Secrets are powerful things. To hold a secret for a friend or loved one gives a sense of trust and faith on a special level. We all have secrets, and if not secrets, things we hold close for various reasons. I’ve been holding onto the secrets of childhood friends for years now, and they’ll stay put forever. But what about the secrets of people you don’t know that well?
In library school we talked about patron privacy mostly in relation to patron records. The idea of a society in which records of what we read are kept and used against us in the courts of law is a terrifying thing. For this reason, among a slew of others, most libraries won’t keep records of what a patron borrows. Privacy and censorship. Ask any librarian what their thoughts are on those two subjects and you’ll be lucky to walk away without your ears bleeding. But I digress.
What I’m experiencing is a whole new kind of privacy. I am learning all sorts of things about my patrons. Some things are out in the open – moments of self proclamation – like the wayward priest. He told us he is a wayward priest. Without warning. Since he decided we should know, I’m guessing it’s not much of a secret. But then there are the things I learn by helping people. The patron watching Youtube videos on living with a mental illness. The person going through a bad divorce that won’t end. The kids with split families. Which parents are afraid they’re raising a bully. The recently widowed. Health issues. Financial issues. Life problems and traumas and dramas. But then I also know the lighter things – who will only read romance novels or westerns with bad cover art. When I come across the lighter fare, I have a nice, inner chuckle. The big things I know and learn on a daily basis give me pause, though.
I work in a small town. Very, very small. They could go to another town, another library to borrow the books or get the help they need. But they come to us. They come to me. The level of trust that they have in the staff amazes me. They have faith that we’ll help them without a second thought, without a moment of judgement and with the utmost discretion. And they are right. It’s what we do. But it’s a heady feeling – these secrets I’m keeping. Not that I’d ever say anything about anything; that’s not me. I think what gets me the most is that librarians do so many things that not many people stop to think about. And keeping secrets is one of them.