or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Swear Like A Librarian

   August 9th, 2011 Brian Herzog

No Swearing signI hope this post doesn't get blocked by your filtering software.

When not at work, some librarians I know have the filthiest mouths of anyone I've encountered. But at the desk they obviously can't use bad words, so I got curious about the public-safe language librarians use to replace swear words. That's the catch-22 of libraries: serving the public can be stressful, but working at a public service desk means being limited in how we can respond when something goes wrong.

I asked around a bit and here's a list of some choice "safe" words library staff use:

  • some old standards: Shoot, Fudge, Bologny
  • Jeepers Crow
  • Flip
  • Fly me (to the moon)
  • Mother of pearl
  • What the what?
  • For the love of Pete
  • For cripe's sake
  • Frick
  • Shut the front door
  • Sugar Honey Iced Tea

The last one is my favorite - read it again, but just the first letter of each word.

I'm sure everyone has their favorites - what are your patron-safe swear words? Please share them in the comments or make #swearlikealibrarian a trending topic.

P.S.
When I was originally working on this post, I thought some gansta rap-style image would make an appropriate illustration. I couldn't find one exactly right, but I did think this was funny:

I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie sign

Good job Hillsdale Free Public Library - Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/23/09

   August 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

baby carrierOn their way to the bathroom, lots of patrons will ask if they can leave their books or whatever on the Reference Desk.

Generally, this is no problem, although if the item is something the patron owns, we do tell them we can't be responsible for it.

So imagine my surprise when a patron walked up with an infant in a baby carrier and asked if he could leave her there while "took a squirt."

I said no.



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Library of Profanity

   January 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Bad WordsI'll warn you right up front: this post contains bad words.

While looking for a book on Amazon, I accidentally (really) found a book with the title Fuck this Book. Of course this caught my eye, so I read the description and found it actually sounded interesting (a la Postsecret, Found and Church Signs Across America).

I used the handy greasemonkey script to search my library's catalog directly from Amazon. I was surprised to see that my library had a record for the book, but it was In Cataloging - and has been for three years (there's got to be a story here, and I'm still trying to track it down [update: I asked around and learned the story, and the book has since, sadly, been deleted from our catalog]).

But this got me thinking: what other bad words are indexed in the library catalog? I ran some searches, and was surprised at the results. In my library's holdings alone, fuck has 12 matches and shit has 16 matches. I ran through a list of bad words, but most others also had non-bad meanings (pussy cat, Dick Cheney, etc).

I think it's important for libraries to provide unfiltered access to information, and not vilify a work or person because they violate a social taboos (besides, profanity is often in the eye of the beholder).



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Library Signs, Good and Bad

   April 24th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Bad Library SignNow that April 15th has passed, I've started taking down my library's tax forms display, and all the signs in the library pointing to it.

I found the sign pictured here taped to the library's front door, which got me thinking about good and bad library signs. This is definitely a bad sign - questionable colors, second sign taped over top, and remnants of tape from when it was hung last year. I hadn't noticed this one before, which is what I get for using the staff entrance (we should all use the patron entrance more often to see what the public sees). I'm all for recycling, but we can definitely do better.

When it comes to signs, I think the fewer the better. Over the last two years, I have secretly been taking down signs in my library - no one has seemed to notice, and the library looks a lot cleaner.

I'm always interested in signs and marketing, so here are other examples of good and bad library signs - check out the Library Signage flickr group for more:

Good

Bad

  • Don't Touch Sign - not only overly-negative, but counter-productive
  • No Cutting or Gluing - I guess the sign just supports a policy, so it's actually the policy I don't understand
  • Don't Move Tables - I don't like how totally inflexible this one is; librarians don't always think of everything
  • Turn Off Cell Phone! - way too negative! And emphatic!
  • Cell Phones are Silent - I like the funny graphic, and that the words don't outlaw cell phones entirely, but I'm not a fan of the big red circle-slash, and in this case it sends a mixed message


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