As a public librarian, I have been asked my fair share of rather odd questions by patrons of all backgrounds. One woman once asked me if I wanted to get stabbed by her simply because I asked her to stop bothering other patrons. Another man told me that I “speak pretty good English for a Mexican.” I kindly thanked him for his compliment and went about the rest of my day. It is the nature of working a reference or circulation desk at a public library. I have learned that you cannot get offended by every crazy question you are asked or by every stupid comment someone makes. I can always toast to their ignorance with my colleagues at a later time.
But some reference and book questions stick out more than others. They stand out either because they were truly great questions or because they were absolutely ridiculous. Either way, patrons never fail to keep me on my toes. Just when I think a decade of public libraries has allowed me to see and hear it all, another question or situation leaves me stunned. Here are some of my most memorable patron interactions:
Patron (shouting out loud as soon as she walks in the library): “I want to get a divorce from my husband and I was told I could do it here at the library! Who here is going to help me?” Me: “Ma’am, I assure you that is not a service the library provides.” Patron: “My sister got a divorce recently and she told me she did it here at the library.” Me: “I can only assume your sister was provided with a few legal forms to assist her. We can peruse our Legal Forms database to assist you, but we do not provide legal advice.” The patron was satisfied with that and left with a few printed legal forms.
Patron: “Son, I need you to place a book on hold for me.” Me: “Sure, which book would you like for me to place on hold for you?” Patron: “Anything by Jake Logan or Tabor Evans. I like sex and reading about sex and all of their books have great sex scenes.” Me: “Okay…let me see what I can find in our catalog.” Patron: “You ever read any of those books? I am sure you would enjoy them.” Me: “I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, but hey, you should read what makes you happy.” The patron finally left when I placed about half a dozen of those books on hold for him.
Patron: (Comes up a little too close and whispers) “I need you to help me find a 1993 article from the local paper about a woman who was shot on the west side.” Me: (Whispering back) “Okay, do you know what month and day in 1993?” Patron: “I will never forget it. It was April 2nd, 1993. I was the woman who was shot.” Me: (A little louder) “Oh wow! I’m sorry to hear that you were shot.” Patron: “Shh shh!! Don’t talk loud. The man who shot me has been looking for me ever since. He could be in this library right now.” Me: (Whispering again) “Okay, I apologize. I will keep my voice down.” After some serious research, I located the article for the patron and she gave me a hug before she left.
Patron: “Sir, are you the manager of this library?” Me: “I am the assistant manager of this branch. How may I help you today?” Patron: “I want to know why your library gives out this paper for free when there are children who frequent this library?” (He was referring to a local newspaper companion that had frequent Op-ed pieces about the LGBT community and sexual exploration). Me: “I am sorry you feel that way, but this paper is extremely popular and as a public library, we invite all ideas, opinions, and diverse views. It has a right to be circulated. Also, the paper is not located in the children’s area.” Patron: “Oh man, you’re just like those other liberals. Vete a la chingada (Spanish for “go f*** yourself”). You’re not the person I need to speak to.” Me: “You are welcome to speak to our manager when she gets back, and I do have to ask you to refrain from using that kind of language in a library that is frequented by children.” He did not like that I flipped the script so he cursed me out all the way to his truck and left.
Random Patron: Runs out of the library’s elevator straight to the library’s rotunda area. Two cops are coming up the stairs and chasing the man. Me: Thinking, “Don’t you dare do it! Don’t do what I think you’re going to do.” Patron: Climbs the rotunda area, thinks for a second or two and then jumps to the first floor. Me: I ran over to the rotunda to look down. I saw the man was hurt from his right leg and could not get up. Two other cops on the first floor ran toward the man and tackled him. They cuffed him and took him away. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. Turns out the man had robbed a convenience store down the road.
Like I always say to my colleagues, “Good times!” I have often said that public libraries should get their own reality TV show. People would be shocked to learn what goes down inside of them at times. What’s the wildest patron interaction you have ever had?