ASSOCIATES (vol. 6, no. 2, November 1999) -



Colleen McElveny Lindsay
Brush Prairie, Washington




To:   Library Slaves

From:   Library Slaves Support Institute (LSSI)

Re:   Reduction of patron-based stress


The following document is highly secretive and could be inflammatory if leaked to the public. Please shelf it under "classics". No one will find it there. No one reads the classics anymore!


      Increased circulation. Decreased budgets. Hostile patrons. These are the new hazards of library work. These hazards cause library workers to experience high levels of stress which librarians of old never experienced. These old world librarians, now promoted to the upper levels of administration, send edicts down from above demanding that front-line employees offer "services with a smile". Adapting to the new, improved patron-loving library causes stress-related disorders to abound.

      Distressed librarians lock themselves in book drops. Overworked clerks drive book trucks off cliffs. Pestered Pages attempt suicide by leaping off stacks of encyclopedias. (Fortunately, the new CD-ROM encyclopedias don't stack very high, so pages have, thus far, avoided major injury.) Before such horrible incidents occur in your library, we urge you to defuse the high tension through proper use of patron-based humor.

      Modern, demanding, fast-food patrons are the greatest source of stress in the library. Well- placed patron-based humor reduces stress for beleaguered employees. Patron-based humor capitalizes on three general symptoms: patron familiarity, patron stupidity, and patron gullibility.

      Since all of these categories suggest a direct personal assault on your patrons and, therefore, could serve to alienate them and their tax dollars, patron-based barbs, stories and songs must be coded through pseudonyms, depersonalization, and de-politicization.

      In other, more readable terms, when using patron-based humor, three guidelines must be followed:

      1. Never use a patron's real name. Instead use a Dictionary of First Names to rename them according to their annoying attributes.

      2. Never refer to a patron's recognizable personal qualities. Instead, use a Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual to find multi-syllabic psycho-terms to rename their personal problems.

      3. Never refer directly to a patron's occupational, political or religious persuasion. Instead, call them by Dewey number: i.e. the "computer geek" becomes a zero-hundred. The ultraconservative Christian becomes a 242 (or a 648.68 if they are homeschoolers). The earth-worshipping, paper-recycling democrat becomes a 363. And that bizarre UFO-chasing, wicca casting weirdo becomes a 133.

Patron Familiarity

      Humor related to patron familiarity is most effective in small-town or branch libraries where the insane, the profane, and the remains of gossip breed contempt. Discretion, through coding, is especially important with local patrons because small town people know each other's personal quirks intimately. The Town Drunk, the Town Gossip, the Local Intellectual Snob will be identifiable to all, so change their names to Hemingway, Mother Goose, and Webster. Then use them as main characters in stories, poems and songs. Songs are especially effective. Write twisted patron-bashing lyrics to popular show tune melodies. Then share them with your staff. Henceforth, a quiet humming of the melody will provoke peals of laughter, releasing pent-up patron-based tension.

Patron Stupidity

      Humor based on patron stupidity rarely needs to be disguised for two major reasons:

      1. True stupidity deserves the reward of laughter

      2. Those who do stupid things rarely stay around long enough to hear you laughing.

      The lady who washed her chicken in the drinking fountain deserves to be laughed at loudly and obviously. The man who thought the book drop was a drive-up window deserves a laugh-track in his Bronco. And, certainly, the co-dependent woman living with her still-married boyfriend and attempting (for him) to gain custody of his children and, therefore, assure her place in the helpful hall of fame, makes us laugh hysterically. Because if we don't laugh, we'll cry.

Patron Gullibility

      Humor based on patron gullibility springs from the belief that "information is power". As leaders in the information explosion, we can hoard knowledge and power. Only we understand the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classification systems. Only we understand the Boolean logic search strings. Only we know what books get purchased, how they get cataloged, and where they are shelved. And only we decide who gets to check them out. Patrons are at our mercy. And they know it.

      Enjoyable games based on patron gullibility are library rearrangement, patron misdirection, and techno-babble. Rearrange the library and watch patrons scramble for their favorite books. Misdirect patrons by providing incorrect call numbers or confusing directions to the bathroom.

      Confuse them further with techno-babble. When they innocently ask "Where's the card catalog?", point at the OPAC and answer "Based on a use-study, classifiers determined that OPACS effectively decrease abstract circulation and cataloging redundancies and aid in information retrieval from the mainframe. And best of all, it's user-friendly."

      Some may find these teases, games, and tricks cruel and unprofessional. And perhaps they are. But our institute's studies show that, used appropriately, patron-based humor bonds together the library slaves. Those underpaid, overworked public savants--oops, servants---who, like me, miss the days when skirts were long, books were in perfect order, and administrators did not demand "service with a smile".     

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