Annals of Patron Behavior
The Last, Immortal Freebie
At my branch, I’m in charge of keeping the displays of free literature up to date and in good order, a more complicated task than you may think. It is true that a single patron can completely trash the freebies area in about 60 seconds, taking one copy of each item off its stack and then flinging the heap back into the display area or, worse yet, leaving the items strewn about the stacks. Patrons will use your freebie area as a trash receptacle, recycling center, or diaper-changing station. Some patrons seem incapable of taking one copy off the top of its stack without knocking the rest of the stack over and onto all the other items. All these infelicities come with the territory of distributing free literature – in our place, items such as city bus schedules, bike-route maps, guides to water-saving landscaping with desert plants, guides to senior housing, voter registration forms, parks & recreation schedules, arts center schedules, local community college class schedules and, in season, tax forms.
You have to make sure that out-of-date stuff gets pulled, and you need to restack messed up items in order to keep the area from looking like the immediate aftermath of a bomb blast. And you need to be sharp and quickly remove all the extraneous crap . . . er, I mean items . . . that show up uninvited, such as 10-percent-off offers on tantric massage at the local spa, offers of surefire get-rich schemes involving foreclosed-upon properties, deals on psychic readings, discounts on wholistic dog grooming, and so on and so forth.
Someone -- both patient and reasonably anal-retentive -- has to keep on top of this stuff, and we librarians (ahem!) are just the guys to do it.
I have observed some curiously consistent behavior by patrons relating to free literature. You can put out a big stack of high-demand items (such as the local community college class schedule a week prior to registration), and the copies will positively fly off the stack until . . . you get to the last one, which will sit there and sit there with nary a patron to take it. It is in fact more likely that this last copy will self-destruct from the slow acidic decomposition of the cellulose in its paper than be taken by a patron.
What the heck is going on here?
I have resorted to placing a Post-It on such an item that states “Yes, this is the last copy. Someone should take it. If not you, then who?” This has occasionally worked.
Some of our patrons -- not all, mind you, since I am not generalizing nor stereotyping here -- would relieve us of every one of our movie DVDs (even the art films that get checked out every leap year or so) if they could get away with them, or would take the urinal off the men’s room wall if it weren’t bolted there and if they had a pocket big enough, or would line their shorts with Ziploc bags to steal coffee from our onsite Starbuck's clone.
And yet they will not take the last copy remaining from what began as a big stack of very popular freebies.
They would, I must say, rather choke and die right in front of the freebie display than take the last copy of one of these items.
Is some vestigial sense of community and unselfishness kicking in here? “Oh, that’s the last one. I couldn’t possibly hog it for myself.” But if so, why doesn’t it kick in when they steal our last copy of “Raising Arizona”?
Maybe this behavior is related to the phenomenon of the used refrigerator. Couple gets a new Frigidaire. (OK, if it’s a boomiyup couple, they get a new Sub-Zero.) What to do with the perfectly functional, clean, old fridge? Who wants to haul the thing to Goodwill, especially if loading it up will put a scratch in the Lexus SUV? Solution? Stick it out front with a sign: “Fridge -- works great. Free. Haul yourself."
Three days -- and three nights -- later, the fridge is still out front.
Couple then replaces the sign with a new sign: “Fridge -- works great. $25. Knock on door.”
Ten minutes later the fridge is gone, and no one has knocked on the door to pay the $25.
Stuff you put a value on is worth stealing. Stuff you give away may linger forever.
Or something like that.
I shall never figure out library patrons.
Lessons Learned from the First Semester
1 month ago