As no doubt you can tell from their name, they are a composite of many different patrons which my nose has encountered over the last year of working at the library. They include one regular patron who doesn’t take regular baths and who also has a herd of cats at home, according to my wife, whose sense of smell has ferreted out cat urine among the odors that amalgamate into the scent that is distinctly his. He likes to take out DVDs and whenever he brings them back, we open the cases to air them out on the floor after he leaves.
They also include the numerous patrons who smoke cigarettes (not in the library, of course, but in their homes where they are reading the books) and the occasional patron who douses herself in patchouli. Another staff member and I just had been discussing that one regular patron, who just had been in, when only a few minutes later in she walked. I didn’t smell it on her as much as I did the books which she handed to me to check in. While she was in the back corner of the main room of our library, I couldn’t resist putting the book underneath the other staff member’s nostrils and asking him, “What does that smell like to you?”
At one point when I was discussing with our circulation librarian that one regular patron who doesn’t take regular baths, she mentioned to me that libraries in more populated areas than where we are often ban patrons such as he. Personally, I thought this was crazy, but one only need do a Google search of public libraries banning patrons because of body odor to see that it is indeed true. Here are links to only two of many examples that I found: Lansdowne Public Library in suburban Philadelphia and Southfield Public Library near Detroit, Michigan.
I also learned that we should consider ourselves lucky that we only have to “deal with” one regular patron who doesn’t take regular baths. In cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, those who don’t take regular baths (many of them homeless) and those who try to take baths in library restrooms are a much larger issue as evidenced by this article (plus see the first paragraph of the fourth section about halfway down the page for problems I have never encountered at our rural library). The issue of body odor in libraries is also much more serious in urban areas as seen in this article “Welcoming the Homeless into Libraries” by librarian Kim Leeder on the website, In The Library with the Lead Pipe.
Does this mean that I won’t look down my nose (pun intended and tongue firmly in cheek) at that regular patron the next time he comes into the library? No, probably not, but neither will I hold my nose any higher in the air to quench the stench because now I know that with which we have “to deal” here is only a microcosm of what larger institutions have to contend. I might even let a tear or two fall off the end of my nose after he leaves so I feel better about myself and assuage my sense of social outrage at the larger puzzle of which I am only too glad our small library is only a small, insignificant piece.