A man recently defecated in the stairwell at the Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr. The deed and the person’s subsequent exit from the building were both captured by the library’s security cameras, and the local police circulated footage of the perp leaving the library and asked the public to help identify him. (What did he look like? An ordinary, somewhat distracted-looking middle-aged guy. If you passed him on the street you wouldn’t look at him twice.)
It’s safe to say that the library-going public was shocked and horrified by what he did. It’s also safe to say that nobody who has ever worked at a public library was the least bit surprised.
What this man did is a fact of library life, which was reflected in the comments of librarians all over the country when the story was posted on Facebook:
- “The public has no idea how often this ... happens.”
- “Happened to me just last week. My first week as a branch manager. What a welcome.”
- “Wish I could say this has never happened at my library.”
- “Two summers ago we had a guy who left daily ‘presents’ all over the building. We never knew where they’d turn up next. Worst game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ ever.’”
- “Everyone who visits our library comments on our beautifully patterned carpet squares. If only they knew why we chose those easily removable squares!”
- “I’m laughing because whenever I talk about ‘inappropriate poop’ in my library nobody believes me! Happens wa-a-a-ay more than they imagine.”
Everyone is welcome at the local public library. But not everyone does (or can) behave as well as we’d like.
Both our very youngest and our very oldest patrons will, inevitably, have “accidents.” And then there are the troubled or angry individuals who do this stuff on purpose.
The sad reality is that no place in a public library is immune. Librarians tell of finding “deposits” in the stacks. Under a table in the quiet study room. By the computers. On a comfy chair in the reading nook. In the book drop. Once, mysteriously, right in front of the reference desk on a day when the library was packed.
And do certain patrons play Jackson Pollack on our bathroom walls with their own waste? Alas, yes.
The Ludington Pooper, most assumed, was a troubled individual. Which, when a suspect was identified (Thanks, Internet!) seemed to be the case. Let’s hope he’ll get any help he needs.
Librarians everywhere were happy that he’d been captured on camera, and could be apprehended and stopped. But we all know that this kind of activity remains an ongoing challenge.
My hope is that this incident won’t be (so to speak) a total waste. Perhaps it will raise the public’s consciousness about what being a librarian is actually like. I love my job, but it isn’t always easy.
People imagine that librarians spend their days in a serene, untroubled environment, working with books and chatting with patrons.
“You’re so lucky,” I’ve been told. “You get paid to read!”
We do read. Sometimes.
We also endure your wrath about paying fines, move heaven and Earth to find the reference work you need, spread tarp over the shelves when the ceiling leaks, recommend a movie that will fascinate your daughter’s preteen pals at her sleepover party without offending any of their mothers, attempt to stop you from tearing pages out of our magazines, knock ourselves out to entertain your kids at story time, teach you how to open your own email, listen with sympathy to your confidences and — unfortunately — occasionally have to clean up after you.
Roz Warren is a circulation assistant at the Bala Cynwyd Library and the author of “Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor.” firstname.lastname@example.org