Five Things You Shouldn’t Say To The Librarian Who Is Also A Writer


I work in a public library, which is where I get to hear all kinds of wacky nonsense from people who think they’re being brilliant or worldly or simply well-read.  Most of it makes me giggle but occasionally I become so irritated I have to duck into the back office to regain my composure.  After all, calling people names and throwing books at them is never the right choice, no matter how much it might feel like it.  Not that you, dear readers, would EVER say anything so nutty.  Maybe you know how to talk to librarians-who-are-also-writers, but you have a buddy who just hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet.  Either way, I’m here to help. 

5) “I never start reading a series until all the books have been written.”

This is guaranteed to make the writer-librarian roll her eyes and want to leave for an early three-drink lunch.  I realize the general population doesn’t necessarily understand, but skipping Book One until Book Five is available is pretty much the best way to make sure Book Five doesn’t ever get written.  Shucks, it could guarantee that Book Two doesn’t happen.  Just because this is the library doesn’t mean your avoiding the book doesn’t matter.  We keep records of how often books are checked out, and if a series isn’t circulating much, it’s entirely possible future books won’t make it into our collection.  So read Book One, and tough it out by reading something else until the next book comes out.  Patience is a virtue.

4) “I want the book I saw on television last summer.  I don’t remember the author or the title, but it’s about a woman.”

Librarians are really good at figuring out what you want to read.  It’s part of the job.  We’re going to ask questions and dig until we figure out what you’re looking for, and the writer-librarian has the added benefit of being especially well-informed in her particular genre.  But when you come in with zero evidence for us to begin, it is not our fault we can’t help you.  When there’s an author on television who’s intriguing you with the story she’s written, please write down her name, or the book’s name, or even the main character’s name (but not just ‘John’ or ‘Ann’.  That’s not much more help than telling us the book is blue.)  The author is on the show to promote her work, so if the book description grabs your attention, make a note of it.  Don’t do the writer the disservice of ignoring what she says.  It might be you one day on that show.

3) ” This book has foul language in it, and shouldn’t be on the library shelves.”

Really?  This is 2012 and you’re still going to tell me that bad words shouldn’t occur in adult fiction?  This always sends a shudder down my back.  I shudder because I’m trying my best to refrain from telling you that your opinion of profanity has no more effect on what the library stocks than does my opinion of the squeaky-clean Harlequin romances you like.  If the author has written a novel about street thugs, you simply can’t expect the dialogue to be shiny and spotless.  And if you’re complaining about the language in young adult books, I have a suggestion – go volunteer at a middle or high school for a day, and listen to how the kids talk to each other.  If you can’t handle profanity, that’s your choice, but stop trying to tell anyone else they can’t read it.

2)  “I wish I worked here; y’all get to read all day long.”

I don’t know about the librarians in other sections of the library, but in circulation where I work, we’re generally moving just under the speed of light most of the day.  Last week it took me three days to check my work email, because I was so very busy I couldn’t do more than glance at it between patrons.   Yet I often talk to patrons who tell me they’re working on novels and think the library would be the perfect job.  If you mean it’s perfect because the reference books you need are close at hand, well yes, it is perfect.  But never assume you’ll get one word written while you’re working.   

1) “I want you to put “50 Shades of Gray” on hold for me.”

Okay, don’t jump on me yet.  I’m not listing this just because I think that wasting your brain cells on books like this is a bad idea.  The point is actually that the people who complain about sex and profanity in books are the same ones asking for this book.  If they took a few minutes to research what the book was really about, they’d run screaming in the other direction.  When you come to the library, don’t just demand whatever’s being talked about on television because you can’t think of any other way to choose a book.  Browse the New Book shelves, read the inside dust jackets and try to decide what you’d really enjoy instead of following the herd.  Ask the writer-librarian – she’s going to want to push not just her own work but books by her friends as well.    There are lots of books written by lots of writers who hope you’ll give them a chance instead.  You may end up leaving the library with an armful of great titles instead of having to wait around for the title everybody’s asking for.

And a PS to all this…when you borrow books from the library, don’t dog-ear the pages or use tape as a bookmark or set your coffee cup on the book to save your table.  Especially if you’ve checked out my book.  I know I only wrote it and it’s not technically mine, but if you check out a book I wrote and return it with ketchup stains on the edges and the cover bent, I’m going to react as if it was my personal book.  Trust me, the librarian-who’s-also-a-writer can be a fearsome adversary!


23 comments to Five Things You Shouldn’t Say To The Librarian Who Is Also A Writer

  • See, long ago I learned if I didn’t want to read the books until the series was done, I had to buy the books and let them sit on my shelf until the series was done, so that the publishing house would record the sales and the interest. Perhaps you could use some variant on that suggestion to your patrons? 🙂 “Oh, me too, I like reading them when they’re all done, but I know that if I don’t buy the books as they come out, the publishing house might think nobody cares, and then the series will never get done and I’ll never get to read them!” *spoik spoik*

  • I’m going to the library today, so thanks for the tips 🙂 Your post actually made me smile/cringe in sympathy–I’ve heard the bookstore variation of these!

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You really get these comments? A lot? Oy. Librarians, like teachers, cops and firefighters, should be paid like sports stars.

  • Catie, yes, that’s the perfect solution. What really kills me is the attitude with which people announce their intention…as if waiting until the whole series is finished is somehow morally superior to reading one release at a time. I wish you could hear them. -sigh-

    SiSi, here’s wishing you find lots of awesome books at the library today!

    David, when we go to DragonCon, I shall tell you the even crazier comments I didn’t share today.

  • Oh, the things I don’t miss about working in a public library … I was circ staff, too, and I actually heard a few of these comments. There was also the assumption that working in a public library was a peaceful job. To make things even weirder, I got flack from some of the librarians and other staff members for not being more social on my lunch hour because I was writing. (At least in my current job, where we don’t have a proper kitchen table to eat at and chat, they’re okay with it.)

    Like Catie, I’ve adopted the “buy every book in a series I know I want to read but haven’t gotten to yet” strategy, now that I understand the logic.

    About that PS … sigh. If there was enough damage, at least, patrons were charged. Not that each charge was successful, mind.

    Oh, and then there’s the patrons who admit that they’re checking out CDs from the music collection to rip to iTunes, because they can’t be bothered paying for them. *sigh*

  • Julia

    Misty, I used to get “Well, I can’t remember the author’s name or the title, but I know the cover was green.” 🙂

    Regarding not reading book one until all the books are out: I often suggested that people read book one now and then read it again when book five comes out. Of course, it’s only a good strategy for fast or eager readers, but since some of those patrons would also complain that they didn’t have enough to read, sometimes that worked.

    It’s been a while since I worked in a library. For all the moments of frustration, I really enjoyed helping people connect with books. When it works, it’s magic.

  • I’m with David, but elected to laugh. Not telling people they are idiots is so hard! (covers head) This is why I need a computer to interact with the world. Rewriting is smart. (smothers giggles)

  • Gypsyharper

    This is why I’m glad I’m a cataloger and don’t work the reference desk – although I’m sure there are many rewarding interactions as well. Plus, you get more funny stories to tell – I’m not sure anyone appreciates cataloger humor besides other catalogers. “Really, ‘Crustaceans – Drama’ as a subject heading? That’s hilarious!” 🙂

    I still get that comment about how I must have lots of time to read, though. (I wish!) And since I work in a University library, the ever popular, “don’t you get summers off?”

    Re: series. I like the idea of buying the books as they come out so I can read them all at once, but I’m not sure I could wait that long. I do like to re-read earlier books in the series when the new ones come out though – when I was a kid, every time I got a new Pern book, I’d reread the entire series over again. Good times.

  • Megan B.

    As a fellow librarian who writes, I salute you for this post. I work in a children’s department now, and I did my time on the circ desk when I was in college. Oh, the stories I could tell!

    There is something magical about helping someone find the book they want, especially when they had a vague description to go on. The other day a teenage girl asked me for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Her face lit up when I handed her that childhood memory. A few weeks ago a little boy wanted the book about “the blub fish.” No such title exists, but with a little Google-fu I found exactly the book he wanted – and we had it on the shelf. (I can’t remember the title right now, sadly).

    As for reading all day, or the joy of dealing with so many book-lovers… haha! Every once in a while I do get a little quiet time to read on the job, but I always get interrupted. Although it’s nice when people come up and say “Oh, I read that!”

    I wouldn’t trade the job for anything, but it sure isn’t peaceful most days 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    This list reminds me of another list I saw in a pamphlet for Lewis and Clarke Caverns of *dumb* questions their tour guides hear a lot: “So, are we under the mountain now?”, “Why didn’t the CCC build the caverns closer to the highway?”,…

    I volunteered in at a library for a bit in high-school, mostly shelving, and sometimes wondered/fantasized if it was *possible* to shelve everything before more stuff came in – *always* more work to be done.

    About finished series, though, the great thing about libraries is that they’re often carrying all the books in the old, finished series an authors worked on last. As a reader, lately, I’ve been so frustrated when I find a great, new (to me) author, and the bookstore is carrying almost none of their older work.

  • PeterLast

    All rather humorous things even to me and I’m not a librarian! Although I will say that I’ve heard my fair share of stupid questions in other areas that I work. My advice is to smile kindly to the patron (patronize them, hence their title) and vent later by ranting to others. It works wonders for me!

  • Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.
    —Neil Gaiman

    Librarians are an alien species. No real human being is so willing and eager to be of help.
    —Wolf Lahti

    Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don’t ever piss one off.
    —Spider Robinson

  • This brings back memories from working as a library aide in high school (best job ever for me at that age.) Did you ever come home with micro-fiche rash from spending hours refiling the little slips of plastic in long drawers? I had to learn not to rest my arm on the fiche while I was filing or I’d get a thousand little fiche cuts on my forearms. That and the arcane gov doc filing system I had to learn – it was nuts. Of course this was back when having computers in the library was shocking and new.

  • I use stale cheese puffs to bookmark my library books. j/k, but there have been books I picked up at the library now and again that made me want to get tested at the CDC.

    On number 5, When I was reading the Wheel of Time series, when the next book came out, I’d tear through the previous book as a refresher before reading the new one. Always helped me remember key elements I might have forgotten.

  • Don’t misunderstand me…I love working in the library, and I adore being the one to figure out what book a patron is hunting for – I just am often gobsmacked at the things that fall out of their mouths sometimes. 😀

    Daniel, I hate when books come back reeking of cigarette smoke. I’m a nonsmoker, so the smell repulses me, and I feel like I need a shower after checking in a stack of books like that.

  • Razziecat

    This post made me cheer! And I’ve never worked in a library! There have been times when it’s been my second home, though. 🙂

    And using a book as a coaster?! Just….no. I can’t stand it when people treat books with disrespect.

    Side note: I once actually searched for a book knowing only that the cover was mostly white, there was a man on the cover, and the opening chapter was something about a man dying. I didn’t pester a librarian with that nonsense, though. I just looked for it myself…and would you believe, I found it? 🙂 Turned out to be Carol Berg’s “Flesh and Spirit”, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  • Yay!! Fantastic post. Respect the book, always. Respect the writer, always. To those people asked you that stuff: please, use your brain, I know you were born with one.

    I worked in retail for a few years. A customer told me that my name was spelled wrong. So I understand, sympathize, and offer you a rum and Coke. Or several. 🙂

  • I don’t work in a library, but I do work at a bookstore, and this is spot on for me as well. Especially the Fifty Shades of Grey thing. Gr… I’m getting upset just thinking about it. I don’t know if you get this one at all, but it bothers me more than anything else…

    Scenario: A customer comes in asking about a series, gushing about how much they love it and how they read the first three (or however many) books in a row and couldn’t get enough. Then, when I help them find the next book in the series (especially if it’s the most recent book) and they find out that it isn’t the LAST book, I kid you not, they do a complete 180 and turn almost violent. “What? You’re saying there are even more books after this? Now the author is just MILKING it for the MONEY!” At which point, they refuse to buy the book. Usually, these people then go on to list all the series that they started but didn’t finish, most of which are series that I love all the way through.

    I hear that “milking it for more money” thing so often it makes me grind my teeth when I sleep. Martin. Weber. Jordan (because most people who write on their death bed are just doing it for the money). Gabaldon. You name them, and I’ve had someone complain about them.

    What’s even more hilariously upsetting is that my store also rents DVDs, and on more than one occasion these people have been carrying around some sequel of a sequel of a sequel of Saw or something equally mediocre. No joke.

  • Owllady – I feel the pain. The craziness I experienced from my Kroger produce department days could fill a book…

  • ROFL! (do people still use that??) Daniel, short post, but it sure made me feel better! Misery loves company after all.

  • Oh man, Daniel. I worked for Kroger, too. -shudder- I feel your pain.

  • Xlade

    This is awesome! I love it! Not having been in a library in over a year (I buy the books, or get samples on Kindle. The library where I live may have book FIVE of a series, but not the first four. And their selection isn’t vast in the first place) I still think this is awesome. Especially the 50 Shades one. Although you know the other one people run screaming from? Hunger Games. My mom and a few ladies I work with refused to go to it because of the whole Battle Royale thing going on.

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