The Help Desk: Librarian.exe is not responding

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I’m lucky enough to have a library branch within five blocks of my apartment. I use it all the time.

The other week, I was visiting the library. It was very slow in there; maybe one guy at a computer and a teen reading a comic in the kid’s section. When I went up to the person behind the counter to check out a DVD and a book, she wordlessly pointed to a self-checkout kiosk.

I was a little annoyed by this. Cienna, I know libraries aren’t bookstores and I don’t expect stellar “customer service” from them. But is it too much to expect a little bit of a human interaction from my library visits?

It seems like everyone is automating their customer experience, and it drives me nuts. I’d prefer to have my libraries staffed by human beings, not by reshelving robots. Am I expecting too much?

Todd, [neighborhood withheld to avoid incriminating a library staffer]

Dear Todd,

In situations like this, I like to use my imagination to be as generous as possible to human irritants. Perhaps said librarian was having a particularly nasty battle with her hemorrhoids that day, or perhaps her spiders had just served her with an eviction notice because she still won't shut up about Jill Stein. People, especially those working in customer service, should be given leeway to have bad days – perhaps she was trying to spare you hers.

That said, if the pattern continues, I suggest next time telling the librarian you are allergic to laser beams and politely making her do her damn job. Having a laser allergy should be completely credible hypochondria in Seattle at this point, but if she questions you on this – which she shouldn't because unlike Jill Stein, she is no doctor – offer to give her a urine sample. I have found that most people stop asking me stupid questions the moment I rebut them with urine.




Dear Cienna,

I have a friend who is always trying to do something weird with books. Like, he was really into internet experiments with choose your own adventures, and hypertext. Then, he obsessed over House of Leaves, and wanted to make something similar: Book formatted so that you have to turn it around and upside down and leaf back and forth. He longs for multiple text colors, complex fonts, and gold leaf foil-stamps on his blind embossed cover.

He also can't tell a story. If he wrote this email it would be twenty-thousand words, most of them too boring to read. I don't have a question. I'm just sick of his shit and wanted to tell somebody.

Sheryl, Shoreline

Dear Sheryl,

I have a friend who is always trying to fuck her sister's husband, like this weekend for example. I envy your taste in human friends. Do you perhaps want to trade?