Archive for the ‘Patrons Behaving Badly’ Category

As archivists, my colleagues and I are accustomed to working closely with researchers and usually this is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. However, occasionally we meet a researcher that seems to have been sent to curse our existence.

Hannah (not her real name) is an older, out-of-state grad student who has been working on the same dissertation for the past seven years. I can’t tell you what it’s about because after an in-depth, hour-long reference interview and another 45 minute hands-on session, I still don’t know. Neither does Hannah. That’s the problem.

My colleagues have all made heroic efforts to help. They have listened intently as she bent their ears for hours. They have diplomatically suggested narrowing her research focus. They have made suggestions for specific topics she might pursue. All in vain. Every attempt to narrow her research to manageable level has simply suggested to her new topics that she wants to pursue. Couple this lack of focus with a sandpaper-like personality and you will get an idea of the albatross hanging around our necks.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no law against patrons satisfying their idle curiosity in a library. In fact, most librarians actively encourage this. But there should definitely being a law against wasting the time of the librarian.

Hannah has a couple weeks of research left. Pray for us.


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Into the cereal bowl that is the library, a few Fruit Loops must inevitably drop. Don’t get me wrong. Nine out of ten patrons to our library are delightful people. The tenth ones, however, tend to be very, very memorable.

Today, there was a young man in who was researching a fairly obscure regional radio host. This gent–let’s call him “Bob Jones”–was a storyteller who had pressed a number of records back in the 1950s. As far as I know, his works never circulated outside of Arnor and we are the only library that has copies of his actual recordings.

As he was returning the recordings, the young man–let’s just call him “Con”, shall we?–and I got to talking about what a shame it was that Mr. Jones had no living relatives and how his quirky recordings are now orphaned works.

How, Con wanted to know, did the library determine who was a legitimate family member? I pointed out that we usually just took people’s word that they were who they said they were. Most of the narrators in our collection are completely unknown or are not well know outside of Arnor. There’s no monetary or other ill-gotten gain to be had by posing as a narrator’s relative. At best, potential faux family members would only be saving themselves some very minimal copying costs.

Con then proceeded to tell me that he was a guy who had no problems lying to other people, particularly “faceless authority figures like you” and how he could readily see a scenario in which he brought in a stranger and had them pose as a member of Mr. Jones’s family.

I pointed out a) the university’s lawyers wouldn’ t like that and b) I would be keeping that “no problem lying to faceless authority figures” part of conversation in mind should he darken our door again.

What this guy thought he would be gaining by scamming the library, I don’t know, but bitter experience has taught me that when people tell you to your face that they are out to do you over, they usually mean it. So, I would like to apologize in advance to any legitimate Jones family members who might be contacting us in the future: please understand when we view your claim with some suspicion.

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Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer.”

And the award for “Librarianship Above and Beyond the Call of Duty” goes to my colleague, Rose, who successfully averted the nuclear  meltdown of one of our more “labor-intensive” grad student researchers. It happened like this.

Said grad student–let’s call him “Chip”–was working hard to put the finishing touches on his master’s thesis before the looming graduation deadline. Generally speaking, it’s a real pleasure for library staffers to work with master’s and doctoral degree students. There’s a special thrill you get when researchers that you’ve helped break new ground, bringing to light things that have been saved, but forgotten and revealing them anew to a wider audience. Their projects are usually interesting, they don’t need a lot of hand-holding and they are typically grateful for our help.

And then there are guys like Chip. Chip, named after the chip he carried around on his shoulder, wasn’t a bad guy, but he was one of those fellows who goes around creating his own problems.  From the get-go, he needed a lot of hand-holding and we bent over backwards to help him out.

Chip’s problems really weren’t that different from any other grad student, but he made things worse for himself by treating the tedious hoop-jumping that’s part and parcel of the graduate school experience as a personal conspiracy against him. Why were there all these requirements? Why was he being oppressed? The university was an oppressor!

It’s true that University of Arnor has a well developed bureaucracy and that bureaucracy can be quite oppressive, but the red tape lash falls equally on the backs of the faculty and staff as well as the other grad students. Chip was being treated just like everyone else, but he didn’t seem to get that.

On the particular day that Rose earned her Merit Badge, his thesis advisor (and my boss), Bill, had asked Chip to make some minor editorial changes on his thesis. Among other things, Bill wanted Chip to add the accession numbers of the interviews Chip had used to his citation list and to make sure that he had signed permissions for an unreleased interview he wanted to use. Modest and usual requirements and, in the case of the release, something that should have been done a year ago, but instead of buckling down and making the necessary changes, Chip developed China Syndrome. His e-mails to Bill and me went from whinging to downright insulting. We were both ready to clout him ’round the ears with the MLA Style Manual and feed him into the paper shredder.

Luckily for him, Chip picked up the phone, called our colleague Rose, and wailed out his tale of woe. Rose took the time to calm Chip down, shared stories of  her own grad school struggles with him, deduced that he had completely misunderstood what Bill was asking, got him the paperwork he needed to fill out, poured oil on troubled waters, and in general set his feet once more on the path of righteousness. Once Rose had talked him in off the metaphoric ledge, Chip was embarrassed by his bad behavior and apologized to both Bill and myself.

Chip successfully defended his master’s thesis–an excellent piece of work, by the way–and was profuse in his gratitude to Rose and the rest of the staff.  He’ll be marching with the rest of the students at this year’s graduation and it’s due to Rose.

Rose would tell you that she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Was any of that street corner counseling part of Rose’s job description? No, it wasn’t, but she did it anyway because that’s the kind of caring professional she is. She’s an archivist who’s willing to go the extra mile to make sure that Arnorian students succeed. The university ought to give her a medal, but they won’t so I’m giving her one now.

Roz, we who are mere gladiators in great information arena, salute you!

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The University of Arnor Library has an atrium. Well, I should say it had an atrium up until the renovation when the skylight was closed off. Up ’til then, those of us confined “below decks” would check the weather by going into the lobby and looking up. Now, however, the library essentially has a large hole that runs through several floors. On each floor, the atrium portion has a wooden railing around it and a substantial ledge inside the railing so it would be difficult, but not impossible, for a sufficiently talented fool to fall in.

As I was visiting Level 4 on my break, I saw a well-fed young man in his late teens/early twenties perched on the atrium railing. Mindful of our responsibility to keep the clueless from killing themselves, I went over and politely asked him not to sit there.

Him: (no apologies, no shame) Do you work here?

Me: (firmly) Yes, I do.

Apparently, only designated employees have the authority to keep him from doing a header down a shaft two floors deep. The next time I see someone perched on the atrium railing, I’m going to shove them in and claim it was an accident.

Remember when you’re tempted to behave badly in the library that you’re only one irate employee away from becoming a ritual sacrifice to the book gods.

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Off with their heads
Originally uploaded by Jenny Watters

A couple of weeks ago I got a request from a writer for a multi-part interview we had in our oral history collection with a well-known regional artist. I hate getting requests from writers or reporters of any streak because the concept of planning ahead is completely unknown to them. They always need the information immediately, their requests are rarely, if ever, straight forward, and, of course, they haven’t bothered to contact me until the last possible minute.

But I did the best I could for this patron. The artist’s interview ran to eleven tapes and had a 130-page transcript. I offered to look up the specific information that she wanted and then just send her those pages, but, no, her inquiry was not that focused. It wasn’t, in fact, focused at all and nothing would do but that she had to have the complete transcript. Attempting to read through a book-sized transcript 24 hours before your publication deadline is pushing it, but I figured that perhaps she was looking to glean some good quotes for her article.

So I moved heaven and earth to get this patron the transcript. That movement of the spheres required long-distance hand holding via e-mail and multiple checks of the Postal Service package tracking service. But the patron was appropriately grateful to receive the material and I promptly forgot the whole thing. Until yesterday when I received a complimentary copy of the publication.

Pleased by the unexpected gesture, I flipped through the journal to see the results of my labors. The article I had busted my chops for was one page–one page!–in length, filled with an absolute minimum of biographical information on the artist, and included only one quote and a partial one at that. To add insult to injury, when I checked the citation list, the patron had referenced the interviews as being owned by the Gondorian Archives instead of the University of Arnor.

Yes, the Gondor Archives does own a copy of this collection, but were they the ones that sweated blood to get her this transcript? NOOOOOOO!

What kind of writer, you may ask yourself, puts other people through a great deal trouble in order to get information she could have gathered from a reputable encyclopedia and a few periodical articles–and then doesn’t cite her source properly? The kind that will shortly be missing a head, my friends.

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Rose leaves after a winter ice storm in Oklahoma City. Photo credit: glassgrrl_ok, Flickr

Yes, friends, it’s the haaaappiest season of all–when academic librarians go on vacation. For two whole weeks. During the darkest, wintery-est time of the year. Yes, the administration, they mocks us, but we don’t care. ‘Cause we’re on vacation!

I, your friendly scribe, probably won’t be posting again until the week of January 7th unless, by some unlikely turn of events, I get unfettered access to another terminal.

Until then, however, I thought I’d leave you with the following story from a friend of mine, Heather, who now lives in the Big City (aka Seattle) far to the South. She gave me her permission to post it here. To set the stage for you, Heather is a vivacious, twenty-something brunette who works in a jewelry store in a corner of Seattle that, in addition to patrons of the arts, also has its share of colorful street life. But I’ll let her tell it:

We had the best drunk EVER come into the store a few days ago. I didn’t realize he was drunk until I was standing right next to him and could smell the liquor. He peered into the front case and asked to see the sapphire Journey pendant. We don’t have a sapphire Journey pendant. Thinking he couldn’t see that well and meant, perhaps, the Tahitian pearl set around with diamonds, I went to pull that out. He grabbed my wrist and said,

“You got pretty eyes.” Oh, this guy is drunk.
“Thank you sir.

“No, they’re captivating. You should be careful with those things.”
“Is this what you were looking at, sir?”
“No, the sapphires!”

“Sir, these are diamonds.”
“No! No they ain’t…Oh, they ain’t blue. Can I smell them?”

Now, the piece in question was a cubic zirconia floor model of a diamond Journey pendant, so I handed it over, more for my amusement than anything else and, so help me gods, he sniffed the pendant and handed it back to me. I turned to grab a selvyt and clean the piece immediately. The guy looked down at my pants and said,

“Nice pockets, too. Nice eyes and nice pockets.”

Just then, Paul [my boss] came back in the store. I nodded at him and nodded at my strange courtier who had turned his back to us to look in another case. Paul went up to him and asked him if he had decided on anything. The man turned around, looked straight at Paul’s chest, and declared, in complete shock,

“What happened to your tits?!?!?!”

Paul rolled his eyes and came back to join me behind the counter where I could barely contain my laughter. Paul scribbled a note on a piece of paper. It read “This guy is wasted.” No, really? The man tottered around the shop for a while, peering in the cases and then left, admonishing me to keep my eyes closed, lest I start a riot. As soon as he left, I turned to Paul.

“Hey, Paul…Where’d your tits go?”

Paul turned red and said I should go run after that guy and get his phone number. Then he sent me to go get him some coffee. The end.


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