Library Woes

Rarely, rarely, rarely do I have issues with using the public library. I’m a librarian, I know how it works. So, imagine my surprise when a library worker (not a librarian, a staff person without an MLIS) screwed up the finely hones system I’ve taken YEARS to build.

Here’s the skinny.

You are supposed to have a library card in the area where you live. Primarily, this is done by county. However, there are some exceptions. The city of St. Paul has their own system, even though they are in Ramsey County. Washington County libraries Stillwater and Bayport are indpendent libraries, even though they are within the county. There are other independent branches as well (South St. Paul and Columbia Heights to name two).

Essentially, you get the library card in your home area and done. Now, intrepid library users, such as myself, are aware of the fact that the seven main counties in the Twin Cities (Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, Dakota, Scott and Carver) are all part of a consortium called MELSA (MEtropolitan Library Service Agency). And MELSA allows for reciprocal borrowing in any county, so long as you register your card.

So, I could take my Washington County card and use it in Hennepin County, as I did when I worked there. I’ve had my same Wash Co card since I first got a card at the now gone Rosalie Wahl library in Lake Elmo, in 1990. Nearly 23 years I’ve had the same card, with the same number and I use it….heavily. I have that card number memorized and use it close to daily.

I’ve registered that same card, from Washington County; in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota, and Scott counties. I’ve never registered it in Carver because I’ve never been to a library there. I’ve registered it in the City of St. Paul, at Stillwater, Bayport, S. St. Paul, and Columbia Heights. It used to be registered in MPLS before they merged with Hennepin. It has taken me years to get this card to be exactly as I want it. One number, one PIN, to use at virtually any library I want. And I do! I take advantage of my freedom by shopping for the shortest wait on popular titles. I use it in Hennepin because they are the biggest and I can often find obscure titles. I’ll use it to access databases that one system carries but others do not. I use it in Ramsey County because they allow me to check out audio books online without having a Ramsey Co card. (Hennepin does not).

Now, I get that I should have gotten a new card, but really, most people don’t use their cards as much as I do and it is a damned inconvenience for me to change. Also, given where I moved, I’m actually still close to Washington County and use my regular Oakdale branch quite often. And there is the fact that technically I live in Ramsey County, but because of where I live, I am closer to several of the St. Paul branches than ANY of the Ramsey Co branches. I live in a weird tail of Ramsey County that most people consider St. Paul or Washington County. So, if I had to change, I’d prefer a St. Paul card.

Having said all of that, the crux of this is; I don’t want to change. It has been more than two years and I’ve kept the status quo, no problems have arisen. I keep my account current, I pay any (minimal) fines I accrue and I don’t abuse the system, not ever.

Flash to last Thursday night. Whenever I used Ramsey County, in the past, I have always used the Maplewood branch. However, it could not be less convenient for me to get to. I finally realized that the North St. Paul branch was actually not a terrible drive from my house and decided to switch that to my home branch.

I asked the guy checking me out if he could switch the pickup location of my holds from Maplewood to NSP. He said, “did you move?” I confirmed that I did, but just thought of switching quite recently. He said, “okay, let’s go ahead and update your account while we’re at it.”

No problem, I’ve done it a million times.


He took a look at my shiny new license and said, “oh you live in Maplewood. That’s Ramsey County {duh} so you need to get a Ramsey County card.”

I smiled politely at him and said, “well, actually, I am choosing NOT to get a RCL card.” And I explained to him, succinctly, that it is an inconvenience for me. He said, ‘you HAVE to have a card where you live.”

Um, no you don’t. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve used this card for two years after moving. Clearly, it doesn’t matter that much.

While I was protesting, he just went ahead and made me a RCL card and deleted my old one from the system. OVER MY OBJECTION AND WITHOUT MY CONSENT.

I was livid. This is ridiculous. I get that there are rules. I get that everyone would prefer that I just follow the rules, but I am not hurting anyone. And given the state of hurting public libraries, they should be down on their damn knees thanking me for using as many as I possibly can, proving their value; at least to me.

I’ve worked in public libraries for years. I currently moonlight in a public system. I know that while it is preferable that I shut my mouth, get the new card and set it up, after hearing me protest, he should have stopped what he was doing and given in. There are ways around the rules, as I have proven. But, he wouldn’t listen.

After handing me the new card and insisting I sign it, I said, “look, I’m trying to be patient here, but I do not want a new RCL card, I’m happy with the card I have.” And he said, “you can’t use that card in RCL, but I won’t take it from you. You should return it to Washington Co, though and only use the new card.”

You won’t take it from me?

Try it and we’ll see what happens, jackass.

He was so infuriating and aggravating and insulting. I thoroughly disliked his cardigan-wearing self.

So, I left that night, defeated and angry and frustrated. And I thought, if I weren’t such an avid library user, what part of that transaction would have convinced me to go back?  Can libraries, in this day and age, afford to alienate anyone?

As it is, I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason to go back to using any Ramsey Co library, especially since they deactivated my account and I no longer can access my information online. I can’t check the due dates of the books I just checked out. I can’t renew items. Oh, I probably could, with the new card, but it’s at home and I’m not. Only my memory and I can’t use the number I know.

What to do (other than complain on my blog)?

Well, I looked up the branch manager’s name and wrote her an email. I figured that I would explain myself and see what she has to say. If she gives the right answer, “yes, bring in your old card and we’ll re-register it and you can keep using it” then I will keep using RCL. If not, then I’m cutting them out. If it causes more problems than it solves then it really isn’t serving its purpose anyway.

And that is one of the only times I’ve ever actually complained about a public library. For the most part, I love love love them. They are amazing and offer untold secrets if you know where to look. But, frankly, they pissed off the wrong librarian.

6 thoughts on “Library Woes

    • No, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to play that card, I think it’s pretentious. Besides he shouldn’t treat anyone like that, librarians or otherwise. And I will keep you posted if/when I hear from her.

    • I disagree. The fact that I’m a librarian doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that I am an avid library user. That’s the point.

  1. I agree! Sometimes you have to call a dumbass, a dumbass! You’re right though, he should not treat anyone like that! But, the ordinary person probably wouldn’t speak up or even know that he was wrong…you should have put him in his place.

    • Except we’re talking about a lowly library worker. He was doing his job. I think it was stupid, and his manner was inappropriate, but he was doing his job.

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