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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

10 Things I Never Learned in Library School, part 1 (Karen J)

Yesterday Christie shared a fab post about that parts of your job as a librarian that they don’t prepare you for in library school.  As someone who works with teens, you often get invited into their inner sanctuary.  There is nothing that will prepare you for some of the things that you will encounter while working with teens.  Here is a look at 10 situations that I have encountered that library school could never have prepared me for.

I Never Learned About The Grandmother
I once had a grandmother come in asking for a book she could give to her 14-year-old granddaughter so she could learn to “take care of her own needs” and not end up a pregnant teenager.  And yes, we have a book for that.

I Never Learned How to Handle The Gang
One day a very large teenager was beating up a very small teenager (at the time I thought he was in 3rd grade).  So I called the police.  The next day the very large teenager approached me with 4 other teen boys – holding a sledgehammer I might add – while I was sitting in a chair.  He put an arm on each chair arm, pinning me in, and said, “You better not ever call the police on me again.”  Because I am not always smart, I looked him right in the eye and said, “You better not ever give me a reason to.”  I’d like to say that ended the situation, but I once stopped to get gas at a gas station and he approached me again; thankfully the gas station attendant came out because he could see the teen was threatening me.  I ended up having to file a harassment report and the teen was permanently banned from the library for obvious safety reasons.

I Never Learned About the Pick-up Artist
I once had a teenage boy who kept calling me “sexy” at my programs.  After asking him not to, repeatedly, I finally asked him to leave.  His father came in and complained so we had to have a meeting where the father assured me that I should feel flattered.  I pointed out that this was in fact sexual harassment but he didn’t agree.  In the end they did, however, he did agree that if he was going to keep coming to library programs he couldn’t talk to me that way.  He eventually stopped coming around – he probably realized I was actually pretty old LOL.

I Never Learned How Deadly a Pencil Can Be
In the first few years of my after school program, there were some definite behavior issues.  One day a young man stabbed another young man with a pencil in the arm.  To this day that boy, now a grown up, has a little blue dot on his arm where the pencil tip went in.  Why it turned blue I will never know.  We shut down the after school program for a couple of weeks to send a message and it really helped to turn things around.  Soon the teens began policing each other and overall we had a lot fewer problems.

I Never Learned How to Talk to a Teen About Abortion
One of the saddest incidents that I have ever had to deal with involved a young girl, only 14 years old, who had an abortion at 22 weeks pregnant.  I think about her often and hope that she is doing well.

I Never Learned How to Handle a Teen Who Was Possessed
In my early days as a teen librarian, I was completely surprised when a young man came in and asked me for books on exorcism; he believed he was possessed by a demon and wanted to get it out.  I am not going to lie, that was a scary moment for me because it was such a delicate situation.

I Never Learned What to do About the Kiss
A couple of years ago, a girl that we knew to be 14 was seen hanging out with a man we knew to be 22 years old or older.  Soon, a patron came in and said that she had seen them kissing and that the girl had left with him.  We called the police.  This is one of those moments when I thought for sure I was going to lose my job but when the police asked if we knew who the man was I said yes.  It turns out this qualifies as a crime in progress, exigent circumstances, and I was all good.

I Never Learned How to Handle Suicide
Everyone, including me, was stunned to be touched by the suicide of a teen.  Like Christie, I have been with teens after they found out one of their friends had passed away, but having someone you know and care for take their own life can be shocking and traumatizing in ways that we can’t imagine.

I Never Learned How to Turn Graffiti into Advocacy
Honestly, sometimes even the worst situations turn out to have the best outcomes. When we caught a group of kids doing graffiti on our library building, I never could have imagined that one of those kids would turn out to be one of my biggest library advocates and an actual friend as he became an adult.

I Never Learned to Buy My Underwear Out of Town
I love when I am out and about around town and my teens come and talk to me . . . unless I am in the underwear section of my local store holding a bra in my hand.  And of course the teen talking to me was a teenage boy.  That is how I learned to shop out of town for my privies.  No one wants to stand and talk to their teenage patrons in the underwear section of the local department store.

I know you all have your own stories to share, so please do so in the comments . . .


  1. I Never Learned How to Deal with Injury
    One of our volunteers, a middle-aged woman, fainted while shelving books, and she hit her head on a lower shelf while falling. There was blood all over the place. As the librarian in charge that day, I had to call 911. The volunteer was okay, though quite shaken; we were worried she might have a concussion.

    I Never Learned How to Deal with a Fire in the Library
    It happened on a Saturday, I was one of the librarians on duty; I was 7 months pregnant. As I stood on the front lawn after ushering everyone out from my area, I had to deal with patrons who insisted they needed to return and pay for their overdue books. When I told them they couldn't go inside because there was a fire, first they decided I was lying, then they'd dump their books on me, usually with a curse. It was one of the most unpleasant afternoons I have ever experienced as a librarian.

  2. I Never Learned How to Deal with a Fire Drill

    In one library, our City was very serious about fire drills in public buildings. We had one scheduled for a certain day and the alarms went off. We went into our evacuate the building mode, but one young mother, with her baby girl, refused to leave, telling us it was her “happy baby” time and our drill was interfering. We all laughed about her later and wondered how she'd feel if it were “crispy baby” time.

  3. Oh my! And for the record, don't you just love being cursed at?

  4. Ah yes, safety is such an inconvenience. I have had patrons refuse to get in the safe place when tornado sirens are going off. I'm not waiting for you! We once had an overnight and the cotton candy machine caused the smoke alarm to go off. The children's librarian didn't evacuate because she knew it was the cotton candy machine but the fire dept. did not agree and we had to go through fire safety training.

  5. The underwear story, besides making me laugh, reminds me of a similar situation I had, though with a former student rather than a library patron. He had been a college freshman in a course I TAed, and about a year later, ended up being the pharmacist who handed me my birth control. He had the grace not to mention the class or our relationship – though when he did ask me (as all CVS pharmacists do) if I had any questions about the medication, I assured him I was all set.

  6. I am just starting library school, but one lesson I've learned after working in the library that I am sure I will not learn in school is similar to your underwear story. I've learned to be very discreet when buying personal items (tampons etc) or alcohol.

    I will be interested to see the differences between what is taught to a variety of students, vs what I've learned working in a public, urban, library.

  7. Our libary had 2 patrons ask, “Do I really have to leave?”, when our fire alarm went off. We could smell something burning even. It turned out to be the heating system that was being worked on, but all I could think is, “Is Facebook really that important?” because that was all they were doing.

  8. I never learned how to be a narcotics dog in library school.

  9. I will never understand why patrons won't leave during a fire drill or go to our shelter area during a tornado warning. During one fire drill a couple of years ago my supervisor had to threaten to unplug one patron's laptop in order to get him to leave.

  10. Yes! Tampons, birth control, alcohol, underwear – buy them all out of town!! LOL

  11. I found my MLS education invaluable, but people are surprising and work with the public you will have many strange – and many wonderful – encounters.

  12. At some point are you allowed to leave them if they refuse to leave? I would want at some point to say sorry but I'm not willing to die for FB. I don't get it either.

  13. I have only had a feed encounters with drugs thankfully. I wish none of us had to deal with them. You're doing awesome things remember!

  14. I will never understand it either. Sigh.

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