The other night I had supper with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He asked me if I had any new good “library stories”. His question triggered a memory of an event that happened a few months ago that up to that moment I had completely put out of my mind. “I had to stop two people from having sex in the men’s room”, I told him. A customer came up to me one Friday afternoon last winter and told me that “a couple of people were having sex in there”. Now, as branch head, I guess I had a choice to do nothing and let them finish up, but that didn’t really sit well with me. A part of me wanted to check it out to see exactly what was going on, but I didn’t really have a plan in place. Our men’s room has two sinks, two urinals, two bathroom stalls and a baby change table. I opened the door to the washroom without really knowing what I was going to see. As it turns out, I spotted two sets of legs in the handicapped stall. Without thinking, I just shouted ‘This is a library, you can’t do that in here” and then briskly high-tailed it out of there. A couple of minutes later a couple of teenaged kids, a guy and a girl slipped out and left immediately through the front doors. Now I don’t know for sure they were having sex, I only have the customer’s report on that. Maybe they were just goofing off, smoking pot, whatever. I didn’t recognize the kids as being regular library users, and my parting thought was “How randy do you have to be to think that a public washroom anywhere is a good spot to get it on?” And in the handicapped stall? That’s just inconsiderate.
It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed or dealt with things in the library that I’ve had absolutely no training or experience with handling.
I remember my first day ever working in a library. I was 16 years old, my Dad had died a couple of months before and I felt like it was time I got a part-time job to help my Mom out. I got hired on at the main library downtown. My job was to shelve books and to make sure the books that were on the shelves were in the correct order. It’s called being a library page. I remember my supervisor asking me if I knew the Dewey Decimal System. “Sort of”, I lied. I remember hearing something about the DDC in grade 4 or something, but that was about it. “Jesus, well you look pretty bright. As long as you can count to 10 and know your alphabet you should figure it out. Oh and another thing: never, ever sit in the chairs in the public area. We have to get them de-loused every month”. That was it. That was my entire training. Up to the point of when I began my Master of Library Science degree 13 years later, the only qualifications I was ever graded on was whether I knew the alphabet and if I could count from 1 to 10.
A few days after that, I was shelving in a quiet corner of the 900s (geography and history), when I quite literally stumbled over a midget (sorry, little person) masturbating in a study carrell. It took a second or two for my eyes to actually deliver the image to my brain and for my brain to actually process what it was being shown by my eyes. I immediately registered some peripheral details. He was a ginger, he was wearing green sweat-pants and it seemed his masturbatory inspiration of choice was a Chilton Car Repair Manual, oddly enough. I believe it may have been for a Chevy Cavalier. Okay, wait. If you’ve decided that wanking in public is acceptable, in my opinion you’ve just lost the courtesy of having a politically correct designation. This was a masturbating midget.
Luckily the main library had security guards at the time, so I didn’t have to confront him myself. I turned it over to “Mitch the guard” and tried to gather my thoughts. I was pretty upset, but I don’t think I even told my supervisor or any of my coworkers about it. I just tried to forget about it, but I never could look at that particular study carrell the same way again.
Sometimes, security isn’t always the best solution. A few years later, I was working at a branch in a tougher end of town. They were having problems with vandalism, theft and gang activity. It got so bad that the City decided to hire a security guard. This seemed like an okay idea until it was discovered that the security guard would sneak into our lunchroom during his shift and eat all our lunches! At least with the gangs, they had the decency to hang out at the A&W next door.
The longest and weirdest situation that I’ve had to deal with so far began in the summer of 2007, just a few months after I graduated from library school and was lucky enough to get hired right away as a branch head at a newish library in the south end of town. I had just got back from a couple week’s vacation when one of my staff came into my office and said that we had a problem.
One of our pages, (let’s call her Jenny) usually got dropped off at work by her husband (let’s call him Albert). Jenny was in her mid forties, and her husband was in his late 80s. They had been married for less than a year. Without turning this into an episode of Oprah, let’s just say Jenny wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and that her marriage to “one of her grandma’s friends” was creepiness personified, but whatever. To each their own, right? Jenny was a good page, and although most people consider paging an entry-level position to be endured until something better came along, Jackie was proud of the face that “she was the oldest and longest-serving page” in the entire city, serving over 25 years. Although she was a little slow mentally, she could put the books away in correct order in a timely manner. She could count to 10 and she knew the alphabet. What more could you ask?
Her husband, Albert, was another story altogether. I had already had to talk to him once about something. Jenny would typically work 4 hours each morning, and rather than go home, Albert would just sit out in the parking lot the entire time. You’d think most people would go home, or go out for coffee with friends, or at the very least go for a walk or even come into the library and read the paper, but no, not Albert. He would just sit out there and watch people. He began to park in the fire-lane at the front the library, so I had to talk to him about this. I told him if we wanted to sit in the parking lot, he’d have to go park away from the front doors. Common sense, right? But I soon learned that nothing made sense about this guy.
It turns out we had several customers complain that a man in a mini-van in the parking lot was making all kinds of sexually aggressive comments at them as they entered or left the library. These complaints were coming mostly from mothers with young children. It was worse when you realize that our library lies between a high school and a community centre with a day care across the street. It’s a virtual Grand Banks of pederasty. Each customer pointed to Albert’s van. “Oh SHIT!, Poor Jenny!” was my first thought. Again, I had no training in how to deal with this situation. I knew enough that I should take another staff person with me so that I would have a witness as to what was said. We both went out to his van and I told him that we had a problem. To look at him directly, he looked like a mean insect. He had cruel looking eyes and was sunburned. He looked like the photo circulated by police when they wanted to warn of a pervert in the neighbourhood. I told him that we’ve had several complaints from our customers in the past two weeks about someone making inappropriate comments as they entered or left the library. He denied doing anything wrong, but I felt good about dealing with it directly.
The next part was harder.
I had to call Jenny into my office and tell her about these complaints about her husband. She defended her husband, saying that he would never do such a thing and was quite embarrassed and offended. I naively thought this would be the end of it, but of course it never is.
Things were quiet for the next couple of weeks, but it wasn’t long before we received another complaint, this time from a mother with a teenaged daughter. Now I was furious. “God damnit this asshole has nerve,” I thought. I went out again, this time in a much more aggressive, determined mood. I told him we had another complaint, and if it ever happens again, I’m calling the police. He actually had the nerve to deny it again, and I yelled “Do you see any other minivans out here with guys sitting in them?” I stormed off, and told Jenny we had another complaint. This time she just looked sad and said, “He says things sometimes, he doesn’t mean anything by it”. It was heartbreaking to see Jenny admit that she basically knows her asshole of a husband is an asshole.
Things escalated the following day when Albert actually came into the library and came up to the service desk where I was working. ” I don’t like you accusing me of stuff. You think you’re so tough? You don’t want to get me mad, you wouldn’t like it” he sputtered at me. You’re kidding right? I said “Are you threatening me? Because I have two witnesses sitting next to me here who have heard everything you just said. You’re not welcome in here, you’re not welcome in the parking lot, so you better leave now before I call the cops.”
I had enough of this asshole. I thought things had gotten beyond my ability to deal with it, so I started documenting everything and called my bosses. I could tell they had never dealt with a situation quite like this before either. If it were an employee, they could dismiss them, but it was an employee’s spouse. If someone was being disruptive in the library, we could have him banned, but does our jurisdiction extend to the parking lot? I could tell no one wanted to take any decisive action. I was being left to deal with this myself. Every day became a vigil to see if Albert was outside in his van. My staff were beginning to become upset themselves when they saw it, and he became so aggressive with one staff person that she spilled her coffee on herself as she tried to run past him. This was getting ridiculous. I was beginning to lose any authority I ever had to begin with. I felt like I was under siege, and by who? Some creepy-as-fuck 90-year-old. I wasn’t afraid of this guy, but then I did begin to have dreams of him coming into the library with a knife or a gun. You hear of these things happening from time to time, and there wasn’t anything normal or rational about this guy. And then I stopped having those bad dreams because I stopped sleeping altogether. My wife was worried on two fronts: she could tell this whole “Albert” business was taking its toll on me, and she was genuinely worried that if he threatened me once, he could easily escalate it into something worse.
Finally, I made the decision to call the police, and I had the worst response I could have imagined. The person with whom I talked took my name and filed a report, but refused to send a car around. The officer said, “He hasn’t really done anything, has he? I mean, it’s not against the law to sit in your vehicle in a parking lot, is it?” This is the response I was getting. I explained to the person on the phone that we were between a school, a community-club and a daycare and that we now had at least six different complaints from customers. I told him we’ve had some customers tell us they will stop coming to the library because of him. I felt so defeated. “You mean I have to wait until he attacks somebody before you do anything?” I virtually cried into the phone. “Tell him he’s not wanted,” was the only response I got.
I called Jenny into the office again and told her that her husband could not longer wait for her during her shift. He could drop her off and pick her up, but not on library property. She agreed to this and didn’t put up any resistance. She started to cry and said that I didn’t know what it was like to live with him. I really felt badly for her, and I was beginning to worry about her safety and well being too.
This system went into effect immediately, and we got through the rest of the summer without incident.
But it wasn’t over.
The next spring, on the first nice day, a woman came into the library with her toddler and was visibly shaken. Things with Albert had been settled for so long that I didn’t immediate suspect that he was the cause of her distress. But I was wrong. He had not only said things from his van this time, but he had actually gotten out of his van an approached this woman and her child. She fled and came and I had an idea. I asked her if she’d be willing to talk to the police and she said she would. Luckily, I had someone different on the phone this time, and even though I gave this person my police incident numbers from the summer before, none of them turned up any reports. I began to wonder whether my previous call was even recorded. I used the opportunity of having this woman in my office to explain the whole sad story over the phone and have the woman give her details directly to the officer. When the phone was handed back to me and the officer said “We’ll have a car there in 30 minutes”. I could have leapt up and hugged this woman, but I’m glad I didn’t. Under the circumstances, it would not have been the right thing to do.
The only thing was that Jenny’s shift was almost over and there was no guarantee that Albert would still be out there. Sure enough, the police didn’t arrive until after Jenny and Albert left for the day, but I took the opportunity to tell the whole story to these officers. These two guys really looked the part. They both had mirrored sunglasses and they both had moustaches. One of them inexplicably was wearing a motorcycle helmet, even though they both pulled up in one cruiser. They both had notebooks. The three of us stood outside the library and when I was done my story, the one with the motorcycle helmet just shook his head slightly and said “Fuckin’ PERV”. I just nodded my head and said “Yeah.” The other cop said, “I don’t want you to worry. You’ve done the right thing calling us. We’ll take it from here.” They told me they were going to pay Albert “a little visit” that very afternoon.
The next day, when I came in, there was a resignation letter from Jenny on my desk. Apparently the police did drop by their apartment, and put the fear of God into the both of them. I won’t ever know exactly what went down that afternoon, but I do know that in finally getting rid of the parking lot pervert, I also lost the best page I would ever have.
They don’t teach you these things in Library School.