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The greatest hazard to chat librarians might be bored tweens. During the week, they—and sometimes their accompanying parents—are scarily focused on school projects for geography, History Day, and the science fair, as well as finding a book to report on that is not lame. But on the weekends, things change. With a nod to Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try librarians’ souls.”
Weekends often bring sleepovers, which seem to be more common than they were during the antediluvian period, when I was a tween. Sometimes this group spends a long weekend in migrating sleepovers that seem to last two to three days, changing venue from one kid’s basement to another. The second night, once the pizza has been eaten and the first movie watched, what you have are a bunch of 11- to 13-year-olds who are pumped up on Mountain Dew Voltage, Skittles, and hormones, with nothing to do. Bored, they want to reach out and touch someone. So they log into their local public library’s chat space.
Those of you who have not used your library chat service for good or for evil, or have not staffed it as librarians, may find this scenario incredulous. Why would they choose library chat? Think about it:
1. Reference chat is open at midnight.
2. Reference chat must be staffed by timid, easily shocked bun-heads (because that is who librarians are, right? And because other people have lives on Friday or Saturday nights while Old Marian and her sistren are sitting in darkened libraries or home with their six cats).
3. Libraries protect the patron’s privacy so that there is total anonymity and zero accountability.
So, in the grand tradition of “Will the Substitute Teacher Lose It?” or “Let’s Make Crank Phone Calls,” we have the modern version: “Let’s Play with the Chat Librarian’s Mind.” It can have a number of variations:
“Let’s Ask Shocking Sex Questions.”
“Let’s Pretend That the Chat Service Is a Crisis Hotline.”
“Let’s Try to Get Her to Do an Impossible Task.”
“When She Fails at Impossible Task, Let’s Convince Her She Is a Loser.”
All of these are designed to play with poor Marian’s mind. But most librarians are not that stereotype the bored tweens are seeing in their little estrogen-or-testosterone-addled minds (in fact, if the odd Marian does end up on after-hours chat, the Darwinian aspects of a Sunday-night shift will either toughen her up or make her quit posthaste). So, as it happens, sometimes the tweens, bless their hearts, get more than they bargain for. They get a factual answer about sexual practice—with sources from a medical center—that shocks them (they did ask). They get taken seriously in their depressive call for help. Or Marian is not convinced that she is a #LibrarianFail. It is this last scenario (with names changed) that we will see unroll this evening:.
Setting the scene: chat reference often has a channel where the librarians logged in can group chat, so as to say things like “the woman from Queens who was chatting about Overdrive needs to delete and reload Adobe Digital Editions, but she disconnected before she got that, and I see you just picked her up when she logged in again.” Sometimes we have used it to share that SAGE is not working at a particular California school in anything other than Firefox, or that the proxy server went hasta la vista.
Librarian Maria: That kid from MD has logged in six times now, and I keep picking her up. She is the one signing in as “Mrs. Justin Bieber.” She says she needs Justin’s cell-phone number right away because she “lost it in her phone.” I have explained to her that even if she is married to Justin secretly—and I congratulated her—I do not have a way of getting his number. In fact, he probably spends thousands of dollars a year so I can’t get it. The last three times she has been telling me to “stop making excuses and do your job.” Wecan’t tell her what we think of her, we can’t hang up on her, and I can’t face her again.
Me: I can take her this time. I am feeling ready for her. I just had a 24-ounce Coke.
(Let it be said that Librarian Maria is a tough cookie, but she has not spent time in a summer camp, parented teens, or worked in a public setting. She is a phenomenal multilingual academic librarian who makes me salaam at her research skills and deals with Academicus Arrogances far better than I. But I taught sixth-grade Sunday School and have two high-school kids. I click on Haley from MD.)
Librarian Nikki: Hello. Welcome to AskAQuestion. My name is Nikki. How may I help you?
Haley Bieber: Hello Nikki. You got the words wrong. You are supposed to say your library has asked us to staff this service when they are not available. Please wait while I read your question. Are you going to get in trouble for that?
(This kid logs in so often she has memorized the scripts.)
Haley Bieber: Nikki. Nikki. Nikki. I have seen you on videos. You spell it differently. You are Nicki Minaj aren’t you hahaha.
Librarian Nikki: Unfortunately, no, I am not.
Haley Bieber: You sure?
Librarian Nikki: I think she has a concert in California tonight [thank you, Ticketmaster].
Haley Bieber: You knew that?
Librarian Nikki: Doesn’t she?
Haley Bieber: Well Nicki Minaj, I am going to need you to get my husband Justin’s cell-phone number bc I lost it but first I need to put a report in about Librarian Maria. She needs to be fired. She does not do her job and she is rude.
Librarian Nikki: I am very sorry to hear that. I am kind of shocked. Maria is an excellent librarian.
Haley Bieber: Well she was not to me. She was rude and she called me names and would not do her job. I just asked her a few times to get me Justin’s cell and she said she couldn’t and he was trying to keep it from me and that is rude. And she kept saying it every time I called. And she told me she could not help me anymore and you are not allowed to do that. And she hurt my feelings and called me names.
Librarian Nikki: Really?
Haley Bieber: And she is not doing her job. She is supposed to answer what I ask and I NEEEEEEEED this number.
Librarian Nikki: I can see that would be a hard number to find. And she called you names?
(Long, long pause. I envision refills of Voltage, giggling, and sharing of a cute boy’s picture on Hot or Not.)
Librarian Nikki: Haley? Have I lost you?
Haley Bieber: So she needs to be reported. She should get in trouble. She should lose her job for being mean to kids.
Librarian Nikki: I cannot tell you how sorry I am that you have had this experience. That should not happen.
Haley Bieber: I know.
Librarian Nikki: It sounds borderline abusive.
Haley Bieber: She was.
Librarian Nikki: I am certainly going to bring it to the head of this service’s attention.
Haley Bieber: Good!
Librarian Nikki: And she will bring it to the attention of the director of your library. Fortunately, for situations just like this and for training, we keep a transcript of every chat session. So we will be able to pull the sessions to show just what that librarian said. And since, from what you are saying, she was abusive to somebody who is a minor, we can trace the transcript to the computer it came from.
Haley Bieber: You can do that?
Librarian Nikki: We usually try to protect patron privacy, so we would only trace in special situations. But abuse of a minor would trump that. Since you said she was “mean to kids.”
Haley Bieber: Well, maybe she should not lose her job. Maybe we do not have to do that.
Librarian Nikki: Oh, from what you are saying, this was horrible. We need to show exactly what was said, and let the guilty people suffer.
Haley Bieber: Oh, she does not have to suffer.
Librarian Nikki: The director will probably want to give you—and your parents—an apology.
Haley Bieber: She might have just been having a bad night.
Librarian Nikki: It does not sound like it. This sounds egregious. Thank goodness we have the whole thing down in writing.
Haley Bieber: I do not want to report her.
Librarian Nikki: You are being too nice.
Haley Bieber: Well, I might not have been so nice. I might have been mean to her.
Librarian Nikki: It does not sound like it.
Haley Bieber: OK I was the one who was rude OK? I do not want to report her. Will I get in trouble? I won’t do it again. Are you going to cancel my library card? Is this going on my permanent record forever? I won’t do it again. Please don’t report it, Nikki. Please. Tell her I am sorry. Can you destroy the tape?
Librarian Nikki: I can give Maria a message. I cannot destroy the transcript, but I will not flag it for the head of the service or the director of the library. It might pass by.
Haley Bieber: Thank you. I am sorry. I want to go to college. I do not want this on my record.
Librarian Nikki: Well, I will tell Maria what you said.
Haley Bieber: Thank you. Bye.
Librarian Nikki: Goodnight. Thank you for using AskAQuestion.
Chat session finished.
And so ends another episode of “How Much Do I Get Paid for This?”
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