Bad Librarian, Good Librarian

On any given day at any given library, any given patron will stop by the desk with a request for an item that they don’t know anything about.

Perhaps they read a book with a blue cover once. Maybe they need a book about space. Perhaps it will be the new Vin Diesel movie when what they really want is one starring Clint Eastwood. Maybe they want the new J. D. Robb book and they can’t remember which one they read last and there’s 31 in the series. Or perhaps they saw a book once somewhere* and they want to see it again.

That is when the Bad Librarian, Good Librarian scenario begins.

Let me explain this via a summary for a fictional play I’ve just made up called…


Act I: Bad Librarian – The librarian the patron goes to first.

The patron asks about the book with the pink clown on the cover that they once saw on a new book shelf. The librarian has no idea what book they mean. She or he doesn’t read books about clowns. The patron is confused. How can this be?

The librarian suggests looking in the new section and also tries looking in the card catalog for the patron so they can see what books are available on clowns. The book is not immediately there and the patron is now upset because they are 300 books on clowns.

The patron does not know what to do. They look at the screen and do not see the book they wanted. Moreover, the librarian did not read their mind and is finding the book and is therefore unsympathetic to their plight.

She or he is a BAD LIBRARIAN.

Act II: Good Librarian – The librarian the patron goes to after the first librarian has “failed.”

The crestfallen patron explains how unhelpful the other librarian was. The second librarian does the smile and nod routine. She or he goes over the same steps as the first librarian but this one pretends to like pink clowns. This one is left to comfort the sad patron and does so to avoid a scene.

Even though the steps the second librarian takes are virtually identical to the first patron, the second librarian somehow does a better job. The second librarian understands the pain in ways that the first librarian never could. Through trial and error and in an effort to placate the patron, the second librarian will either fail to find the book or miraculously stumble upon the patron’s long-lost book in the new section where the first librarian suggested they look. As far as the first librarian’s actions are concerned, the patron will not remember any of them as kind or generous. Nor will the patron remember refusing to go look with them in the new section because it seemed too complicated during Act I of our little drama.

The end result is the same in either case. The patron feels as if this second librarian is their true friend now. From now on they will go to this second librarian, this beacon of hope, this esteemed colleague, this champion of the people, this Huckleberry Friend, this… well, you get the idea.

Never mind that the book the patron wanted actually had a silver unicorn on it and had nothing to do with pink clowns. That first librarian is still scum unlike the second librarian. The second librarian is clearly the GOOD LIBRARIAN.

The rest is all revisionist history.


At first I used to get really upset when occasionally became the Bad Librarian particularly when the patron was a regular which meant they would be in the libary on a weekly or daily basis to give me death glares before pointedly asking others for help. Sometimes I would even start to buy into the patron’s story of how I was absolutely the worst thing to ever happen to the library since the Dewey Decimal System, and that any other librarian was vastly superior and preferrable.  

Slowly I’ve grown to realize that just because a person that comes into the library is referred to as a patron doesn’t make me Michealangelo and that person Pope Julius II. Nor does it mean I am patronizing them when I cannot find what they are looking for when neither one of us know what we’re looking for. Half of the time we actually are looking for a book on pink clowns, for crying out loud.

There is, however, something else to take into account and that is the fickle nature of patronly affection. In this respect there is much to be said for being the Bad Librarian. I can guarantee you that the Bad Librarian is not going to be made to feel like a complete idiot when they can’t find the sequel to the patron’s silver unicorn book the next time that patron stops by.

* Please Note: “somewhere” rarely means the actual library the patron is in.


About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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