Patron of the Week: Mr.-Mrs.-Ooh-Ooh-That-Smell

This week’s Patron of the Week comes from the Land of Odiferousness. Please welcome Mr.-Mrs.-Ooh-Ooh-That-Smell.

Body Odor?

Image by austintaceous via Flickr

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.

16 responses to “Patron of the Week: Mr.-Mrs.-Ooh-Ooh-That-Smell

  1. I don’t like smelly people any more than you do, but I’m of the opinion that if our government isn’t going to provide for them better than it does, then our libraries can serve as makeshift shelters for them. They deserve some dignity, too, and many of them like to read as much as I do but can’t afford Kindles or iPads (me, either, actually).

  2. I had no idea there was an issue with the great unwashed in public libraries. Perhaps that is why I avoid them at all cost. Well, that and “Ghostbusters”.

  3. I’m with you on that decreased tolerance for cigarette smoke. Many of the local suburbs have banned smoking inside restaurants so when we go to a different suburb that has not done this, it’s very noticeable. Yeah, how did we ever eat out? How did I ever work in an office with the guy across from me smoking?

    The body odor can be eye-watering awful, though. Bless you for putting up with it!

  4. Cat urine is the worst. I work with quite a few homeless or poverty-stricken clients. I get used to the smell but I do hate the cigarettes

    • unfinishedrambler

      My tolerance for cat urine has gone up since working at the library, but as I’ve grown older, my tolerance for cigarette smoke has gone down…I can’t believe I used to be able to go to nightclubs and bars when in college. Now on the rare occasions we do go to a bar, we always have to take a shower immediately after getting home and even then…ugh.

  5. Wow, if you can smell all those things off of your patrons, you might want to remind yourself you don’t know where that book has been! Eww. (Got your reference to Lynrd Skynrd in the first para.)

    • unfinishedrambler

      We don’t have to remind ourselves. That’s why we have hand sanitizer everywhere in the library.

  6. I wish that everyone could afford to smell “deliciously expensive” from their finely crafted Italian leather boots to their bodies washed in the finest milled Parisian soaps, but alas, they can’t. So, I forgive those in plastic shoes and smelling of Irish Spring soap. In London, at Harrods, they actually police people coming in for appropriate clothing and pleasing smells. If you don’t have both, you don’t get in. I think I prefer the SF Main Library with it’s clientele of society matrons at the table with homeless addicts, with everyone being drawn to the place for the wonder of books and warmth.

    • unfinishedrambler

      Hey, I use Irish Spring. What are you trying to say? 😉 Yeah, in London, I doubt I’d get in anywhere smelling of Irish Spring, because of The Troubles, you know?

      In theory, I agree with you about the SF Main Library; in reality too. Our library is open to people of all classes as well. If only all libraries were like that.That patron I mentioned, we never have kicked him out for his body odor. We just keep using a liberal amount of Lysol on whatever he brings back.

  7. What a wonderful place, though, for the homeless to get some respite from the cold… even if it does offend my sense of smell.

    • unfinishedrambler

      Yeah, I guess it’s a real problem in the cities and libraries even have security guards (GASP!).

  8. I guess patchouli is better than musk and probably better than whatever that book smelled like. And, no. I don’t wanna know.

  9. Please allow me to take one thing out of context:
    “our one regular patron who doesn’t take regular baths with our circulation librarian”

    Spicy ! As it should be in a healthy relationship.

    I understand that larger libraries – whose patrons are all kinds of people – can have some very ridiculous sounding rules.

    Our library has a range of policies. One of them that struck me as odd when I read it for the first time (also found at )

    is that Library users must not:
    “17. Use washrooms for bathing, shampooing, doing laundry, or changing clothes.”

    • unfinishedrambler

      Changed that. Thanks for the catch, Jaffer. I wrote this post at 2 a.m. as evidenced by the end, which if you read closely — or even from afar– doesn’t make any sense.

      Those rules often have to do with homeless people. However, like one of the articles to which I linked, some libraries are attempting to help the homeless so that they can get the help they need through other agencies. We have our own share of low-income people who wander through the library every day, but as far as I know, no homeless individuals — not that I would know. It’s not like they’re wearing signs.