Earlier this summer, I found occasion to take leave from my fairly strict Kurt Vonnegut and otherwise pretentious-leaning seasonal reading regiment to really embrace the library geek in me and read Marilyn Johnson’s gem of a book, the cleverly titled This Book is Overdue!  How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

There are so many supposedly great works in the literary canon that I’ve yet to read that it is ordinarily difficult for me to, so to speak, get out of the eight-hundreds, and become so intrigued by a research-based work that I will take the time to finish it, particularly when I am reading it, quote-unquote, leisurely.  But this one was so relatable, and so informative, and gave me so many things to respond to, that I was able to pencil it in somewhere between Bluebeard and Deadeye Dick.

Yes, it was a pretty good summer for books.

Of the two-hundred and fifty-plus pages of Johnson’s complimentary words about the future and the culture of libraries, I would like to take the opportunity here to respond to one section I found particularly poignant to my personal experience:  the five-page meditation at the end of Johnson’s fourth chapter, The Blog People, which she entitled The Real Poop.

She writes, “Did you ever?  I mean, did you ever think that being a librarian meant dealing with poop?”  I would like to respond to Marilyn Johnson by saying, “I suppose I should have."

So far, I can relate to the experience of discovering poop inside of a library.  By the end of this, I’ll also be able to relate to the experience of blogging about discovering poop inside of a library.  And that’s key.  That’s what makes it real.

My contribution to The Real Poop, “The Legend of the Poo Bandit”, starts now.

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It started out sort of like one of those guy walks into a bar jokes, where the punch line gets you right in the gut:  A family of four walks into the library, and my heart says, “Ouch.”

It was early April.  Ish.

A mom, a dad, a son, a daughter.  The mom’s pushing the daughter in the stroller.  The dad and the son, perhaps eleven years old, straggle in beside her.  It’s a large enough entrance for them to do so.

They all move to the beat of their own drums, but it’s like they’re playing a 78 at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute.  They’re doing thirty in a sixty-five.  They look around, and they look nowhere.  They are oblivious and they are entirely self-aware. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

The mom and dad are perfect for one another, in a way.  Individually, they take the shape of their hardships – of poor genetics and poorer choices.  The dad, the clear head of the family, is husky and low to the ground, a dazed half-smile upon his face.  The mom has a gap tooth and hair in a poof, her face made up to the likeness of an albino.  They are soul mates that should never have mated.

It’s already showing on the son, in his speech patterns, in the way he walks, and in his overall oblivious demeanor.  The daughter is yet unaffected.  On a given day, she may very well be the cutest baby you see that day.  She is screaming her head off about nothing in particular, and it is adorable.

Who knows?  Maybe she’ll be okay.

I issue the dad a library card, while the person working beside me issues the mom one.  The dad has a lot of questions about the library’s policies and collection.  Each time I’ve finished answering a question, he responds by saying, “Oh, okay,” and shoves aside some room in the recesses of his brain, on the chance that he may never have to ask that question again.  I give him that musty spiel I give every new member but somehow still can’t get just right, about how his first check out will be limited to five items (“Oh, okay.”), that every check out after that will have a limit of fifteen items (“Oh, okay.”), and that there is a limit of five of each type with our media items (“Oh, okay.”).

“And where are the movies?” the dad asks me.

I point in his direction and say something like, “Right behind you.”

He says “Oh, okay,” and he thanks me, and the family meanders their way to the DVD section of the library.

And this is generally how it would work for the first month or so:  the family would walk, stroll, and straggle into the library, return the five DVDs they’d checked out on one of their cards, find five more, check them out, and leave.  The daughter would sit in her stroller and scream her little head off.  The son would roam about, a potential disaster waiting to happen, somehow managing leave the library unscathed.

That is, until he scathed the library.

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It’s the same scene.  Mid-May.  Seven forty-five.  Ish.  There are three of us working that evening.  What is it, a Wednesday?  The son makes it perfectly clear that he’s had a couple of Red Bulls or something, and he doesn’t want to be at the library, and he’s going to entertain himself in the meantime to the best of his ability.

His first stop is at one of the public computers.  He doesn’t log onto it.  He doesn’t want to play games online or test out the youth computers’ filter.  No, he takes solace in simply banging on the keyboard, over and over again.  And that keeps him busy for a while, until my colleague asks him to kindly stop banging on the keyboard.  He gets up and searches for another source of entertainment.

Meanwhile, I’ve been scheduled to shelve for the last of the library’s operating hours, and when the time comes, I go about doing so.  As I’m shelving in the juvenile nonfiction section, in the darkest corner of the library, the son walks up to me, a handful of small pieces of paper in one hand, a book on the Titanic in the other.  And with his thick, I guess, Cajun accent, he asks, “You got study rooms?”

And I say, “Yeah, we’ve got study rooms.”

He does not say, “Oh, okay.”  Instead, he appears to reflect a moment, and then he asks me, “Can you do anything in a study room?”

And I say, “Yeah – well, anything within reason.”

Then, because of the accent, I guess – or maybe because I was trying to give this kid the benefit of the doubt, trying to prove that I didn’t think he was some destructive, illiterate basket case, that maybe he was just a misunderstood creative type, weighing whether to read a book about the Titanic or do some makeshift arts & crafts – I think he asks me, “Can you color in a study room?”  What he really asked me was, “Can you cut in a study room?”

But no matter, because I answer by saying, “Not the books.”  He could do whatever he wanted with the small pieces of paper, for all I cared.  Well, anything within reason.

Once I have realized that he is saying cut, and I get it across that we can lend him neither colors nor scissors, and he asks, “Because of office supply?” one more time, and I say, “Right,” he disappears, and I continue shelving.

The closing announcement is made.  The family has checked out their DVDs and left.  Now, and only now, does the thirty-something guy who teaches chess for a living – exclusively, as far as I can tell, inside our library study rooms – and still lives with his parents, and has his father – whose breath always smells like catfood, and who insists on sharing a "musing" with me every time he sees me about how much he likes World War II books, or how much better his library etiquette is than people who talk on their cell phones or who don’t bring their items back on time or who don’t put things in the right place, or about Longhorn football because I must love Longhorn football – pick him up when the lessons are over, comes up to the desk and informs us that someone had been pretty rowdy in the study room next door, and that he thought that person had left a mess in the study room, but that we should go check it out ourselves to be sure.

(For privacy’s sake, and with all due respect, I will heretofore refer to my two colleagues that evening as Audrey and Erica, even though these are not their actual names.  Audrey will be playing the part of my fellow part-time colleague that evening, and Erica will play the part of that evening’s person-in-charge.  Action.)

Audrey goes and takes a look at the study room in question.  She reports to Erica that there is a bit of a situation.  Apparently, whoever (and you know who it was!) was in that study room had thrown small pieces of paper all over the place, torn up a book, and ----wait for it----wait for it---shat in the study room.

We also find some of the – as Erica will put it, loudly and filled with disgust, on numerous occasions in the next fifteen minutes or so – “human feces” (and I'm assuming this stool was from the original study room sitting) in the middle of the library, next to one of the floor outlets, whose cover had been completely removed and tossed aside.

Now, my theory is that this kid (innocent until proven guilty, of course), amid his preoccupation with shredding books and otherwise throwing paper confetti-style into the air (imagining mine), had begun to realize the repercussions of what he had done – that, hey, it smells like shit in here.

Consequently, he began transferring the poop out of the study room in hopes of hiding it inside the floor outlet.  Only, something kept him from making it all the way to the floor outlet, and from making more than one trip. Perhaps his parents had summoned him to leave mid-transfer.  Perhaps he exchanged glances with another patron, dropped it, and went and told his parents that it was time to go.

Did he use a vessel other than his hand to move it?  Did he use the floor outlet cover?

My larger concern is how he had managed to do this without anyone noticing – without catching wind of – any part of what he was doing.  Me – particularly because I was in the stacks, my colleagues, library patrons on their laptops in the middle of the library.  Nobody.

So we’re standing around, disgusted, deciding whether to leave it to the janitorial staff to deal with it in the morning, or whether to do the more humanist thing (after all, humans are descended from primates) and clean it up ourselves.  And Audrey says, out loud, mind you, "I mean, it looks like a brownie.  Maybe it's just a brownie."

Yeah.  It’s a brownie.  You go pick it up, then.
  Out loud, I say something like, “Feel free to go find out.”

Erica puts it a little better.  “Let’s not be delusional,” she says.

So anyway, that was an ordeal.  We threw a lot of shit away.  There are more details, but what is this, a story about poop?

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A few days later, call it Saturday, the family returns to the library.  They are good patrons.  At this point, we’re still lacking any real concrete evidence of who the, as he was later deemed, "poo bandit" was.  We hadn't taken the stool to any poo labs or anything.

It's the same three people working – Audrey and Erica and myself.  We have all taken special note of the son's presence in the library.  A couple of minutes into their stay, Audrey decides it will ease her mind to take a lap, and to see if this kid's up to any mischief.  Sure enough, Audrey finds him in the juvenile nonfiction section, standing on top of this floor rocking chair we (used to) have, just, peeing.

We call the cops, one of the cops asks the kid, “Are you aware that the library is not a bathroom?” yadda yadda yadda, he's not welcome to the library anymore.

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The rest of the family of four will still straggle in on occasion, though obviously, and necessarily, less frequently.  Most of the time it’s just the dad.  And he’s a good enough guy.  But I still feel sorry for him, and he knows it.  To make matters worse, he’ll have to suffer the humiliation of being the father of the kid who pooped and subsequently peed inside of a public library, for as long as he keeps coming to the library and someone who works there remembers that time that kid pooped in the library.

On their first library trip after the banishment, just a few days afterwards, the dad came inside while the mom, the daughter, and the son waited outside.  Through a window in the children’s section, I could see the son straggling around across the street in the church parking lot, throwing a frisbee as far up into the air as he possibly could, over and over again.  At one point, the dad walked over to the window, and looked out at him with his hands on his hips.  And he stayed that way for a good minute.  I wonder what he was thinking.

That poor kid.  And that poor baby.

It should go without saying that this incident has deeply affected me both psychologically and existentially.  For you, which would be easier on the mind:  to think of it as an isolated incident, thus tainting the library from that point forward, or to just think that there's human feces on everything, and that it's no big deal?  It’s not so easy to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

But yeah.  Poop.

What I’m really trying to say is, give This Book is Overdue! a read, because Marilyn Johnson likes plays on words, and because she wrote a meaningful book about libraries that really makes you think.  But read Kurt Vonnegut, too.