Sunday, 24 January 2010

Book rage

We have a new term for a grumpy, unhelpful or anti-social person in this house. That term is ‘librarian’.
Now since childhood I’ve always liked librarians, and have good memories of childhood librarians and library use as well as inspiring teachers.
In fact, when I moved to a class-prejudiced grammar school where the teachers ignored sink-estate brats like me, I relied on the public library, not the school, for my education. This was helped by a ‘junior librarian’ scheme they had which allowed me, aged 12, to assist in the junior library and learn stuff like the subject classification numbers and how to find my own material.
More recently, I love how US public librarians became the unlikely last line of defence against Big Brother, refusing to provide the FBI or CIA with the lending records of all library members as demanded by that country’s Patriot Act.
My change of attitude springs from two astonishing incidents, one witnessed by me, one witnessed by both me and the wife, when our small daughter was reduced to tears by an angry librarian.
Like a good parent, I signed up my daughter as a local library member last year, and generally it is a positive thing. We have a nice little Saturday routine of changing both our books, and I was happy when one matronly librarian started greeting my daughter by her first name and inviting her to ‘help’ by stamping the books out.
Teachers at school remark she’s always been similarly helpful to them, tidying up after class and so on. She loves books, she loves learning, and she respects but is not afraid of the adults who supervise that, which is all good.
But there’s something weird about Manx librarians which I’ve noticed right from the early 1980’s when I moved here. While there are ‘old school’ examples like the one above, generally they behave more like checkout girls. In fact, staff in Tesco or both Ramsey supermarkets are a damn sight more helpful and friendly.
In the first ugly incident, a decidedly short tempered librarian snatched our books and stamped them without a word, as if anxious to just get us out the door. It was half-term, a weekday mid-morning and we were the only punters in the place. It startled my daughter but I put it down to the grump having a bad day – maybe bad news from home or whatever.
Yesterday my daughter’s ‘crime’ was to get six books instead of three, as over Christmas the library allowed lenders more books to compensate for holiday closures and, anyway, she reads a book a day. Instead of calmly explaining the holiday arrangement was over the librarian got snotty. It would have taken about 30 seconds for my girl to put the spare ones back herself, but Attila the Librarian wasn’t having that, and banged them onto a pile left by the previous punters – a confused pair of fossils who’d chosen the wrong books then wandered off.
Fecks sake!
Being a small town librarian is hardly a high pressure job. Remind some pensioners about the names of authors or books they’ve forgotten, order a few reference books on inter-library loan for the town geek……not quite like being screamed at by pushy supervisors and psychotic punters for seven hours solid in a call centre or a high street store in the Christmas rush. Not coal-mining, or Casualty in a city hospital on Saturday night with wall to wall drunks bleeding, effing, blinding and lashing out at everyone in sight and no beds to spare.
Is it worth the parochial repercussions of an official complaint? Not really.
But what kind of world is it when small kids are the victims of rabid book rage incidents in a sleepy small town library?

1 comment:

valdemar said...

Stuart, some might see those as trivial incidents, but as someone who works in the same section of a council as librarians (it's complicated and boring) they both sound like disciplinary offences to me. Verbal warning, at least.

The customer may not always be right, but if they're wrong you explain it politely, with a smile - as if it's the universe itself that's gone a bit awry, and we just have to muddle through as best we can. I think a written complaint would be in order if anything as bad happens again.

Having said that, I assume the IoM is outside the UK local government rigmarole - star ratings and so on? This might explain why staff think they can get away with it. Complaints are always taken very seriously in the public sector if they can harm a senior manager's career prospects.