5 things librarians have had to deal with for more than a century

These days, the only certainty about being a librarian is that the job will change. Shifts in technology, budgets, public use, and everything else make being a librarian a dynamic job with constantly changing responsibilities.

That said, some things are the same as ever.

Librarians have been dealing with some problems since public libraries began. These five stories, all almost a hundred years old, prove that the same issues will still be around a hundred years from now.

1. Vandals without a cause

Public library vandalism is senseless, but teenagers will always be bored. That was even true in 1920.

That year, the Washington Post reported on a teen vandal who took a match and struck it on the polished walls at the Library of Congress. The youth was forced to pay a $15 fine.

The vandalism could be worse, however—the same article told the story of a boy who used putty to add funny noses to sculptures of the founding fathers.

2. Occasionally violent patrons

This issue is less lighthearted, but as a public place, librarians occasionally have to deal with difficult patrons.

That was the case for a librarian in Buffalo in 1909. In that year, a man named William Strohl shot and killed Franz Stendtz. The location? The Buffalo Public Library reading room. He went on to injure a police officer before his arrest.

3.  People being a little creepy

Today, thanks to public computers, librarians have to worry about high-tech creepy activities. But unusual behavior in public libraries, and general creepiness, goes back much further than the invention of the internet.

In 1906, a man named Cyrus Ward fell in love. He was 34 and travelled from California to Brooklyn to find Mabel Lum, an art student at Pratt Institute. Unfortunately, it turned out that Mabel didn’t return his affections, and Cyrus told a reporter that his “love has turned to hate.”

He was talking to a reporter because he was arrested. The location? You guessed it—the Pratt library, where he was arrested for vagrancy and “hanging around and asking questions.”

4. Difficult teenagers

Librarians are used to teenagers who break the rules. Sometimes, that’s even the reason they’re in the library in the first place.

In 1921, Dominick Citera was arrested for loitering. In a classic stunt sentence, Magistrate Kochen-Dorfer sentenced him to three months in the Carnegie Library in Queens. He was supposed to “get acquainted with Dickens and Hawthorne.”

Unfortunately, there’s no follow-up article about how much the 19-year-old learned during his time at the library. But it’s a safe guess that he wasn’t fun to be around.

5. Book thieves, unusual returns, and general weirdness

Thanks to a long 1913 profile about the New York Public Library’s book cop, we know that library patrons were always a little bit odd.

The story recalls countless shenanigans, from a guy who tried to smuggle out a book in dirty clothing to people who sold the library back its own books. One thief even set up his own private traveling library, stocked entirely with stolen library books.

The article closes on a sentimental note, however. The library cop asks the same question that many librarians still ask today: “What’s wrong with the poor fellow?”

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