things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #25

A customer approaches the information desk, hopping mad. "You must kick this man out of the library! You must make him leave!"

I immediately get up and come around the desk, immediately on high alert, thinking, call security, call 911. "What's going on?"

She leads me to the offending man: "He is sleeping! In the library!"

I relax. Me: "That's all right. That's not against our code of conduct."

We reach the man. He is asleep. That is all.

Mean customer: "You allow this? You allow a homeless person to sleep in the library? That's disgusting!"

Me: "As long as he's not bothering anyone or breaking any rules..."

MC: "Libraries are for studying! Or relaxing with a book! Not for sleeping!"

Me: "Libraries are for many things. Different people use the library for different reasons."

MC: "No! No! That's disgusting! In Canada! A man sleeping in the library! I never thought I would see such a thing!" 

She holds up her tablet, pushes it at me. I take a step back. 

MC: "Show me! Show me where it says it is allowed to sleep in a library!"

Me: "We don't have a list of things you are allowed to do in the library. We have a list of things you're not allowed to do. And sleeping isn't on the list. As long as he's not bothering anyone--"

MC: "He's bothering me! It's disgusting!"

Me: "This is a big library. Perhaps you can find somewhere to sit where you won't see him. Would you like me to help you find a good spot?"

She continues to rant: place for relaxing, disgusting, in Canada, and finally asks for the name of the manager. 

I get business cards and write down names and extensions. 

MC: "So if I come to the library and I fall asleep, this is perfectly all right with you?"

Me: "Yes, of course."

MC: "So this is a shelter? People sleep here all night?" 

Me: "No. We close at 9:00 pm and we ask everyone to leave at that time." That's it for me. This has gone on long enough. "Is there anything else I can help you with?" 

She stomps off.

What a compassionate soul.

I email the various managers, knowing they will all have the same reaction that I did. I thought, I made a good career choice. The day a person who may have nowhere else to go can't sleep in the public library would be the beginning of the end of librarianship for me.


M@ said...

And that person over there! She's thinking impure thoughts!

And him! Reading seditious materials!


johngoldfine said...

I have to confess that whenever I try reading, say, 'The Anatomy of Melancholy' or Montaigne, I'm bagging zees within ten minutes, but that's on me, not on them. Now, at home, where I do most of my reading, my Mean Customer, aka Mean Jean, will always say accusatorily, 'You're asleep!' Forcing me to reply, 'I am not! I was just resting my eyes! For one moment!'

laura k said...

That whole "I'm not sleeping, I'm just resting my eyes" thing sounds very familiar...

karen said...

I am so glad to read this post. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I only browse books and cds and movies and such at my local library, but I don't stay to read or study or use the computers (because I am really lucky to have a comfy home and a computer), so I did not know that folks might sleep there. Quite some time ago, waiting in the car at the bank, I watched a couple of homeless guys wearily gather their things and leave the shade of the tree they were enjoying because a cop drove by and gave them the stink eye. I was aware, for the first time in my stupid privileged life, how exhausting it must be to be homeless. I'm so glad you let him sleep.

laura k said...

Thank you, Karen, and honestly there's nothing to be embarrassed about in what you wrote.

You're right, it just be friggin exhausting, and at the same time, numbingly boring.

Another factor: many homeless people are mentally ill and heavily medicated. Often in order for someone not to be a danger to themselves or others, the only option is to be tranquilized all the time. (There is abuse of this, of course, since it's easier to drug people than deal with their problems. But from what I understand, the zonked-out state is often the only way.) This strikes me as incredibly sad. Our sleeping customer may literally have no choice.

Another possibility is he was just an unkempt guy hanging out in the library and fell asleep! (Probably reading Montaigne.) We don't know if he was homeless or mentally ill. From the customer's perspective, why is that her business? Or mine!

deang said...

Good for you! Unfortunately, in our Texas library, anyone, particularly homeless people, caught sleeping is reported to "security" to be roused on pain of eviction. I don't know what our library's official policies are, but I assume they're not as compassionate as yours. But at least our libraries allow the homeless to stay there all day, something most other places in town don't allow.

laura k said...

Friggin Texas.

impudent strumpet said...

Apart from the fact that people fall asleep while reading and studying all the time, my first thought was to wonder why this customer was hanging out in the library in the first place. Not from the point of view that she shouldn't be there, but rather that, as Karen pointed out upthread, the more privileged library users tend to swoop in and get pick up our books and then leave, while the people spending time in the library are doing so because they don't have what they need at home or can't get home to do what they need to do.

Sleeping Guy might not have a place to sleep at home or a home to sleep in, or can't get home to sleep, so he sleeps in the library. But Mean Customer doesn't see the parallel with whatever it is she's doing. (And I'm sure I could find some asshole who disapproves of whatever Mean Customer is at the library for.)

laura k said...

Yes. A glaring lack of empathy.