You Never Know Who Your Patrons Were

January 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm 5 comments

We all have that patron… just slightly off psychotic, generally unkempt, possibly drunk and has a seemingly delusional story of grandeur. You know, the one who:
– Continually asks for books on advanced theoretical mathematics to disprove some Ivy League professor’s latest theory but has yet to figure out the equation “water + soap + body = less stinky”
– Claims they were once mayor of a town, possibly the one you work in, but was then run out by some unethical person of minority (take your pick and probably use the derogatory term for the chosen minority member)
– Plays chess in your library every single day and talks about how they once bested Bobby Fisher in a competition in Central Park
– Claims to be a former director of some popular videos, friends with former celebrities yet can’t seem to enter the library without making an enemy
And despite that little voice in the back of our heads saying “yeah right” we, as good public servants, listen to their story and smile, allowing them a chance to bask in memories that are, in all likelihood, probably false.
But what if, one day, that music-producer patron asks for help scanning pictures and it turns out his story isn’t complete BS?
This happened to me about a month ago.
One of our patrons, who I would love to but cannot name, comes in every single day and tells us stories of how he produced, directed or worked on videos for “many famous and successful bands.” He has always been very keen on name-dropping celebrities he used ‘hang out and party’ with. And every day, the staff smiled, nodded our heads at the appropriate times while taking very shallow breaths in order to help lighten the strength of his rather strong body odor and stale booze aroma.
So when this patron asked me to help them make a Myspace page of his former work, I took the challenge basically because I thought it would be neat to see just where the truth lies in his stories.
Imagine my surprise when he walked in with an entire photo album and film negatives of him with Jimmy Page, Gene Simmons, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Jon Bon Jovi, George Bush Sr., Hank Williams, Loverboy and Motley Crue.
How to respond? Well, I just started laughing and couldn’t stop. Each picture, musician, actor, political figure brought on another chuckle. It all seemed wholly unbelievable even though the pictures we arguably authentic. In fact, I laughed until the patron finally turned to me and said, in all seriousness, “What?! You thought I was always a drunk?!”
And then it hit me.
I thought of who my friends were in high school and then of who they are now, 15 years later. I watched a heavy drinker build his own Web-development company. I also watched one of my smartest friends trade all his potential for alcohol and pills. My best friend, who swore that children were ‘the most annoying thing on the planet’ kiss his baby on the head, tear up and say “This is awesome, I can’t believe I ever felt differently.”
And then I thought of myself and how life is most certainly different from what I thought it would be ten years ago.
Is it really all that crazy to think that we may have a former music and film director in our library? Is it unlikely that, surrounded by all the other influences that stem around the rock and roll lifestyle, that he might have succumbed to it and that today is the result of such vices?
How little we really know about the people we see day to day. How we only know who they are now, not who they were or who they will become.
Anyone else have a story they want to share?


Entry filed under: Customer Experience. Tags: .

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  • 1. Trista  |  January 14, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    What a great story! I agree that we never know where are patrons have been and I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt… although I am usually skeptical.

    At my library I often run into B-list actors and actresses who don’t want to be recognized. They often appreciate someone who is discreet. Maybe that is why we are quick to question the validity of someone who is vocal about their previous celebrity status?

  • 2. Brianna  |  January 14, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I completely identify with this article! It’s hard not to imagine that a disheveled patron has always been this way.

    I recently had a patron, who seemed to be intoxicated in many ways, shapes and forms, approach me at the desk. He called himself a “thesssssbian” and quizzed me about the dozens of movies he had in his arms…”Oh honey, I can’t believe you haven’t seen Bladerunner.” After hitting on me, two shelvers, and several patrons, he claimed to be in an extremely popular late 90s movie. Uh huh. Okay, buddy. Thanks to IMDB, the shelver and I discovered that he really WAS in that movie, and is actually the son of a more famous actor! While that is a rare occurance, it is exciting to see that he was telling the truth.

  • 3. Janie  |  January 15, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    For years we had a man who was quite advanced in years call the reference desk on a regular basis and open his calls by asking who he talking to and if he deemed you to be one of the “stupid librarians” he would insist on be put through to one of the “smart librarians”. I somehow made the list of “smart librarians” and was often forced to deal with this man who really was incredibly obnoxious and downright mean on occasion. There were times when he was told by administration that his calls would not be taken for X period of time and then he would be “nicer” for a bit once the suspension was lifted… but eventually he would rant and rave at us again and call us idiots. This cycle continued for years. He called frequently and got suspended frequently. He was housebound and an academic and always purported to be “somebody”.
    He passed away a number of years ago and when he did he left the library a good chunk of change in his will for all of our help over the years. He was quite wealthy and despite being mean and cranky, he did appreciate us. Too bad he did not let us know this while he was still alive.

  • 4. Barbara Kelly  |  January 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    “How we only know who they are now, not who they were or who they will become.”

    In the past year I have watched a patron, who was lively, intelligent, giving and creative slowly change into what another patron today called “that crazy lady”. What had once been engaging conversations about the books she was returning are now paranoid ramblings about who is after her thoughts and destroying the world.

    If I just met her today, I wouldn’t have the memories of previous conversations to see us through todays conversation of the doctor who hid the book in her couch.

    So much easier and practical to just give everyone, who is not endangering any one else, the benefit of the doubt.

    who knows where they are coming from or where they are going.

    Thanks for getting this conversation started.

  • 5. pollyalida  |  January 29, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    What a great story, a lovely post and an important reminder to us all. Thank you.

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