porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘other tales of superusers’ Category

(Warning : portions of this blog have appeared elsewhere. Like on Facebook. Yesterday.)

I had a weirdly aggressive encounter with a patron yesterday. Although a recent arrival, she has quickly become a frequent visitor to the library; while it’s difficult to make assumptions about people, I would guess, based on her behavior, that she is neither Illustrious student nor faculty nor staff, but instead is of the sort of person who eschews the public library despite being the sort of person one imagines when coming up with reasons to eschew the public library.

Or, I suppose the difficulty lies in accurately judging a person about whom you have already made assumptions. Whatever the case, my very first interaction with this particular woman resulted with her thinking that my answer to her very bizarre question about my bracelet (which I no longer remember, except that it was off-putting) was an invitation to grab said bracelet which, having an elastic band, she then snapped against my wrist. And, while we may go into detail on physical contact in the library another time, the short explanation is : No. Even the great Colonel Mustache, who stole my heart by being the answer to the question “What would Yosemite Sam look like if his great-grandparents on his mother’s side had been Norwegian alcoholics, and his paternal great-great-great-grandfather had been a Lorax, who spoke not for trees but for mustaches?” was invited to remove his hand from my arm as I demonstrated how to use the scanner; there are no exceptions to this rule.

Subsequent interactions with this woman – who so far has not exhibited enough personality to earn a nickname, although perhaps we should start working on something tissue-based – have, now that I think of it, been fairly limited. At least on my watch, her pattern seems to be to establish herself in front of one of the computers, do whatever it is that she needs to do, and then leave, without requesting assistance from the staff. However, before heading over to the computers, she likes to stop by the desk to stock up on tissues. And, to her credit, unlike many library users, she does seem to realize that the tissues are kept on the desk not because we want to be a part of your nose-blowing experience, but so that they’ll be easy to find.

However, unlike most – if not all – of our other library users, when she stopped by the desk yesterday she glared steadily at me as she pulled tissues singly out of the box, as though daring me to stop her. One after another, it seemed like her whole purpose in coming to the library was to prove that she could remove as many tissues from the box on the desk as she wanted. It seems weird to describe anything involving tissues as defiant, but there doesn’t seem to be any other word for it.

And I almost took up her challenge. When she got to 4 and showed no signs of stopping, I inhaled, preparing to say Ok, lady – that’s enough with the tissues. And then I exhaled, wondering if that was really the life I want for myself? Do I want to be a person who restricts access to tissues? Kind of, but under the guise of wanting to ensure adequate tissue availability for all of our library users at all times.

However, that’s not a realistic goal – no matter how many or how few tissues an individual person takes, it is inevitable that the library will one day run out of tissues. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tissues in the world. And as long as there *are* tissues, the library will get more.

It may be, though, that her aggression yesterday was a result to regain some face after the tissue-related ordeal of last weekend. The difficulty then was not because of the tissues themselves, but because she was attempting to take all of the tissues. At once. Using only one hand. I don’t know why she had set this unusual challenge for herself, but I worried for a bit that she was not quite up to the task. As she struggled, unable to get her hand fully inside the box, and then unable to get it out, I wondered whether I should intervene – should I try to help her? She was having difficulty, but then she was trying to take all of our tissues – I didn’t want to encourage that. On the other hand, what she was going through was so very fascinating that it didn’t seem right to try to stop her either.

Fortunately, my conundrum was easily solved by realizing that this very moment illustrated the guiding principle behind the Prime Directive, and since anything good enough for Jean-Luc Picard is good enough for me, I decided to let events unfold as they may. Eventually, as I watched with a rapt expression upon my face, she did manage successfully to extract all of the tissues from the box. It was quite a moment, and I quietly enjoyed her victory even though her face betrayed no recognition of her achievement.

This week, I had momentarily forgotten that Directive, but fortunately, I remembered it in time. Since I did, it is my hope that in the course of proving yesterday that she can take as many tissues as she wants, she noticed that I made no effort to stop her. Because it’s interesting for two weeks, but I am kind of hoping for an end to the tissue-related drama in my life. Unless it’s new life forms coming in to the library – I’m always ready for that.

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One peculiar thing about the Illustrious Institute In Which I Work is that, despite the titular illustrioiusness and an undergraduate acceptance rate of less than 10%, the libraries of the institute, as well as most of its buildings, are open to the general public. Whether or not this spirit of openness is common among the Illustrious Institutes of the world, I can not say; having worked for only two of them, I can report only that, in my experience, about half of them share this spirit, while the other half do not. And while I am certain that this open-door policy originated for the betterment of all mankind, to help technology flourish and to serve progress in as democratic a fashion as possible and all of that, I am equally certain that the only tangible consequence of this policy that I’ve witnessed so far is an influx to the university library of people who would otherwise be confined to a public library.

We have a name for these outside users; as a group, they’re called Super Users (one of my very charming coworkers, a young person who just knows everything, lovingly refers to them as “bums;” delightful, that one) although, of course, each one has his or her own unique identity, which I recognize with a nickname hastily conjured up from the most obvious thing about them; thus, Larry David looks an awful lot like Larry David, while Crazy Cat Lady looks eerily like the Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons.

My favorite Super User, who has since moved on from both the library and the entire state of Massachusetts, was The Little Dumpling, so called because she’s small and round and soft-looking, and because I could easily picture her floating in soup. I did not take an immediate shine to The Little Dumpling; when she first appeared in the library last winter (coincident with my first appearance in the library), she had a terrible, hacking cough, which I am still mostly convinced will one day prove to have been the source of my eventual diagnosis of tuberculosis. Also she would take her shoes right off and just sit for hours, barefoot and cross-legged and staring at the computer. Although I did pity her poor haircut, which looked as though she were unsure where to stop trimming her bangs and so ended up with an accidental mullet.

After a few months, I began to notice that, while her cough was clearing up, the tragedy of her hair remained unchanged; though I want to be generous and believe that it at least began as an accident, the undeniable truth is that it has evolved and is now a purposeful mullet, a mullet of great deliberation. Yet, however bad her hair, or habitually bare her feet – which, it should be noted, were always immediately shod the moment she stood up – what really stood out about my Little Dumpling, what made me come to love her, was that she kept to herself. Because this is the thing about Super Users : they are, on the whole, a terrible pain in the ass.

The problem with the Super Users is a basic, and utterly misplaced, sense of entitlement : because they are allowed in the library, they believe, and behave, as though they  are the rightful users of the library. However, for all its openness, The Illustrious Institute In Which I Work (hereinafter referred to as the IIIWIW) is a private university, and the libraries exist to serve the research needs of the students and staff of the university. They do not exist so that otherwise unoccupied people have a comfortable place to access free porn on the internet.

Most of the Super Users do not, of course, spend their time watching porn. Most of them have projects on which they are working, projects which, to them, are of the utmost importance, and projects about which I, professionally speaking, could not give less of a shit. That may sound harsh, but remember : private university. If I worked in a public library, I would be delighted to hear any library user ramble on about the intricacies of an organizational system wherein everything is stored in clear plastic bags, but I don’t work in a public library; I work in a private library, and if you are not a student or staff, or your organizational system does not benefit student or staff, then, as I stood listening to you, tens of dollars would be wasted that could be put to use discovering organizational systems that do actually benefit student and staff, or explaining to them how to use the scanner.

Because the scanner, I have come to discover, is a perpetual source of difficulty for our Super Users, especially Larry David. What he scans is a mystery to me; other Super Users will scan sections of books or journals, since they’re not allowed to check them out. Larry, on the other hand, is scanning material he’s brought in to the library. Which, then, means that he could, in fact, take this material to a public library, and use a scanner that he is 100% entitled to use. However, as mentioned above, another quality inherent to the Super User is the belief that what they’re working on is of the utmost importance : they after all, can not be limited by what’s available in the public library (which, if you’ve ever investigated, is actually a very good selection of stuff); no, they require the Illustrious surroundings to do their work, possibly to effect their own Good Will Hunting or Lana Turner type discovery into superstardom, or possibly for other reasons that I can not fathom but will still chalk up to arrogance.

An even greater mystery than what Larry David might be scanning is why he has so much trouble scanning it. Considering the amount of time he’s spent in front of scanners, which stretches far, far back into the mists of time, you’d think he’d have it down by now, but no : always he encounters some kind of issue, and this issue he feels compelled to bring to the attention of the desk staff.

Only one time did Larry David ever come to the library while I was on the desk. No, technically, I guess it was twice; he was there late on a Friday evening, scanning away as I began the routine for closing the library. I’d never seen him before, and as far as I knew was a staff member (he does have a slightly professorial air about him; plus, he looks like a famous person, which automatically gives him authority), but still our first conversation went like this:

“What time are you closing tonight?”
“The Library closes tonight at 6.”
“[inaudible mumbling to himself]And what time are you working until?”

This last was asked in the hopeful way that indicated he thought, if I were going to be staying late anyway, I would probably just let him stay and continue scanning after hours. Oh, Larry David : you foolish optimist.

“Well, the library closes at 6; if you’re not done scanning by then, you can come back tomorrow to finish. We open at 1.”

In the spirit of customer service, and the mistaken impression that he was faculty, I did agree to let Larry David leave his flash drive in the scanner overnight so that the enormous document he’d scanned would be fully saved; after all, I was the staff member opening the following day, so I could ensure that it was only retrieved by its rightful owner.

The next day, before he came by to claim his flash drive, I learned that Larry David was not actually a faculty member; instead, he was a Super User previously known as Microfiche Guy, based on his tendency to use – and have trouble with – the microfiche; presumably he still resembled Larry David then, so why he was dubbed otherwise initially is beyond me, but it only took a little while to figure out that Larry David and Microfiche Guy were one and the same. Knowing his true identity changed very little for me; I may not have let him leave the flash drive, but that was a minor issue; if he didn’t come to pick it up, I’d drop it in the lost & found and consider the matter closed.

Of course, he did not forget to pick up his flash drive; he was there, right when the library opened, not just to retrieve the drive, but to scan more stuff. And this is when the trouble began. Because Larry David was on that scanner for the entire afternoon. He took a small break at one point to greet Colonel Mustache (about whom, fear not, much will be said in the future), but apart from that break, he did not move from his position in front of the scanner for 3 hours. Three hours in which he likely violated fair use guidelines, but more importantly, 3 hours in which a few students formed a line, waiting to use the scanner.

Even had it been only 1 student waiting, this would have been a problem. Because, as referenced above : private university. Students pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $55,000 per year to attend the Illustrious Institute, and while a portion of that is earmarked for food and board and, you know, classes and stuff, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly used to guarantee them immediate access to the scanner in the library. Or, if not immediate, then only waiting for other people who have also paid $55,000 to finish up with it. Waiting for Larry David, on the other hand, is not a line-item in the tuition, so I approached him and explained the situation to him thusly : “Students are waiting to use the scanner; you need to finish up.”

Despite my very clear statement, Larry was under the impression that an explanation of his extended use of the scanner was in order. His first scan, it turns out, hadn’t saved, despite the hour and a half he’d spent working on it, which he found extremely frustrating. Not frustrating enough to report to the desk immediately; just frustrating enough to try doing it again in exactly the same way but hoping for better results. Like Wile E. Coyote.

I, however, would not be swayed : “That is unfortunate that it didn’t work, but you have been on the scanner for 3 hours. Students are waiting; you need to get off.”

He expressed concern that I wasn’t taking his problem with the scanner seriously. Which, to be fair, I wasn’t. For one thing, he hadn’t reported the issue to me until I told him to finish up; had he really been concerned that the problem was with the scanner, rather than himself, he should have come to the desk an hour and a half ago when it first occurred; were it a legitimate issue with the scanner, I would have been very glad to hear about it.

For another, the pressing issue, to me, was that he was still on the scanner : “I will report the problem you experienced to the IT department, and if anyone else [gesturing toward assembled students] experiences the same issue, I will report that as well, but right now, what needs to happen, is that you need to get off the scanner.”

Do you think it’s self-absorbed that I only remember my side of the conversation? I worry about that sometimes. Although maybe in this case it’s because I had to say essentially the same exact thing 6 times before it finally registered with Larry David that my unsympathetic stance was not going to change, and that the only acceptable resolution to this stand-off he and I were having was for him to get the hell off the scanner already.

Which he did. He left the library quickly thereafter, and I am pleased to report that he has not reappeared in that particular library since then. He has, however, shown up in other of the IIIWIW’s libraries and, when difficulties with their scanners have lead some staff members to direct him back toward my library, his response has been “No, I prefer not to go there.” I take full credit for that.


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