Library 101: The Missing Course that You Wish You Could Have Taken

by Shayna Monnens, Head Editor, INALJ South Dakota

Library 101: The Missing Course that You Wish You Could Have Taken

steampunk LibrarianWhen we go to library school, we learn all kinds of different techniques. How to provide reader advisory, how to do original cataloging, database creation, and reference work are all topics that are covered in detail and are required to take. However, why has no one ever thought of Library 101 – Where We Cover all the Random Crap You Wish You Would Have Known. I would have signed up for this class.

This is a list of all the topics that this class should cover:

·         Lesson #1: Some people have no respect for personal hygiene.

                This is an occurrence in any public service position, but seems to be a quite frequent one in the Library. From the smelly old man who hasn’t bathed since Clinton was president or the woman who doesn’t believe in deodorant, one wonders whether or not their nasal passages are even functioning anymore. And unfortunately, these people will come to circulation desk, will proceed to check out books, will hand you their absolutely disgusting library card that has who knows what on it, and will then take those materials home to their less than hygienic dwelling. Yes, those materials are going to come back in and will make the shelf and every other book on it smell like musty cigarette smoke unless it takes a lengthy spa day (month) in the Smelly Book Tote.

Moral of this lesson: Hand sanitizer is your friend. As is bathing. And baking soda.

                *Lesson #1 Side note: Some libraries do implement policies about patron hygiene and overall cleanliness, but honestly, who would want to tell something that “they need to leave as everyone around them has passed out due to the noxious fumes rolling off of their person”.

·         Lesson #2: Personal Space is Optional

                This lesson ties in quite nicely with Lesson #1, since it is most frequently (or at least most noticeably) the aforementioned individuals who do not respect the personal space zone.  When there are patrons who lean in so close to you that you could count every nose hair that is playing peek-a-boo with you, this is a good time to casually shift away or perhaps move yourself behind a heavy object of some sort. The circulation desk or computers are always handily available options. If the individual is leaning so far over the desk that one could almost believe that they are sitting on it, this might a be an opportune moment to show them a new feature in the library, or quickly check their materials out for them.

Moral: Establish barriers…fast.

·         Lesson #3: Many Moms (or Day Care Providers) Think Libraries are Free Day Cares

                There is nothing new about this one. As a children’s librarian, this is one my biggest pet peeves. I love having kids in the library. I think they make a marvelous addition to the overall atmosphere of the space. We encourage kids to explore and play and look at the books. However, when you come in with 10 children who are in your care and then proceed to text your girlfriend or whoever about how your date stood you up and that you just need to “party your face off this next weekend” for the next hour without looking up once, I have a problem with this. Policies are in place to remind you that libraries are not child care providers. It is your responsibility as a parent or guardian to safeguard and watch over your child for the duration of your visit in the library. Any damages that are caused are your responsibility, and while having your child scream their head off for 20 minutes is not causing damage to the physical property, it is disrupting the services that we provide to other individuals. And for the love of all that is sacred, do NOT give me the pissed off affronted look when I tell you that you need to take charge of your child. I WILL ask you leave.

Moral of Lesson #3: Kids are loud and some parents just don’t care.

·         Lesson #4: You Will Be Hit On….A Lot.

                I saw a saying the other day that I felt was so absolutely true that I had to immediately share it with others. “Politeness has become so rare that some people mistake it for flirtation.” Yes, yes, YES! I am an extremely accommodating individual. I am pleasant to everyone who comes into the library (ok, I am lying about this one, but you would have had to have pissed me off somehow for me to not be too overly warm to you). I have been hit on by more old men in my 2 years as a librarian than I have in the rest of my 25 or so odd years. There is one man in particular who has not only given me candy, continues to ask my name every time he comes in, calls me “honey” and “beautiful” (even after numerous times asking him stop), but will bypass three other available librarians to wait for me to assist him. Grr. There are the individuals who casually “brush your rear” when you crouch down to get a book, those who continually ask for hugs (my poor coworker), and those who flat out ask you on dates…all the time! If there are patrons who become a problem or overly familiar with you, make sure to let them know that their behavior is uncomfortable to you. Most will understand and back off. However, if the problem persists, make sure you let your supervisor know. We are polite individuals, but we are people. People do not deserve to be treated like that.

 Moral of this lesson: Work on your “cease and desist” evil eye or make-up a significant other if you don’t already have a real one.  Always (for safety’s sake) report it to your bosses too!

·         Lesson #5: Fight Club – Not Just a Movie that Can Be Found at Your Local Library.

                Everyone knows the rules of Fight Club. However, those do not apply at the library. From rowdy kids to emotional teens to what-the-hell-has-gotten-into-you adults, there will be conflict in your library. There are patrons arguing over computer usage, patrons fighting with you over fines (refer to Lesson #6), kids screaming at one another because they lost their turn at Candyland, and parents yelling and disciplining their children. Take note of anything that you think is a problem or could have the potential to lead into a bigger issue. Know when to step in and defuse a situation, when to ask the patron to leave, or if it has escalated out of your control, when to notify police. Two weeks ago I had to break up two teenage girls from pulling each others hair out at Manga club. The fight: two friends got into an argument over “Hetalia” (one of the funniest animes ever – I highly recommend you go check it out).  After they dropped a few F-bombs, which I was none too happy about, I firmly told the girls to “Break it up!” and go sit in opposite sides of the room. When did librarians need to become referees? Oh, if only I’d have had a whistle…

                Moral of Lesson #5: Stuff happens, but we do NOT have to put up with it.

·         Lesson #6: People Will Be Upset About Their Fines

                If I had a nickel for every time a patron told me that their fines are incorrect or they brought back their items, well…I would probably have enough to pay off their fines and everyone else’s! There are notorious abusers of the system who pay their fines down to right under the amount that no longer allows them to check out materials, those who have their children or spouses open up a library card so they can use their card instead, or those who flat out scream at you that their fines are “an attempt of the library to take their money”. My only advice on this one is to remain calm, make sure you are presenting them with 100% accurate information, and be as understanding as possible. There are exceptions to the rule. There are those who do have legitimate reasons for why their items were returned late. Knowing when to bend the rules a bit or waive fines is the key to getting patrons to want to use the library in the future. For the most part, patrons are willing to pay their fines and continue on their merry way, but with others use you best judgment. Give them a break. We are all human.

                Lesson #6 Moral: Fines happen. Don’t let it cause the Library to lose a valuable patron.

·         Lesson #7: I See Crazy People.

                The world is full of all kinds. The Library has most likely seen all of them. You as a Librarian have come in contact with these people. From the chronic dating site user to the less than pleasant smelling patrons to the crazy stick lady, we work with all kinds. We calmly turn down sales people of miracle weight loss pills and one-of-a-kind jewelry, while maintaining poise and grace. At least, that is how I envision I do this. However, they are all people. We all have our unique qualities and our own interests. Whether handling patrons with special needs or your average library patron, it is important to treat them all equally and fairly, while maintaining a respectable atmosphere that the Library is known for. While my favorite patron is the one who comes in, gets a cup of coffee, uses the internet in the allotted time allowed, asks polite questions in a moderate vocal level, and proceeds to not make a general nuisance of themselves, not everyone is like this. Not even close.

                Moral of the lesson: Be respectful to all, and pray that they will reciprocate!

The Library is a very unique and exciting place to work, all while maintaining the qualities of sameness and orderliness. This is why we became Librarians. We enjoy helping the individuals who use utilize our services. While we could have all benefited from Library 101, hopefully we all learn how to best maneuver with the daily challenge/catastrophe/joy that is found in our world of information. I’m sure you have discovered a thing or two in your time that you wish you would have learned or been told. Don’t hesitate to share. Future librarians will benefit from your experiences.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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