It’s been my contention that grad school prepares you for NOTHING you encounter as a public librarian. Academic librarian, sure. Archivist, without a doubt. But none of the “working in a public library” classes which I took could have steeled me for what I’ve experienced. (And, I wasn’t even planning to work in a public library. I had every intention of selling out and working in private industry. Sadly, Lehman Bros. decided to blow up the economy right as I graduated, so the kibosh was put on that grand plan.)
Most of my patrons are lovely, well-balanced people. Some are raving fruitcakes. And then some seem well-balanced and lovely, and then they do something which leaves you in slack-jawed stupefaction. In the first of a series I’ve helpfully entitled Annals in “WTH Were You Thinking??”, I present “Potty training.”
One of my regulars is a lovely young mother with an adorable little girl. The little girl can’t go a Storytime without running up to me afterwards and hugging my knees. And the mom is very very good about checking out books and reading to her daughter.
The other day they were in the library and we were chit-chatting. The daughter won’t be coming to my Storytimes any more, as I lose another of my kids to the maws of the formal educational system. (I know, I have to let go of them eventually, but I’ll be damned if I’ll like it.)
At the time I was also weeding the picture book section, so I was going back and forth between my office and the children’s area.
I noticed that the mom (or perhaps the little girl), was just pulling out a ton of books. Helpfully I tell her, “Oh, if you don’t want to check those out just leave them on the table, and we’ll put them away.” Because, of course, we know where stuff goes.
I return to the children’s area, and I see that most of the stack of books are gone. The little girl helpfully states “Mommy cleaned up her mess.” The mom then asks me as she sees me reshelving the books which survived my weed: “Oh, do you have specific places for the books?”
Now, readers, you should be proud of me. The pre-enlightenment LL would have said something like “Oh, no, we have no organization at all to our books in libraries. When we get our diplomas, they insert devices into our brains which communicate with RFID chips in the books so WE KNOW WHERE TO FIND ANYTHING AT ANYTIME!” However, as I give excellent customer service, I gritted my teeth, grinned, and said, Yes, they go in specific places which is why I let you know that we would put them back. I then collected another batch of books to weed and beat a hasty retreat before a blood vessel burst.
“What about the potty training??” you’re screaming right about now. Glad you stuck around for the denouement.
I return to the children’s area to reshelve and haul away another batch of books. Now, I have a very good sniffer. I’ll smell things that escape most people. I sniffed, left the children’s area, and asked my manager who was on the reference desk, “Do you smell something?” She sighed, said “Yes, I think the girl had an accident”, and did the shoulder shrug which is the secret handshake of all public librarians. I shrugged in response and fled from the odor as fast as I could.
One of my pages comes into my office a few minutes later. It is at this point that she informs me that, in fact, the little girl didn’t have an accident. Apparently, she’s in the middle of potty training. So the mom carries around a porta-potty. She had her very cute, very precious daughter pull down her pants, go poopoo on the potty IN THE MIDDLE OF MY CHIDLREN’S AREA, and then wipe her.
Let me repeat this: a child took a crap in a porta-potty in my children’s area.
By the time my page told me this, both mom and child had left the building.
My manager and I are very liberal with our doling out of f-bombs. When I informed her of this, we must have spent five minutes figuring out different ways to use the word “fuck”. I called my youth services coordinator, and after 10 minutes of laughing our asses off, she said “I think you’d have the support of every step of management if you gently led her to use the bathroom.” Because funny me, I thought part of potty training was to teach the child to go to the actual bathroom, and not, you know, carry around your own facilities and go wherever.
So, if any aspiring librarians read this, do mention my story to your professors. And ask them why you’re spending thousands of dollars to learn how to create metadata when you actually need to know how to tell a mom to not let her daughter poo in the middle of the library. They may have no answer.