communication with co-workers and the knowledge that we had called the police, the man eventually left without harming anyone.

The kids got a mean lecture from me afterwards, though.

  • The Human Side of Reference Services

One of my most memorable reference questions: an older woman told me that she had been diagnosed with this condition called “stroke” that she had never heard of. I went through the reference interview and got her what she needed. She had been in before and was a voracious reader. I hadn’t seen her since that interview.

  • Feeling like a Hero

When I first worked at an ethnically diverse community library, the youth raked me through the coals for about 6 months before they got used to who I was and what I did there. I was made fun of, told to “stuff off” (ok, they used worse language), and generally ignored when I asked them to respect others etc.

Eventually, they warmed up to me — and this is how I know.

On my wedding day, which was the only nice day in Halifax in May of 2000, we  did the “horn-honking” drive to take our photos and then have make it to the reception. While going up Spring Garden Road, about 10 of the youth from my branch noticed I was in the car. “You got married?” they said. And in something out of the movie Fame, they all ran out into the street to congratulate my wife and me.

Nothing makes you feel more like a hero than having 10 gangstah-rapper youth run out in the street to say congratulations.

Those are my “war” stories. Hardly “war” stories at all if you ask me. Just a part of good customer service and an example of the “true” value of public libraries in my view. Value for those who come, and for those who work there.

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