Confessions of a Public Service Employee
Okay, so, in the past I wrote a hub titled “Quotes to help you survive your public service job”. I collect quotes as a hobby and one day I discovered that a number of them made me feel slightly better about my job. However, no amount of quotes or inspirational speeches could undo the damage that has been done to my spirit or suck the venom out of my veins. Public (or customer) service is the scourge of the job world. Now, I’m not saying it’s the worst job; I’m sure there are more disgusting/back breaking occupations out there with people who deserve a lot more credit than they’re getting, but as I’ve never worked those jobs, I can only vouch for the pure evil of serving the public. Allow me to elaborate.
(Disclaimer: I will not reveal where I work, or who anyone related to each subject is, in order to protect the innocent. All you need to know is that I work at a library and I deal with the public computers. If you were to somehow discover where I work or who I’m talking about, I will deny everything.)
Someone s**t on the coats.
Maybe someone could explain to me why poop is such a crucial part of public service. Now, I don’t want to get on anyone for smelling like poop. I understand that personal hygiene is out of some peoples’ reach, whether because of cost or poor living conditions, but that doesn’t explain why people seem to poop everywhere but the toilet. I’ve seen poop on the toilet seat, poop on the bathroom floor and, yes, even poop in the children’s section of the library. Maybe someone has an explosive bowel or maybe it was a message that they didn’t like our service, but all it says to me is that the general public is barely distinguishable from monkeys throwing their feces.
Porn, porn, everywhere.
When management decided to offer internet access to the general public, I doubt their intention was to broaden the market for pornography. Yet, it seems that’s about all they accomplished. Sure, there are people who use public computers for legitimate reasons. I see job applications, resumes and homework projects on a daily basis, but for every well mannered patron, there are a slew of others burning eight hour days on facebook, youtube and any porn site they can minimize quickly before I arrive. What I can’t understand is; how can one get any pleasure out of watching pornography while surrounded by a room full of strangers? You’d be surprised by how often it happens and how many people have received bans for it. You might also be surprised by how many people try to justify it (even when a child is sitting next to them) because ‘it’s a free country’. I’m sure when the founders of the USA were signing the declaration of independence they were secretly thinking “Sweet, we can totally look at boobs now.” The only thing worse than a patron watching porn, is a patron touching themselves in the chair while watching porn. It’s happened twice so far.
In general, I couldn’t tell you how many people have been banned during my employment there, porn related or otherwise, but if I had to guess I would say it’s around 50 over the course of 8 years. Our bans can range from 1 day to 1 year with lifetime being the cap. I don’t know how many people have received a lifetime ban, but I do know that it has happened, and I do know that the majority of our bans are repeat offenders. It got so bad one year that we had to hire an independent security guard to police the library. I don’t know which is sadder, that we needed him in the first place, or that we no longer have him despite that continued need.
To those who have worked in public service, how would you rate your experience?
This building is for the public, so that means I can sleep here.
One would think that the most popular teen hangout would be the mall or some trendy coffee shop, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way when a gaggle has set up shop in the local library. Maybe a quiet group of nerdy teens wouldn’t be a problem, but instead we got the kind that make out, shout, and vandalize every chance they get. I can only assume that they are homeless, since they have made multiple attempts to sleep in our parking garage and on our roof. Therefore, the library is the only place to go. The problem is that the people who should be helping/dealing with these teens (public safety, charities, shelters etc.) are barely aware of their presence while librarians, who got a degree to help with books, not troubled youth, are too busy fighting them to be quiet. Then, of course, there’s the elderly who probably don’t intend to fall asleep, but do anyway. It’s just another one of those things where you hear about pooping and sleeping in a place where you’re supposed to be reading, and it kind of makes you scratch your head. But the reality of it is; your local public library has become a catchall for the homeless and the delinquents in your city. The bigger the library, the worse the problem.
You have a nick name, and that new policy is because of you.
Sometimes individual patrons are so incredibly bad that we have to craft unique policies and restrictions based on their actions alone. For example, if you wonder why one day school printing went from being free, to being free up to 20 pages, then you can safely assume that someone took advantage of it and printed 100+ pages claiming they were school related. It’s just like those weird state laws like not leaving your alligator on the sidewalk. It doesn’t make sense, but someone had to do it in order for that rule to exist. The unfortunate side of this is that, over the years, so many rules are compiled that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. New employees have to read through a stack of rules, each one more confusing than the last. We’re told to use our own best judgment because even our supervisors can’t take the time to memorize all the crazy rules we’ve adopted.
Also, if you’re a repeat offender, chances are we all know your face and you have a nick name (because we don’t know your real one). I won’t use any real nick names I’ve heard/created, but just as an example, if you wear camo pants, we might call you army guy. Or, if you have a large mustache we may call you crazy mustache. They can range from perfectly harmless to needlessly mean, which is why we will never admit them. It’s not nice, but it’s unavoidable when you need to warn your fellow employees and you don’t know someone’s name. If you want to avoid getting a nick name, don’t cause trouble, and don’t be a regular.
You just got zerged.
There’s a term in video games called ‘zerging’. It came from the game ‘Starcraft’ wherein a race of bug-like monsters produce ‘zerglings’. On their own, zerglings are relatively weak, but they’re so easy to produce that you can have an army of them overpowering your enemy by sheer numbers alone. Therefore, every time you get overwhelmed by numbers, you are being ‘zerged’. I bring this up for two reasons. The first is because it is an accurate description of patronage to my library on any given day. The second reason is because it’s nicer to say ‘zerg’ than it is ‘ClusterF**k’. Though the latter is the word I use every time my wife asks how my day was. On average our 23 computers pull in about 150 people (in a 12 hour day). In a year that’s about 39,000 (only counting business days). Now, in my department, any money we pull in is based on 15 cent printouts. We also provide headphones, flash drives and faxing, but the majority of our revenue comes from printing. On any given work day we pull in about $30 at the end of the night. In a year that is $7,800. It might not seem like much on an annual scale, but when you consider it’s coming from small, 15 cent transactions, it’s kind of surprising. Anyway, my point in all of this is that a lot of people say libraries are becoming obsolete, and yet the demand for them only seems to have risen since I started working here. And, all of these numbers I’ve provided are rough estimates, it might be higher, and it doesn’t take into account any other department.
The Wall of WTF?
Every once and a while, there are incidents that defy any sort of reason. They make you question if they actually happened or if you slipped into a momentary coma and dreamed something that ridiculous. Maybe that guy didn’t just quack at me and walk away. Maybe that androgynous Goth wasn’t really on their friend’s leash. Maybe that guy is joking when he asks for a different seat because the person next to him has a bad aura (he insisted he was an alien). I don’t have any problem with people being weird, but seriously, wtf?
Fame and Infamy
At some point in my life I would like to be an author. The fame associated with it wouldn’t be much, but the potential to be recognized is still there. I’ve accepted this and would be more than happy to be recognized for my hard work. However, working in public service affords a different kind of fame, one that is local and just as detestable as the job itself. As someone who works with computers, I’m constantly asked questions when I’m off the job about how to fix this or that, to the point that I was interrupted mid-meal and mid-conversation if I would solve someone else’s computer problem. Mind you this was at a restaurant and the patron was asking on behalf of some other person. Then, of course, there are the comments while I’m shopping such as “isn’t that the guy from the library?” or “Shouldn’t you be at the library?” It’s much like when students see their teachers outside of school and are shocked to discover they have a life. The difference, however, is that my patrons are grown men and women and thus, should know better, or at least understand that I don’t want my job to follow me every where I go. If I enjoyed public service, it might not be a problem, but there’s nothing worse than getting recognized for something you hate (anyone who has been featured on failblog probably knows what I’m talking about).
But, unfortunately, you’re putting your face and your name out there when you serve the public, so everyone just assumes that you’re their best friend. They tell you all sorts of stories about their latest root canal or their shaky relationship with their ex-husband, but you must surely want to hear this because you’re behind the desk/counter. Apparently ‘counselor’ and ‘psychiatrist’ are a hidden part of the job description. Then there is another downside that is quite possibly the worst form of fame from public service; harassment. Whether it’s a person with a crush on you, snot-nosed teens, or a bored old guy; someone now remembers you and is going out of their way to make your life a living hell. I recently experienced this in the ‘snot-nosed teen’ variety. In fact, it’s the reason I wrote this article. There just comes a time in ones life where getting jerked around by cocky children is the equivalent of hitting rock bottom. I got my degree, I work hard, I’m generally a nice person, so why do I deserve this harassment? Sure, the job market sucks, but there comes a point in time where keeping a job that you hate is almost worse than having no job at all. I’m at that threshold right now, teetering on a tight rope between madness and depression. If I stay, surely my soul will be destroyed. If I leave, the debt and the personal shame would be too much to handle.
Now, I don’t want to say that Public Service has entirely broken my spirit. I’d like to think that I still have hope and a general positive view that things will turn out okay. But, as for my view of the public, I can only offer you the following memory. One night I was working during a particularly heavy rainstorm. I generally don’t hear them where I work because the building is fairly soundproof. So, when I heard the sound of trickling water, my first thought was “Oh crap, one of them is peeing”. It wasn’t “Uh oh, the roof is leaking”, which would be the much more logical conclusion. So, after years of suffering at the whims of the public, I have such a low opinion that I picture them whipping it out and urinating on the floor before I would assume that the building has sprung a leak. I believe that is the definition of sad.