One of the favored topics of conversation among librarians is the things they don’t teach you in library school. Some people focus heavily on issues that require on the job training. I took a collections class in my masters degree, but it didn’t cover the actual process for deciding what to keep and what to donate to the book sale. That’s something you learn once you already have the title, usually because every library and system has a different process.
The other subheading of Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School is the batcrap crazy stuff we see in our line of work. When you go to nursing school, you expect to see a man with a shovel through his chest or a light bulb lodged somewhere light bulbs don’t go. As a police candidate, you know you’ll eventually master putting a drug addict into handcuffs, despite his being slippery with his own feces. As a library major, you… shop for cardigans.
There are some downright adorable surprises to being a librarian, such as the fact that we have a bird protocol at my branch. We have an actual procedure for what to do when a bird enters the library and can’t find it’s way out. I also wasn’t aware of the rising popularity of the Children Reading to Dogs program, until I started working in a library. Trained service dogs are brought into the library for little kids to read to, without criticism or correction. That’s right. My job includes puppies… which I’m reminding myself makes up for some of the more upsetting encounters.
Library school may stress the importance of serving the public without censorship, but it doesn’t prepare us for the number of mentally unstable homeless people and registered sex offenders we’ll encounter in a month. It also didn’t prepare me for the moment I’d find myself crying on the phone to a 911 dispatcher this morning.
The day started out normal. I was surprised things had been so quiet, considering I’ve called the police twice in my seven day stretch, having worked the weekend. I had just finished telling my coworker this and announced that I was going to do a walk-through to make sure that was correct. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
At the end of my walk-through, I had decided to use the public restroom, just in case another person was bathing naked in the sink. I thought I was alone, until I heard snoring. This isn’t normal behavior and my library has specific rules against prolonged sleeping in the library, so I knocked on the stall door… and then louder… and louder. Eventually, I was banging on the door and shouting. I went out to tell some coworkers that I wasn’t sure how to proceed. One of the circulation clerks followed me into the bathroom and repeated my actions. We decided the woman couldn’t possibly be asleep and must have passed out, so I called 911.
At this point, I had not wanted to open the stall door. I felt this would violate the customer’s privacy, but after calling me back on my cell phone, so they could direct me as to how I could help the customer, the 911 dispatcher insisted I open the door. I tried to wake the woman with a hand on her shoulder and she was unresponsive, though still snoring. The dispatcher told me to get her on her back to make sure she could breathe.
Me: “I just… she’s not wearing pants and I feel like moving her is a violation to her.”
Dispatcher: “You’re not violating her. You’re helping her. I promise.”
Me: “Okay… she’s coming awake now. Ma’am, are you alright?”
Me: “She has a syringe. There’s a tourniquet on her arm and she has a syringe in her hand.”
Dispatcher: “Is the syringe empty?”
Me: “I… don’t know? I think it has something black in it.”
Dispatcher: “Tell me, is she changing colors?”
Me: “I… I can’t tell. Her hands are swollen, but I don’t think she’s changing colors. She won’t wake up, but she seems to be breathing okay.”
Dispatcher: “It’s alright, you’re doing good. I’m going to stay on the phone with you until EMSA arrives.”
Me: “Okay. I… I don’t know what to do. I’m just holding her head up.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, if she’s breathing, then she’s alright. EMSA will be there soon.”
When she woke, the woman tried to insist she was diabetic. Apparently insulin isn’t black and doesn’t require a tourniquet. Heroine is and does.
I sat in the lobby, trying not to cry, as the police questioned the man who’d been with the woman. I hadn’t helped the customer sooner, out of concern for her privacy and my hesitancy to bother someone on the toilet. I’d held a half naked woman up on a public toilet, hoping it was a good sign that she was beginning to wake. I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t called 911, partially out of a desire to not see another woman naked. I’d cried to the dispatcher, frustrated with myself because managers aren’t supposed to lose it like that. It was my job to control my emotions and be cool in a crisis. It’s just… they didn’t teach me this stuff in library school!
Here’s hoping the next week’s better 🙂
Oh, wow. I worked as a page at a public library all through high school, and I thought it was going to be nothing but quiet, well-behaved children and old people. Then in my very first week, I had to help a librarian chase out a man who was masturbating in the children’s section. What a place.
I haven’t had to do that one, yet, but I’m pretty sure we’d call the police.
I’m an EMT. Let me tell you something, even if you’re taught how to maintain composure and deal with a situation like this you still will not be prepared. The first time it happens it is straight human nature to react the way you did. As a matter of fact after almost 7 years of doing it I once had a month straight of absolute hell and I can unashamedly say I cried more than once. You handled the situation very well for someone with no actual training for that, and losing your composure makes you human.
I hope your next few weeks are quiet for your sanity’s sake.
Thank you so much for the encouragement. I can’t imagine the stress of your profession, but I’m certainly glad there are people to do it. My week this week has been much less overwhelming.
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