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Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

3.51  ·  Rating Details ·  2,510 Ratings  ·  623 Reviews
Mild-mannered librarian tells all in shocking new book!

Not long ago, the public library was a place for the bookish, the eggheaded, and the studious -- often seeking refuge from a loud, irrational, crude, outside world. Today, libraries have become free-for-all entertainment complexes filled with rowdy teens, deviants, drugs, and even sex toys. Lockdowns and chaperones are
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published by Virgin Books (first published November 13th 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 24, 2008 Gale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I tell people I work in a library, they say "What a nice quiet job" or "It must be nice to read all day".

I'm going to hand them this book and tell them this is what my job is REALLY like. Working with the public in a library is more like working as a mediator, a security guard, a psychologist, a baby sitter, a computer expert or a counselor, none of which most of us have degrees or experience in. And oh yes, now and then we get to answer a few informational questions.

Hat's off to ya, Don, y
The Book Maven
Feb 12, 2008 The Book Maven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
I've never met the author of this book; never been to his library, never even heard of him, but I am willing to swear to his honesty and authenticity: Everything you read in it is true. Fecal-covered dildoes tossed into the bookdrop? Oh yeah, not surprising. Punk kids using the library as a base of operations for god-knows what? All in a schoolday's work. People refusing to be held accountable for their fines? People falling in love? Perverts exposing themselves? Housewives attacking each other ...more
Dec 02, 2007 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was mildly amusing. The point of view was just really white-guy, though. It makes sense due to Borchert's being a white guy, but still, the overtones of sexism and amaaaaaaazement at other cultures disappointed me. Also, I don't think public librarians are a great audience for this book, which is funny; it's like, oh, you got war stories, huh. So do I and I've been working in the PL for less than 6 months. Yawn.
Feb 28, 2008 Cheryl rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I can relate to the lingo and overall unpredictable atmosphere of the public library that Borchert describes, but just a plain 'ol memoir without analysis on how to cope with or improve the system is plain 'ol boring for me. I don't want to get hierarchical over job titles but I'm miffed that the book is marketed as a "mild mannered librarian tell[ing] all" and that's not the case; Borchert is not a librarian, has no interest in getting a library degree, and doesn't come off as being partic ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Rolf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Frequent users of the public library and those who are thinking about becoming librarians
Librarians and library workers will find no surprises in this book other than a satisfaction that they are not alone. Library users on the other hand may be alternately fascinated, repelled, and touched by the stories that Mr. Borchert relates, as he delves into the kind of things that really go on in public libraries.
Librarians of the world, unite!

That's what I feel like shouting after reading this enjoyable memoir of a longtime public librarian. Don started working at a branch library in California when a friend suggested he apply for a civil service job. He's good at dealing with difficult patrons and telling rambunctious kids to knock it off. Like most librarians, he's had his share of weird stories: the time police arrested two guys who had been dealing drugs in the library; the time someone tossed a use
Apr 28, 2008 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my experience, any time you put a bunch of library staff in a room together, no matter what the purpose -- meeting, holiday party, professional conference, anything -- eventually the conversation will turn towards weird patron stories. This book reads like a compendium of one library worker's entire career's worth of weird patron stories: the really hilarious, really unbelievable stuff that gets framed into biting yet quasi-treasured anecdotes and then passed around to others to blow off stea ...more
Oct 20, 2014 Chrisl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dew001-499, 2000s
Too much of the chaos Borchert depicted was behavior I too experienced.*
I believe working in a branch city library wouldn't be as appealing as managing a rural small town operation.

*Some of my favorite "that's disgusting" memories:

The soft shriek of disgust from my assistant when she opened a returned book containing a used condom. When I explained to the patron why she needed to pay replacement costs, she stated with weary, "My granddaughter ..."

The expression on the parole officer's face whe
I imagine I'm reacting to this book with a mixture of what all the other public librarians who have read it (and who else is interested in reading it, really?) have said about it. There are parts of it that had me nodding, saying "oh yeah, I've been there"...and I was touched in some places but the earnest care Borchert brings to the job, felt empathy for his bafflement at the certain ways in which the system perpetuates illogical procedures. In all, it was a nice little book. A rambling of some ...more
Heidi The Hippie Librarian
An accurate depiction of life as a librarian in a public library. Sometimes, it's funny. Other times, it's very, very sad. But, overall, it's a slice of public life that most folks, who don't work in a library system, even know exists. Before I worked at a library, I thought it was a quiet, overly organized mecca for students and bookworms. Now, I know better.

Perhaps some of the policies at his library have changed, but at the time that he wrote this book, they charged 50 cents to put a hold in
Robert Chartrand
Apr 13, 2008 Robert Chartrand rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who works in a library or ever wondered what it would be like to work in one
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
The book is told from the point of view of the author, Don Borchert, who is a library assistant at a California public library. Each chapter focuses on either a different aspect of the library world, a different issue a library may face, or a different staff position. There didn't seem to be too much of an order to the chapters, it just kind of jumped from one topic to another, which I didn't mind at all. Some of the stories are funny, some are heart-wrenching, and others are just plain aggrava ...more
Margaret Sankey
Sep 17, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always enjoy behind the scenes memoirs of jobs, but this has special relevance as a long-time library devotee. All the stuff I suspected happens with juicy stories--terrible stuff found in the book drop, the craziest excuses for not paying fines, fights in the parking lot, glitter eruptions, very strange reference questions and book donations, why most library payphones do not allow anyone to call in, story time performers who will never be invited back, the arcane politics of the Friends of t ...more
Dec 03, 2007 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Borchert gives an interesting blow-by-blow account of the happenings and mishaps in the branch library where he serves as an assistant librarian. He covers everything from the culture of working in a civil service position, to irate library patrons, to what happens to all of those books that are donated to the library. His writing was very easy to read, with a warm, conversational style. I have a particular familiarity to his branch since I lived in the same area and frequented that library for ...more
Feb 09, 2008 Jen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jen by: Katie Hilles
I just didn't like the writer's tone; I felt like he was trying overly hard to shock and dismay. It's hard enough keeping up your own morale sometimes, and to go home and read about all the negative aspects of library work from a bitter cranky guy seems defeating. Also he complained about kids and teens a lot, which bugged me - I don't think he ever called them "hooligans" but he came close.
Aug 28, 2010 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, reviewed
A fun memoir about a man who works for a branch library in Los Angeles, California, and about various things that happen in and around the library on any given day. Short chapters and memorable characters.
sounds somewhat more interesting than it actually is…

(i, at least, have managed to bite my tongue before the curse words actually emerge, or at least muttered them under my breath)
Free for All: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library is a book that i saw somewhere and thought would be somewhat entertaining (i, like many others like me, snap up those tales of libraries and bookstores for the camaraderie, relatability, or something like that.) Dan Borchert
“was a short-order cook, doo
Jun 17, 2008 Audrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While this quasi-memoir definitely had its moments, I think it lacked the depth that would have made for a memorable and more meaningful story. As a librarian, I can appreciate the descriptions of crazy happenings at his workplace, and I think he made the most of some funny situations. It's too bad he didn't dig a little deeper, explore some characters or relationships more, or try to tie some things together in the second half of the book.

I was also annoyed that, even though he apparently hadn
Jan 29, 2008 T rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My recent phase of reading books about books/book-related topics began with this memoir of a library assistant's experience in a California public library. The book starts off with a great quote about why we read as well as a few surprising stories about the happenings at the author's workplace, including an "unexpected discovery" found between books that had been dropped off. Also, I found myself laughing out loud at the author's commentary. To my disappointment, halfway through, the book jumps ...more
Dec 27, 2007 Hadley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book had some genuinely funny moments, but overall the experience of reading it was like talking to someone with severe ADD. Some reviews of this book have criticized the author's lack of credentials, but I just think his writing could use some serious work. There was a lot of rambling and many moments that tried to be funny that were just...not. Maybe there aren't enough memoirs of public library employees in existence, because most of the reviews I've seen of this book have been positive, ...more
Jan 07, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: library lovers, those considering a library career
Shelves: culture
I value this author for his candor and think he does a lovely job revealing the dark underbelly of the library world. The book seems a good balance of the virtues and vices of the public library - what could have easily turned into a biblio bitch-fest is softened by stories of latch-key kids and off-beat patrons that are more than their quirks.

As to the debate surrounding "is he a real librarian?" Borchert has done his tour of duty long enough to capture the nuances of public libraries. High ma
This could have been written about any library USA!
May 28, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Funny, and occasionally sad or moving, this memoir is a bit like the old The Dispatches from a Public Library column in McSweeney's Internet Tendency ( -- mostly positive but just a little contemptuous of the patrons and the library itself, in a way only a library worker can understand.

I notice that some other reviews find the author to be too white and too male, which I don't think is his fault. It's a memoir after all. Some of the same reviewers also ta
Dec 15, 2007 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Library Employees, Customers and Volunteers
Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Dan Borchert is a quick and compelling read detailing the day to day chaos of working in a public library. As a public librarian myself, I could completely sympathize and relate to the stories told and they all rang remarkably true (and disturbingly familiar). I could even tell a few more that would turn your hair white. It is quite well written, and I laughed out loud in several places.

My only lingering question is whether some
Jan 30, 2016 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and a half stars, actually. I would have given four stars if it were not for a few incidences of crude humor and the author's penchant for dropping the f-bomb.

This is an insider's scoop on the workings of a library. While some of the details of big-city library employment were not something I could relate to as an employee of a small-town library (union membership, vacation days etc.), much of this book rang true for me. Some of it made me smile. One particular chapter (MMM) had me roarin
May 07, 2008 booklady marked it as recommended  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to booklady by: my friend, Bonnie, who works in a library
My friend Bonnie recommended this book to me. In her own words, "If you ever wondered what it was truly like to work in a library, I highly recommend the following book: Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert. We all say we could write a book about the day to day life and shenanigans in the library, and he has done it. He works in a library in California and talks about the library business from the inside. Funny, I could relate to all of his stories and ...more
Apr 11, 2008 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Maybe I'm too jaded in my old age regarding libraries, but there wasn't anything here too surprising or unusual; gross, yes, but not unusual. I didn't love the presentation, and wonder if former coworkers felt a tad betrayed, but it was mildly fun. To his credit he didn't try to make it too sarcastic or embellish for comic effect, but anyone working for the public over a long period will have stories to tell. I didn't like what I felt was a denigration of the public sector workers however; there ...more
Sean Duffy
This is more a book about what it's like to work at a library, and less about the oddball patrons as promised in the title. Still, the book has a lot going for it, including the fact that the author is a much better writer than I expected. I did expect more in the way of crazy stories, especially for a California library. The patrons are surprisingly tame compared even to the smalltown library where I work. I have stories that would make Borchert's weirdest patrons seem relatively harmless. High ...more
He touches on all the usual library anecdotes without really getting under the surface and making them truly interesting or funny, so I was mostly underwhelmed. Unshelved does the same thing, but in a tighter, funnier, more topical way.

And yes, I *was* kind of bothered that he called himself a librarian, but actually isn't one, if only because he seems to embody a particular cynical bent I've only ever seen in support staff. Don't get me wrong, there's cynical librarians too, but they do it dif
Mar 19, 2014 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Just meh. Some funny stories but not enough to make it a page turner.

At the risk of being "that person", I do have to say I am surprised to have read about 30 of the reviews for this book (mostly by librarians) and no one mentions that the author describes a marmoset as an animal that "looked like a miniature cheetah only a little larger than a house cat." A marmoset is a monkey, folks. Author memory lapse? Not fact checked by the editor? I don't know but somebody should have caught that.
Nov 08, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Courtney
A personal, in-depth (but fun) look about the realities of working in a public library in a small community. My best friend recommended it to me after I took a job doing just what Don Borchert writes about & reading it felt like stumbling across the unofficial employee handbook. I recommend it for bibliophiles of all professions & hope that I can keep my sense of humor at my job as well as Mr. Bochert.
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Interview -- NPR, Bryant Park Project, 11/20/2007... 1 12 Apr 28, 2008 08:32AM  
Interview with Don Borchert from USA Today 11/19/2007 2 15 Mar 24, 2008 02:01PM  
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Don Borchert is an assistant librarian in suburban Los Angeles. He lives in Lomita, California.

Before working in the library, Don was a short-order cook, door-to-door salesman, telemarketer, and Christmas-tree-chopper.
More about Don Borchert...

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“I do not understand people who will lustily throw $40,000 at the shiny red automobile of their choice, but well up with tears and become outraged when they are asked to pay $5 for a damaged videotape. Either they are fucked up and their priorities are fucked up or I am fucked up and my priorities are fucked up. Because I am me, I think it is them.” 44 likes
“She still remembers the effect a certain book can have on people at the right time in their lives. A book, at its most mundane,can be a loaded gun. At its most powerful, it can split the trunk of a tree, mend a broken heart, heal the sick, and topple a corrupt government.” 21 likes
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