Library Woes Revisited

Remember this tale?

If not, or if you never read it, I beseech you to do so now, otherwise, this will be a confusing post.

Next, I am going to print the email I sent to the branch manager.

Hi Carrie,

 I was in your library (N. St. Paul) on Thursday night to pick up a holds request. My card was out of date and I handed over my ID to the staff member working. Two years ago, I moved from Washington County to Ramsey. I still have my Wash Co card. Your staff member insisted that I get a Ramsey county card. I protested this switch. I am a long time library user and I have had the same card since I first moved to Wash Co, more than 20 years ago. I keep updating my address, but the card and the card number have remained the same. 

In addition, I’ve registered my current card in all the 7 county area MELSA libraries, as well as several independent libraries. I am an avid library user and have my card number memorized. Given the fact that I go out of my way to keep my card current and use it heavily, it is a huge inconvenience for me to change to a new card. 

I tried explaining this to the staff member but he simply would not listen. His response “you have to have a card from where you live.” Clearly that is not true as I’ve lived in Ramsey Co for two years and still use my Wash Co card. Even with my unwillingness, he signed me up for a new library card, without my consent.

 I do not want this new card and I do not plan to use it. At one point he even said to me “I will allow you to keep the old card but you can’t use it here” as though he had some right to confiscate my library card. This is not acceptable.

 I rarely complain and do not wish to do so now. What I would like is for my old card to be updated with my new information and allowed to continue using my Wash Co card, correctly registered in Ramsey Co. As it is, I now have one card for six systems and four independent libraries and a separate card for Ramsey County.

 Can you please tell me how we can make this happen?

 Thank you, 


That was sent directly to the branch manager. I fully expected that she’d email me back and we’d solve the problem. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Two days after I emailed her, she called me. CALLED ME ON MY CELL PHONE. Aside from the grievous breach of etiquette in returning by email, there is the privacy issue as well. Yes, I use my cell phone as my only number, and yes, it is registered with my card, but that does not give her license to use it at will. She could have responded to my email to ask if we could talk via phone, but she did not. So, she had one strike against her going in. Well, two actually, because it should not have taken her two days to respond if she only had to pick up the phone.

While we spoke, she was condescending. She kept referring to complicated policy and repeating things over and over again, as though I couldn’t possibly understand. Never mind the fact that I am highly intelligent, I am also a librarian and incredibly familiar with all these policies, as I had already explained to her. However, she clearly had an agenda and a script in mind and she wasn’t willing to deviate.

Eventually, after more than ten minutes on the phone with her, I simply cut to the chase and said that I wanted my card reinstated in her system. She waffled and wavered and said she had to check with some people. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and she said it wasn’t likely she’d get back to me by the end of the day, but promised to call me no later than Monday the 26th with an answer.

Naturally, she didn’t call on Monday. Or Tuesday. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the business day on Wednesday that she finally called, just to say “the answer is no.” She mentioned speaking with the director. And that’s it.

I was understandably and justifiably upset. What I am asking for, while it may not be strict policy, is not that big of a deal. It costs them nothing. It means a great deal to me.

I’ve been working on composing a letter. I’ve decided to go over her head and approach the library director. I am writing a personal appeal, which I will happily publish here, after I’ve finished it. I am honestly surprised that this is such a big deal. There is no reason under the sun why they should care. Or if there is, no one has shared it with me. It is as though they’ve dug in their heels on some imagined principle and just feel like they need to stand strong.

I promised to keep it updated and I will do so. Anyone else feeling like this is a bizarre reaction to a simple request?

We’ll see what happens next.

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.