I’ve been working at a library now for about six months and I’ve noticed some things that, quite honestly, drive me crazy. Of course, it’s a customer service and customers can definitely make you second guess your life’s choices and jump off a bridge, but these things are just minor pet peeves. And if you want to vent about your job and pet peeves you don’t like, feel free to use this as your safe haven.
Anyway, to the topic!
Library etiquette is something I think a lot of people need for when they visit the library, and so, here is a list of things to make your life and a library assistant’s life easier.
- Please know exactly what you’re looking for.
We’ll get people who have an idea of what they’re looking for, but actually don’t know the title, the author, the genre, etc. or they’re so flustered that they don’t even know how to speak. I had to deal with this one guy the other day who said he was looking for a dictionary. I take him to the dictionaries, and then he said that’s not what he’s looking for. He then said he wants an encyclopedia. But he doesn’t tell me what type. Well, our library got rid of all of them… so then he says, “Do you have Doorling?” I don’t even know what that is, can’t find it in our system, but he finally (after ten minutes) says the topic of what he’s looking for: moths and caterpillars. We don’t have Doorling, but we have a few others on those topics, but he says that’s not what he’s looking for and as I tried to ask him exactly what he’s looking for, he storms out angrily.
Look, I get that you might be frustrated, but we can’t help you if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So, if you’re looking for a book or something in particular, please look it up, screenshot it on your phone, and let us look at it. Or write down the exact title and author you’re looking for. We’re just employees. We can’t read your mind.
- Libraries don’t know anything about packages, your taxes, etc.
They say that librarians are full of knowledge… but honestly, we’re not. Now yes, I’m no librarian, but the librarians here don’t also have an answer for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people walk in and ask me how to get their package label. Like, I can print it off for you—no problem. But I’ve had people come to me without a label to print and they have no idea what to do. Or I’ve had people ask me where they need to mail their taxes. We don’t know anything about those things. Call the people that they’re connected to—call the USPS store, get in contact with the IRS folks… The only thing we can do is look it up online, which is something you can do as well.
- Libraries are not playgrounds.
We want people to come to the library to know it’s a safe place to be and that they are welcome to come any time. However, it’s not the place to ignore your child while you use a computer or look for books for them or yourself. I had this one lady who brought her two grandchildren in, they were roughly 7-9 years old, and the grandma did some stuff on her laptop in the teen area (there’s a table in the corner) and ignored the kids. The kids took off a few dozen books from the shelves and played with them. Yeah, no. Not only can those books get damaged (which also means you will need to pay for it) but they were putting them in the wrong spots. This means patrons can’t find the books they’re looking for and if we try to find them, we can’t, and the book is pronounced missing because it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Please keep an eye on your kids!
- Bookshelves are not meant to be messy!
We try to do our best to keep the bookshelves straightened and in decent order so it A) looks nice, and B) is easier to find things. But you get people who lay books on the shelf, lay books on tables and chairs, who don’t squish the books or whatever together so there’s no holes in-between, and who push the books to the back of the shelf or leave it looking messy. Look, we know you don’t work here. But we don’t always have the time to pick up after you. If you have a book or a movie or something that you took off from the shelf and don’t know where to put it, give it to us (the people at the front desk). If you’re taking something off with the intention of checking it out, please make sure you leave the area with the bookshelf the way you found it last.
Trust me, this isn’t about “oh, you’re being lazy and now I have to do your job for you.” This is about you having a better experience with us so you don’t come in here thinking the place is messy because people left it that way, and to also ensure you that you can check out what you wanted to in the first place. I’ve had people who came in looking for a book, couldn’t find it, and our systems said we had it in stock. But guess what? It goes missing because whoever looked at it last didn’t put it where it was supposed to be and didn’t give it to us to put away correctly, so now you can’t check it out because we can’t find it. You would’ve been able to if people didn’t mess with it.
- Come to the library when you have time, not at the last minute.
Just like restaurants and even stores, people assume that we’re open 24/7, coming in two minutes before closing time. Yeah… no. When we close, we close. We turn off the lights and go home. We’re not staying after 7pm to start our closing shift. Once it’s 7pm, we’re gone. So if you’re making a trip to the library, it’s best to plan ahead. If you don’t want to rush, and not to mention, allow us to close at a decent time because we all want to go home, just come when you have the time and when we’re open for a few extra house. Use your weekend to come in. Don’t just get off work and head out with five minutes to spare.
- We don’t actually care what you do or where you go unless you need someone to help you.
A little off topic: I know you’re trying to be polite, but we don’t need to know or even care about you going to the bathroom or sitting on a couch or using a table. It’s a public space. Even if you’re homeless, we don’t mind. The only time we care is if you need help with something like looking for a particular book or movie, or if you need a guest pass to use a computer, etc.
- We can’t help you with personal things.
Technically, it’s against my library’s policy (it might be different with others, though) to help you set up your bank account or whatnot. Just because knowing your personal information is against our rules as it’s a privacy issue. We can try to help in other ways, but there’s only so much we can do on our end. However, I have helped multiple people with things like this just because they have never used a computer or phone in their life and don’t know how to use a keyboard and internet (and I don’t know how they actually live like that, personally) or how they don’t know how to read and write. In such cases, I had been given permission to help them in that way. But these are rare occasions. If you need to pull money off from your bank, set up a bank account, apply to a job, etc. we can’t actually help you in that way.
This also means that we can’t use our own emails for you to send an email or receive something. You need to do that on your own or with the help of a friend. It’s honestly quite annoying that we get people like this almost every day.
- We’re not babysitters, and we’re not responsible for your kids.
Kind of going back to number three… you need to parent your children. It’s okay to drop teens off, but we have an age-limit at our library where you need to be at least 13ish years old to be here on your own. Though we don’t actually enforce it. However, if you’re a parent and you drop off your teen/child to go play on the gaming computers or look around, we’re not responsible for them. So if you can’t get a hold of them, don’t call us to ask us look around for them and tell them to contact you. You need to be the parent and walk your butt in here and look for them yourself. We are not keeping tabs on who is in here and what they’re wearing so we can be of service to you. That’s not how it works.
- If you’re gonna check stuff out and there’s a long line, it may be best to use the self-checkouts.
I know a lot of people may hate to use them just because they’re “taking over” (whatever) but it can actually be useful to both of us. You can checkout easily without having to wait and we also don’t have to deal with another patron so we can at least have a breather. I’ve had patrons who take ten minutes or longer to deal with and then a line forms behind them and we, as library assistants, feel rushed and frustrated because people tend to be impatient.
- Keep tabs on stuff you’ve checked out and returned.
Another huge pet peeve of mine is how people don’t know what they returned or checked out that they still have at home, or how they don’t remember when the due date is. You get a receipt with the due dates… and then you also get a notification (whether through email, text message, or a phone call) to bring the books back after they’ve been due a week ago. If this is a reoccurring thing, it might be best to start using reminders on your phone.
And secondly, I can’t stress enough about how people are so rude when they say “I returned that” but actually never did. Now, some of them are lying and some of them are in the right because they might’ve never been checked in. But what we do every morning is to look for overdues and if it’s not on the shelf, you will be notified. We can always try again because maybe it was moved or something, but most of the time, it probably wasn’t. I’ve had people who are like (in a mean and grumpy voice): “I returned it yesterday! This is why I don’t like just putting it on the table while you’re all busy! I want to make sure it’s checked in!” yada yada yada. But it turned out, they always forgot it at home. I mean, perhaps you should also keep your library stuff in one place so you know where it is as well.
BONUS: If you’re returning stuff and checking stuff out, PLEASE bring it to the front desk!
And finally, if you’re returning things and checking stuff out, bring it to the front desk staff because if you leave it outside in the return bin, you may not be able to check stuff out if there’s a limit to what you’re checking out. Like, for example, at my library, you can only rent five movies. We’ve had people return their movies in the return bin outside (for a curbside return, not the one that’s connected to the building) and then come in to check out more movies. It makes it a lot harder on us library staff because we then have to walk all the way out there just to grab your dumb stuff to check it in for you so you can rent out more dumb stuff.
It’s better to take what you’re returning inside and then check stuff out. That way it gets removed from your account faster.
Sorry for the long post. Needed to get it off my chest.