Monday, July 26, 2010

The Bitch Principle

Thank you so much to my anonymous commenter for reminding me of this post. I wrote it when I worked for another director, in another department, and the reminder was both painful and jarring. I needed it, thanks. It's part of the defunct Happyville Library archives and no longer published, but I figured I should re-publish it for nostalgia's sake. And my own. So here it is.

Warning: I wrote this post after reading (and re-reading, because it was so damn funny) an entire book of Dilbert comics. When I finished, I had an abundance of crazy manager memories flooding my brain and I wrote this with many of my past jobs in mind. Happyville is NOWHERE near this bad, but I've been places that are and this is not an exaggeration of some workplace philosophies. Read it with the humor it was written with.

The Bitch Principle

You are owned by the taxpayers of this community. This means you are their bitch. They pay your meager salary and begrudge you every penny.

Corollary 1
A bitch’s job is to keep the patrons happy, at all costs. Some will be satisfied that you have done your job if you merely answer their question about the library’s hours; others will be dissatisfied with your output if you call in favors, pull strings, hack a government computer and sell your personal possessions to pay for the bribe used to acquire information you seek on behalf of a patron. It is recognizable that you may eventually find your resources have reached a limit. When this occurs, find another bitch with greater resources and tell the patron you are referring them to someone with more authority in that area.

Corollary 2
If you are off the clock and shopping in a local store, you are still their bitch. Whenever possible, without regard for your personal situation, do your best to serve their needs.

Corollary 3
Find someone else’s bitch for them. Sometimes patrons get attached to the work done by a particular bitch on staff. If Joe is Mr. McCarty’s favorite bitch and Mr. McCarty is on the phone looking for Joe, find Joe immediately. Patrons don’t like to leave voice mail messages for staff because it feels less like their bitches are at their beck and call, so you must track that staff member down or take a message, thereby taking personal responsibility for Joe getting the message. Bitchdom is transferable like that so it is preferred that you find the bitch in question.

Corollary 4
Never forget you’re their bitch. No matter how harsh, offensive or brutally critical a patron is, show them their proper respect. Only when a patron breaks a law and infringes on the rights of other patrons can you act in defense of the other patrons. Your honor is not important and if they belittle you, that is their right. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t have a job. It is only through their generosity that you are able to put food in your mouth. Show some gratitude.

    If you are a member of the community in which you work, a taxpayer to the library where you are employed, you are not your own bitch. Being everyone else’s bitch overrides any entitlement you might have. If you would like to have a library full of your personal bitches, you must move out of the library district in which you work. You automatically forfeit your rights to having library bitches when you live and work in the same library district.

Behavior Principles and Management Noninvolvement

Patrons are unpredictable and you should predict their behavior accordingly, without aid of your supervisors.

Corollary 1
Try to diffuse a belligerent patron’s temper before they take their complaint to management. Managers sought promotions to get themselves away from the positions of serving the public because they were terrible at it and they hated it. Do not remind your boss of his or her shortcomings by bringing them a raging patron.

    By “diffuse” we mean to use any means necessary. A shovel and dolly are in the receiving room and the property is adjacent to some dense woods. Use your resources wisely. A dead taxpayer is preferable to a disgruntled taxpayer.

Corollary 2
Inebriated patrons should be refused service. There are no repercussions because if they are as drunk as they seem, they won’t remember it anyway. If the inebriated patron raises suspicion that they might be dangerous or driving, the police should be alerted. If you are feeling apathetic on this particular day, remember that they are parked in the same parking lot as your own vehicle, and they might have lagged on their liability insurance.

Corollary 3
Mothers with children are like ticking bombs and should be given an enormous amount of leeway. Some prefer you to discipline their children for them; others don’t care if their child has eaten the first three volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and they do not want you to say a negative word in the direction of their children. You have to figure out which type of mother you are dealing with and then be prepared for the fallout. Again, “diffuse” the situation accordingly and avoid management if at all possible.

Corollary 4
Patrons will deny responsibility for any and all offenses they commit, no matter how obvious it is that they are guilty. If you cannot convince them that they must be accountable for their actions and the matter is presented to management, be prepared for the manager to exhibit his/her spinelessness and give the patron what they want, not backing you up and not standing by the written and formal policy. Managers suppress their confrontational abilities until they wield the pent-up confrontation on an underling. If you are the patrons’ bitch, your manager is an upper echelon bitch and held to an even higher standard of devotion and servitude to the patrons. Do not expect your manager to take your side or uphold your decisions.

Corollary 5
When all hell breaks loose, call the police instead of management. Though there will be a delay in the time it takes for officers to arrive, it will be much faster than locating an effective member of management. Order must be restored as quickly as possible, and often that can only be accomplished by those with guns. Choose wisely and keep in mind that the library will remain open regardless of fatalities, so minimize the mess because it will be you working among the splattered blood.

Emergency Principles

The only thing that should close the library is the building itself being blown to smithereens. Your emergency kits should suffice in rescuing you from any situation, with the exception of the building being blown to smithereens. If you and the building are blown to smithereens, you may officially close the library.

Corollary 1
If there is a fire, gather the patrons and rescue them first. Your life is less valuable and without the patrons, you wouldn’t have a job anyway. Then you may rescue the library pets. Once the important ones have been evacuated safely, you may leave the building. Don’t forget to sign out (you won’t be paid for your time of evacuation), log off the computers, turn on your voice mail, leave a note for your boss saying you left early and why, and get it signed by a fireman on scene (preferably the first one in the building so that they don’t force you to leave before you have finished your duties). The library should reopen immediately unless otherwise indicated by the fire department.

Corollary 2
In the event of a tornado, patrons should be gathered and led to the shelter areas in the building. Some will refuse to evacuate to a safe place – leave them where they are because that is an effective “diffusing” of a problem patron, no doubt. Remember to bring the emergency kits located at each reference desks and the circulation desk. You should then nominate a staff member to check outside to see if the tornado has passed and it is safe to come out. If that staff member doesn’t return, wait a while longer, nominate a new staff member and repeat. If the building collapses on you due to the tornado’s damage, you will be glad you have the emergency kits handy.

    These emergency kits will save your life. In the rare event that a sharpened pencil, some scratch paper, a flashlight, some glow sticks, a whistle, band-aids, and a battery-operated radio cannot be utilized to save your life, their presence will absolve the library of liability and prevent your next of kin from filing frivolous civil suits. If you do not know how to save your lives with the whistle, a sharpened pencil and some glow-sticks, then that is your problem.

Corollary 3
If a bomb threat is made, follow the same instructions given in Corollary 1, but remember to call the police and have them sign your note to management. We do not have bomb alarms and if a board member or the director happens upon an empty library with all the patrons and staff running for their lives and no police or other law enforcement present, it will be assumed you have abandoned your position and you will be fired. This is particularly important if the bomb threat was a hoax and the building was not blown to smithereens.

Corollary 4
With frequently erupting cases of violence and mass murder occurring in workplaces and public buildings, a domestic or non-domestic terrorist threat should be handled as exhibited in the following passage:

    Evacuate as outlined in Corollary 1. Inform the director immediately so that she might sit in her chair observing a storytime session, staring off into space, ignoring the threat for a good hour or so. Employees will be ordered back to work right away and the director will protect the public from future attacks by posting a color-coordinated Library Terror Alert system, which instructs everyone to be watchful but continue with their lives, regardless of color warning. Paranoia will be the key to convicting the suspects and the library faction behind it will be chased, without being caught, for all eternity. Dissidence will be considered anti-patronotic and a Patronage Act will be passed that allows the library to revoke library privileges from anyone, at any time, holding their library card hostage and forcing people relinquish their library books indefinitely, without a defense. Terrorists will not get away with harming our library. Well, they might, but we’ll look busy trying to fix it.

Corollary 5
If a patron has an accident, becomes ill, or shows symptoms of ill health, call an ambulance immediately. If you are unable to prevent a bodily fluid spill from occurring, it is up to the staff member nearest the spill to clean it up, regardless of their job description. Supplies are scattered about the building haphazardly, and you will probably have to cordon off the hazardous area until the supplies can be gathered. No matter how enormous the spill, the library should not be closed. A biohazard suit is available, as well as anti-tuberculosis wipes and individual alcohol swabs in case contact is made. The janitors should be notified immediately and contaminated material should be set aside to be determined if it is in need of being destroyed. It is preferred that contamination should be contained and only staff exposed. Innocent patrons should be spared first and foremost, and management spared second.

Corollary 6
Miscellaneous emergencies such as gas leaks, flooding, building damage, power outage, water shutoff, etc., should not result in evacuations unless advised by the fire or police department, and the library should remain open. Keep in mind one steadfast word: smithereens. If the building is not in eminent danger of being blown to smithereens and valuable patrons are not in danger, you should continue doing your job and the library should remain open.

    If a patron knifes/shoots/maims one of your coworkers, you should not suspend your duties or accompany that coworker to the hospital. Should that person die, you are advised to mourn their loss on your off time.

Remember: smithereens! Don’t stop doing your job unless the library is blown to smithereens!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way

It’s nice to have a boss I can complain to and follow up my complaint by saying, “Some days I go home and pat myself on the back because I didn’t kill anyone today. They may have deserved it, but I let them live. Good job!” He agreed, good job, and there was no call to 9-1-1 to have me taken away. He gets me, thankfully.

The patron I was complaining about is quickly becoming one of the most hated people we deal with, not just by me, but by anyone who has to help him. First, he comes in right before we close and has extensive research he wants us to do. Secondly, he has no idea what he’s looking for and requires a ridiculous amount of digging to discover what he’s looking for, and then we must try to locate it. He’ll know a song, but not remember the name or the band. It’s always Christian rock too, so don’t even get me started on that crap. The song may be by this band or that band and he’ll know it when he sees it, so he needs us to look up each band, every album they’ve made, so he can look at the song lists until he recognizes the one he’s looking for. Some of these bands have 20 albums, and because they’re obscure, unpopular Christian rock, maybe 10 libraries in the world might have it. I have gotten to the point where I’ve said he has to sit down and figure out the album and artist himself – Google or Amazon can deliver the information – because I just don’t have time or patience enough to have him leaning over my desk so he can see my monitor as he tells me, “Scroll down, no, not that one, down, more, wait, maybe, no, not that one, keep going, is that it?, no, okay, next album.” I won’t do it anymore. I make him get on a computer and scroll through the albums himself until he finds what he needs. There is no leaning over my desk, breathing in my face, giving me orders to scroll anywhere. Not anymore.

But he does this to other people, though I think many of them have followed my lead and tell him to find the album first and then see us.

Yesterday he came in and wanted to make a resume for his daughter, who has only worked at the local arcade. Why a high school student needs a resume I’m not sure, but that’s his problem – he has to make it. Well, evidently he thought he didn’t. Rude awakening! I’m not writing your daughter’s resume, moron!

So, I sit him down at a computer, get him to open Word, show him where the templates are, explain it’s fill-in-the-blanks and I can’t do that for him so he can get to work on it.

He said, completely seriously, “So, if I have a question, what do I do? Yell out ‘HEY YOU’?”


I replied, with a definite air of irritation, “Uh, nooooooo, you walk up to the desk and ask whoever is available to help you.”

Why do I have to teach this man basic rules of etiquette?

Later he walked up behind me, behind my desk, and said near my ear, “I need help!”

When I shook off the fact that he scared the shit out of me, I wanted him dead. Not quickly dead of an aneurysm or stroke, but slowly, losing parts of his body one by one, with time in between to wallow in the agony, and then another comes off. To the pain. Then to the death.

I walked over to discover he had 2 minutes left until the computer shut down, which is irreversible and not extendable when we’re closing – it’s automatic. So, instead of being able to teach him how to save a document, I jumped to action and saved it quickly to the computer so I could log in again after it shut him out. Oh, and he also wanted a PDF as well as a DOC, even though the document wasn’t complete. And he wanted it burned on a CD, not emailed to himself, free of charge. And he then had to go purchase a CD from Circulation. I kept thinking about his deserved death and the injustice of not being able to give it to him myself, but I managed to get through it.

As we were finishing and the CD was burning, he wadded up a piece of paper as garbage and tried to hand it to me, saying, “Here.”

This was too much. There was no nice left in me. WHO DOES THIS!?

Cold as ice I said, “There’s a garbage can right there. You can put it in yourself.”

He laughed a stupid and unfriendly laugh and responded, “Yeah, you don’t get paid to do that, huh?”

I said, “That’s not the point. You can throw away your own garbage. The can is 5 feet away.”

He didn’t say anything after that and I just walked away in disgust.

On his way out he thanked me and said he’d be back the next day to keep working on it, would likely need more help, just so we knew.

I nodded. I knew I wouldn’t be closing tonight so I figured it was up to the next crew to not kill him. And if they did, I’d completely understand. And I’d testify on their behalf. And I’d dance on his grave.

He never showed up tonight. Maybe someone else did the deed for us. He can’t be that rude and shitty just to us – this has to be a trait he practices all the time. To be this good at being an asshole takes a lot of work.

But it takes more work to let him walk out the door without shedding a drop of his blood.

I’m glad I have a boss who understands and appreciates this.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Pockets are not attractive. I realize they are very important, essential possibly, for many people to have built into their attire. It’s why we love marsupials so much – pocket envy. We need to have stuff with us. Given the size of women’s purses, the number of pockets in cargo pants, and the inability to get rid of silly little breast pocket on shirts, pockets are clearly here to stay. However, they are ugly and they distort the shape of our silhouettes, weigh down our clothes with stuff, and no matter how neatly they are sewn into the designs, they still look bulky and droopy, and the more you have, the bulkier and droopier you look.

That said, women, your bra is not a pocket.

If you’re going to walk around in microscopic shorts, a tank top and a bra, your bra does not become a place to keep your cell phone, reminder notes, money, lipstick, or other necessities. Get a purse like the rest of us. And if you pull a library card out of your sweaty bosom, you might as well put it right back in there because we are not going to handle that biologically contaminated tit-card. Your girls are round, they are pretty, they are soft and they should be treated with respect. If you put 53¢ in change in your bra, along a wad of bills and your credit card, those breasts end up looking like a refrigerator decked out in too many magnets. I can only imagine what your boobies look like at the end of the day, the indentations, maybe even the paper cuts, and nothing you can wiggle or jiggle will make them look nice when there’s an imprint of a quarter and the large, rectangular fossil of your cell phone visible on that soft flesh. It doesn’t matter if it says Samsung or Blackberry backwards on your melon – that’s just trashy. Get your shit out of your bra, ladies.

Also, men, your underwear do not qualify as a pocket.

If some smart designer started putting pockets in boxers (for surely there’s no comfortable place to put them in briefs), the pocket wouldn’t be right down the center of your waistband. When you reach down there to pull something out – anything out – you should be prepared to be either arrested or ridiculed because nothing down there is something you want to show to a librarian, even if it’s just your library card. Unless your full-time job is at a male strip club, you moonlight doing stripper-grams, and you’re in really high demand, leave it in your pants, you perv. If it’s touched a part of your skin that is warmer than room temperature, we don’t want anything to do with it. I know there’s a long-standing tradition of stuffing socks down there, and that’s fine so long as you don’t whip out that sock and hand it to me. In fact, stuff whatever you want down there, but whatever it is has to stay. You’re stuck with it. Money, credit cards, cell phone, hamster, tapioca, Brilo pad, or whatever your heart (ahem) desires to have down your underwear is between you and your underwear, literally. Keep it to yourself.

So, while I admit I use pockets, though I dislike any more than one or two in my clothing, I don’t like people creating pockets where none exists. And what baffles me the most is why don’t these people put pretend pockets somewhere that isn’t R-rated?

I swear, I don’t know why I serve the public. The public is so creepy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I Learned Camping

When I was in Girl Scouts, we went on a two-day camping trip to Butternut Springs. This was something like 28 years ago, and the way it was set up was there was a cabin for the troop leaders to sleep in, prepare meals, and a dining room to feed the troops. The girls camped in tents in the surrounding woods. These were permanent tents with a deck-like floor and prison beds and mattresses inside. Given that it was in Indiana, and we were there in the height of a sweltering summer, we were fairly miserable in the woods, sweating and bored, with only a single strip of flypaper hanging in the tent for bug protection. The first night we were there, I did the sensible thing any kid who had been trained by her cruel, older cousin would do: I scared the crap out of the girls telling them ghost stories in the dark. Many of the girls couldn’t sleep, either because they were terrified or because they were homesick, and throughout the night many cries were heard from many of the tents. And then a terrible storm hit, which quieted the sobbing, but also brought a tree down on one of the tents. In the morning, the nonchalant troop leaders congratulated us on surviving our first night camping and said the second night would be easier. I was having nothing of that and I organized a coup against the leaders. Screaming, crying, whining girls ranging from 6 to 12 years old, dozens of them, have a way of wearing down the defenses of even the most weathered troop leaders, and the second night we slept in the cabin, snug as bugs in our sleeping bags on the linoleum floor of the dining hall. So went my first camping experience, which I don’t really count as camping.

Last weekend I camped for the first time for real. Aside from having a lot of fun, it was quite a learning experience. And being a good librarian, I’m going to share it with you. (Click pictures to embiggen.)

1. This stuff, without DEET, is awesome at keeping bugs away. This is not a light statement made by someone who can frolic in the woods with Skin-So-Soft. Oh no! If there is a biting bug within 100 yards of me, it will find me, send up a signal to any biting bug in 4 square miles, and the swarm will descend upon me with ravenous hunger until I am all but exsanguinated. They leave enough blood for me to survive so that they can feed upon me when I step outdoors the next time.
This is the stuff I usually use. If you can’t read that, it says 98% DEET. This is the only way for me to come in from an evening outdoors without losing my mind – and my blood.

2. Putting up a tent is a lot easier than I thought it would be. But it would’ve been a whole lot easier if it hadn’t been 95ยบ.Even the tent wanted to melt. Taking down a tent is easy too. Getting it back into the container it came in is a whole nother story. Good luck.

3. Never bring a photographer with you on camping trip. They are way more interested taking pictures of you putting up the tent than actually helping put it up.

4. When your car wobbles (or shakes violently) at high speeds, something is wrong. If you have the tires rebalanced and this does not fix it, check again. Because sitting in your car on the banks of the Mississippi River on a Saturday night, changing a flat for a spare, trying to find space in your already packed car for the tire that was worn down to the cords is really going to put a damper on the whole camping experience.

5. This little LED lantern (which is merely 5½ inches tall) generates enough light in a 9’ x 9’ tent for two people to lay on their bellies and do crossword puzzles in the darkness of the late night, while waiting for the neighboring tent campers to either kill one another, or shut the fuck up. Handy little device. I highly recommend it.

6. If Person One is in the tent doing crosswords with the lantern on, head positioned right by the tent door, turn OFF the lantern for a few moments before Person Two enters tent, or all the moths, gnats and other light-attracted bugs who are patiently waiting at the door to get at the lantern will invariably get into the tent and drive you completely mad.

7. These batteries only work if you scrape them with something metal each and every time you use them in the little LED lantern. Totally retarded. Don’t know why. Don’t know why we tried this. They worked fine in B.E.’s camera, his camera batteries worked fine in the lantern, but these batteries + the above lantern = need for scraping.

8. When you have inconsiderate, idiot camping neighbors who stay up until 1 am setting up their tents, hammering their spikes with actual hammers and not mallets, vacuuming the tents out, using their car headlights to do all this, with the keys in the ignition and the alarm going off the entire time, slamming car doors every three seconds, no matter how many times you complain, they will insist they’re almost done and that your complaints are absolutely unreasonable.

9. However, revenge is yours in the morning when the drunken losers are trying to sleep off their hangovers. Revenge is sweet. And best served cold. And loud.

10. Millipedes are gross, but massive quantities of millipedes in the campground’s bathrooms/showers are massively gross.

11. When you camp and the temperatures are already above the mid 80s by 7 am, you get so sweaty, so slimy, so dirty, that even in showers infested with 1-inch millipedes, you will shower daily, and you will be grateful for the ability to do so.

12. Bug spray needs to be reapplied before you leave the safety of the shower. Freshly showered humans are most delectable.

13. Trees make for nice insulation against noise, protect you from the direct sunlight that seeks to fry you to a blistering pulp, and provides perches for the early morning birds that sing you awake. Yay trees!

14. Trees also are the homes of many bugs that will annoy you to no end. Tit for tat.

15. The only thing worse than sunburn is sunburn with bug bites on top of it.

16. If you have a sweetie with you who will scratch your sunburn and bug bites for you, you are a lucky, lucky person.

17. No matter how awful you think the whole experience is going to be, it’s never going to be that bad. Bring the condoms just in case. Assuming you won’t be in the mood is an underestimate. Being sexually frustrated in the woods is just sad.

18. Air mattress. Get one. You will not regret it.

19. A bag of cherries is great for camping. Put them in the cooler and the cherries will stay fresh longer, but they will dye the ice water a purple-ish red color. Which will dye everything else a purple-ish red color.

20. You, too, can have the coolest meals around if you have a propane stove and make pizzas for dinner! Others are eating sandwiches, or burgers and hot dogs that are not cooked enough, or cooked too much. Pizzas rock.

And so, despite the heat, bugs, things we forgot, people who irritated us, car mishaps and general annoyances, we had a really great time and are already planning our next camping trip. After we get an air mattress.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I learned to read when I was three years old. That sounds a lot more impressive than it is because all I did was beg my parents to read the same bedtime story over and over every night until I memorized it. Once I could recite the entire book cover to cover, I applied my knowledge of those words and the combinations of letters I saw on the pages of the book, and quickly understood what I was looking at. After I figured that out, I was able to read other books and increase my written vocabulary by recognizing words I already knew and adding the sounds of the letters around those familiar words. It was a lot of figuring out, but from an early age, once I had a taste of something I liked, like reading, I attacked it and had to devour it entirely.

Working in a library, I run into many people who also love to read, and though I haven’t interviewed them all, I suspect they all have a book – a single, solitary book – that they can trace their love of reading back to, and will remember that book (or the essence of that book) for the remainder of their cognizant lives.

My book, which not only taught me how to read but also bred my love of books, was Benje, by Elizabeth Rice. It’s a touching story about a squirrel who loses his tail in a trap and becomes depressed because he isn’t like the other squirrels and can’t do the same things he used to as well. Eventually he’s talked to by an owl, who teaches him to appreciate what he has and learn to do things again without his tail. He does and lives happily ever after. Something about the sad, tailless squirrel spoke to me and the book just stuck.

This is the actual book, which some 34 years ago turned an ordinary child who was a veritable blank slate into a life-long reader.

I’m curious what your book is. What started you on the path of being a reader?