Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Library Enforcer

When I got to work Monday morning, I wondered what the over/under would be on the number of times I'd have to ask students to turn down the music on their headphones this week. I put it at 15.

It's a part of my job that I hate, but even more than that, I hate having to listen to that tinny, chirping beat emanating out of their ears from 30 feet away. People may be having a conversation at the same decibel level, but that doesn't bother me like the headphone music does. It's like a bee buzzing around your face. And really, if I can hear something buried in your ear from that far away, IT'S TOO LOUD! (This is not a big brother thing. I don't give a damn about your hearing. I just don't want to have to listen to your tiny music in the library.)

Toronto Transit agrees with me.

So I tap them on the shoulder, make eye contact, and do the universal sign for turning down the volume-- twisting my thumb and forefinger around an imaginary knob. When they remove the headphones and look at me, I say with a smile on my face, "Could you turn that down a little? I can hear it all the way over there." And point over to my desk.

They might get annoyed or embarrassed or incredulous, but they all comply. Sometimes they ask, "You can hear that?" as if I am some super human with canine hearing. Yes, sadly, I can. And I get really tired of having to ask people to turn down their music, but if I didn't do it, the library would be overrun with competing headphones blaring from every direction.


The only other policing I have to do in the library is about food. Since our library renovation, we now have an upstairs lounge with vending machines where people can eat and drink. But the main floor, with the computers and computer lab, is still off-limits for eating.

Not our sign, but I wish it was.

So when I see someone with food at a computer, I have to ask them to take it upstairs to the 2nd floor.

Which is what happened today. A student walked past my desk on her way to the lab with a (personal-sized) pizza she'd just bought at the campus Subway.

"Um, I'm sorry, but there's no eating in the computer lab," I tell her. She says, "Okay, I'm just going to put it in my bag." I'm not crazy about this idea, but what can I do? If she really puts it in her bag, she's not eating it.

Twenty minutes later, I go into the lab to attend to the printer, and what do I see? Pizza Girl, with the pizza box in front of her, chewing on something. (The pizza box is closed.) I say, "I told you there's no eating in here, and I see you eating. You'll have to take that upstairs."

She argues with me. "I'll put it in my bag and won't eat any more. I'm not hurting anyone." She's working on a group project with some other people. "I've been here since 10:00 this morning." (It's about 3:00 pm.)

"I understand that," I say, "But there are places on campus where you can eat and places where you can't."

I leave the room, fuming. The pizza in the room bothers me, but worse than that is the fact that SHE LIED TO ME. When she did that, she made this a power struggle, and now I have to be an asshole and call her on it. I'm not hurting anyone, she says. But she is. She's hurting me.

She's forcing me to defend a policy that, while I agree with it, certainly brings up some grey areas. A water bottle? Yeah, okay, I'll look the other way on that. But a fucking pizza? In the computer lab? I can't ignore that. I'm not in the mood to get into a policy debate over why we don't allow food in the library. It's been debated by faculty, staff, and administration for years. The decision was made. I'm enforcing that decision.

Two minutes later I go back into the lab. The pizza box is still sitting there, closed, while she works. I tell her, "Look, I can smell the pizza in the room. If someone else comes in and smells that, they get the wrong impression. You need to take it out."

She continues to try to argue with me, but thankfully, the guy she's working with is very reasonable and says they'll leave. He's polite and asks about the lounge area upstairs. (Unfortunately there are no computers up there.) Finally they pack up all their things and leave, and he apologizes for causing trouble. I'm thankful that he was there, or the situation might have escalated.

I came away from it feeling like the trollish little nazi who kicked some diligent students out of the library.

But seriously... pizza in a public computer lab? Isn't that common sense?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

One would THINK it would be common sense.

However, in our computer section, there is a sign explicitly stating that you may not eat or drink around the computers. Our security guard has taken away everything from a cup of tea in a legit teacup and saucer to leftover ribs from Outback Steakhouse.

Then there was the girl who brought in her footlong Subway sandwich that was so strong, you could smell it from the front of the library.

Some people. . .