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I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks

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I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks

4/5 (40 ratings)
92 pages
59 minutes
Jul 4, 2014


Straight from the library--the strange and bizarre, ready to be checked out!

From a patron's missing wetsuit to the scent of crab cakes wafting through the stacks, I Work at a Public Library showcases the oddities that have come across Gina Sheridan's circulation desk.
Throughout these pages, she catalogs her encounters with local eccentrics as well as the questions that plague her, such as, "What is the standard length of eyebrow hairs?" Whether she's helping someone scan his face onto an online dating site or explaining why the library doesn't have any dragon autobiographies, Sheridan's bizarre tales prove that she's truly seen it all.

Stacked high with hundreds of strange-but-true stories, I Work at a Public Library celebrates librarians and the unforgettable patrons that roam the stacks every day.
Jul 4, 2014

About the author

Gina Sheridan is a librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, where she lives with her partner Travis. When she's not collecting stories, she's exploring cemeteries, dressing up her cats, or taking pictures of things overlooked by regular people. You can visit her website at www.iworkatapubliclibrary.com.

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I Work at a Public Library - Gina Sheridan


A Cold War spy in desperate search of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Cuckoo Carol dumpster diving for cans . . . again, and the inevitable fact that one day, somewhere, human excrement will end up on the floor. Maybe you expect these kinds of things to happen on, say, reality TV, but you never expect this to happen in your local library. However, as any public librarian will tell you, happen they do!

I didn’t expect to write a book about the strangeness of everyday life in the public library. I went into library science with the expectation of quiet afternoons, challenging research questions, and the comforting smell of old books. But the day I discovered Cuckoo Carol digging around in the library’s dumpster was the day I started collecting library stories. Expectation met reality in this one, unforgettable moment as I asked Carol what exactly she was hoping to accomplish in the dumpster. I’m looking for aluminum cans! But I’m getting really thirsty. Just call me cuckoo! Carol hollered from within. This was shortly after I started my first professional librarian position in California. New to town and new to Library Land, I had no idea that Carol was just one of a cast of colorful characters I would meet in my career. As I helped her step down out of the dumpster, I thought to myself: I need to write this down!

So it’s because of Carol that I started writing and sharing stories, hilarious interactions, and crazy encounters on my Tumblr, iworkatapubliclibrary.com. To my surprise, people actually started reading and sharing the blog, and other library workers from around the world began to share their stories with me. The I in I Work at a Public Library quickly became a universal I. I loved recording these stories and that other people, including many nonlibrary people, loved the sharing, insight, humor, and heart they provide.

In this book, you’ll find some of the best stories, questions, and conversations that I have collected in my years as a librarian. The chapters that follow are categorized using that old library favorite—the Dewey Decimal System—turning this book into its own little library of sorts. The subject headings are like the ones you’d find in the stacks of your neighborhood library. From 004.16 Computers, stories of user error and technological flubs; to 598.2 Rare Birds, a whole chapter devoted to Cuckoo Carol; and ending with 809.9339 Volumes of Gratitude, a special collection of heartwarming tales of library (and patron) appreciation, I Work at a Public Library is for anyone who enjoys the absurdity and humanity of everyday life. All of these accounts are exactly as they happened at my own library or at a number of libraries from around the world. I offer them to you, objectively, without comment. Early on I received a note on my website from someone who said, I had no idea the public library was so weird and wonderful. And that’s exactly right.

Chapter 1

004.16 Computers

Humor is only a keystroke away at the library, especially in the computer lab when screening such questions as, Am I allowed to view porn as long as it is sent directly to me? or, How do I copy and paste my dog’s face onto my dad’s in this photo? The key to solving a patron’s computer problem is to keep your hands behind your back while you are instructing the patron so she does all the clicking and learning, but also so you don’t reach up and pull out your hair after the fifteenth right-click in a row. Take it from a librarian, a simple click is far from binding.

E-mail, Dirty Rotten

A woman waved me over to the computer she was using.

WOMAN: Yeah, how do I make it so my dumb ex-boyfriend can’t e-mail me?

ME: I can help you with that. Are you signed in to your e-mail now?

WOMAN: I don’t have an e-mail yet.

ME: You don’t have an e-mail account?

WOMAN: Nope.

ME: Well, he can’t e-mail you then. And if you do sign up for one, you don’t have to give him the address.

WOMAN: That’s good. That’s how I want it! He’s a scoundrel!

Rude, How

A woman approached the interior book return slot.

WOMAN: [peering in] Hello?

ME: Hi!

WOMAN: I was talking to the person at the other book drop but he was ignoring me, how rude!

ME: I’m so sorry, there is no one manning the outside book drop. Is there anything I can help you with?

WOMAN: Oh dear. Well, I was just asking him the difference between DVDs and CDs and could they all go in the same slot. Anyway, are DVDs those iPaddy things?

ME: Well, DVDs are movies. CDs are music or books to listen to. iPads are different.

WOMAN: How confusing! No wonder the fellow at the other book drop ignored me.

Face, About

A man came into the

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What people think about I Work at a Public Library

40 ratings / 26 Reviews
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Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (2/5)
    Mildly amusing, but way too mildly.
  • (4/5)
    This is a very simple book. It's mostly a list of exchanges that she thought were funny. Nothing earth shattering.
  • (5/5)
    Gina Sheridan collects stories of interactions she's had with library patrons or overheard talking to her co-workers over several years of working in a public library. If you have worked with the public or in customer service, you'll probably relate to at least some of what she writes about. But if you're a public librarian, this book will definitely resonate with you. Sheridan talks in her introduction about the idea of librarianship when she was in grad school versus the reality of everyday interaction at the reference desk. She organizes the book by Dewey Decimal (starting with - what else? - 004 for Computers) and ends the book with some heartwarming stories that I dare any librarian to read without tearing up a little.
  • (4/5)
    This book is apparently a spin-off of the author's blog/Tumblr, although I was unaware of its existence prior to receiving this book as a present. It presents numerous funny/bizarre librarian-patron interactions, sorted into Dewey categories (e.g., computers, communication, children's humor, etc.). To end things on a high note, the final category is gratitude and contains positive interactions with thankful patrons. For anyone who works in a library, they will find themselves nodding along in sympathy to many of the anecdotes and recalling similar ones of their own. For other readers, it could still be humorous but I doubt it would be as relatable.
  • (5/5)
    As a former librarian I found myself, quite often, laughing out loud at some of these stories, both because they brought back memories and because it made me realize I had sadly not had the ability to continue to work as a librarian and experience more stories. The author, in true library fashion, orders the chapters in the Dewey Decimal System. The chapter titles are: Computers, Reference Work, Reading Interests and Habits, Curiosities and Wonders, Listening In, Communication, Failures and Disruptions of, Bullying, Rare Birds, Human Anatomy, Telephones, Children's Humor, and Volumes of Gratitude.In the first chapter, Computers, what is the reply to the question "I keep getting the blue screen of death"? "Sir, that's the desktop". Another man keeps coming up to the desk asking tons of questions, including: How do I make the computer like a typewriter?; There are red squiggly lines under everything I type.; Now I want to make a website. Do I just get the framework up ...using the typewriter function?; Maybe you could help me make a website. I have about an hour. Another man wants them to disable Google because they are "taking over the United States". One librarian was helping a patron upload his resume for a job application from a flash drive. When she asks him which job is applying for, he says, "all the jobs on the Internet". In the chapter "Reading Interests and Habits" here are some of the book titles patrons have requested: Fifty Shades of Grey's Anatomy, How to Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Aunt Frank, Lord of the Flies by Tolkien, The Hungry Games, and The Lively Bones. A woman expresses her disinterest in e-books, claiming they will be the death of libraries. When the librarian informs her the library has e-books, she replies, "aren't they invisible?". In the chapter, Curiosities and Wonders, one person comes in looking for the margarita machine, which, honestly, would have been nice to have at my library. A conversation overheard between a young woman showing her mother how to search for items at the library: Mother: There are almost three thousand movies to choose from? Daughter: Well, movies and TV shows. Mother: So are you saying that the library is now the video store? Daughter: Among other things. Mother: Who else knows about this?. A seventy-year-old man tells his wife, "I think we really should do the Facebook. Art and Frieda are doing it. We don't want to be the only ones left." A conversation between one parent and another in the children's room: Parent 1: Do you ever hide books you've read over and over again because you're so sick of them? Parent 2: Oh, definitely. When they ask for them, I say the book fairy came to get it. One time they saw one of the books at the library so now they think the librarians are the book fairies. One of my personal favorite lines in this book from a patron who says "It's too cold in here. What is wrong with you people? Do you like frozen books?" I wore a sweater jacket year round at the library.But my absolute favorite is the one on a librarian putting up a display for Banned Books Week, which is something I did when I worked. Librarian: I'm making a display about books that people complained about. They wanted them removed from the library. Girl: Why? Librarian: Because they didn't like what the books were about and didn't want anyone else to read them, either...Can you imagine what would happen if every person could choose one book to remove from the library forever? Girl: There wouldn't be any books left on the shelves. Librarian: That's right! It wouldn't really look like a library anymore, would it? Girl: We are learning about bullying at school. It sounds like even libraries get bullied sometimes.
  • (4/5)
    This short little book made me miss my public library days quite a bit (a strange reaction for a book that includes rude patrons and vomit sweatshirts). I chuckled at a lot of these, and cringed at even more. Some of the stories in the kid chapter were my favorite, but there were gems in all the chapters.When I worked in a public library, I would occasionally tell stories of interesting things that happened at work to my parents, who told me I needed to write them down and turn them into a book. While, Gina Sheridan actually did that.I probably would've given this three stars, but then I fell prey to the final chapter. The last chapter was unexpectedly sweet, with tales of librarians going the extra mile to help patrons or patrons using the library for the first time.This is a very quick read, so check it out if you like public libraries, or want to know what working in one is like!
  • (4/5)
    Interesting anecdotes from a librarian - people ask the strangest things - sometimes in the strangest ways
  • (4/5)
    Funny, I have some funnier stories though.
  • (3/5)
    Here is what this book makes me think about:

    If I'm checking out a patron's book, I will never comment on it unless they bring it up first. Doesn't matter if it's my favourite book in the world, doesn't matter if I desperately want to gush about a beloved author with someone, I won't bring it up.

    Because if I comment, they lose their sense of anonymity. If I'm like, "oh my god, I love that book!" then I can't pretend I don't see the books they're checking out on medical issues or other sensitive subjects.

    Do I actually notice what people check out? 99% of the time, no, because I'm too focused on making sure that the book scans, and I've desensitized their materials properly, and the due dates are correct, and there are no notes on their account, and what have you. Do I remember what people check out? Never. Do I try to interpret why they might be checking out the books that they do? Not in the slightest.

    Doesn't matter, though, because once that sense of privacy is lost, it's not coming back. And I never want people to feel uncomfortable coming to me because they think I'm going to be noticing and judging what they check out.

    This book is like that, but for patron interactions and reference services. I feel like by putting some of these stories out there for the public to read, it's a bit of a violation. It strips people of their sense of anonymity. It makes them self-conscious.

    I don't want my patrons to feel self-conscious -- provided they're not violating any rules, at least. Doesn't matter if they've gotten the name of the book wrong, doesn't matter if they're asking an obvious and repetitive question about the public computers, doesn't matter if they're being odd but still within the limits of library policy. If you have a issue, I will do what I can to help you. No such thing as a stupid question, etc., etc.

    I don't want my patrons to hesitate to ask me something because they're worried they're going to wind up mocked on a website or in a book.

    Venting to co-workers in the break room is one thing. Discussing truly horrifying patron behaviour is one thing (and to be fair, some of the stories are in that category). But presenting everyday patron interactions in a book for the sake of humour is a totally different thing.

    This book is hilarious, familiar, and cathartic from a library perspective (and, I'm sure, for many people who work in customer service). But it's not just library employees who will read this.

    Imagine if you didn't know how to work a computer and you asked a genuine -- if slightly odd -- question at the reference desk. And then, you found that interaction in a book, presented for laughs. Would you ever want to ask a question in the library again?

    So, I don't know. This book just doesn't sit right with me.
  • (4/5)
    A collection of anecdotes about working in public libraries. Some of them were touching, most were amusing. I thought a handful of them were maybe a little cruel, but on the whole an entertaining couple of hours.
  • (4/5)
    Read on December 26, 2016Wonderful, funny, disturbing, and a few heartwarming stories from public librarians. Perfect for anyone that 1. Is a librarian. 2. Wants to be a public librarian. 3. Loves their librarian. 4. Loves to laugh. This is a quick read...how quick you ask. I was on Facebook and saw a post in a large library group about this book this morning. Since I'm no longer a public librarian, reading stories about being that very thing sounded like the perfect book for a time when I've been missing it.I went to my library's digital collection first, but it wasn't available. Then I went to Amazon to see how much the ebook would cost...and it was free because of my Prime membership. It's part of the Kindle Unlimited program. I downloaded and read it in about an hour. A great read for a lazy morning. It made me miss some of my favorite librarian patrons even more (the good ones and some of the creepy ones). There's one patron who called me his shining star and would tell my coworkers how wonderful I was because I always knew what book he wanted on hold. There's the patron who just wanted to dance a little before he checked out his books. There's the countless patrons that were amazed by the digital collections offered by the library. There's the senior citizen that always asked for my phone number. There's the older lady that always had overdue fees, but was so nice and always told me how she was sure I had lost the baby weight. There's the annoying woman who would call "hey lady" to my back while she was sitting at the computers. So many interesting people.
  • (5/5)
    After I started my dream job last year, my mom bought me a copy of I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan. (Thanks, mom!) I'm actually glad that I waited to pick this up because of the experiences I've already had after working as a Children's Librarian just a few months. (Don't worry. I'll remember them in my future memoir.) It still would have been funny back in December but it's exponentially more hilarious comparing it to my own experiences. (Note: If you don't work in a public library you'll still think this book is a hoot.) Sheridan has amasseds a collection of true things that have occurred in public libraries all over the world on her blog aptly named I Work at a Public Library which she started when...she started working at a public library. (I think you get where this is going from the title right?) It's organized according to the Dewey Decimal System and absolutely bursting with hilarious, heartwarming, disturbing, and disgusting tales. If you don't laugh out loud at some of these or gasp in shock then you're probably an automaton (and I'm terrified of you). Whether you're a library nerd at heart or just want to get a glimpse behind the scenes of where the library nerds gather this is the book for you. 10/10 and already trying to get all of my co-workers to read it. :-)
  • (5/5)
    Delightful collection of anecdotes. If you use the library or work at a library, at it to your reading list.
  • (4/5)
    WHAT is the MATTER with people???
  • (4/5)
    3.5/5 What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Well how could it not catch my eye!? I too work at a public library! And I absolutely had to read this one cover to cover. I've often said to my co-workers after an 'interesting' interaction that we really should be writing this stuff down. Or when you're asked 'how was your day at work?" you're never without an answer that isn't run of the mill.....Well, Gina Sheridan also works at a public library - and she did write them down. The result? I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories From the Stacks.Sheridan has used the Dewey Decimal system to catalogue her stories into chapters. Entries include overhear conversations, questions at the desk, behaviour that isn't perhaps meant for public view, memorable patrons and more.I found myself nodding at almost every entry, having encountered or experienced much of what Sheridan describes in my public library service (and some from my time in a bookstore as well) You really can't make these stories up. Friends and family's replies to a repeated anecdote is usually 'no way!' I enjoyed this book as I have an 'insider's' view. But it may be eye opening for the public to peruse!Kudos to Sheridan for collecting and immortalizing her stories. My only complaint? The book is quite short - only 160 page and I finished it in about and hour and a half. I would have liked more!Maybe I will start writing down my own stories for volume two.....
  • (3/5)
    Full of heart, the vignettes/anecdotes capture life in the public library.
  • (2/5)
    I was looking for more with this one, I've had funnier things happen to me working at the grocery store, toy store, mortgage company, etc. Basically, the stories within this book are slightly funny, but what would happen in any job where you service the public. I was hoping for different and unlikely. Not bad, but not outstanding.
  • (4/5)
    A quick one seat read with her stories collected under various themes. While the undercurrent was those unfamiliar with technology, she didn't push it too hard. I loved the thank you section. It showed why she put up with all the other stories.
  • (2/5)
    Told in script format, I Work at a Public Library are a series of very short stories of weird happenings that occur at public libraries, ranging from the absurd to the sublime.

    The style is very similar to the website, "Not Always Right", and about the same length, which was actually somewhat disappointing. These are short three sentence exchanges, which while mildly entertaining, are not enough to elicit more than a smile from me. Additionally, most of them were not that odd - trust me, I work at a library (albeit not a public one), and some of our encounters were truly bizarre, while most of these felt no more weird than anyone who works with customers (in retail or similar) would encounter.

    There are a few that are cute, such as the parent who told her children that "book fairies" absconded with their favorites, and whose children subsequently believed that librarians must be these mythical book fairies. Others are heartwarming, such as the man who brings his entire family to thank a librarian for helping him secure a job offer. On the whole, however, there were not very many that transcended the run-of-the-mill.

    A cute, light read, but not really much to make an impression; if you're interested in the bizarre and something a bit more fleshed out, I would recommend picking up Free for All by Dan Borchert.
  • (4/5)
    As a new public librarian that works the adult and the children's reference desk I can attest that these stories are very similar to what I deal with almost every day. an engaging, quick read.
  • (4/5)
    This book is great. Hilarious. And the last chapter is heartwarming.
    After reading this book, I'm inspired to write down every odd interaction I have with a patron from here on out. I've worked in a public library for less than a year and probably have so many stories already! Every day is an adventure. People are weird and mysterious and marvelous. God we're lucky.
  • (3/5)
    Funny little stories from working in a public library. It is good to know our community isn't unique.
  • (4/5)
    A quick read with brief glimpses at the life of a librarian. It took me less than 30 minutes to read, and I chuckled and was brought to tears within that brief time.
  • (3/5)
    This book is exactly what it says it is. If you would like a preview you can check out the blog. I called it "research" into potential situations within the field. It's a plus that it makes for some amusing reading.
  • (5/5)
    Love love LOVE this blog and the book. So funny. I read it in a single sitting because I couldn’t put it down. I think librarians and civilians will love this book equally because it’s so easy to imagine each scenario happening.
  • (5/5)
    This little book was penned by a librarian and contains various amusing stories about things she has experienced at work.Now, I love libraries and perhaps myself have contributed to a few stories in the libraries I have frequented.I think mostly what the stories demonstrate is that some of us library “patrons” are rather eccentric and/or ignorant, about computers and other technology, in fact about almost everything.I was going to quote a couple of the most amusing episodes, but I see other reviewers have had the same idea, so I won’t bother.The last chapter is devoted to heart-warming stories about grateful patrons.Read this book if you’re a library fan and want to be entertained by a humorous light read.