Migration — Assumptions

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

As mentioned, I went to the state library yesterday and had an encounter that raised all sorts of questions that I still haven’t resolved. I think the woman concerned is a clerk, not a librarian, as she doesn’t seem to know the rules or the resources as well as the other folks who work there.
When I showed up to use the reserve area, she kept me waiting while she talked on the phone. I wasn’t trying to listen, but I did hear her say at least three times, “As I said, don’t tell her I said any of this.”

By the time she entered the archives area, she was ten minutes late. Then she kept me waiting while she went to find my materials. She claimed they weren’t there, although one of the librarians had told me when I arrived that they were. Then the clerk asked my name, had me repeat it twice. Went back again, made me leave the reserve area. Came out again, denying they were there. Went back a third time, finally found them.

A bit later, I asked her a question and she ignored me. But while I was working, she said, “Excuse me, do you know about Black Roots?” I leveled her with a look for interrupting me and said, “I own it.” The book is Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650-1900. She said, “Oh, that’s all right, then.” As I sat there I thought, she assumed way too much. First she assumed that I was African American; then since she made an assumption about my ethnicity, she also decided that the subject of my research had to be African American, too. The only thing she knew for sure was that I had requested documents from New London, which is included in the book.

This incident would not have counted for much, except that this is the third time I’ve witnessed this woman in action. When I was there two weeks ago (who can forget 9/11?), I requested a book that was not available in the main stacks. She said, “You’ll need an archives pass for that.” Her supervisor happened to be sitting next to her and said, “No, she doesn’t. She just needs to print out a copy of the information off the computer.” When I handed her the slip, she snatched it out of my hand and glared at me.

A bit later, I went back to the desk to ask a question, just as an African American couple came in. They asked her a question, and she gestured vaguely to the back of the room. “The materials you want are over there.” When a white man came in a few minutes later, she walked him over to the files that he wanted and helped him pick out the information. She treated me the same way she treated the couple.
My first encounter with this woman a few years ago led me to believe she was the just the stereotype of a state employee, slow, uncooperative, interested only in the benefits. Now I think it’s far more than that. I should note that by contrast, everyone else I’ve dealt with is helpful, polite, extremely knowledgeable, and clearly engaged in what they do.


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