Welcome to Library Work!

The week I started working at my suburban Philadelphia library, a scruffy-looking man in his twenties sauntered up to the circulation desk wearing a SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS T shirt.

Although we librarians are expected to strive to meet the needs of our patrons, Eileen and I kept our shirts on.

“Can I help you?” Eileen asked him, totally deadpan.

She quickly and efficiently checked his books out. Neither of us cracked a smile until he’d left.

Then we took one look at each other and broke up.

“Welcome to library work,” said Eileen.

Since then, I’ve seen many odder things than that in my little library, but I’ve managed to keep a straight face. Remaining calm, helpful and friendly, no matter what happens, is part of the job.

We library workers learn to take it in stride when you wear a tacky T shirt.

Or? When you use something wildly inappropriate as a bookmark, then forget to remove it when you return your book to us.

Deb was checking a book in once when a small foil-wrapped disc dropped out.

It was a cherry-flavored condom.

“I believe this is yours,” she said cheerfully, handing it back to the patron.

It was he who flushed the color of his newly-returned condom, not Deb.

You’ve learn to go with the flow when you work at a public library. We refuse to lose our cool when patrons bellow at us because we can’t find the book they want, or call us rude names when we refuse to waive their fines.

When the pervs who surf for porn on our computers send lewd photos to the printer behind the circulation desk, we don’t flip out.

We just roll our eyes and drop the smut in the trash.

Librarians are discrete. You can rely on us not to comment on the titles you take out.

We hold our tongues as we check out books about coping with a cheating spouse or living with cancer.

When an obese person checks out Do I Look Fat In This Dress? we don’t say, “No! You look fabulous! Don’t you dare let that book fat shame you!”

You have no idea how much your librarian knows about you. We’re as bad as Santa Claus.

We know when you are sleeping. (What Your Dreams Reveal About You).We know when you’re awake. (Dealing With Insomnia) We know when you’ve been bad (How To Regain Her Trust After Your Affair) or good. (Sharing Your Home With a Rescue Dog.)

Not to worry — librarians also know how to keep quiet.

When an elderly person dies, his adult children often box up his books and donate them to the library. Among more mundane titles, we’ll find a copy of Orgasms! Orgasms! Orgasms! or The Magnificent Threesome.

Not to worry.

If you donate Dad’s library to us, you can be sure that we’ll never phone to say, “we can use everything but your father’s profusely annotated copy of the Kama Sutra — although we did find his marginal notations quite intriguing.”

Nothing surprises me these days. I didn’t know people used currency for bookmarks until I began working here. Now I’m used to checking in a book and having money fall out.

I once found a hundred dollar bill in a copy of Housebreak Your Dog In Seven Days. (Maybe Fido’s owner was planning to motivate him with a large cash bribe?)

Recently a book came back in our book drop containing a fabulous home-made book mark. It was a snapshot of a muscular guy in his twenties, stretched out on a sofa, wearing nothing but a big grin.

None of us recognized him, but we’re all looking forward to the day he strolls into our library. We won’t shout “Hey hot stuff — we’ve seen you naked!”

Instead, we’ll step forward with a friendly smile, and ask “How can I help you?” Then we’ll graciously meet his needs.

Unless he’s wearing a SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS shirt.

(This essay by  Roz Warren, appears in Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor, which would a terrific gift for your favorite librarian or other bookish person.)

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