I have been working as a part time Reference librarian at Richland library in South Carolina for about fifteen years now. It is a beautiful 4 floor building with glass walls, open spaces and piano shaped balconies above the escalators linking each floor and I absolutely love working here. Over the years I have met so many people when they come to the reference desk asking for help or just stopping by with a comment or suggestion.
I am originally from India and brown and so many people come up to me and say “Do you speak English?” and in my mind I go “Of course I do, why would they hire me if I do not know English” but the inherent polite customer service values kick in and I smile sweetly and say “yes, how can I help you today?” And then, there is this curiosity about where I am from and one time a patron asked me “Are you Hindi?”, “No, I am Hindu, Hindi is the language, Hindu is the religion, I cannot be a language, I am a person” I replied. “Are you India?” he persisted, “No, I am not India, I am from India, I am Indian” I said at my clarifying best. He replied with a bewildered look on his face “what did you say, you are Hindian?” I give up, lets just forget who I am or where I am from for a minute and tell me what I can help you find at the library today!
Since we are located at downtown Columbia, we have a large group of homeless people who visit the library regularly. God bless their hearts, the thing I admire most about them is regardless of their misfortune they have so much confidence in themselves that they hit on the librarians constantly and actually think they have a chance at winning the hearts of these beautiful women. Some days I enjoy the compliments I get and some days I do not have the patience to listen to all that. I am always complimented on my hair and earrings and smile.One person told me ” you remind me of this beautiful Mexican actress in a movie I saw when I went to Mexico” and that day I was so happy to hear that I could look like an actress and my dormant desires of working with George Clooney in a romantic comedy were awakened and I was on cloud nine for a while thanks to this man but later my husband who is so skeptical said, “I do not think he could ever be in Mexico, he totally made that up.” I can always count on my dear husband to bring me down to earth with a big thud.
A number of mentally ill people visit the library too and I feel sorry for them because mental illness is the worst disease you can have. Physical ailments can be managed but it is truly tragic when you lose control of your mind. I remember this patron who felt she could never leave her umbrella anywhere but with me as she thought I could keep it safe for her. A man walked by me one day and said “please do not ask me for autographs, I am really busy today” and I was like “huh ,okay, I won’t Mr. celebrity.” A woman addresses me as Ruth and when I asked who Ruth is she told me that Ruth was a character in the bible. This lady refuses to believe my name is Mona. Later, when I found out that Ruth in the bible is kind and nice and honest it made me feel better.
I am always terrified of the impatient, arrogant, loud mouthed divas when they visit, we had a lady who came in and wanted us to announce on the intercom that her boys needed to come to the parking lot and I told her that we do not provide this service for the patrons. She was so angry that she actually would have to go look for her children herself and find them herself! As she was being very difficult a library security worker came to my aid and said he would find them. She just walked out clicking her high heels and told him to tell the children she is outside waiting in the parking lot!
I have had so many memorable patron interactions over the years, lots of stories, hard to fit into one blog. Most of the folks who visit the library are really nice, grateful , well mannered and soft spoken but then there are the few eccentric ones too! The incident I remember most fondly is when I helped this young guy and he fist bumped me to show his appreciation. An old couple were so grateful when I helped them locate a family member from our ancestry databases that they wanted to take me out to lunch with them and I declined. For some reason, I do not know why, it hurts my feelings when people offer a tip. I am just doing my job, and I love it and I love my library.