The Worst Librarian Ever

It’s time to tell the story of The Worst Librarian Ever.

Once upon a time, I was a new employee at Cornell University’s Olin Library. One of my first assignments was to tour the campus libraries and get a sense of the place. As you can imagine, campus library tours are not as popular as say, bong hits at the Tri Delts. Often the tour consisted of three or four people. One ill-fated day, the Olin Library tour consisted of one person: me.

Two of the library’s head muckeymucks guided the tour. One of them, a stern grey-haired woman, will heretofore be known as the Worst Librarian Ever.

The tour proceeded, and the three of us wandered through various rooms. I feigned interest in an array of statistics. Finally we reached a popular section of the library nicknamed The Cocktail Lounge, a white 1970’s style reading room filled with comfy chairs and tables arranged for group work. Students sat reading, listening to music, and talking.

I was relieved. Here at last was a comfortable space where the real life of the library took place, away from the fluorescent back-rooms of library administration. I wondered what people were reading. A buzz of conversation filled the room.

My tour guide kept up her spiel about circulation and holdings, until The Worst Librarian Ever suddenly cut her short. “Excuse me” she said, striding away from our small group. A lone student lay across two of the comfy chairs with a book on his chest. The comfy chairs, which I suspect were chosen for the express purpose of being comfy, had put him to sleep.

The Worst Librarian Ever leaned over the student and poked him awake. I watched in horror as he woke with a start to stare into her blazing eyes. The Worst Librarian Ever, pausing for effect, raised her finger, pointed and said in a voice so terrible its echo caused students in surrounding states to drop out of Library School:

“Take your feet off that chair RIGHT NOW young man!”

I winced. The entire room winced. The student took his feet down and put on his headphones. Conversation started up again. The earth continued to turn.

Five years in the future, three of the students in the room find themselves voting down a library millage but can’t quite explain why. Ten years in the future, the young man will be arrested for soliciting a dominatrix to flog him with rubber stamps. Five minutes in the future, I place an emergency call to my friend the Excellent Cornell Librarian.

She explains that the Olin library is open 24 hours. She mentions that The Worst Librarian Ever works an average of 8 hours per day, leaving 16 hours for students to stomp around on the furniture in whatever manner they wish. She confides that in addition to damaging the reputation of librarians to a roomful of future-influential ivy leaguers by loudly eviscerating a fellow student for a trivial infraction, The Worst Librarian Ever didn’t even work in that library.

She was just, you know, helping out.

21 Replies to “The Worst Librarian Ever”

  1. i feel that a library is pointless. it is no longer a medium for up-to-date information or a stimulus for entertainment. it is now an out of date, unmodernized system of communication. It is limited by the fact that the transfer of information is obsolete when it comes to the efficiency of computers. I hope someone tears your eyes out and keeps the retinas intact.

  2. I am a public librarian, and I understand why librarians in the public sector end up so cranky. You don’t go into the field expecting to deal with abusive patrons on a daily basis. That is exactly what happens, though, when you work with the public. After two years, I’m ready to leave the field entirely.

  3. After working as a library assistant because I need some way to make money, I can see where librarians would get bored and grouchy, in some ways. I considered library science as a graduate degree, but it sounds dull as nails, like being a ‘custodian’ of sorts, a janitor of information, mopping up the corridors of more glamorous, groundbreaking and showy fields of the arts and sciences.

    There are more than likely a lot of liberal arts majors working in libraries of varying social temperaments because the job seems the lesser of the evils in earning a living: not as hectic and stressful as waiting tables, not as low paying as working at a grocery store. Well, I may be wrong about the pay at grocery stores, now that I consider what some libraries pay.

    I have always been quite affable towards patrons, but there has at times been a lurking resentment, a resentment at the self-importance and pomposity displayed by certain patrons in the research/academia settings.

    So I may appear as the happy, helpful library assistant…….but oh, how I’d love to slash the tires on your SUV………….

  4. After all these comments, I’m still not getting over the idea that someone would put WHITE furniture in a public space. Every workday I go into a space that was designed by an architect that knows nothing about how libraries work and wasn’t prepared to listen to the librarian who was there to advise him. It just makes things harder. Sounds like the guy was an interior decorator before he was an architect.

  5. I’d have to say that the worst librarian I ever met was the one I don’t work for anymore. She runs a high school library, and is the meanest, smallest-minded, most vindictive, ignorant person I ever had the displeasure to work for. She tried time and again to sabotage me- meanwhile, co-workers started coming to me during her breaks, telling me how horrible she was, how she had been for years, and how I was in her cross-hairs. I do not know why she suddenly decided to hate me beyond all reason. She’d often call in sick and show up with a sunburn, leaving me with her work, with no notice or even a thank you afterwards. I went from enthusiastic new librarian, hard worker with lots of energy to a cynical ex-librarian. I’ve worked in some hellish jobs in my day, but I’ve never been so glad to leave that depressing place and that miserable woman. She is tenured and hates her job. She deserves it.

  6. What a great story. It makes the librarian in my local library seem like an angel in comparison.

    All the best in 2006 for all the readers of librarianavengers.

  7. I know more than a few who came to the profession because they could no longer stomach the one they had originally trained for (lawyers come to mind) or they couldn’t get jobs/finish degrees in their chosen field (think any social science abd) and had to get a job doing SOMETHING. Never mind that they aren’t service oriented, or WANT to be librarians, or enjoy the work, it provides a paycheck. Those that make the conversion and come to like the job are a great asset; but boy howdy, the ones that are forever wannabe-something-else rank real high in the worst librarians ever category imho.

  8. one simply has to wonder why some people got into this business. it certainly boggles *me*. but i like being the one who likes fruitcake. “you don’t want a big crowd with lots of complicated questions? more for me!!”

  9. worst librarian i have some candidates but their failings could fill books

    start with the utter lack of tech expertise

    time up gotta go
    boby ST Pete Fla lib patron

  10. That was not the worst librarian ever. I work with the worst one. Zero motivation. Lots of Solitaire. And a collection of books that sucks for air.

  11. I told my partner’s bad librarian story in my Intro to Library and Info Science Class.
    A little background first – We have been together 5 years, for 3 of those 5 years I had been talking about getting my MLIS, she was less than enthusiastic but very vague when I pressed for her lack of enthusiasm. I started my program and I came home passionately babbling about Core Values, and how Librarianship is all about service. She then told me this story:

    She grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, on the less affluent side of town. When she was in kindergarden/first grade they put in a branch on her side of town, and the wee small children in her elementary school got to tour the new brance of the public library. Well, evil classist librarian, scared the wee smalls in to never wanting to touch a book by basically telling the children that these books are more valuable than they were. To this day my partner doesn’t really like the library (although I am working to convert her).
    Oh, the branch closed by the time she was in junior high.

  12. hmmm. part of my post disappeared.
    From ‘school related or not’ insert:
    She ordered him to leave the library at once since the sites were inappropriate and threated to call FSU PD if he refused to leave. He left in shock.

  13. The director of the FSU libraries in Tallahassee is a real ‘wicked witch of the west’ type. A friend was researching internet information for a class that required examples of ‘gay pride’ and ‘gay rights’ sites, and such. “Dr. X” has a fetish for sneaking up on people and spying on their web activities to see if they are ‘school related or not’.

    He told me about this and showed me the class syllabus with the requirement, and wondered if he should call the Dean. I told him to go for it, but never heard if he did or not.

    During the time I was at FSU, I noticed that about 60% of the staff disappeared and were never replaced.
    So she comes up behind him, sees the ‘gay’ site, and promptly informs him he will have to leave the library, and will call FSU PD if he will not leave.

  14. A public library system not too far from Ithaca was voted out of existence a few years ago (its is now back in an altered form). I know many residents who were happy to see it ago, because they saw it as a chance to get rid of some of the less then friendly staff there. How bad were there? The library system in a neighboring county (30 miles away) used to get lots of applicants because they refused to use their own public library. My friend took her daughters in there once, and left when one of the librarians yelled at her for not knowing where to find the G’s without help in the children’s section.

    She was 4.

  15. I can think of someone worse: my old high school librarian.

    One of the reference librarians (who’s name escapes me, but was such a nice guy; almost could call him an old friend) was conducting a presentation for a class during the time I stepped in the library–staring at him lecture, by the entrance–as I waited patiently for him to have a small break. When he did (at least, I thought it was a break), I “interrupted” his session for a minute to relay a message from a teacher. I was in the middle of leaving when my old High School librarian, the head librarian, decided to scold me from her desk, across the party of students who were listening to the nice reference librarian give a lecture, and rip me a new one. Needless to say, I stood there, without much to say other than “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” That, of course, did not suffice. She continued to yell and explain to me that what I did was rude and dumb, and that “I should know better.” Of course, now as I reflect, I find it ironic that she was doing the same thing I did, just with a bigger bang. The students, of course, were having a good giggle I got ridiculed for making the mistake of not being able to find the right time to interrupt a presentation. I could have probably written the message down, and passed it along to him, but at the time, I did not think of it. Actually, I think at the time I thought the message was important, so it couldn’t wait. But yes, this is one of the many reasons why I think she is the worst librarian ever.

  16. One of the things I was proudest of when I was director of the medical library at St. Louis University a dozen years ago was that we had big comfy couches in the center of the library and we were explicit that sleeping was allowed. It was a standard part of our spiel when we did tours and orientations to tell the students that they probably shouldn’t sleep in their classes, but they were always welcome to sleep in the library.

  17. I just clicked back, via Jessamyn’s fine site, having decided to post a comment on my nasty librarian experience from last weekend. I thought it was going to go on the post below, but no…it belongs here.

    I was browsing in the Children’s section of the Decatur GA public library on Saturday when a small tour group came by.

    After the librarian, or as I hope, the library staffer who isn’t a librarian, explained that the fiction is there, the bios are here, and the non-fiction is against that wall, one of the people on the tour asked the librarian what fiction meant.

    He did not say, “Fiction is stories, things that people imagine. Like Harry Potter, or stories on tv sitcoms.”

    Instead he got cranky with the people and demanded to know if they were giving him a hard time.

    The extremely polite people tried 3 times to ask their question before the tour guide actually understood and said, “Fiction is stuff that’s made up. Bio is stories about people, and non-fiction is like facts.”

    And those people — all adults, incidently — are left with the impression the library is a place where people will be rude to you if you ask questions.

    Even I spent the rest of my morning determined to find what I was looking for myself, instead of asking for help finding it. And more on the fence about finding a way to volunteer at the library.

  18. as a former cornell librarian I am DYING to know who you are talking about…but having fun imagining… :) once you get over “how many books do you have” no one cares about statistics…unless you tell them how many books you receive a day. that sometimes stuns em.

Comments are closed.