Making a complaint about police in a college library
March 31, 2007 5:00 PM   Subscribe

My university library turned vicious today when they had a policeman threaten to drag me out in handcuffs for "disorderly conduct" because I said "fucking" one time, and not loudly. He called it a "warning," but his attitude was full-bore Authoritarian Condescension. The situation is strange enough that it seems like I shouldn't just let this lie, but what is the best way to complain to the school, officially, without actually doing something brash like suing?

The library at my university, Georgia Southern, in general, sucks. They have a new automated book retrieval system that messes up at times, they have a lot of books off in a warehouse that people only go to once or twice a day, and then only in pairs for safety reasons (if they're short staffed enough that two people can't go, then no one does), and twice in the past I've returned books that got reshelved without getting scanned back into the computer, meaning I ended up with a hold until I ran upstairs and found the book on their shelf to scan in. There are some excellent people who work there, it is true, but there is also sometimes great indifference. They've been known to turn out the lights a half hour early as their way to tell people they were about to close.

Today, earlier, I decided to check if they had the copy of the Codex Seraphinianus, As Seen On MeFi, that I had requested through Inter Library Loan a week or two ago. It turns out that they had, and hadn't informed me about it. It was late when I found out, and for some reason they weren't able to check it out, but they asked that I come back the next day, and I did.

When I arrived, I asked about the book, and was told that it had been taken "off hold," meaning, the book was now officially (but not physically) in progress back to the University of Georgia, and they couldn't check it out to me, not no way not no how. To make a long story short, I called that situation "fucking stupid," and that's when the policeman came over, using his Mr. Rogers voice to deliver his stern warning. I had a strong feeling of indignation over it, and for a moment I felt like I was living (all Bush carping aside please) in a police state.

He made it clear that the cursing was "disorderly conduct in the State of Georgia," but if it was just this I wouldn't be quite so indignant. It seems that the policeman's standing within earshot was no accident. During my discussion with him, he said that I had a prior record of disorderly conduct. He claimed that I had "thrown things" on prior occasions, and that was why he had been called in. Asking him for more details, he said that the things in question were papers. Thinking back, the only instance he could mean had actually been throwing straight down, onto a table to punctuate a statement after one of their prior snafus. Nothing that could interpreted as assault or like one.

Before the police officer was through he had threatened to put me in handcuffs, yet while I was not lie-down-and-roll-over submissive, neither was I disrespectful. I understand that policemen have a tough job, but I am just about the least violent person imaginable. Anyway, the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm going to find it difficult to make use of the university's library facilities now.

I recognize that this is Metafilter and that there will probably be a half-dozen folk who take the officer's side. But I feel quite aggrieved here, and considering that I'm not actually violent (though I am a little dramatic perhaps), I'd like to at least make an effort to get an apology for this, if not for myself than for the next student who goes through something like this. But I'm new at this standing-up-for-myself thing. Does anyone have any tips on how to go about this?
posted by JHarris to Human Relations (75 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just don't end up like Mostafa Tabatabainejad.
posted by delmoi at 5:04 PM on March 31, 2007

Your campus ombudsperson is there to help resolve disputes just like this.
posted by mdonley at 5:07 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Okay, reading your whole thing it sounds very strange. The library had the book, but didn't tell you? And then they sent it back? Is that their Standard Operating Procedure?

If the library is singling you out for retribution for some reason you could have some grounds for a lawsuit.

I work in the H.R. department of a University, and so I had to take this "supervisor training" course about the University's harassment policy. One thing I learned is that while harassment is bad, retribution is much worse. If you make a complaint to someone, and then they further the vendetta (seem to think they have) against you, you could have grounds for a lawsuit.

So if I were in your position, I would 1) make a complaint somewhere about the incident, especially about the fact that they held the book and then mailed it back without even notifying you, and 2) put the book on hold again. If they screw up again, you would have much greater grounds to sue them later.

posted by delmoi at 5:12 PM on March 31, 2007

Write a letter to the university president. Be clear, be direct, and keep it short. Send copies to the director of the library, the chief of the campus police, and perhaps the dean of students.

But also be aware that being "a little dramatic" at the poor librarians (no matter how inept they are) is really inappropriate, especially if they were concerned enough about it in the past to remember you and request police backup for when you returned. I mean, the library there must get literally thousands of patrons every day, of whom any number face the same aggravations you faced (lost books, etc). Of those thousands of patrons, only you stood out enough for them to call the police. It is your behavior that is out of line, not the librarians' or the police officer's.
posted by Forktine at 5:12 PM on March 31, 2007 [5 favorites]

next time he hassles you, tell him if he lays a hand on you you'll get an aclu lawyer and sue the bleeding shit out of him.
posted by bruce at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2007

next time he hassles you, tell him if he lays a hand on you you'll get an aclu lawyer and sue the bleeding shit out of him.

...sue the fucking shit out of him.
posted by Jairus at 5:17 PM on March 31, 2007

Babe, I too have a short fuse and a potty mouth, but -- swearing at the help is not cool.

Based on what you said, the library is not well-run, and as a customer nobody can blame you for finding this bit of stupidity the final straw. But the poor girl behind the counter didn't make the rules, and probably has to suffer from the mismanagement of the Georgia Southern University Library way more than you do. And I would bet money that it was a woman, and she felt physically threatened by your anger (there are a lot of nuts in the world, right?) and that is why she called the campus cops. I think you want to write a letter of apology to her c/o the library, expressing remorse for your uncool behavior and explaining why you were frustrated. That might actually get them to look at your concerns and maybe just maybe make changes, in a way that belligerence never will.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:27 PM on March 31, 2007 [5 favorites]

If they screw up again, you would have much greater grounds to sue them later.

IANAL, but how is any of this lawsuit-worthy?

I'd file a complaint if you feel really strongly about it, but I would also suggest you learn to manage your anger a little better and just let it go. They might be incompetent blowhards but really, I don't see how they are violating your rights.
posted by dhammond at 5:27 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well I'm not a lawyer but using profanity on university property might well be considered disorderly conduct, I have no idea. If so then he was technically just giving you a break. If you don't like his attitude while he's doing what he is doing then that's kinda your deal. Getting upset at cops for having a bad attitude is unhelpful at best and stupid at worst.

I would, however, when he mentioned that you have had problems in the past, asked if he had a report of some kind that was filed about that. Other than that I'd just suggest trying a different tack if you feel the need to vent spleen at incompetent library staff. Just be smarmily polite to the point of insanity to the incompetent staff. No obvious complaint to be made there. That said it's generally a good idea to be nice to library staff. They control the information after all.
posted by frieze at 5:31 PM on March 31, 2007

In college, I was charged lots of library fines, often for books I'd never actually checked out. I was dropped from classes I'd registered for early. I was charged $300 in parking fines in what a sign had clearly marked as a legal zone. And because of those parking fines, not allowed to register for classes until two months late, when all the good classes were taken. And then there was this thing. I dunno, I seem to attract this stuff.

And generally speaking, I've learned to cut my losses and make appropriate efforts to get what I need, drawing as little attention to myself as possible.

Somehow, you got on the library's "bad list." I don't know how, but it happens. The cop got a little overzealous and decided to act like a dick. Surprise, surprise.

The situation was fucking stupid, and almost certainly the work of work-study students who'd never been adequately trained to work in a library.

If I were you, I would send a letter to the director of the campus police, saying how you were treated. Then send another well-written letter to the school and local newspapers and, for the moment, leave it at that.

Also, what mdonley said. I wish I'd have known about that in college. :/
posted by roll truck roll at 5:32 PM on March 31, 2007

On further reflection, Methylviolet is pretty right too.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:37 PM on March 31, 2007

The standing-up-for-yourself "solution" in this case is to let the cop drag you out in handcuffs for saying "fucking," and then have to explain to a prosecutor or judge just why the cop is wasting his time with crap like this. This will also waste lots of your time. In the event that cursing actually is punishable disorderly conduct in GA, it could conceivably result in you getting a misdemeanor record.

In the bigger scheme, it's likely that you have a bigger problem than the school does.

University librarians deal with all kinds of people every day, including assorted freaks and just-barely-sane agitated people. Their apparent concern about people flying off the handle might well be well-founded, or at least not crazy.

And your behavior in these circumstances leaves much to be desired. Angrily using profanity to professionals of any kind does not help you get your way. Engaging in any kind of strong physical activity, including slamming things down, makes you look like someone who's about to fly off the handle (as does angry cursing). You're not "student with a concern," you're "agitated person who needs controlling."

Last and least, you don't know that they didn't tell you about the ILL'd book. You only know that you don't remember being told, or that their communication didn't make it as far as you. Emails do get eaten by the system or flagged as spam and autodeleted, and roommates do forget messages, physical mail can be mishandled at many points in the system, and voicemail systems are imperfect. And, of course, people forget about receiving messages.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:47 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thinking back, the only instance he could mean had actually been throwing straight down, onto a table to punctuate a statement after one of their prior snafus.

This is enigmatic to me, but it suggests the worst. It sounds like you might be a hothead and they have an eye on you for that reason. How, exactly, did you "punctuate a statement?" You've done something to get the staff's attention. (Don't worry; I'm sure they're just fascists who resent your righteousness.)

Sorry, but you sound like kind of a jerk. You curse at the help, you "punctuate statements" by throwing stuff onto tables, you sound like you take inadequate staffing or faulty procedures as a personal insult.

How about next time you say: "I know it's not your fault, but this does seem like a bad policy. I'd like to share this story with your supervisor so it won't happen again."

As for the police-state stuff ... meh.
posted by argybarg at 5:47 PM on March 31, 2007 [6 favorites]

Having worked in a library through college, the one thing I would say is that the workers build a very tight nit little community. As soon as one library worker singles out a patron as being strange, annoying, odd, dangerous, etc., that label spreads like wild fire all over the library. And, surprisingly, there are quite a lot of crazy students who spend way too much in the library (we once had a student whose favorite thing to do was to bring up a dictionary to female library workers and ask them to help him pronounce words like vulva and vagina).

Point being: if you've had prior incidents with the library, which they viewed as significant issues, you have most definitely been labeled. From here on out, you will be treated much differently than most students by virtually everyone at the library (even the student workers).

Also: think about this from the cop's standpoint. His impression of you is based not on your past actions in the library, but upon the interpretation of those actions by the library workers who warned him about you. He is probably just acting under the impression that you are someone who he is hired to deal with forcefully.

As far as getting an apology, the problem is way to complex to place blame on anyone (IMO). You had one minor issue awhile back with a library worker, who told others about it, the story got taken out of context and exaggerated, you got labeled, the cop heard these half fiction/half non-fiction "stories" about you and acted accordingly.

And, IMO, you brought all of this on yourself -- if you are going to act like this (which you have every right to do), you should learn to live with the consequences.
posted by JPowers at 5:47 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

If a scolding from a cop (and that's all you got) makes you feel like you're living in a police state, I would respectfully submit that you don't know what a police state is.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:55 PM on March 31, 2007 [4 favorites]

In life, if someone gets upset at you, you have failed. It doesn't matter what you were doing or what you were trying to do. What particularly doesn't matter in the least bit was if you were in the right or not. If someone gets upset at you, you've scored a point in the 'wrong' category. When someone gets upset at you, bad things will flow to you from this. No one is immune.

I fail at this, myself, on a regular basis. But now when I see someone starting to get upset - doesn't matter who or why - I try my darndest to backtrack and get the interaction back on a happy track. It takes a big man to do this, and from time to time I'm a petty S.O.B. - being hassled by a cop, for instance, raises my hackles, just like it does yours. You can be quite sure, though, that if someone's mentioned your behavior to a cop, you've failed at whatever you were trying to do with that behavior.

My advice to you is to go apologize to the librarian in question. Admit you were in the wrong to speak and behave as you did. (You don't actually have to believe it, but it works better if you do.) Bring him or her a box of chocolates or other little present, and ask them to get the book for you again.

I'd also track down the cop and apologize, except for this firmly held belief that I have, which is this: I don't have any legitimate business with a cop, and a cop has no legitimate business with me. So any interaction I have with a cop I try to direct to the point where the cop realizes he has no more business with me. The faster and the more pleasantly you get to that point, the better your interactions with cops will go.

You may feel differently - you probably do. So I'm just telling you a different way that I have of going about these types of things. If you gave it a try you might find that it ultimately benefits you more.

I have had the most surprising advantages accrue to me from friends that I didn't even remember making. Like the time that the professor I'd known for 3 years wrote me a one-line letter of recommendation. His secretary simply would not let me out of his office without pointing out to me that the letter was sitting face up on her desk and did I choose to look at it? I was so taken aback that I asked her why she had done this for me and she said, "Because you were always polite to me on the phone."

Unbelievable shit like that, if you can avoid anyone getting upset with you, will happen to you every day.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:59 PM on March 31, 2007 [38 favorites]

I'm on your side; fuck em!

I checked maybe one or two books out of my undergrad library the whole 4 years D was there. In med school and still haven't used the library hear yet.

Solution--internet: found good websites where I was able to find all the journal articles I needed, etc.

You can almost ready any book online or get it on the cheap side too. I know it can be going ways out of your way, but hell, if it means not having to deal with assholes like that cop, I'd go a little out of my way for it. Good luck with it all.
posted by uncballzer at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2007

if he lays a hand on you you'll get an aclu lawyer and sue the bleeding shit out of him

Gah, the ACLU doesn't exist so you can get away with being an asshole in the library.

A trip to the dean of academic affairs - or whoever keeps your "file" - may be in order. Not to complain, mind you. To educate yourself.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but how is any of this lawsuit-worthy?

It don't know if it's really lawsuit worthy, but retaliation for complaints definitely something that my institution is terrified of lawsuits over. To the point that all employees get trained on it. At the last training course I went too, the person giving the talk mentioned that there were seven lawsuits going on right now over retaliatory behavior.

Again, complain, and if it happens again and if you feel you get retaliated against you would probably have grounds to sue, if not necessarily win (I have no idea if a lawsuit like that would win or not, IANAL, but it's definitely something people get sued over)

Now, I don't know if these people are actually retaliating or if JHarris just has a persecution complex, who knows. But if the library is really singling him out, it would really be a big deal.
posted by delmoi at 6:06 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: To clarify "dramatic," I was referring specifically to the prior paper incident.

As for being a hothead... well, what can I say? I really don't think I am. But when these kinds of things have happened so often, it is easy for a large number of disappointments to render down into one paper-throwing-down, some time back.

Librarians do deal with lots of freaks, but this is a university library, not a public one, and I'm nearing the end of a Master's degree, not a freshman. In any case, I'm actually pretty friendly with some of the librarians in one or two departments (used to work there actually, left amicably and caused no trouble), so it's left me scratching my head a bit.

Because of that, I'm striving to present this situation as fairly as I can. As I said before, there indeed are many excellent people there. The police officer, however, is not one of them.
posted by JHarris at 6:09 PM on March 31, 2007

Hire a private eye and have him investigate the cop. Have the private eye dig up some dirt on Joe Law. Have the dirt published in the campus newspaper. It will be very satisfying.

Then publish a link to the campus newspaper article on Mefi front page. I want to see how this turns out!
posted by charlesv at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: mdonley: Nice idea, but the link you provided is for Georgia State University. A quick search makes it seem likely that Georgia Southern does not have a general affairs ombudsman, only one for judicial matters.
posted by JHarris at 6:14 PM on March 31, 2007

If you are verbally reprimanded for swearing at a librarian (among other things) and "police state" is something that pops into your head, may I humbly suggest that Georgia Southern is not the school (or locale) for you?

You'll probably be a lot happier out here in California, where cries of "police state" are welcomed and encouraged among many students of higher learning.
posted by dhammond at 6:25 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: ikkyu2: "In life, if someone gets upset at you, you have failed." Does that not mean that they've failed many times? Unfortunately I cannot accept this, there are valid reasons to get upset.

And, please, please, please, please, no lawsuits. I just want to respond to someone, the officer himself suggested the dean of the library, to register how I feel about this. I don't care about confronting anyone. I just want to make an effort so that the next person who gets upset about something won't find himself faced with a policeman.
posted by JHarris at 6:29 PM on March 31, 2007

"In life, if someone gets upset at you, you have failed. It doesn't matter what you were doing or what you were trying to do. What particularly doesn't matter in the least bit was if you were in the right or not. If someone gets upset at you, you've scored a point in the 'wrong' category."

That's a nice theory, but bullshit. And I can say this after years of dealing with the aparatchiks at a small state college. Sometimes a righteous anger is what it takes to make sure that you get things that you need.

Time to schedule a meeting with the library director. It sounds like you have a raft of fuckups to discuss. Be polite, and remember that the nicer you seem right then, the better things will work out for you. There's gotta be a Student Services veep to mention this to, and you can also bring it up to your program director, who will have more clout.
Also, feel free to drop by the campus newspaper. Give 'em documentation, and look for a writer/news editor who will dog 'em.
posted by klangklangston at 6:38 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you've misparsed me, JHarris. I didn't sayyou shouldn't get upset, JHarris. I didn't even say you shouldn't put contact poison on the inside flap of the Codex Seraphinanus when you, smiling, hand it back to your new friend.

All I said was you shouldn't let people get upset at you.

As for you, get your mad on all you like. But learn to do it in ways that don't attract cops. That's common sense.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:41 PM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: Wow, goof-up on my part.

The first thing I'd do is document all of this and make sure it sees the right people if you decide to seek some sort of resolution through university channels.

1) From your campus police website:
How do I file a complaint?
To file a complaint, come by our office at 3 Forest Drive and ask to speak to a supervisor.

2) According to this organizational chart, it looks like "public safety" (the police) is managed by the office of the Vice President for Business and Finance, Joe Franklin, who can be reached at this email address.

3) Check the various official policies of the University here.
posted by mdonley at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2007

Now paging Jessamyn...
posted by HotPatatta at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2007

Or what klangklangston said.
posted by mdonley at 7:02 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Except, ikkyu2, that all I said was "fucking stupid." That's what set it off. I said "fucking," and I didn't even shout it. I didn't shout through any of this. I didn't throw any paper down. I may have rolled my eyes.

And the word was completely, totally merited. And this wasn't a library with a kiddie section. And the place wasn't even very busy.

Can someone get upset over the word fucking? Sure. But not the person who I said it to: I think she saw pretty well that I wasn't cursing at her. I was cursing at the incredibly stupid rules. (The more I think about it, in fact, the more it seems like the rules are at fault more than any specific person concerning the state of the library.)
posted by JHarris at 7:05 PM on March 31, 2007

Your library did not turn "vicious". Get over yourself. You may know you are non-violent, but the rest of the world doesn't. You admit you are a "little dramatic". This makes me think of the person with the toy gun who gets shot -- you know you are dramatic, but everyone else might just see a psycho. The policeman approached you speaking in a "Mr. Rogers" voice and it degenerated to the threat of handcuffs? I wonder what role your behaviour played in that.

And all of this was over a book you ordered through ILL (which costs the university money, you know) because you saw it on a website? Was this request even for academic reasons? Was there some kind of program deadline involved where there were real repercussions for not having this book? Sounds like you were just looking forward to having a picture book.

I'm sorry, but you sound like someone with an extreme sense of entitlement and a strong disconnect to the world of manners. You don't even know the full context. Maybe there have been assaults in the library. Maybe the clerk really was afraid. You note yourself that they have to buddy up to go to the other building. Yet, somehow, you come first. I seriously doubt if the library is out to get you. More likely, they made an honest mistake and you over-reacted. Sure, it sounds like a lousy little library both to work in and to use. That doesn't mean you can swear at the staff and slam papers down on the desk.

And why ask the question if the policeman himself told you who to complain to? Complain to that person, if you must. But also balance your karma by apologizing to the clerk.

People suggesting a lawsuit are so far out to lunch I don't even know where to bring them the sandwiches they are short. Just be a polite person, control your inner drama *, and manage your anger.
posted by Rumple at 7:06 PM on March 31, 2007 [8 favorites]

You need to start learning how to deal with rent-a-cops. Sorry this isn't a great struggle against authoritarianism, this is dealing with the many cases of rent-a-cops you will run into throughout your life.

- This is Georgia, and "sir" "mister" and all those niceties go along way. Georgia is big on respect. I am sure you know this right? You are not going to change the culture of the South by yourself, if you don't like it and you find yourself no getting along I really encourage you to look at a more liberal university.

- Kissing ass is key to getting on the rent-a-cops side. I am very apologetic, "Oh golly gee! I am sorry I did not mean to cause such a disruption this is a huge misunderstanding, I am so embarrassed!" or try to make excuses like "Wow I am under so much stress, this is so not like me, what an embarrassment. I probably need to take a nap and come back later, sorry for disrupting you."

The key is that they are usually working long hours with nothing to do, I mean their job is to keep order in a university library for Christ sakes.

Is he singling you out because of your race? "You afro boys getting uppity today ...", because of your religious background? because you're checking out a book he doesn't agree with? No he's pissed off because he's a rent-a-cop and you're acting rude. He has as much right to act like a dick as you have to act rude.

So no, I'm not siding with the cop, but being unable to control yourself because a book you ordered didn't come in is a little over the top. I once spent several hours in bureaucratic hell trying to get a phone contract I never took out canceled ("Are you here to report fraud?" "Uh I guess, I mean I never signed this ... get this off my record my fault not yours"). The key is to butter people up with "I know this is not your fault, and it was probably someone else's screwup, but I am in such a pinch here," or "Christ this is probably twice the hassle for you as it is for me, I really appreciate it." That sort of thing goes a long way. It really, really helps. Then you go home and you bitch about the incompetence to your friends over drinks.

People are huge dicks and abuse their power all the time, you fight it when you can and you manipulate the system the rest of the time.

N.B., it helps to act like you're a middle age country club wife who simply cannot be bothered with such things. The key is to put on fake airs of being incredibly polite, agreeing with the officers at the same time talking down to them with slight condescension and weasel words. Try studying how the rich old women talk to people in department stores. There's something about the way most people are wired that they submit to that without feeling if they are being submitted to.
posted by geoff. at 7:07 PM on March 31, 2007 [4 favorites]

I would ask for an appointment with the dean of the library, too. Arrange it by phone. Be accommodating per schedule. When you go in, clean yourself up, including shaving (if you have a real beard, make it as neat as possible), and wear a dress shirt and trousers, not jeans and a sweatshirt or whatever student attire is for you. It's not a job interview, it's not being in court, but you want to look anything but disheveled.

When you get in there, be socratic. That is, you're not there to complain about getting hauled outside. You're there to (at least pretend to) find out why you've gotten this reputation and to make amends. You want to assure everyone that you don't hold anyone at the library personally responsible for whatever bureaucratic missteps have raised your ire. You were rushed, you had a paper to get in, a class to get to, your mother has cancer. Not a lie, just something plausible that makes sense in the circumstances.

Wait a minute, you say. You're the aggrieved party here. Well, maybe you are, but they hold all the cards -- er, books. This is a strategic apology.

Here's my little story: I was re-entering college while still working. I had attended for one semester, this was my second semester, and there were two classes I was trying to register for, and because I was working full time and going to school, these were the only two classes that would work in terms of my academic requirements and availability. The college had a new voice-mail registration system, and I dutifully called in, punched in my SSN, punched in all the numbers from the book, and the system read my enrollment status back to me. Sounded great, right? Well, I did not receive a paper confirmation by the last week before classes, so I went in to the office. I asked what might have happened, and they looked me up, and had no record of my pre-registration. Nothing. Nada. Then I asked about the classes.

They were booked. Overbooked, in fact. And even though this made it impossible for me to meet my academic goals that semester, I was lower on the totem pole than full-time students finishing up their senior year or 2nd semester junior. There was no way I was going to get into those classes.

Well, I lost it. I yelled at the girl with the computer. I yelled at the crowd about the stupid phone system. I stomped out, slamming the door (which bounced open again), and as a parting shot slammed my fist into a bulletin board, which fell off a hook, swinging back and forth on the other. There might have been some brochures or something like that swept onto the floor, too. It was pretty theatrical.

Here's where I interject that I was clinically depressed and medicated. Nevertheless, it's one of the most juvenile things I've ever done because of my depression.

The school's response was to send me a letter dis-enrolling me completely.

Now, I could just leave it at that, stew in my little moral victory over stupidity, but somehow I found the fiber to call the dean and then to go in and apologize. It was the same office, I went back to her office and explained my work and family stress with school and so forth and that I never meant to hurt or frighten anyone. The Dean said that her staff was afraid to let me back in the building. (The other times I'd been there, the office had been nearly empty; this day, there was a full complement of staff, including men. Some of them may not actually have worked for her.) And then I walked outside with the Dean and in front of the entire room, apologized personally to both the registration clerks.

And I got on the waiting list for both classes, and at the 10-day cutoff mark, there was enough room, so I got in.

So hey. You know what? Strategic apologies work.
posted by dhartung at 7:25 PM on March 31, 2007 [5 favorites]

Throwing down paper and using the word "fuck" in a normal tone of voice are not the best way to get prompt and courteous customer service.

But they are no big deal, either, outside of kindergarten. All the people calling you violent and dangerous are going way way over the top.

And yeah, college cops are often drunk on power- the term "town clown" exists for a reason. And southern cops are not known for being fun to deal with either.

So try to bite your tongue and be more polite in the future. and by all means make a complaint through the proper channels listed above.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:50 PM on March 31, 2007

Now paging Jessamyn...

Your library sounds like they are not doing a job at explaining their policies to you, at best. It also sounds like if it's that bad a place to be a patron at, then it's probably also not a good place to work. You made it a worse place to work.

It sounds like you've been someone who has attracted attenion there before -- the staff's attention? maybe just the cop's attention? -- which makes a minor swearing offense suddenly a second offense and suddenly a bigger problem than it might have been had 1) you been gracious 2) the cop been gracious 3) whatever alert system they had for linking 1+2.

I hav tons of sympathy for how frustrating it is to deal with people wwho are in positions of power over you and yet who nominally work in a service-type position for you. However, there is a loss of grace associated with losing your cool at someone who is not responsible for your problem.

The question you had which was "how is the best way to complain" is this: if you decide not to go to the ombsbudsman, I'd suggest calling up whoever the head of the department is that employed the person that you were swearing in front of. Use the situation as a method of doing two things 1) apologize for swearing (this is really a good way to start if you really want to Solve Your Problem) and then 2) try to figure out what is going wrong with the interlibrary loan system and whatever other "prior snafus" you have been involved in in a "how do we make this system work better?" way.

In order to do this, you have to be ready to dialogue, not just be a huffy pain in the ass about it. Whatever helps you to do this, it will help you. Explain why you were frustrated, why the situation did not work for you, how you were trying to work with and understand the system and how NOTHING YOU DID made it work. You were not informed, you were spoken to rudely by the guard, you did not walk away with your book.

I'm sure you believe you are not a violent person. It is entirely possible you are NOT a violent person. However, the library is full of crazies who are violent and scary and most library staff have to deal with some truly scary people from time to time. Sometimes they get jumpy trying to ferret out the crazies before they go postal. Swearing at staff is an early warning sign. Now that you know that, and you know how it's received, maybe you vcan try a different approach the next time someone who is probably NOT AT FAULT for whateve happened to you, has to tell you the bad news. Good luck working it all out.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 PM on March 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Forktine writes "Write a letter to the university president. Be clear, be direct, and keep it short. Send copies to the director of the library, the chief of the campus police, and perhaps the dean of students."

The president isn't going to care about this unless it's coming thru his VPs, you've got to start lower on the totem pole. Going for the thermonuclear option right off makes you look like spoiled kid.

bruce writes "tell him if he lays a hand on you you'll get an aclu lawyer and sue the bleeding shit out of him."

And get nothing but work-to-rule service ever again.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 PM on March 31, 2007

delmoi, I think it does matter. His anger might be more understandable if it was a crucial book for an important deadline. But it appears the stakes here were very, very low, yet he blew a fuse and now wants an apology from the library. And the money matters because he already said the library was underfunded. And university libraries are, indeed, for research, which can also be pleasurable. But you'll notice they have a pretty different mandate than a public library.

I didn't try to divine his personality, I read what he wrote, which suggests he acted like a spoiled brat. I am not divining that he is, in fact, a spoiled brat, though I wouldn't bet against it.
posted by Rumple at 7:54 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am an academic librarian. I'm not going to begin to wade into the morass of your behavior in this situation, but I can try to explain the interlibrary loan policy that you found "fucking stupid".

Interlibrary loan depends on a tenuous and delicate balance of libraries all playing fair and following each other's rules. When books arrive at your library, they do so with specific conditions - must be returned by this date, can be renewed some number of times (or not at all), must be packaged for return like this, must be sent back via X carrier. Your library's options may have been exactly zero at the point that you pitched a fit at the desk - you have no way of knowing, but with a book as unusual and in demand as the Codex, it's decently likely that this was the case.

Even though the book was physically in the library, that means absolutely nothing. Once it has been entered into the system as "coming back", it's as if it was gone, because now the other library is expecting it. Since methods of return are carefully outlined, the loaning library knows exactly when it should get back to them. Plus, it may have been due back - loans can be quite short, so even if it hadn't been entered as "returned" in the system, it may have been impossible to let you take it at this point.

So, the policy is actually reasonable, and completely normal. Interlibrary loan operates for the common good of all libraries, academic and public, across the country and, in fact, across the planet. Before you decide it's "fucking stupid" that you were very slightly inconvenienced, you might want to educate yourself about the process.
posted by donnagirl at 8:07 PM on March 31, 2007 [9 favorites]

You're looking for retribution? Is that what you really want?

I'm not taking anyone's side. Just asking for you to be a bit compassionate and think for a moment.

Put yourself on the other side of it. You're a college librarian; you sometimes get asked to go to so much of a dangerous place, you have to go in pairs for safety. You're clearly underfunded (hence no single trips to the warehouse, lack of appropriate staffing.)

Bonus, a bunch of over dramatic entitled students, bitch and moan - particularly this one, who behaved irraticaly about our service, pitched a fit, like a spoiled child. I need this job, cause I want to live in the area (it's the only librarian job I can find, to stay with my husband and raise my kid.)

Police state? C'mon. The 'cop' was just protecting the nice librarians. They have to work with them every day.

Who knows if you're violent? I know you do - but c'mon, strangers don't. And generally, violent people escalate their violent behavior.

Seriously. If you're indignant, why don't you write a letter about how upset you are as a student that the library is underfunded?
posted by filmgeek at 8:12 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

You had to talk to a cop, JHarris. Therefore, you lost. You are the loser. Next time you say the word "fucking" in the library - be it ever so justified, in your eyes - you might be tased and/or handcuffed. You will then be an even bigger loser. As you are thrown to the ground and suffering various abrasions and contusions, I want you to remember "ikkyu2 told me this would happen." Do I think it's fair? No. Do I think it's right? No. Do I think it'll happen? You betcha.

You want an apology? What about having decent service from the University library for which you're paying tuition and fees? Would you like that?

How about a pony, JHarris? A big, shiny, magic pony that flies? Would you like one of those too?

Grownups learn to pick their fights - pick which fight they're going to take on, and which they're not. You picked the one in the library - why? That's a serious question. What do you think you're going to get out of it? How is it going to advance your aims and goals?

Do you really believe, in fact, that you can intimidate the library staff into giving you better service, while reserving the right to cuss them out with foul language when their performance on your behalf isn't up to your standard? In your world - come now, answer honestly - are you really that powerful and important?

When you get out of college and get into the real world, I submit that things even more demeaning to your sense of justice and personal dignity may happen to you. I hope they don't happen. You don't deserve them. But when they do, you're going to want to roll with them and come out on top.

I bet Rosa Parks, a person I respect deeply, never said the word "fucking" in anger in her entire life.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:19 PM on March 31, 2007 [10 favorites]

Also, on what kind of behavior is considered appropriate:

Take a look at the reaction I got when I told a story about using the phrases quaque die and quaque hora somni to a nurse. These words are medical Latin; they mean "every day" and "every night at bedtime."

If saying quaque hora somni to a nurse makes me a foot-wide, shit-smeared asshole, what does throwing paper and saying "fucking" to a librarian make you?
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:26 PM on March 31, 2007

The campus authorities have already decided you're an asshole, possibly a dangerous one. If you try to raise a stink about this, they will think you're even more of an asshole, and the cops will watch you more closely, and there will be even more trouble. Like ikkyu2 said, this may be wrong and unfair, but it'll happen anyway.

You're lucky that nothing actually happened to you--here at UCLA, they'll taser you for mouthing off. If you want better treatment in the future, you should apologize to the librarians, or at the very least try to be extra-nice to them from now on. Again, possibly wrong/unfair, but that's how it is. They've already decided you're an asshole, and complaining to their bosses isn't going to change their minds; making them notice how nice you are might work, though.
posted by equalpants at 9:36 PM on March 31, 2007

JHarris, somehow you got on the library workers' collective creep radar. (If you want to know why library workers everywhere have creep radar, you could try browsing the archives of this librarian's blog. Your university library may be more sheltered than her urban public library, but probably has its own sort of creep clientele.)

In other words, no, throwing papers down on a desk and using the word "fucking" wouldn't seem to warrant that strongarm response from the cop; but the library workers may have had experiences with people whose throwing/swearing escalated into worse behavior, and the cop may have been trying to nip a possibly-escalating situation in the bud.

To answer your request for "tips on how to go about this": one approach would be to meet with the dean of the library and say something to the effect of, "The way this police officer approached me made me realize that I have somehow gotten myself onto the library's creep radar. I didn't mean for that to happen; I really don't want the people who work here to feel afraid of me. I want to be able to work with the library to get the resources I need for my studies. Can you tell me what I can do to have a good relationship with the university library?" Then shut up and listen, and smile and nod.

If you're lucky, the person you're speaking with will reciprocate and ask what the library can do to have a good relationship with you. At that point you could bring up two or three of your most frustrating experiences with the administrative incompetence there. If the dean doesn't give you this kind of opening, bide your time. Spend a semester demonstrating impeccably, even saccharinely, polite patron behavior; then approach the dean again with something like, "Our conversation last semester was very helpful. You gave me some great suggestions. Now I wonder if I might make a few suggestions to the library . . .?"
posted by Orinda at 10:02 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, also: you asked about "the best way to complain to the school, officially." I'm not sure if this is the "best" way, but many universities have library advisory committees with student members. If that's the case at Georgia Southern, one quasi-official route for your complaint would be to have a word with the student member(s) of the committee and let them know about your experiences.

Perhaps even better: become a member of the library committee.

Though truly, the #1 most effective way to stop experiencing the hassles you've experienced--not getting notice of the ILL book, not having your stuff properly checked in, being on the bad side of the library cop--would be to get a job behind the circulation desk.
posted by Orinda at 10:12 PM on March 31, 2007

Suck it up. Your behaviour was inappropriate in both cases.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:54 PM on March 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

And do what she says.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on March 31, 2007

You acted inappropriately. I'm a very strong privacy advocate and I have to say attitudes like this don't help the cause (in particular, saying you want to get back at the guard does not help convince us you weren't being intimidating / an asshole).
posted by lorimer at 11:24 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

(I agree the ILL situation is fucking stupid.)
posted by lorimer at 11:28 PM on March 31, 2007

Where I come from, using the word "fuck" in any public place crosses a line of appropriateness that is qualifies you for dismissal. It doesn't matter if you're at the grocery store or the library or blockbuster. I think you need to go to your room and reflect on your behavior. When you come back out stop saying "fuck" in public and this kind of stuff will stop happening.
posted by quadog at 11:41 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

D'oh, I somehow missed the third paragraph here. Sorry.

I can see why you're scratching your head. You seem to be on good terms with some of the librarians, but (an)other library worker(s) consider you enough of a threat that they "called in" the cop pre-emptively. That's . . . interesting. Any chance you could go to the people you're on better terms with and see if they have any insight into why and how you ended up on the creep radar among the circulation staff?

It might be helpful to break this down into two separate problems:

1. Somebody working in the library felt threatened/harassed enough by you to "call in" the cop. I would guess this problem will be best addressed with a "strategic apology" (per dhartung) or charm offensive of some sort, directed mainly at the library staff. I don't think you will get very far if the argument of your official complaint boils down to, "library staff should NOT ask security staff to keep an eye on patrons they feel concerned about."

2. The cop responded to the situation in a way that you felt was disproportionate to the circumstances. Sounds like he might have been thinking the same thing about your reaction to the ILL snafu. This problem should, in theory, be dealt with by addressing your complaint to the campus-cop hierarchy, as the library staff are not responsible for the cop's choice of words. Now, that's in theory--but in practice? In practice, do you want the central campus security office to have a manila file folder with your name on it, containing a letter in which you critique the verbal stylings of one of Georgia Southern's Finest?
posted by Orinda at 12:12 AM on April 1, 2007

a bunch of over dramatic entitled students, bitch and moan

Perhaps they feel entitled because they mortgage their future for the opportunity? Perhaps the $20,000 hole in their wallet makes them feel this way?

Were I the asker, and were I pissed enough about it, I'd transfer to another college in a less backwater part of the world. I'd also make sure the college administration understood why they wouldn't be seeing any of my money any time soon.

But then, I'd also wait a couple of days before deciding anything like this. I think you'll find that after a couple of days, your head will cool, and you'll realize this was all just a big, stupid misunderstanding that could have been avoided if you'd known beforehand that they'd act like paranoid idiots. This happens a lot in life: you can't assume everyone is going to react rationally; bad words mean you're a bad person just about everywhere except New York.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:51 AM on April 1, 2007

Angrily using profanity to professionals people of any kind does not help you get your way.

Fixed that for you. Get a clue. And you aren't telling us everything, I suspect.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:53 AM on April 1, 2007

You threw papers and swore--in front of a woman, no less--down South, where chivalry and the F-bomb still mean something. A genuine question: are you not from around there?
posted by availablelight at 6:50 AM on April 1, 2007

Oh, Christ, the "defend your local academic bureaucrat" committee has arrived for you, JHarris.
Perhaps I'm someone who's more sympathetic because I tend to say "fucking" like some people say "Um." Or because I had to threaten to have the desk clerk fired when they wanted to argue with me about fining me for a book I had put into their very hands a week earlier. Or because I went through a series of four fines over incorrect ID that had been fucked up by the university and mailed to me like that.
So, despite the prevalence of people who seem to believe that librarians are prone to vapors around profanity, or who think even requesting the book was somehow egregious and you should be happy it got there at all (and no, ILL is fucking retarded on a regular basis— it's often faster to drive to the nearest library that has the book, xerox the whole damn thing, and then drive back home, than it is to use ILL. Or, if you have friends at a university that does have the Codex, just get them to get it out), I don't particularly think this sounds like the Holocaust that some seem to be making it out as.
And I can also say this as someone who has a great relationship with a handful of librarians at my institution, and has a girlfriend who's gotten her MLS and is now employed gainfully as a librarian, and has no compuctions about pointing out whether my behavior is out of line.
First off, the folks who are at the desk are generally not librarians. They're clerks. That doesn't mean that they can't make your life a holy hell, but it does mean that they frequently have absolutely no policy control, and are often aware of just how fucked everything is. Is it one particular clerk who you've had trouble with? Realize that you don't have any particular power in this instance aside from the fact that you've been wronged, and that any reasonable person should want to rectify that (unfortunately, reasonableness is less and less a requirement for answering AskMe, especially anything in which the poster could be condemned for a slight, even more against the librarians who make up a sizable plurality here). It does likely mean that your path should head through library supervisors and directors, and a terse letter to your kampus kops (should cc: student newspaper) about how you feel you've been wronged urging them (both cops and news) to contact you. That will at least force them to justify or explain their behavior, which will allow you to either be gracious (demonstrating what a great guy you are, and making the cop look like an ass, but essentially letting the issue lie) or ingracious, promising further action but perhaps burning more bridges.
Remember that you can't blow up again throughout this interaction, you can't get angry or they'll feel they did the right thing. What I find helps is a fairly steely smile and a conversational effort to keep the focus off of me, and onto what I want fixed. If, for example, you're told that the swearing was inappropriate, feel free to explain calmly that you were frustrated by not receiving the book that you required through a foul-up on the library's end. You want that foul-up resolved (calling it a fuck-up at this point would be counter-productive, unless you're in Good Ol' Boys territory).
As another note, the cop was a douchebag, but you're unlikely to get any redress out of that. People expect cops to be douchebags and overstep their authority, and are more annoyed when people complain about it than they are with the cops, outside of counter-culture circles. And as it sounds like you're not exactly in metropolitan Atlanta, you're faced with the fact that it was a minor incident on both sides. About all you can do is register your indignation and perhaps subtly imply that the cop is a fucking moron (which may make you feel better for a moment, but won't accomplish anything else).
posted by klangklangston at 8:11 AM on April 1, 2007

geoff.: "Try studying how the rich old women talk to people in department stores. There's something about the way most people are wired that they submit to that without feeling if they are being submitted to."

OP, How come you live in Georgia and you've not picked up on this? You catch more flies with honey, dear, and it's ma'am to every female who isn't a child, regardless of position.

Now go apologize for creating a scene in the library.

ikkyu2 - Don't let the Internet Tough Guys get you down.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:51 AM on April 1, 2007

Let me tell you a story; it may put your situation into perspective, or just further irritate you, but hopefully, it'll be enlightening. When I was 20, I was the sub-manager of a local video store. Since we had an adult XXX section, we got pretty much the full spectrum of humanity through our store. Most people just wanted to rent their videos and go home.

A lot of people got into a twist over late fees, but generally it was grumbling, grudging acquiescence, and on to the next movie. Occasionally, we'd get the lunatics who wanted to make a stand against government tyranny and refuse to put their SSN on their application- but as long as they put down nine numbers, I didn't care if they were all 6s. We even had the guy who always wanted to stay after closing time to talk to the girls about his separatist farm out in the country- probably harmless, but we always made sure he got in his truck and *left* the parking lot before we went out, after midnight, to get into our own cars.

But the people who cursed at me, I refused to serve. And unfortunately for them, sometimes I was the only one on duty. And it's not that I find cursing particularly offensive in general, it's that- a month into my employment there, I had to work a particularly hectic Friday night (a lot of good new releases that week.) At sevenish, our busiest time, a short little woman got to the front of my line to check out, but her account was on hold. I had to explain to her that the brand new copy of Mr. Holland's Opus she checked out on Tuesday had come back on Wednesday, with the first half hour of it taped over with Wheel of Fortune. She couldn't rent anymore movies until she spoke to the manager- the real manager- the next day on duty.

First she argued with me- she couldn't have possibly, obviously one of us must have done it, somebody checked in the wrong movie on her account, that happens all the time. All I could do was repeat that I was sorry, I couldn't rent to her tonight, she needed to speak to the real manager the next day. She got angrier and angrier, screaming and cursing, and finally wound up to scream that she'd go to fucking Blockbuster. This is when I said - and I admit, I probably should have stuck with the party line of, sorry, can't help you, come back tomorrow- but instead, I said, "That's fine, I don't think we want your business."

She turned around and swept the top row of videos off the nearest shelf; she threw the signs on top of the shelves at me, then started on the next row. And in this video store that was jam packed with people on a very busy Friday night- no one did anything. No one said anything. She only stopped throwing things at me, she only stopped screaming and cursing, because I grabbed the phone and hid beneath the counter to call the police.

And then I had to put myself together and finish checking out the extraordinarily long line of patrons still in the store, since I was the only one on. A lot of them expressed their sympathy, but all I could think was, if they would stand there and watch while she threw lucite signs at my head, they would have stood there and watched while she shot me. Overdramatic? Probably. But that's how I felt- attacked and vulnerable and with the sudden realization that having people nearby wouldn't make a difference.

So after that, I refused to rent to anybody who cursed at me- "What the fuck, eight dollars for a late movie??" I told them to come back when the manager was on duty, and then I picked up the phone. People seem to universally understand that means you'll be calling the police, and they leave. If we'd had a security guard on premises, you can bet I would have asked them to ask them out.

It doesn't matter whether you're violent; the librarian doesn't know you. What matters is that you probably acted just like somebody who turned out to be violent, or unstable, or impossible to deal with, and rather than wait to find out if you were going to turn into that, they cut you off before it could happen. Cursing's for social discourse; unless there's ever a time when you think it would be appropriate for a clerk to curse *at* you or in front of you, there's no time it's appropriate for you, either.
posted by headspace at 9:00 AM on April 1, 2007 [6 favorites]

unless there's ever a time when you think it would be appropriate for a clerk to curse *at* you or in front of you, there's no time it's appropriate for you, either

See, that's the problem right there. People in the "service industry" are held accountable for every customer-related gaffe by their superiors, but there's no one holding the jerkish customers in check. It would be a far better world if you would tell the customers they were being assholes. Loudly.

Swearing is just talking with emphasis. One of the things I miss most about NYC: they get it there. Everywhere else it's OK to act like an asshole just as long as you don't say the word. Childish, if you ask me.

Sadly, "the customer is always right" except in the sole profession where you're allowed to be a douchbag right back to the customer's face: bartending.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:30 AM on April 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

23skidoo, will you please try to limit your judgment based on facts in evidence? He didn't throw anything at anyone.
I take it from your emphasis on correct behavior that you'll immediately rectify your mistake.
posted by klangklangston at 9:44 AM on April 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Could the book itself have been an issue? I used to have a copy of Codex Seraphinus, and came to see it as softcore porn for the insect-human hybrid cyborgs among us, which did not include me at that time, and so sent it along to a friend who had expressed enthusiasm for it; I was shocked to see from a link inside your link how pricey it has become. Maybe they flagged you on two levels: 'what kind of pervert is this guy?' and 'he's going to steal it!' It certainly sounds like they did not want to place it into your hands.
posted by jamjam at 10:22 AM on April 1, 2007

Seraphinianus, dammit; not an appropriate book to leave the -anus out of.
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on April 1, 2007

It certainly sounds like they did not want to place it into your hands.

That's not how librarians think. Every librarian I've known -- and I used to work in a library -- wants to get books to people, not hide them away. If the book was particularly valuable and rare, they would've made him read it at the library. They wouldn't've lied about where it was.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:28 AM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: I am not seeking retribution, I don't want to see -anyone- fired or hurt, I just want some acknowledgment that sending in a policeman was probably overkill when they could have just told me if they had a problem with me, which they had never mentioned before and I'm in there often. That is all.

I don't think I have a sense of entitlement, as students we're supposed to be able to request all manner of thing as one can never tell where inspiration will strike. I wanted to study the language a bit. Anyway, I stopped wanting the book the second the policeman started in. The book is not the point of the thread.

mdonley, unquestionably, has had the best response of what I've seen here. I have to admit I haven't read the most recent comments, posting here has been a mistake.
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on April 1, 2007

Let's see. We have a librarian, probably a minimum wage work study person, who works in a place so poorly secured that librarians have to travel in pairs. The library has a lot of arcane rules and bureaucratic inefficiencies that she can do absolutely nothing about. She has a customer who (by the customer's own admission) swears and throws things. And she knows sometime today she will have to give that customer bad news. What do you think she should do? Should she try to handle him by herself, or should she have backup ready?

I think JHarris should send the librarians an apology, maybe accompanied by a box of candy. He should then try to make himself scarce for a while while he works on his drama issues.

If he thinks he should get sympathy for abusing servants, yes, posting was probably a mistake.
posted by faceonmars at 1:07 PM on April 1, 2007

klangklanston: it's often faster to drive to the nearest library that has the book, xerox the whole damn thing, and then drive back home, than it is to use ILL

I think you misunderstand the purpose of ILL
posted by azazello at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2007

JHarris: I have to admit I haven't read the most recent comments, posting here has been a mistake.

On the off chance that you're still reading, or will re-read this at some point...

Why has it been a mistake? Because some people "took the officer's side"? I don't necessarily think it's about taking sides, but rather having a perspective that isn't so emotionally attached to the situation; commenters that aren't thinking about it with the sense of indignation that you have from having been confronted by the Uni-cop.

You've gotten some ideas of how to and where to file a complaint if you feel that's appropriate, and ideas of how to prevent a similar situation from happening again. How's that a bad thing?

You say you're new to 'standing up for yourself'. I suppose you meant this as in the face of bureaucratic authority (the Uni-cops and their bosses), but you also got some advice on how to stand up for yourself in the face of (possibly) sub-standard service. Venting anger/frustration in a huff, like slamming papers down or worse isn't the best general strategy.
posted by CKmtl at 1:59 PM on April 1, 2007

I've worked with the public for many a year and I can tell you having a person you don't know well start swearing while you are assisting them always comes off as threatening behavior. About the time a customer starts swearing is about the time I stop helping them and start looking for a security guard.

You may not be a violent person but you're causing people to react to you like you are. You need to learn to deal with frustration in more appropriate manners. If this had happened on an airplane the pilot would probably have to ground the flight so you could be taken off and arrested. And that's not an exagerration.

That security guard didn't lay a hand on you. The only thing he harmed was your ego. Use this as an opportunity to examine your own behavior.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:11 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of the restaurant scene with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces in which he tries to get a side order of toast. You may recall after storming out of the restaurant the hitchhiker says "That was great, how you could lay that down on her and get you toast." and Nicholson replies "Yea, but I didn't get it, did I?"

Some people see the Nicholson character as some sort of anti-establishment hero. I see him as just being a jerk to the wait staff. It takes courage to seek out and complain to the people in authority who make policy. It takes a coward to throw a temper tantrum and curse out the help.
posted by JackFlash at 3:19 PM on April 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

As someone who regularly sits on the reference and circulation desks of a research library that deals with aggressive street people off of their meds, I think the library was harsh on you. Interlibrary loan is a delicate balance of rules and timelines that you do not see... but you shouldn't have to. A library exists for their patrons and it sounds like your library has forgotten that. While flipping your shit in front of the poor circ clerk was inappropriate, you did have the right to be upset. I have had patrons totally wig out and say much more than what you have recounted and never thought of calling in security. Our policy is to bring in an officer when someone has either threatened or committed bodily harm.

Make sure that your contact information in the catalog is correct so ILL can contact you in a timely manner and that you give them the same respect you feel you deserve. Beyond that, it is their responsibility to deliver the services they promise and your right to object if they don't.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:26 PM on April 1, 2007

On standing up for yourself in general, check out Your Perfect Right. It does a really nice job of exploring how both passivity and aggression are signs of weakness and are unlikely to get you what you want, while describing how to remain assertive and problem-solving.
posted by occhiblu at 5:57 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Who gives a * * * * (so as not to be improper, according to various comments above) whether readers are clinically insane or perverted, as long as they don't harm the books, the library, or personnel and clients? Many forms of academic research no doubt seem insane to average, philistine Americans. I'm a writer and independent researcher, and I wouldn't appreciate it if some librarian or clerk decided that my research (which at one point concerned torture and execution in Greek and Roman religion) is abnormal.

Pulling a fist or a gun on the clerk, now that might well merit arrest. The use of * * * * is not a form of physical harm.

For sociological data, I am a big-city person and lived for years in New York City. Methinks the questioner and the Codex Seraphinianus are ill-suited to Georgia Southern.

Some forms of disorder have to be tolerated for freedom of inquiry to exist. At the New York Public Library (about a decade ago), it was common for the less scruffy homeless to admit themselves, check out a book, and go to sleep over it in the back. At the Library of Congress, I once woke a computer from sleep to use the on-line catalog and found a porn site. The computer was well in the back of the catalog room. Should only Chamber of Commerce members be admitted to academic and public libraries?
posted by bad grammar at 7:11 PM on April 1, 2007

I'm late on this and maybe you won't read it, but my advice on how you might want to handle a similar situation next time (based on a few years working in university libraries):

1) Push your concern as far as you can in a polite manner at the service counter (without swearing I guess, if thats what it takes to keep the rent-a-cops away). If the circulation staff are insistent on their policy, then drop it and go higher up ->

2) Contact the University Librarian (or Dean of Libraries, or whatever they call the head of the Library at your school). This person will then most likely contact the circulation staff, getting their side of the incident. If he/she finds the circ staff was at fault, they will deal with the problem person internally, and usually send out an internal memo reminding the entire staff of the policy regarding the issue they screwed up on.

If they find that the staff was acting according to policy, they will either investigate changing the policy based on your complaint, or will re-iterate the policy to you in a hopefully more satisfactory manner, explaining how it benefits the University as a whole.

3) As for police involvement, contact University security separately and treat it as a separate incident.
posted by p3t3 at 12:25 AM on April 2, 2007

May I suggest patronizing a different library? or is that out of the question?
posted by drstein at 1:24 PM on April 2, 2007

I just want some acknowledgment that sending in a policeman was probably overkill when they could have just told me if they had a problem with me, which they had never mentioned before and I'm in there often. That is all.

You can't always get what you want...

If they had flagged you as hostile, it would hardly be a good idea for them to tell you about it.

I have to admit I haven't read the most recent comments, posting here has been a mistake.

That's a dramatic statement to make.

Conducting yourself in a way that caused the help to feel threatened enough to call a cop on you... was this a mistake as well?

Seeking advice from a community that proffers "the best of the web," and finding that many of them disagree with you... why would you consider that a mistake?

Are community members who disagree now supposed to change their minds because you declared your question a mistake?

Come-to-Jesus talks can be infuriating for your type. But they can also be quite liberating.
posted by bugmuncher at 7:19 AM on April 3, 2007

Wow. MeFi has this contingent of authority-hating folks, which I already knew from bad experiences here. God forbid the music industry should protect its intellectual property or laws protecting minors from predators should matter if they obstruct your personal right to do whatever you feel like.

I live in NYC. I don't hear people saying "fuck" angrily and aggressively to service workers all the time. In fact, I hear it no more often than in the years I lived in the south. Indeed, I think in some ways NYC is *more* polite on the surface. So the "this would be OK in NYC" is bull. Try it. Go to the NYU or Columbia library and tell a librarian to fuck off. See what happens.

This is NOT about authority and brave resistance to its absurd rules. This is about human courtesy and common sense. JHarris, didn't your mama ever tell you you catch more flies with honey?
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:40 AM on April 4, 2007

You know who else got upset on a college campus recently?
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:48 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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