Friday, December 9, 2011

Pour me another glass of champagne

I occasionally mention the library where I am Lead Circulation Clerk (not a librarian). This means that I do lots of day to day organizational things and manage the work load to make sure everything gets done. I also get the joy of being the go-to person when a patron calls for "Someone Else Who Can Help Me." Some days there are very few problems- I mean really how many complaints can there be in a place that gives you stuff for free??? Well, there are also a few rules to deal with at the library, as we all know, so that's when we usually have Situations. And today was one of those crazy days (several times) but the most outrageous disagreement came when a woman came to return some books she had put on "Claimed Returns" (like it sounds, this means she told us at some point in the past that she had already returned them and that we had made a mistake by not checking them in).

She walked up to the desk (see picture below- that's not her in the purple dress) with her books and gave them to the circulation clerk. She said that she had returned them and they had been found on our shelves so she shouldn't have to pay the fines. Meredith (aforementioned clerk) did not believer her (checks the woman's card) and said that they could not have been found on the book shelves as we had done several searches. On it goes until the conversation becomes heated enough that the woman asks for "Someone Else..." So Meredith came to find me outside (I was on break).

She explained the situation and I walked in prepared to be firm as I knew that we had looked diligently for the items (I had looked personally and remembered the search) "Sorry you have to pay the fines on books you return this late, we did a search here and did not find them," preparing my speech.

So... I'm firm, "Sorry ma'am but we did look for your items and they were not here so..."

 "You don't understand," the woman said wiping her eyes, tear-stained, obviously angry, "I was out of the country. My daughter returned the books. She brought them in and put them on the shelf. They were here."  Incredulous might be too tame a word for the moment. There's a little bell ringing in my ear as the words work their way around to the processing part of my brain, "Her daughter walked in and put them on a shelf in a library with 70,000 other books. Just randomly. And she thinks that is returning them." It made the lap about 3 times before I said, "but the books are here." (Aha! caught her, she's just making this up!) "Yes, I told her to come to the library last week and find them. Then I would bring them back to show you." 

*deep breath* "Uh-huh. Well, I am sorry but you have to return them in a book drop or at this desk. We have one outside, one over there and you could also hand them to the people here or that one. But you can't expect us to be responsible for items that are just returned and put on the shelf. You are responsible for them until they are returned and they were not returned in the proper way. But the good news is, you are not paying for the books, you are only paying the late fines."

"It was too much," still adamant. "I could buy these books." 

Three study books for nursing school, with CDs. "Nope, I'm sorry but these books would cost much more than $10 each. You can pay $10 a month or even $5 dollars but the fines are going to have to be paid."  

"They were here, safe and sound." Yup safe and sound but lost- proverbial needles in a haystack.

"I'm sorry." It's all I could say.


  1. ugh. I'M sorry. conflict and i don't agree, not at all, so i can imagine this situation being no fun at all. hope champagne helped. :)

  2. Sounds like you handled the situation well..but I am really uncomfortable with such people myself, it's bad enough that they refuse to give in when you KNOW you have a point and they are wrong...but then you also have to try and find the right words to make them understand your side while remaining calm and professional. Well done though :)

  3. Oh how awful. If it were me, I would have waived the fines. I can understand how a girl could have misunderstood what returning the books would mean and then placed them on the shelf. I could understand that.

    I'm not saying you were a bad person. But yeah I woulda handled it differently.

  4. Sounds like you handled the situation very well.

  5. Sarah: I don't like conflict either so I try to handle these situations as calmly as I can- listening to what the person in front of you is saying can help to ease the frustration and that was part of what was making her so angry. My clerk didn't quite hear the whole story even though it didn't make a difference in the fine situation.

    Zella: Thanks. I get better over time I think.

    Michael: Unfortunately I didn't have the power to erase all her fines. She had allowed the account to go into collections which means I can't erase those fines or I get in trouble. If she had offered to pay the collection fee ($20) I might have gotten rid of the rest or if she would have paid $5, I might have put in the account to waive some of the fines once she'd paid the collection account off. But I can't do that while there is a collection fee on the account. But I also can't offer to waive fines if she's not willing to pay anything- and she wasn't.

    LadyFi: Thanks! I did try...

  6. Um, yeah - there's always going to be these battles with library clients. I work in a library too and people will try all sorts of things!

    Unfortunately at my library, there ARE a fair number of 'human error' situations which mean we kind of have to eat humble pie & waive people's fines. Some of our employees aren't trained that well it seems ;)

  7. What an uncomfortable conversation! It sounds like you handled it well, but ugh -- I hate having to deal with those kinds of heated situations!

  8. Trisha: We have human error too which is why we have a "claimed returns" process. We look about three times and then we make them go lost. But if items don't get checked in and we find them on the shelf we completely eat the fines. But there are many cases where people turn in items and think they also turned in that one DVD (or book) and then find it behind the couch. At my branch we also have the capability that if the book is paid for and then we find it, we can credit the person's account. We're not really supposed to do that, but it creates good will I think.

    Emily: It was not fun and I was a bit wound up after all that, but I am getting more accustomed to being in a tight spot.

  9. I wonder if the woman didn't have the $$ to pay the fine?

    Another reason why I prefer e-books. No late fees.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Liz: Anyone that doesn't have the money to pay $5 on their fines isn't going to have the money for a ereader. And yes, it is possible that she didn't have the money but then she had already waited a week to come in to take care of it, I think she could have waited longer until she had some money. I recognize that you are just getting what I wrote and I didn't try give you the full atmosphere but when my clerks call me in they are dealing with belligerent/angry people not because someone doesn't have the money. I go into situations trusting that the clerks at my branch would have offered to waive some fines if the situation called for it. They have that authority, No, her attitude was that she didn't think she had to pay- .

    Those that throw themselves on the mercy of the court (so to speak) and explain their financial situation usually have some of the fines waived. It requires some self control, I realize, but courtesy and honesty get you somewhere. Those that try to manipulate, finagle and bully are less likely to have a sympathetic ear.

  12. My friend Tomeka saw the comment you left on my "salvation army" post from Friday and LOVED it. She said she wished that she could press "like" on the comment hehe. She added to what you said with her own experiences.

  13. Hi Danette! This is why I buy all my books. The local library here now allows you to check out books on Kindle, so I MIGHT try that out. But physical books, they'd get lost and forgotten about. I rather read them, then sell them back as used on Amazon if it's not a keeper. Meet many sociopaths? That lie sounds like the spawn of one that couldn't part with 10 bucks. I think you did the right thing.

  14. What a sticky situation. I love our library. :)

  15. Yep, we have the claim return thing too, it's a setting on our library management system that we can give items, and then people have to fill out a stat dec ;)

  16. Oh wow. Did she pay in the end? It's amazing how she thought it was okay to have her daughter put them on the shelf? People who use libraries know how the system works, right?

    And yes, a nice glass of champers is in order after that! ;-)

    Happy writing my friend!

  17. Tomeka: Thanks! I tried to do the right thing.

    MPax: *nods head* Libraries are good.

    Trisha: What ILS do you use?

    Talei: She didn't pay and when I spoke to my coworker about it again yesterday, we were still astonished at the lengths people will go to avoid paying fines- big or little.

  18. We're on Horizon (SirsiDynix), and have been since 1999! haha


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