Monday, October 22, 2007

Library Confidential

A forthcoming book should give the ALA and library schools a great marketing opportunity. Have you heard of Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library, by Don Borchert? According to the cover, it "puts the shh! in shocking." I read a review here, and boy does it sound exciting. (Note: the review is of Library Confidential, but the American edition seems to be entitled Free for All.) This is going to be such a great marketing opportunity, because after reading this everyone will want to work in a public library. We're always hearing about how librarians provide information and videos and stuff for people and how noble they all are, but we don't usually hear about things like this:

"Two drug dealers were convicted after they were discovered to be keeping their drug stash behind the vent in the men's toilets and using the library as a distribution point for methamphetamines.

They would come in, read the papers and wait for phone calls on the pay phone from prospective buyers.

They would then leave a green rucksack outside full of drugs, go back inside the library to wait and then go back outside to collect it later when the drugs had been swapped for cash."

Or this:

"The library is also the scene of fights. One full-scale brawl between teenagers was only averted by the arrival of car loads of relatives and friends of the two boys the youths had gathered to fight. Another time, two mums punched lumps out of each other in the car park because their young daughters, who went to the library together everyday, had fallen out."

Or this:

"On day when a group of young school children arrived at the library for a day of storytelling and puppetry, two drunk men dressed as ballet dancers - one in a wheelchair - were discovered lurking at the front door. The police moved them on."

Drugs, fights, drunken perverts--that's exciting stuff! Usually we have to go to anonymous library blogs to find that kind of library excitement, but now it'll be out in print. I wonder if the author offered it to ALA Editions before going with Virgin Books. Seems like it would have to be more interesting than the stuff they usually publish.

It's coming out next month. Be sure to order your copy today.


Anonymous said...

"puts the shh! in shocking"

Comments like that somehow annoy the hell out of me, just like the one about "don't mess with librarians as they control all the world's knowledge"....uh-huh.

Drunks? Fights? Crazy People? Goober relatives showing up by the carload to pile in on the bashing?

Sounds like an ordinary day to me for some librarians---why write a book about it?

Dances With Books said...

Damn, that sounds exciting indeed. Certainly puts a whole new spin on the "hipster" librarian articles. I am just surprised that a book like this has not come out sooner to be perfectly honest.

Yep, that should definitely make for good marketing for ALA to get people interested in public librarianship. I am definitely looking the book up when it comes out, if for no other reason than to nod.

BTW, did you notice in the PW review provided in Amazon the reference to the old timer who recalled the good old days of lunches served with wine? Ah, the good old days indeed, haha.

Anonymous said...

What no tranvestite hookers that are wanted for murder hiding out from the cops in the library? What a lame library.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to my world! People think I'm making up some of the stories I tell about my workplace, because "this couldn't happen in a public place!"

Oh, really? Where else BUT in a public library could anybody get away with the kind of crap we see every day?
*The patrons "of no fixed abode" who come in reeking of drink and BO, demanding that staff give them the EXACT SAME WEB ADDRESS we gave them yesterday and the day before;
*The convicted child molesters who are allowed into the same building where there's a scheduled storytime every week, and who just HAPPEN to show up when the daycare centers are unloading their buses for the event (but we can't do anything because they've "served their time");
*The insufferably rude patrons who don't understand why we can't extend computer usage time for them - after all, they're doing Something Important, not just jerking off to pron like the rest of the computer users;
*The hordes of feral teens who think that they owe as much respect to staff as they do to every other adult in their lives, namely, NONE, and who are shocked when we actually enforce codes of behavior;
*The moron who locked himself in a bathroom stall so he could finish his carry-out lunch from the local soup kitchen;
*The other moron who was observed masturbating in front of the admin office windows;
*The mentally-challenged caller who calls EVERY FRICKING DAY looking for apartment information for various cities;
*The cheapskates who'd rather call us for a phone number than crack a phone book or pay 50 cents for Directory Information (for this I went to grad school?);
*The bosses who have honed the lance of micromanagement to a fine point.

Those are just the ones off the top of my head. Yes, I am approaching burnout.

Anonymous said...

Oh, anon 10:00, just go for the push and get to burnout. It's more relaxing there.

You missed
*woman who repeatedly reports that she's being followed by random other patrons who might have glanced at her while trying to find a book
*man who wants to explain at length about the line that runs from Bagdad through London and then Atlanta, which needs to be recharged in occult terms
*woman who is the mistress of Mario Cuomo *and* Fidel Castro, who just wants to get them to meet up to solve educational problems together
*Patron-of-no-fixed-abode who invites you to move to Paris with him
*and of course, the patrons who insist that you're the only meanie who insists there are rules to be followed

Talking Books Librarian said...

AL, your sense of humor rocks! It is apparent that you have a real talent for blogging! Have you ever written a book or thought about writing one?

Anonymous said...

Well, there are worse places to end up than a library. I think the one job that has to deal with the worst of it is a police officer.

When I was younger I served my time working in places like factories and transportation, and when these nutty people can get jobs it's in places like that.

So every day someone's going to whoop someone else, at least once a month you're hearing about another one of them get arrested, and it's a roll of the dice as to whether they'll come in late, drunk, or at all.

My favorite is when they get on a rant about morality--they're in "college" because they took a week of classes last year for their associate's degree, and while they may have faced charges of fraud and assault, they're still better than the low-life who hit his wife.

And they don't spare any criticism because you can't possibly understand how difficult it's been bouncing from job to job and living place to place. Never mind their problems come from doing whatever they feel like and damn the consequences.

They never last very long because they either can't keep it together or think a job--any job---is beneath them and too much hassle. So off they go to hang around the street corner and bug the librarians and another comes in.

So if you librarians think you have it hard dealing with problem patrons---heh, heh, try working with them.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

good timing for the Australian tv show, The Librarians.
"There's something intrinsically comic about a library." I guess, based on some of these comments, comic or tragic, or both.

"Her [Frances O'Brien, head librarian] domain, Middleton Library, is struggling with its new role as an "interactive learning centre", offering English classes for Muslim migrants, life drawing sessions for the arty, story time for the pram set, back-to-work programs for the newly paroled, and occasionally lending books to the general public."

Anonymous said...

This thread might devolve into a series of stories about odd ball patrons. What the heck.

Yes, I've seen them all over my fifteen years of public library work.

My fav, though, was a fellow we liked to call "Dr. Viagra." You know those spam messages you get, you know the ones?

Well, there is actaully a guy on the other end, filling prescriptions. This guy, a real physician we found out, would take prescriptions off the internet, then call them into various phamacies on his cell phone.

Right from the computer, in a loud scratchy voice. Then, when he was done, he would bustle off and leave all the patient information still on the computer screen.

A sad case, but very entertaining.

I can't wait to read this book.

Anonymous said...

Ok my favorite website is....

Heil Kitler!

Anonymous said...

Ok my favorite website is....

That explains why Trixie keeps reading Maus........

Anonymous said...

Or this:

Lonely, miserable zombies who feed on people they dislike.

Marianaria Sra. bibliotecaria said...

On a quieter note, I once had a patron who wanted to find an ancestor on a ship passenger list: it turned out the patron didn't know the name of the ancestor.

Of course, this only came out after I had spent some time trying to figure out a possible port the person might have come into.

Anonymous said...

Today's Mail(tm)

Let's just see what came in today's mail, shall we?

Bills, junk, bills---aha!

An official looking letter addressed to me. I don't need to weigh it, or hold it up to a light, I know the contents. Yet another rejection letter.

And also---Oh goodness! The library school newsletter!

Let's take a look:

News--Conferences, funds, donations, gifts--what do these people do besides talk and ask for money?

Editorials--Some vague philosophical discussion about libraries

Research--Lots of material being published, even library school faculty need tenure! And, oh goodness....reading habits of this, checkout patterns of that, quality of this source. It's like Bookstore Science 101, the most simplistic things are being turned into research projects. And sadly aside from granting someone tenure or promotion that's all they're good for.

I spent all morning reading Science Daily about new discoveries and fascinating things, not some discombobulated fluff about user discovery strategies.

Achievements--If there's not an award they'll make one.

Alumni---Ahh, oh. Whoever librarians are ugly is right. Quick look in the mirror--need to lose ten pounds and work out some more, but no Librarian Look yet.

And.....well, I graduated with a lot of people, it doesn't say much that only 2-3 out of my class pop up. Interesting how many of them are writing books now, but that's it. Otherwise just changing jobs.

Oh, well, fire up the shredder. Sorry to go off topic, but being perpetually underemployed and getting the rah-rah we're great from library school is just too much.

Insert document


Anonymous said...

Thank god the author (someone I'm really very close to) got this book published when he did. Looks like someone was going to do the same thing sooner or later anyway.

Its a good thing I didnt give up publishing twenty years ago.

I mean: he. Its a good thing HE didnt give up publishing.

mdoneil said...

I'd never leave a backpack full of meth and expect someone to actually leave the cash.

You need to watch your merchandise. I find you are better off having a kid hold for you and another run the cash.

That is the way it is done in the libraries in Florida.

j- said...

*Well, there are worse places to end up than a library. I think the one job that has to deal with the worst of it is a police officer. *

Police at least have the option of shooting people.

*And also---Oh goodness! The library school newsletter!*

My favorites are the alumni updates which invariably include a few snippets like "such and such is the new children's librarian in BFE" and "such-and-such is still looking for library work in BFW" and "Such-and-such decided to stay home and have a baby [rather than keep looking for a job]" OR "such and such just moved to BFE" [who cares!?!?!?!].

Anonymous said...

Wow, can't wait to read this book, sounds like a great expose!

Then after reading it, I'll post my review on my neoconservative blog, just to prove I'm so "all that".

Thank god for academic libraries!!!!

Anonymous said...


Do you want public libraries to still be around for your kids and grandkids?

There are forces in society that want to close the public library so the tax dollars can be spent on other things. Are you in their camp? Or are you just criticizing us from the inside to get us to shape up?

Either way, We need your criticism. Few others have the courage to stand up and say, "The Emperor has no clothes!"

We better get some clothes on that guy.

AL said...

I do not want public libraries to close, but I don't see how they can defend themselves against irrelevance and closure if they're more concerned, for example, with making sure people have a safe place to view porn than a safe place to read, or if they're more concerned with getting people into the library for whatever reason than with promoting a coherent library mission that makes sense for people. As long as the ALA and many librarians treat the public library as a space where anything goes, the less people will support it. If I had kids I wouldn't want them to be in the public library around drug dealers and porn surfers and other riff raff.

Anonymous said...

Public libraries are nothing but hotbeds of vice and corruption, and they pollute the precious bodily fluids of our children, too. Shut 'em all down, I say! The people of Oregon had the right idea.

Amy said...

I actually sent that to several friends under the subject "Why I Didn't Become a Public Librarian" - and then my ALA card spontaneously combusted.

Anonymous said...

As a public librarian, I have to say that his book does sound like a run of the mill public library experience.

However, if your kids weren't in the public library, where would they be? In their violent public schools? In dangerous mass transit? Trolling a mall (unsupervised)? At least we provide some protection against perverts and criminals.

Dances With Books said...

I agree with Anon. @10:00a. A lot of the stories I write in my own journal are things that you can't just make up. From homeless to perverts, I have seen them at one point or another. Sure, we have the potential/actual child molesters, but to add to the fire are the so-called parents who dump kids in the library without supervision. Talk about having no common sense when it comes to a public open area.

And there, there is the podophiliac. I bet he did not get in that book. Oh well, I can always write another book.

Anonymous said...


Is that someone who gets so attached to their iPod that they can't shut it off?

Anonymous said...

I find myself more and more of the close the public library mind each day. I am biased because I direct a library in New Jersey, a corrupt cesspool divided into scores of little fiefdoms, each with its Sopranoesque local government siphoning money from a tax overburdened citizenry, and each, yes, with its own public library.

The one I direct serves multiple purposes: to provide politically connected people with jobs, to provide internet access to the public–yes it’s used for porn, older men trawling myspace for dates and on and on, the lending of popular DVDs, and as a dumping ground for latch key children and feral teenagers. Books, reading and helping the citizens of our democracy stay informed are only a tiny percentage of what we do. This percentage grows smaller each year, despite our local library leaders’ often ridiculous antics to attract attention.

So why exist? The government corruption is so deep rooted, so entrenched and layered, that no person or group could ever pry a revenue machine like a public library from the corrupted hands. Add to this the average citizen’s attitude toward libraries; most will claim a library is an indispensable community resource, but won’t be able to offer a reason why. They spout vague notions such as “the children need it!” And whenever someone needs to do volunteer work, we seem to be their first stop. What could be more noble than volunteering for such a venerated public institution?

Well, the children do need something. Everyday they’re akin to a pack of hyenas in the building and on the library property. What they need we’re not setup for nor trained to offer.

What else? The private video lending business can do a better job of stocking and distributing current titles than we can. The internet? This does help people without computers, I’ll admit, but is hardly grounds for a big book warehouse and trained staff including professionals-- especially the professionals.

Many public libraries, not all, but many should close their doors. All industries or parts of them slip into obsolescence eventually. If public libraries had been associated with the evil for profit world, many would have closed by now.

But, the mayor’s cousin, who got fired from the post office for drinking on the job, needs a job somewhere, right? And those packs of kids, they need someplace to be too, right? And how terrible, if Ralph, the heavyset man in his late fifties, can't get online to view his favorite teen dating sites.

Anonymous said...

The book does look interesting, but I must shamelessly add that my own memoir on libraries "Quiet, Please" also is coming out soon (Da Capo Books, April is already taking pre-orders). Unlike the author of this book (who is a library assistant if I remember right), I actually am a librarian with the degree to prove it! And I'm not just out to get a laugh (though it is a humor book)...I'm out to inspire a few librarians in process.

Also, if you want a laugh, check out my blog/dispatch on ("Dispatches from a Public Librarian")

And there are no stereotypical "Ssh" in this book! Actually there's nothing quiet about it!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Scott, but the British book (based on your blog)seems more interesting than your library experiences.

Who wants to start an American library series based on that New Jersey system? Now that the Sopranos has ended, we can give them graft and corruption in the NJ public libraries.

Kristen said...

taI have to say that whether someone has their MLS is pretty much irrelevant to whether a book like this would be well-written and/or interesting. Especially to the general public.

"Buy both books!" is much more civilized marketing than "Buy mine instead because I am superior."

And I have an MLS. But I really hate the dumping on those who don't.

Scott Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"I’ve gone into several library blogs and they seem awfully dry. You will never convince someone to go to library school by reading these blogs."

-- Don Borchert