If you don’t work in a library, spend a lot of time in a library, or know someone who does either, you may not be aware that libraries are lovely, innovative, exciting, and amazing. They are also basically Crazytown, USA. (Or whatever country you happen to be in.) It doesn’t matter if your library belongs to a huge city system or in the suburbs or in a rural area or the middle of nowhere: weird things will happen there. In fact, I suspect some of the weird things chronicled in Scott Douglas’ hilarious book, Quiet, Please: A memoir, inspired me to become a librarian. Strange but true.
What are these weird occurrences, you say?
Weird things like a person in a giant Subway sub costume will come in, wander around for a few minutes, then leave, silently and inexplicably.
Or someone will unroll ALL of the toilet paper in the women’s restrooms on all the floors. Then she’ll come back and smear poop on the walls. (We call her the Bathroom Bandit.)
Or someone will poop in the sink. Or outside. Or attempt to exchange sex for drugs in the bathroom.
Or will tell you about the conspiracy of government-created, mind-controlling microwaves, and how Obama and all the black people are trying to kill everyone else. (Ironically, told me to by a black person.)
Or there’s the nice, unassuming guy who comes in the sleep in ‘his’ chair in the periodicals every day and leaves promptly when we announce that the library will be closing in 15 minutes.
Or the man who cannot handle it if the library doesn’t have its copy of the paper in yet and will watch the desk like a hawk as if we are hiding it from him for some reason. He’s always very grumpy.
Or people will try to have sex or masturbate in the stacks. And look at porn on the computers.
Or the police will handcuff youths in the parking lot, search their car, then free them and leave, while all the staff watches excitedly from the windows.
Or someone will bring a loose cat, as in not in a cage, into the library and ask for books about pregnancy. Then you have to calmly give her the call number but tell her she can’t go look for the books until she takes the cat outside. When she doesn’t return you wonder who was pregnant, the woman or the cat?
Or upon hearing that someone has Parkinson’s, they will recoil back in horror and exclaim, “I hope I don’t catch it!”
Or a 10 year old girl will call you a bitch because you won’t give her a library card because she has no parent with her and no ID or proof of address. (Those are our library rules.)
And don’t forget all the strange, awkward, and harassing comments patrons make to librarians – sometimes while following you around the stacks – about your hairstyle, clothes, what age they think you are, marital status, and how they could help change that marital status.
Finally, because that’s all that I can think of right now, here’s the final strange but not that strange thing that happens in libraries. People steal things; even kids steal things. Last night one of our Children’s librarians realized after a 5-year old kid had left that he had taken all of our wooden trains from the train table, put them in a box, and left.
He left with some friends of his family and we alerted the mom, who was leaving shortly after him, that he might have made off with Thomas and Friends. She sighed and said, “Oh probably. He steals things all the time. He really has sticky fingers.”
She tracked him down, made him give the 10 trains he took back, and the went on their way. The Children’s librarian made him promise never to steal them again. Watch out for librarians, we’ll find you.
Despite all this craziness, and there’s more that I don’t remember or have blocked out because of trauma, I love my job. I love serving the patrons and helping them find what they need, even if they have to take the cat outside first.
Have you encountered much of the weird, strange, and uncanny in libraries?
P.S. All of these things are true and happened at libraries where I worked, usually while I was there. And I know that my little libraries have nothing on the craziness that happens in big cities. The weird is everywhere.