Friday, April 27, 2007

...And A Not-So-Funny Transaction

One day this week while I wasn't at work, a customer pulled up to the window poorly and got out of her car to get her books and locked her keys in her (running) car. Could happen to anyone, right? Tied up the window for quite some time before her husband came to rescue her and etc., but what are you going to do? Everyone does something dumb from time to time. But wait! I was at the window yesterday and the same woman (had to be her. Same type of car, same maneuver- not even attempting to get close enough to conduct the transaction from her car and getting out entirely instead) puts her car about four feet from where she should be (note: I had a lot more sympathy for these drivers prior to an experiment I conducted one morning while using the bookdrop. I wanted to be able to say something like, "If you pull forward at _____ point, you can line your car up right under the window" because so many people can't make that turn. So after dropping my books, I pulled around and placed my van at the window. First try, and no problem. I did it a few more times and left with a question mark all but visible over my head: HOW could so many drivers not be able to perform this maneuver????? Particularly those who use the window ALL THE TIME??????) and gets out, reflexively going to slam her door....with the engine running and etc. I yelped ("Hey!!") and she stopped juuuuuuust in time, but instead of looking, I don't know, sheepish or whatever, she just proceeds to get her big pile of stuff from the back seat and totes it over to me where she announces that I'm to discharge it immediately and then renew what's left on her card. I start to explain that a transaction of that length isn't done at the window (she must've had thirty things piled up in front of her and two of them were kits that aren't discharged downstairs) and she cut me off with "I know the rules. There's no one behind me, so you can do it." I let my expression make my point (I hate when a customer takes this I-know-your-job-better-than-you-do attitude) and began to discharge.

When I'd heard the keys/car story, I'd wondered: who would be so....well, as soon as I realized who the party in question was, it made sense. This lady is in the library at least twice a week and isn't.....present. She's vague and easily befuddled and is the sort of person that has you wondering, "HOW does she pull it together to drive and have children and run a household?" She has several kids and one of them is just vile: raps on the desk when she comes up to check out even when you're looking right at her, is rather self-important....anywho: I discharge the materials and start the renewal process while another customer (who was trying to park) sat behind this woman's car fuming. Mrs. I Know The Rules eyes the second car, seems to decide that since that person wasn't attempting to use the window, she's under no obligation to get moving, and starts badgering me: what was I doing? Could her items renew? What did I mean, one wouldn't? Which one? Why? Which is exactly the same way she behaves inside the building, but...the whole time, there's construction going on in the adjacent parking lot, so everything I say has to be repeated even though I was practically yelling my answers ("I'M RENEWING YOUR ITEMS. I'M RENEWING. RENEWING!!!!") and the Pepsi truck is pulling into the lot. She sees him, runs to her car, puts it in gear, and takes off like a bat out of hell. All I could do was stare, open-mouthed. How do you...what can....

Here's the thing: we attempt to service an awful lot of people who aren't quite.... average. This lady, while irritating and high-maintenance, really isn't all that bad. She generally returns her things on time, sparing us the need to deal with fines (for which she- predictably- has a big problem taking responsibility) and despite her confusion/rudeness/rotten kid manages to get in and out of the building without causing a scene. Probably shouldn't use the drive-up, though. There are quite a few customers like her, actually: the Vague Moms. There's something going on there, all right, but not enough of whatever it is to keep them from living fairly normal lives. They're irritating and can be difficult to handle but are basically tolerable.

Then there's a related category of customers that constitutes a real problem: how do you handle the adult slow-average population? We have about a dozen regulars who have cards but shouldn't because they just don't "get it." ALWAYS have fines that they can't understand. Lose their cards repeatedly. Are argumentative and needy. Are forever coming up to the desk with stuff and having to be told that they can't check out until they pay _____. They need to use the phone. They need a band-aid. They want to tell you all about something you really don't want to know......

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Very Funny Transaction

My buddy Trissa reminded me yesterday of this hilarious situation she handled a few weeks ago: guy comes into the library to get a card. She goes through the list ("Have you ever had a card with us before? Wayne County? Cuyahoga? Do you have proof of current address etc.") and the fellow is, all, "No. No. No. In fact, I've never been in a library in my life." So Trissa sets him up, and discovers that he does indeed have an existing account, which is blocked due to a lost book. He protests that this can't possibly be him, why, he wasn't even living in Wadsworth then: he was in the Navy when that book was checked out! He asked what the name of the book was, and when Trissa tells him, "Naval Ships of America" I all but wet my pants. Oh, man. We laughed and laughed after he (he was a good sport, by the way) left. "But I was in the Navy then! What's the name of this book, anyway?" "Naval Ships of America." Ha ha! Ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!

A Word About Meeting Rooms

The fact that we are able to provide meeting rooms to the public is pretty cool: great service. It does, however, lead to calls like these: "I need to know if there's going to be a meeting for a group called ______ on either May 4th or maybe it was July 22nd. I'm the leader and I think there was going to be a conflict so I want you to tell me when I can set up my glockenspiel, which I will need someone to carry from the car for me," and (this one came in Tuesday night, which- thankfully- wasn't very busy, as I was on the phone a while explaining the various reasons why this likely wasn't going to work) "I need a meeting room for a soccer team on a night when it's raining." Me: "(Puzzled silence)....I'm sorry, did you wish to reserve a meeting room?" "No, I want to bring a soccer team on a night when it's raining so they can watch a DVD. You do have a DVD player, don't you? I'll need a room big enough for thirty and-" Me: "Ma'am, the meeting rooms book in advance. There's a chance that on a given night one might be free but-" "Well, how many rooms do you have?" Me: "Two." "I'll take one for the next rainy Tuesday night and I'll need a DVD player set up." Me: "Um...I don't think...why don't I put you through to the person who coordinates the rooms (forgive me, Janet!) and you can leave a message-" "Why can't I sign up now?" Me: "I can't guarantee that you'll be able to get a room if you don't have a specific date and time in mind." "Well, why not?" Me: "It just doesn't work that way! (Deep breath) Here's how we go about reserving the rooms: __________ __________ (elapsed time approximately five minutes)__________ etc. etc. etc." "So can I have a room?" Me: "Do you have a date in mind?" "Yes, the next rainy Tuesday night, and I'll need a DVD player." Me: "............Let me explain again how this works." She didn't end up booking a room, but I thiiiiink she understood that she couldn't just show up the next rainy Tuesday and expect a room and a DVD player, although it would be kind of fun to see her square off with the head Toastmaster, ha ha.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Heard a rumor that circulation has been down this year. Hmmm. I guess I'll have had to work longer at my ("my!" That's funny) library in order to have a more accurate idea concerning numbers and so forth, because right now....are we collecting the data properly? Interpreting it correctly? Because it doesn't seem logical that the volume of work isn't adding up to pretty decent numbers. ILLs, too, have just exploded: the amount of material that ships in and out ...yow. I don't get it. Hmmm.

Here are a few comments I'm hearing repeatedly:

1) "Where are all your new books? There's nothing back there."

2) "Do you have a list of all your DVDs?"

3) "Do you have a copy of the 'One Book, One Community' book?" (Yes! This has been a pleasure to answer, as we generally do have a copy, and people seem to be taking a big interest in the program.)

It was book report time again this last week or so: countries, this time. The last one was famous people, and as those returns were pouring in (many very overdue) the country books were going out. What else....F. Scott Fitzgerald. We've had a run on "Gatsby."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

One-Armed Paperhanger

Busy, busy week at the library. I don't know if it's the weather or what, but there's been one heck of a lot of disgruntled people: why???? Same policies....same hours (although we were closed on Easter) doesn't make sense. I had a lady on the phone today at the window who's in here ALL the time: wouldn't you think she'd be civil? She certainly wasn't, even though what she needed (items renewed that would be due in a few days) wasn't an emergency in any sense of the word. I really don't get it. I think we go out of our way to be friendly and polite (even as we're telling people things they don't want to hear) so why the attitude? Do we have too many policies for customers to easily remember? Is it that there are so many libraries close by, each with its own set of rules, that leads to confusion? That we don't limit the number of items checked out (except dvds) which enables people to rack up big fines all too easily? Here's something that happened tonight: a woman came up to the returns part of the counter, where I could see her out of the corner of my eye as I made a family account for the customers I was helping. I answered the phone three times during that transaction. My colleague was also making cards (individuals, in this case, for a family) and a third colleague stepped out of the workroom to help with the long line of customers that was accumulating. After sighing and drumming her fingers on the counter, the woman waiting breaks into what I'm doing for the people in front of me and tells me- doesn't ask- that she needs Meeting Room A opened. I see a page come out of the back with his cart, barked his name despite his distance from me, and asked him to please open the room for the lady, whom, when I turned to say, "Bryant will be right with you!" glared at me as though being expected to wait- as everyone else was doing- was intolerable. Well, it's a library, not the express line at the grocery store, for pete's sake.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

...And Another Thing

Something that's a continual issue, circulation-wise, is the Customer Who's Using Someone Else's Card: we've had the policy for, what? HOW many years? You must have your own card to check out. Every day, though, there are multiple transactions involving cards-not-belonging-to-the-person-standing-in-front-of-the-computer. Last night we had two happen simultaneously: my colleague had an elderly lady attempting to pick up, with her son's card, her son's holds, and swore she's been doing it for years. At my computer, I had a grand-daughter returning (my pet peeve. I know, I know: I should get over this already but it does drive me nuts. I do NOT like being handed returns! Put them in the bins! Put them on the counter! Put them anywhere but DON'T HAND THEM TO ME IN THE CHECK-OUT LINE!) and checking out books for her grandmother with her grandmother's card. Claimed she'd been doing so for years. Hmmm. She- of course- could very well have been doing so (you'd scan her card, see a woman's name on the account...what logical reason would you have for doubting it was her?) but it is nonetheless not permitted as per our policy. I told her about Pelican Post, suggested her grandmother reserve holds to her granddaughter's card, suggested her granddaughter merely pick up books (none of them she wanted to check out was a hold) and use her own card (she said she had one in her own name) AND threw out the possibility of a family card if she resides with Grandma (no) but wouldn't do what she wanted me to, which was use her grandmother's card for her grandmother's books. She left with no books and is no doubt still angry about the "service" she received.

I don't doubt that a lot of transactions slip by us that involve check-outs not to the cardholder: it can get rather busy behind the counter, and you have to be continually on your toes. This issue expands to include renewals: we are to renew only for the cardholder, which can involve speaking to a three-year-old sometimes, and exasperation pretty much ALL the time. Someone has gone back to college and her mother wants to renew her books for her. Someone is traveling and his son wants to renew Dad's DVDs while he's in Antigua. We (well, not "we," as the customer is the person ultimately responsible for items he has taken out) run into another problem here as well: the item that cannot be renewed but is at someone's home merrily racking up a fine while the cardholder is in Tibet. THAT person is all but guaranteed to refuse to see his late fee as HIS responsibility.

Being consistent is the answer, but then there's the problem of using multiple libraries, many of which may very well have different policies. Why, then, wouldn't the customer assume it was his responsibility to know the differing rules? ILLs opens up a new arena for confusion: fines differ; circulation times and rules differ, and it's impossible to know every one of the different policies. The best we can do is say, "This item is from Madison PL and is due on ________; it may be possible to renew, but don't wait until the last minute, as there is no guarantee that this item can be renewed." Last night a very nice lady called up and needed a book right away, but we don't own a copy. I couldn't tell her anything about when her book would come in through ILL (impossible. Even a ballpark figure is pure conjecture, and I'd like to get hold of the person who assures customers that "it takes about a week") and she stopped being a very nice lady at that point. I hate having to deal with the exasperated customer who's been waiting for his hold to come in forever: I can certainly understand- there's stuff I'm waiting for right now that I placed holds on LAST APRIL- but can't adequately explain the many, many factors that go into making the ILL process work. It's a pretty complicated procedure. That said: I'd like to see my boxed set of "My So-Called Life" before I'm too old to enjoy it.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Don't Touch That Phone!

Very busy day behind the desk: one of our receipt printers kept going down, and a (large) family came in to get the family cards they'd registered for online, and when we established that, for whatever reason, we didn't have them, my colleague had to handle the transaction then and there: paying multiple fines on individual cards, etc. etc. It took FOREVER and the people just kept coming. I was moving them through as quickly as I could, which wasn't very quick at all: three people in a row needed cards themselves, the phone rang and was stressful and frustrating, and the bins were filling with materials that people would ask about and after saying, for the fourth or fifth time, "No, I'm afraid we haven't been able to discharge anything you've brought back yet" I was tempted to post it on a sign. In the middle of the mayhem I beckon another customer up to my computer, and he has a printout of his account from what I assumed was his home computer. This is never a very good sign, and sure enough, it wasn't this time, either. He wanted me to discharge his items while he stood there- to verify to his satisfaction that I had done so- and wanted me to explain to him why, if he had renewed his CDs online, he was being charged a late fee on them. I looked up his account and found that he had successfully renewed them, but that they were several days late when he had. I told him I'd waive his fine since he felt so strongly that he was being charged in error, but he insisted on paying....complaining the entire time that he shouldn't have to. I quit listening at that point, nodding and "hmmm"ing, as he went on and on about how many people he knows who agree with him that there ought to be a disclaimer on our webpages stipulating that it is unreliable and should be used only in desperation because "not one thing about it is satisfactory." Right about now- he'd already been served and really needed to move on- the phone rang, and I reached for it, still nodding and appearing to be sympathetic, and he says, "Don't touch that phone. I'm right here in front of you, and it's your job to serve ME first." Jerk.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Gee, Thanks! I Don't Know What To Say...

I went in to work early today and had plannnnned to be even earlier but home (Spring Break) was one crisis after another, so I found myself driving like a bat out of hell, then sprinting- literally- from my minivan into the building. I do NOT like to let anyone down, particularly my boss, who is a living saint, and was feeling a bit....flustered. As I went whipping through the workroom with a cart, headed for the drive-up, my buddy Tami all but ran into me: it was 9am on the nose and I had a customer: oh joy. This lady had a hold, and it was one of the ones with a blue stripe of paper and temporary barcode, with which I've dealt maybe once before. I- still clad in my coat, purse over one shoulder- start her transaction, and must've been positively buggy-eyed, because she leaned from her van, knocked on my window, and said, "I'm in no hurry." We kept up a running commentary as I sweated through her check-out (you add a temporary title, FYI) and she was nothing but kind and complimentary. I've always held a bit of a grudge against this patron (abuses her TL privileges) but we talked about my three kids, at home this week, and her home-schoolers, and I feel a tad sheepish now. She even complimented me on how "pulled together" she finds me: I love to hear this, as there's a stout little thick-glasses-ed, poorly-clad girl still lurking within. But wait!

Later, I had a patron on the phone, renewing items, and was feeling my blood pressure in my head: I had spent the morning (surreptitiously: I HATE for home to interfere with work) on the phone trying to get my kids out the door to the dentist with Isaiah providing transportation/finding out Sarah had broken her glasses. I was working overtime to be diligent and kind, and this very sweet person says to me, "I just love our library! Don't you? I can't believe we have such a wonderful library. I'm happy every time I'm there. The staff is so friendly and helpful." Awww..... I thanked her profusely and said I'd spread the word. Kind of makes up for the "What...If.....I....Don't......HAVE...A......Card?" fellow. I'm not, you know, stupid: I know that things tend to balance out, but it was sooooooo nice to hear the approbation today.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Elementary, My Dear

I may've come up with the solution to the mystery of why people are so....disinclined to be courteous at my place of employ. Here's my theory: so many customers no longer come to the library to browse. They're here to drop off items and pick up what has come in through ILL, so they make one stop at the end of the counter to leave their goods, then proceed immediately to the other end to pick up more. Far too many seem to feel that this is too time-consuming, so the transaction goes like this: person is in line with handful of stuff, hands it to you, saying, "I'm returning these and picking up holds for______." So then you have things that need to be revised and discharged and an order to fill. More and more frequently, too, I'm hearing an exasperated sigh when I ask, "May I see your card?" The "may I see your card" question seems to be getting under a LOT of people's skin: why??? It's THE LIBRARY. Maybe it's because of the proliferation of store-specific cards? Because you KNOW who the person is, as he/she is in here all the time? Then shouldn't they know to have their card ready?

I had a really nice example of this at closing last night: guy comes in with his daughter at 5:56 pm. They have two plastic bags of returns, which he hands us right over the check-out desk. He proceeds immediately into handing me his debit card and says he has to pay for a book he hasn't "lost" but doesn't know where it is. I ask if I can see his card, and he puts his hands flat on the counter, leans over until his face is about six inches from mine, and says, voice dripping with sarcasm: "What...if...I...don't....HAVE...a...card?" I blinked a few times, and said that I had to look up his account SOMEHOW and he cut me off by flipping his debit card at me and telling me to just tell him what he owed. I had the fun then of having to tell him we accept only cash or checks and to please hand me either a card or a license so I could look up his account. He was just launching into this seething "Why don't we... just... use... MY NAME?" approach when the customer behind him said "Excuse me" and stepped in between him and me and handed me his stuff, winking and making a can-you-believe-this-guy face, bless him. The angry guy backed off and sort of wandered away then. I ran into him at WalMart not twenty minutes later (gee, wonder if he was there shopping for Easter dresses, too?); lucky, lucky me.