Sunday, March 29, 2015

Prison Laugh o' the Day

Our patrons love to look for signs from the universe in everyday occurrences...

Patron: "I saw two spiders! I need to know what that means!"
Me: "You mean, besides that you might have a spider problem?"


Monday, March 23, 2015

I Still Can't Make This Stuff Up!!

Greetings readers! Some of you might remember the post about how I can't make stuff up in prison. (Refresh your memory here:  I Can't Make This Stuff Up)
Well today I had a conversation with this patron about three more missing items for which she was charged. Essentially the jist of the conversation was her saying I shouldn't have charged her because she turned in those books and why would she keep them if she didn't want to pay for them and me disagreeing because I got something back in the mail from her mom THAT HAD BEEN STOLEN FROM THE LIBRARY.
The best part of the conversation?
Patron: "Oh yeah, and my mom wants that book back because she paid for it!"

Prison Laugh o' the Day

Sometimes you just have no idea what you're going to find yourself saying some days...

Patron: "What kinds of books are these?"
Me: "Well, that one is lesbian fiction and the other two are chick-lit/ easy summer reading."
Patron: "So, lesbian as in two girls?"
Me: "Yes."
Patron: "And fiction as in not true?"
Me: "Yes."
Patron: "So, girl on girl and not true story?"
Me: "Yes."
Patron: "AWESOME! Thanks!!!"

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Prison Laugh o' the Day

Patron: "You cut your hair!"
Me: "No I didn't."
Patron: "Yes you did!"
Me: "No. I didn't."
Patron: "Yes you did! You are a fibber."

Little did she know, all I did differently this morning was blow-dry my hair muahahahahahaha!

And now, more interview tips!

This seems to be a popular topic, so here are some more tips that I recently shared with a loyal reader via our new email address:

When I interview people for my library, I like to ask a mix of your "standard" HR questions (i.e. what are your goals for the next 5 years, do you work better alone or in a group, what are your strengths and weaknesses, etc.) and situational questions about things you will encounter in a prison library. The answers I am looking for are not necessarily right or wrong but will give me an idea about your ability to creatively problem solve and your trainability.

Some of my favorite situational questions are:
"A patron comes up to you and tells you he/she was just diagnosed with herpes and they want to learn more about their diagnosis. What do you do?"

"You see two patrons sitting very close and holding hands. Your library has a strict no-touching policy. How do you handle this?"

"A patron comes up to you and starts telling you about their kids. Then, they ask you about your kids. How do you respond?"

"A staff member comes into the library with a severely damaged book and demands to know who has it checked out so they can write the offender up. Your library has a patron privacy policy. What do you do?"

Generally, you will never go wrong with situational questions if you cite policy, or if you say something along the lines of you will follow whatever policy is in place.

I also really like it when candidates have questions for me at the end of the interview. If it's not covered in the intro, it would be good to ask about what kind of training you can expect. Also ask about their collection development policy and what the library looks like.  (If you can take a tour even better.) Ask them what personality type will succeed in this position because you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.  Make sure you take plenty of copies of your resume and get the card of the supervisor so you can send a thank you after the interview.

Good luck with all your interviews, dear readers, and please feel free to ask if you have further questions.

Until next time!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

This is what customer service looks like in prison

Greetings Readers!

The other day, I had a voice mail on my internal-line phone, which is weird because my colleagues usually just hang up and try me on the radio if they get the voice mail.  I checked the message and was surprised to hear that it was one of our recently-returned-to-prison patron's father.  I couldn't hear much of it because it sounded like he had his phone to his shoulder and it kept slipping.  Luckily, he repeated the important information and his phone number at the end of the message so I thought "I am going to take ownership of this person's problem and call him back and see how I can help" since the State is really trying to focus on providing both internal and external customers with excellent service.

That was my first mistake.

When I called this man back, his first words were, "IS THIS THE PRISON LIBRARIAN??"  I replied that it was I, and inquired as to how I could help.  He then launched into a tirade about how his daughter got arrested and her $10,000 car was impounded and he needed to get it and the impound place wouldn't let him get it so he went to the jail and they gave him a form but she wasn't in the jail anymore so the form was no good so he needed first of all us to let her out to see him so she could sign the form and barring that he needed me to get her the form to sign because he just got out of prison himself and he knows that it takes MONTHS to get on the visiting list and it's not right that she should lose a $10,000 car because nobody can go get it so shouldn't somebody be able to help him and if I couldn't then the Warden needed to because it is not right that he can't get her $10,000 car.


Still, I was trying to provide the good customer service, so I said "Ok, let me look into it and I will get back to you."  I contacted the case manager, who said he had already talked to this man and told him he couldn't help him.  I tried the Law Librarian, since it sounded like what he needed was a Power of Attorney form, but as luck would have it, she was out of the facility that day.  Running out of viable options, I Googled the impound place and wrote down the number for him.  I called him back and was treated to another long-winded lecture about how it's not right that she is going to lose her $10,000 car because nobody will help him and we are all terrible people and we are no better than the Communists in China.

Wait, did he just call me a Communist?

Well, I guess I can't get too mad at that, because I do believe that all people should have equitable access to what they need, and I've been called a bleeding heart liberal since I am a librarian, so ok.  If it makes you feel better to call me a Communist then whatever.

"Sir, I am just the Prison Librarian and my sphere of influence is very limited," I told him when he paused for a breath, "I am doing the best I can to help you but at this point I think that your best option is to call the impound place and beg for a few days' mercy due to the circumstances."

He then hung up on me.  Problem solved!

So, dear readers, what did we learn from this?  If random people get transferred to the library, just pass the info to the case manager and leave it at that.  Helping people at that level is WAY above your pay-grade.

After he hung up, I figured I would enter a note on the patron's account just in case he called again, the next person would have a head's up and I found that not only had he talked to me, he had talked to TWO other case managers AND the Warden's Admin.  Who all told him the same thing.

In closing, here is everything I wanted to say but couldn't because of my professional filter:

"Dear Dude, I am very sorry your daughter messed up and violated her parole and got her car impounded.  However, it sounds like she didn't have the best role model growing up.  Generally, when you yell and call people names, they are not going to bend over backwards to help you.  Your daughter losing her car is one of the consequences of bad behavior, and maybe she will think twice next time before violating her parole.  It's not likely, but every time we see her we get another opportunity to help her make better life choices.  I hope you got everything worked out, best of luck to you.  Sincerely, the Prison Librarian to whom you should never have been transferred but who tried to help you anyway and all she got out of it was a funny blog post."

Until next time!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Or, why I don't post blogs every day....
Good evening Readers, and happy St. Patrick's Day!  Whether you are out partying it up because you can and viewing this blog at a later date or reading this blog on the biggest drinking day of the year because you finally have an "adult job" and have to work at 7:30 tomorrow morning, welcome.
I want to say thank you to loyal follower Josh Rimmer for showcasing Mintern and the blog, because thanks to him we had the most views in the shortest amount of time EVER!  But it also got me to thinking--maybe people who are new to the blog have a lot to catch up on, but people who have read all the old posts might be getting bored because I don't post every day.  So I wanted to offer an explanation as to why posts don't show up on a daily basis.
First of all, in the very beginning, my goal was to help one person with their decision to come to prison (as a librarian) and I said if I could help ONE person, I would be happy.  Well about 12 months ago, one of my colleagues told me the following:
Colleague: "You know, you are the reason I'm here."
Me: "Oh really, how so?"
Colleague: "When I was interviewing for this job, it was my third interview and I was still undecided.  So I did some research and came across your blog and I read it and thought, 'I can do this!'"
So, there was my one person, and I was so flattered and excited.  Then Mintern, (and we all know how that's going!) so now I am 200% OF MY QUOTA!  I AM SO AWESOME!
Another reason is that prison is very tiring.  Some days I come home and I am so exhausted from dealing with prison drama and frustrated that I can't put a funny spin on it, and I definitely don't want this blog to become a complain-fest, so I wait until I am in a better mood.
So dear readers, please know that I value each and every one of you and your blog views and a huge thank you to my 5 awesome followers.  Sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day is the thought that I can make people laugh with all the craziness that goes on and it's good to know that I'm not just talking to myself and occasionally my mom.
Until next time!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Adventures with Inventory

Hello dear readers!  Last week we completed an inventory of our library collection.  I did not blog about this right away because of the drama, but I am finally at a place where I can laugh about it.

Compared to most public libraries, our collection is very modest.  We have approximately 9,000 items in circulation which is a little bit low for the size of our population, but I would rather weed books that have pages torn out and coffee stains in them than have the recommended amount of items with half of them being disgusting.  But, prison weeding is a topic for a whole other blog...

Anyway, this was our first inventory in 5 years, and nobody was going to help us.  It was up to us to rely on a text-heavy set of instructions and two borrowed wireless scanners.  Like so many things in prison libraries, we were just going to have to figure it out.  (Note, if you like to work with extensive direction and don't prefer to be adventurous and think for yourself, a prison library may not be the place for you.  On the other hand, if you don't like to be micro-managed and are a creative self-starter, then we'd love to have you!)

About an hour into the inventory, Mintern and I and the clerks were finding our rhythm and actually doing really well.  We overcame the stress of having two computers not set up correctly and just made it work with the other two clerk computers and our staff computers.  Mintern and I had a good system going where we would switch off who was scanning and who was verifying with each cart-load of books.  (Note: you can't think too much when you are just reading strings of numbers from a computer screen or you will transpose them or make other mistakes.  It's very "Librarian Zen" haha.)  We were doing so well in fact, that we finished 4 hours ahead of schedule!

We sent the clerks back and made the necessary notifications that we had completed scanning, then sat back to await our missing items report.  We were very proud of ourselves-and then the phone rang...

Me: "Library, how may I help you?"
IT: "You're going to hate me."
Me: "Um....why?"
IT: "I didn't know the computers were logged in as 'Clerk' so it didn't save any of your work."
Me: "WHAT?!?"
IT: "Yeah, you set it up wrong, so it didn't save to the hard drive."
Me: "Well, how was it supposed to be set up?"
IT: "You were supposed to log in as 'Student.'"
Me: "And how was I supposed to know that?  That information was never communicated to me, nor is it in the instructions!!  Can't you just copy and paste the information onto your computer and email it to us?"
IT: "No, I closed it before I realized it wasn't saved."
Me: "Oh you've got to be kidding me..."
IT: "Nope, sorry."

I hung up then because I couldn't believe it.  ALL that work, and for nothing.  I told Mintern the terrible news, to which she replied, "Ha.  Well that's typical for this place." (That's sad that she knows that and she hasn't even worked here for that long.)

So the moral of this story is that when you are doing a prison inventory, know what important questions to ask IT before you start scanning everything to avoid losing all your information.

The clerks were also dismayed and weren't amused by my explanation that it was a GREAT practice run.  They say we owe them pizza for next time, and I laughed and said "We'll see."  I think IT needs to buy them pizza and possibly come and do all the scanning themselves next time.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mintern's made it to the big time!

Greetings, Readers!  Today I want to share some big news with you about Mintern: she was interviewed for a blog post on the library job aggregator INALJ* and you can read the article here. 

Mintern spoke on the condition of anonymity so our former patrons or future patrons would not cause any shenanigans for her.   Also, prison policies state "Thou shalt not talk to the media without the Supreme Media Person's approval under penalty of DEATH or at the very least, firing..." so since Mintern likes her job, she could not very well come out and say "I am so and so and I represent the _____ DOC."  Prison politics are very strict about that kind of thing and they really want to control what kind of information comes out of that environment.  That's why this blog is "anony-mish."  We are never going to say who we are on here, but if you meet us at a conference, it will probably come out over drinks at happy hour.  Not that I don't say anything on here that I wouldn't say to the administration's face, but I don't want to cause any unnecessary problems.

I am very proud of Mintern-in the interview she is very articulate and has excellent reasons for choosing the prison library profession.  For all of you contemplating making the switch to a library career behind bars, I would suggest emailing any questions for which you want answers from a newbie perspective to and I will make sure she gets the email.

Until next time!

*Note: librarians LOVE acronyms, and this one is one that new MLIS grads say frequently: "I NEED A LIBRARY JOB!"  Haha.  Classic.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Prison Laugh o' the Day

Overheard on the radio:
Yard Tech: "Control! I need first responders to the east yard!!"
Control: "Attention First Responders, unknown situation, east yard."
Control: "Yard Tech? What's your situation?"
Yard Tech: "Disregard. It's just a bunch of offenders crowded around a puppy."