Confessions of a Bitter Librarian

Book Shelf

It was one of those days where I was at work and, inevitably, had just dealt with one of my own pet peeves as a librarian. As I sat down beside my desk I decided to search whether some of these peeves were universally shared or whether it was just me slowly losing tolerance of people by the minute. This is what I came across:

Unshelved comic strip for 10/25/2003


Immediately I found myself in a state of laugher and tears, because I know it all too well.

The library may not be retail or fast food (though I did work in fast food but that is a story for another day), my colleagues and I had our fair share of dealings with sexist, racist, ageist, snotty, aggressive – verbally and physically – and overall spawns from the pit of Mount Doom during our time as librarians. My supervisor once told me that her teenage son had a book actually thrown at him when he was doing work experience.

So without further ado, I turn to my colleagues and amongst us we listed our pet peeves and overall experiences with difficult customers, in hopes that this would show you how you can avoid being one of them.

1. Damaging books

Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t let your children tear them apart or touch them with sticky fingers and please don’t lie to us about it. It’s fine if it’s some damage and you sheepishly come clean about it, but don’t drop the book in a pile of water and return it, and then expect us to believe that this brand new book we just added “looked that way” when you borrowed it. Your membership will be suspended faster than you can say James Patterson. Also, if I see one more gum stuck at the back of a book I will stick that piece of saliva to the neck of the last person who borrowed it.

 2. Renewals by phone

You would think that people are smart enough to have their library card ready when they call the library where they borrowed books that are in said library card. But as it turns out…

Hello? Yes, I’d like to renew my books?

Of course, can I have your library ticket, please?

Now at this point the response is either between “Library ticket? You mean my number?” or “Oh, um, I don’t have it with me. Is that alright?

[Insert very frustrated sigh while holding the speaker so customer wouldn’t hear]

Okay firstly, why the fuck are you always so surprised that I ask for your card? Secondly, YES, YOUR LIBRARY NUMBER. How else is this supposed to work? We’re not mind-readers. We can’t telepathically guess who you are through the phone. There are hundreds of thousands of members and I see a lot of new mugs every day that I work. You’re no special snowflake. For the love of Christ, have your card ready and don’t waste my time, because in addition to your moment of fail I have to deal with people piling up in front of my desk.

3. Computer usage

No, we can’t book you. Use the kiosk. Stop yelling about your rights as a customer. I’m just doing my job.

4. Cutting the queue.

Don’t act surprised when you stand there like a complete arse while I ignore you. Back of the line, you self-proclaimed I’m Above Everyone.

5. If you’re on your phone…

I will refuse to serve you. Just because I’m sitting on a desk and you’re standing doesn’t mean I’m beneath you. You want my attention? Give me yours.

6. Which brings me to my next point,

Have your phone conversations outside.

7. Sneaking in food.

Of all the things this probably makes me laugh the most. Do you honestly think that you’re so smart you can sneak in food and assume that we can’t smell the fried chicken?

 8. “Fifteen minutes till closing.”

That’s not a friendly reminder, that’s a “time to pack your bags and get the fuck out”, often mistaken for “okay, I’ll just sit here and ignore the several other following reminders until the last possible second and then take my time walking out because librarians practically live at the library amiright roflmao lol!?!11!!”. Do you have any idea the amount of things we have to finish up before we actually lock the door? We can’t do this in time if your ungrateful majesty doesn’t get thy pompous butt cheeks off the chairs. Otherwise then we’ll have to stay overtime, and we’ll already spent almost the entire day here and we’ll have to do it all over again tomorrow. So this may come as a surprise, but no, we don’t live here. Go home.

9. Taking things personally.

Gosh jolly I’m so sorry that the library I don’t own but only work in doesn’t have the exact specific topic in a specific book from a specific author you’re looking for that could easily be found online for a pound. Yes, I’m a complete failure in both customer satisfaction and a librarian.

10. Drop box

I swear to God’s green earth if you return books through the book box when we’re open, I will leave them there until the next morning we’re open, because that is when we’re supposed to check it. Then you’ll have to deal with overdue fines. If I catch you doing this don’t think I won’t have the nerve to tell off how lazy you are.

11. State of library.

Seriously, the state that some people leave the library gives enough reason to make murder justifiable. I’m especially looking at you mums who walk into the children’s section and have your little hell of hooligans prance around and throw books about while you chat away on your phones. If you let this happen you have my permission to go and set yourself on fire.

12. Breaking into a library.

W h y ?

13. “I’m a customer! I’m always right!”

‘fraid not, doll.

14. Donations.

Let me stop you right here. Unless they’re in almost pristine condition, don’t. Go to a charity shop.

15. “I’m no good with computers, can you help me?”

[clears throat]


If we have taster sessions, we’ll book you. Otherwise, not our problem!

16. “I just yanked this book out and I know exactly where to put it back but I won’t do it anyway.”

You say, unaware of the time, effort, and blood that goes into tidying that bookshelf and maintaining every other 2349085405 shelves we have while dealing with needy customers approaching us every second. Go ahead, make a mess. We know where you live.

17. Last-minute returners.

Nothing makes me want to peel my skin off more than people who do this. We have this woman who has a herd of children who all return a ridiculous pile of books and then borrow another ridiculous pile of books at the last possible minute. To top it all off we’re always having problems with her cards because either there are a load of fines on them or they’re all lost again. If there was ever a time to test your patience…

18. Signing new members.

We know. It’s obviously necessary. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it. In fact we tend to throw you to the tosser working next to us. The registration process is long, and as a result we’re subjected to spending way more face time with you than tolerated. So if you don’t have something with your name or proof of address, walk away. Sayonara. Better luck next time.

19. “Sorry for bothering you but…”

Yes, you are bothering us. Always. But the fact that you apologised softens the blow.

20. “No, really, I’m [this many] years old.”

It’s almost amusing watching you lie through your teeth about your information when your details are literally on the screen in front of me. Nice effort, though.

21. In the words of my colleague:

I know many things, it will be in my new autobiography entitled long overdue.

22. Please keep in mind that we are not:

An interpreting service, a language class, computer teachers, job advisers, bankers who help fill out your credit card forms, a nursery you drop your kids off (say hello to social services), the post office, therapists, mind-readers, computer technicians, or assume we know even the most obscure title or author. We’re librarians, not magicians.

23. And lastly, lack of funding.

But this mostly applies to the money-sucking, capitalistic, clueless company we work for.

And there you have it…so far. Now I know what you’re thinking; you’re probably asking, “But, Sahar, why are you even a librarian?” Well, my dears, one tends to take on a job as a librarian for one thing and one thing only – books! We do it for feel of brand new stock, the perfect shelving, the unlimited access to time for borrowing, the new paper smell. None of which involve dealing with people at all, other than to stamp their books. But hell, we don’t even do that anymore, thanks to the god-send that is the self-issue machine.

I didn’t used to be as bitter when I was a volunteer who taught basic computers. But like many things, the novelty wears off. Especially when you spend a gruelling two hours tidying a chaotic mess of a shelf only to have it completely trashed the very next second. Bottom line is, people take libraries for granted. So when you’re browsing through a shelf, please remember that a very sleep-deprived librarian had poured a lot of sweat and tears into sorting it, and could only hope that things would be put back where they belong.

That’s if you don’t want to crush our souls.

(Please don’t crush our souls.)

Till next time,

Sahar is in progress.

(But really if it were up to me I’d ban everyone from using the library.)

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