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

Top 10 Patron Pet Peeves

   June 2nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

unshelved comicUsually I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky guy, and I really do enjoy my job. But I thought I'd share a list of the top 10 things that patrons do that can really irk me.*

Not that I expect every patron interaction to be perfect and wonderful, of course; these are just a few things that make bad days worse. I tried to limit this list to things unique to libraries, and this list (which ended up being longer than I expected) is in no particular order:

  1. Patrons who don't wait in lines When I'm helping someone at the reference desk, common sense tells me that if another person walks up, they'd stand behind the person I'm helping to wait their turn. However in practice, instead of lines, people tend to form huddles. They will stand almost next to the person I'm helping, and if a third person walks up, they stand next to the first person on the other side. This bothers me because it eliminates all privacy for the first patron. I've also noticed that the longer people have to wait, the more they inch closer to the desk - to the point where they tap their keys on the desk, or volunteer answers to the first patron's question. I always try to make eye contact with people and tell them I'll be right with them, but they often take that as an invitation to ask their question - even if I'm on the phone.
  2. Patrons who don't end phone calls with "goodbye" I suppose this isn't necessarily limited to libraries, but I've never experienced it anywhere but while at work. I'll answer a patron's question, there will be a little awkward silence, and then I'll start saying something like, "is there anything else I can do..." and halfway through I just hear <click>
  3. Patrons who won't stop asking their question long enough for me to answer Maybe this one is due to patrons thinking their question is very complex, when in reality it's not. After the first sentence or two I'll have an answer or resource for them, but they keep elaborating and explaining and I can't get a word in edgewise. I don't like interrupting people, but sometimes there is no other option.
  4. Patrons who stand in front of the printer This only bothers me when someone comes to the desk and says the printer is broken. Fair enough, it happens. So they ask if I can fix it, and lead me over to the printer. But then they proceed to walk right up to the printer and stand in front of it, blocking me from getting to it. I can't fix it until I can touch it, and more often than not, I actually have to ask the patron to move. You'd think, you'd think, this would be common sense.
  5. Patrons with no cell phone etiquette Cell phones aren't banned from my library - we just ask people use them politely. Here's one cell phone conversation that I overhear repeatedly:

    [Patron is sitting at a computer, when suddenly some horrible digital song starts playing Very Loudly from their bag. After a minute of struggling, they finally get their cell phone out and answer it:]
    I can't talk right now, I'm in the library.
    No, I can't talk...
    ...I'm in the library.
    I don't know, later.
    No, I can't talk...
    I can't talk...
    I don't know, maybe Bob.
    I'm in the library, I can't talk.
    I'll call you back.
    Around 3, and Bob and Mary.
    How about Taco Bell?
    Look, I'm in the library, I'll call you back.
    I can't talk, I'm in the library.
    The library.
    I can't talk.
    I'll call you back.
    Okay, bye.
    I'll call you back.
    Okay, bye.

    So here's my question: if you can't talk because you're in the library, why do you even answer the phone? And of course, they never turn the ringer down, so a few minutes later their bag is blaring again. Sigh.

  6. Patrons who try to hide that they're using a cell phone Again, my library allows cell phone use. But some patrons come in and try to hide that they're on their cell phone by holding their whole hand open over the phone. Maybe we're just supposed to think they enjoy touching their cheek and ear simultaneously, and looking at desk staff out of their corner of their eye. The good thing is that these people are always speaking quietly, but it annoys me that they think they can get away with something by hiding it.
  7. Patrons with bad closing time etiquette I'm sure any public place that closes at a certain hour has people that come in a minute before closing time. We certainly do, and we also have patrons who stay on the computers right up to closing time. That's fine, I can deal with those patrons. But the patrons that really bug me are the people who get up off their computers a few minutes before closing time, and then while I'm trying to do all my closing time tasks, stand at the desk and talk to me about the other patrons who are still on the computers, and how they make it harder for us to close the library because they just refuse to leave. I guess they just miss the irony of the situation.
  8. Patrons who are passive-aggressive I work in a medium-size library, and while we have a good collection, we certainly don't have a book on everything. For instance, a patron will ask for a book on the megalodon shark. We won't have a book just about that, but after searching through indexes, I can find information about that shark in a more general dinosaur book. It's exactly what the patron needs, but their response is something like, "well, I guess it'll work, but too bad you don't have a book just about megalodon sharks." I also get the feeling sometimes that people blame me personally for not having written a book on their topic - the history of their house, how supportive families are when a child is born in Peru, etc.
  9. Patrons who have a book's call number or title written on a piece of paper, and ask if I can help them find it, but hold the paper so they can read it but I can't Eventually patrons graduate from this habit to setting the paper down on the desk. But invariably, they set the paper down facing them - which actually is fine, because I've gotten quite good at reading upside-down. But what I can't do is read in-motion, and this is a drawback because as soon as the patron realizes the paper is facing them, they start spinning it and moving it so that it faces me. While nice and considerate, it'd actually be quicker if they didn't.
  10. Patrons who say I should have been a teacher I usually hear this after I finish showing a patron how to do something on a computer. I know they mean this as a compliment, but it sort of implies that being a librarian is unfortunate somehow. I'm a librarian because I want to be a librarian; if I weren't, then I wouldn't have been here to show them all the stuff I just showed them.

Petty and nit-picky, I know, but there you go. I'm sure I missed a couple, so please feel free to vent your annoyances in the comments.


*Be sure to read David Lee King's post about being nice to patrons online. I completely agree with his point, but have a feeling he would not approve of this post.

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