From the newly-licensed to the almost-retired, this column hopes to provide the humor, insight, wisdom and guidance for all librarians. Please share your stories-and we’ll look for positive feedback. No complaints about conditions or situations that are beyond our control -- just those “OOPS!” times where we can laugh at ourselves!
My first year in a middle school a student came looking for Jane Eyre, which happens to be one of my favorite books. I happily helped her find it. A few days later she told me she was loving it. I agreed and said, "Isn't it so sad when Helen dies?" Immediately her face fell and I knew I'd just unintentionally let out a huge spoiler. The student was fantastic though, and kept reading and loving the book. She also forgave me and is one of my favorite students to this day. I still haven't forgiven myself but I have definitely learned a lesson about giving away major plot points.
-Jennifer Lauchlan, Brookline
“Appropriate language” is always a topic in our middle/high school library. What’s fine for high school is not so great for fifth grade. We usually try to label YA books as such, and suggest that’s for an older audience, but sometimes, it doesn’t work that well.
Recently I was so excited about getting “free” books for my older book group students that I didn’t do the research I should have. So as my eighth-graders began their galley of this soon-to-be-published book, I read along. The book's language became stronger and stronger, with more graphic descriptions of “sex and drugs and rock’n’roll”…and very little else! How did I get out of this? I gathered my group and said I goofed… it was basically the author’s memoir of a year-long acid trip. Result? We talked about books THEY liked, why this one didn’t work, and what to do to avoid this. For my library, this wasn’t a fit at all.
Of course, “Frosty the Snowman” is a fit for everyone, right? We had middle-school library and music classes join to watch winter stories. In playing the movie, students wanted “closed-captions”. I accommodated and quickly cringed - the words for Frosty carrying a big stick … but that’s not the word that blared on the screen. Solution? Turn off those captions as fast as possible. (For this one - I didn’t even comment!)
-Patsy Divver, School Librarian, Millis MS/HS Library
Research is rich with resources… and some information you didn’t WANT to find!
One of my earliest technology faux pas took place just as searching for pictures online was becoming available to elementary school students - right in the sweet spot between dial-up and Russian hacking. This was also the time when safe search was wonky and not well suited to image searches. I will tell you, in the interest of brevity, that the search term that the second grader in the class I was working with used was "anaconda" and leave you to figure out the problem with that on your own.
My other story isn't really about my work so much as a student just showing me something they found interesting, that proved to be more interesting than intended.
About 10 years ago, my school hosted a very bright exchange student from Germany who was very into social justice. He and I would talk about issues and one of them was anti-semitism in modern Europe. One day he brought in a magazine, a German version of a TIME or NEWSWEEK sort of publication that he was very excited about. His mom had just sent it to him because it had a story about anti-Semitism in Germany. I couldn't read it, but there were lots of pictures and he was explaining what the captions were.
Near the end of the article there was a picture of Steve McQueen, the movie star. I asked what the caption was about and he read it and said something about circumcision. At this point, we both realized that Steve McQueen had what was a clearly intentional "close the barn door, the cow is out" situation. We both shrieked and slammed the magazine shut. He was mortified and couldn't stop apologizing. I turned red, but then started laughing, and couldn't stop.
I told him we would not speak of this again and move on with our lives. (I did tell an assistant principal, just to be on the safe side.) He said that he would probably yell at his mother when he next spoke with her, but that was it. I did not ask to keep the magazine, in spite of my love for Steve McQueen because that just would have been weird.
-Barbara Fecteau, Library Media Specialist at Beverly High School
Does tripping over a desk while delivering overdue notices count? Landed splat on my side in front of an entire class of seniors, notices went flying, and I bounced up (I'm 62). The kids told me that I fell very gracefully and they were amazed that I could move, never mind get up. Yoga pays off.
-Donna Rollins, M.Ed., Library Media Specialist, Westfield Technical Academy
This isn't a book story, but definitely embarrassing:
I answered my HOME phone a couple of years ago, "Hello, library. May I help you?
But even better - the person calling was my high school principal! He laughed a lot…!
-Pamela Vallee, Library Media Specialist, Lunenburg Middle-High School
More to come…
Share your stories with us for the next issue!
“Read ‘em and weep!” Thank you to all who shared!