Blastogram: The Art of Ignorance and Public Servants

by Jane Gaffin

The police and government bureaucrats have sunk into a despicable habit of laying arbitrary, unfounded accusations that allows only for ineffectual denial as a defense.

It is sick that people can lose their assets–and sometimes be sentenced to prison–based solely on “he said/she said” evidence. I have warned people not to go into a government office or meeting unless accompanied by a second person who can serve as a witness, should the need arise.

Sadly, these unpalatable tactics have spread to the Whitehorse Public Library, of all places, where any subordinate has the mandate to make bogus allegations stick.

On Saturday, April 9, I received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Debbie from the Whitehorse Public Library. A DVD was lost. Since I was the last person to have the two-disk set checked out, I was the obvious culprit despite the fact that the goods had cleared my account four days before.

This was the third time I had been wrongly accused of such nefarious wrongdoings.

The first time was by a lady on the desk. I pointed out that unless I had returned four DVDs minutes before that I would not have been able to check out a maximum of four fresh DVDs. “Maybe it’s still in your computer,” she said, quietly. “No, it can’t be,” I answered. “It just cleared my account a few minutes ago.” After several hours in the library, Faye came to me and apologized. The wayward DVD had been found.

The second time was after a Christmas holiday. I had deposited library materials into the drop box. A truckload of returned items were waiting to be processed when the staff returned after a four-and-a-half-day break.

That day an unidentified young lady phoned to advise that the case for a DVD had shown up without the disk. Would I look around and see if I still had it? I looked in all the suspect places: purse, backpack, table where I keep DVDs awaiting return to library.

“By the way,” I said, “the printout slip from when I checked out materials before Christmas is showing an Up Here magazine accredited to my account. I didn’t check out a magazine. I suggest that you go to the magazine rack and open the shelving where you keep the back issues. You will probably find this specific issue.”

A few hours later, the young lady called back. ‘Yes’, they had found the magazine in question. However, nobody could offer a clue as to how that library item mysteriously ended up checked out to my account.

A few hours later the young lady called again. ‘Yes’, they had found the lost DVD. I had posted a note advising I had cleaned the DVD but it wouldn’t play. Although the young lady wouldn’t tell me where it was found, I was fairly certain the “lost” DVD had been found on the desk of Liz who looks after DVDs that need attention.

The questions posed in my mind were:

1. Why was the DVD separated from the case?

2. Since they had the case, why were they pestering me about mislaid materials until a thorough search was conducted?

The library circulates an immense volume of materials on a daily basis. For a few items to go astray temporarily, even permanently, is understandable.

When DVDs were first introduced for circulation, over 100 movies vaporized in a flash from the shelves. A more secure system had to be devised. The system of filing DVDs in metal cabinets behind the staff’s desk and displaying only the empty original cases to the public offers better control but is time-consuming and open to human error.

I once found an empty case for Lord of the Rings displayed on the public shelf yet I had the multi-disk set at home. A staffer scanned the case to verify that the specific volume was checked out to me but was perplexed as to how the empty case could possibly end up back on the shelf.

Investigative phone calls are sometimes necessary for a quick answer. I once returned two DVDs belonging to a three-piece set that I wrongfully thought were catalogued as individuals in a series. A clever staffer, surmising what had happened, called to confirm that I had retained the third one. We were both instantly wiser.

These mishaps do occur and can usually be resolved painlessly. But the staff should be very careful before they accuse patrons of thievery and threaten the laying of charges without iron-clad proof.

I didn’t cotton to the manner in which the sleuthing was conducted on April 9.

In my estimation, the two-disk set of sci-fi trash titled Avatar that was under question wasn’t worth watching much less stealing. It had been returned four days before, along with two other DVDs. All had been checked through the scanning system and deleted from my account which freed me to check out three fresh DVDs.

One of the duties of the experienced, competent staffer, Annie, who was working the returns desk at the relevant time, was to ensure that the package contained both Avatar diskettes.

Avatar required special processing treatment, which, undoubtedly, is what created the problem. It was on loan and had to be returned to one of the community libraries. After four days, I assumed Avatar was already back at its home base.

No. It was missing. Therefore, the only place the lost item could possibly be was in my DVD player, was Debbie’s attitude.

“Check your DVD player,” she demanded.

For starters, I don’t own a DVD player. I tried explaining that my computer only takes one DVD at a time. When a DVD is in the hard drive then I can’t insert another. And I’d been watching other movies over the last several evenings.

Besides, when Debbie called, I was working on the computer. There were two research websites up on the screen as well as a pdf document. If a DVD was in the hard drive, the DVD player would have been activated and the film would be displayed on the screen, which it wasn’t because there was no DVD in the machine.

“Check your DVD player,” she demanded again.

Although Debbie is a long-term library staffer, she never became comfortable operating computers and library programs. She ranks about five levels below a techno-peasant.

When trying to assist a patron, she asks for a phone number to access the account. When the number doesn’t work in the space allotted for the PIN, she assumes the customer provided misinformation. She annoyingly reiterates her quest for the phone number. When the customer realizes what she is trying to do and instructs her to type in four specific digits, she won’t do it. She wants only your phone number.

Granted, a lot of library patrons use phone numbers for their PIN for easy recall. However, it is not a mandatory library policy; all patrons do not own a phone. Therefore, phone numbers are not used one hundred percent across the board as a PIN.

In fairness, Debbie is not the only one to exercise the phone number request. A newer staff member did exactly the same thing. She couldn’t get my phone number to work and accused me of having changed my PIN, as though it were a blasphemous affront to her personally.

My simple suggestion, distilled so a four-year-old could understand, was: if you want a phone number, ask for a phone number; if you want a personal identification number, ask for a personal identification number. You wouldn’t ask me for a PIN if you wanted to phone me, would you?

Well, don’t bet on it. Against bumblebrains the gods fight in vain.

“Check your DVD player.” Debbie sounded like an automaton.

While she droned on in an expressionless 1984 voice ‘check your DVD player’, and I’m yelling back for the umpteen time ‘it’s not there’, as though talking louder would somehow penetrate the bone, I was pawing through my purse and backpack.

“Chekit ckekit chekit chekit chekit chekit chekit checkit chekit chekit chekit chekit….” I hung up.

In the exact amount of time it takes to punch in a seven-digit number–not a four-digit PIN–the phone rang again.

“We seem to have been disconnected,” she said, sarcastically.

“I hung up because you were talking ignorant,” I said.

“You were rude,” she accused.

I don’t have patience for officious, holier-than-thou attitudes.

“Check your DVD player,” the robot reiterated.

God, give me strength, I prayed under my breath.

“It’s not there!” I repeated.

“Then check on top of your computer,” she instructed.

It would be a feat to balance a DVD on the edge of an open lid of a laptop computer.

“I don’t have it!” I yelled again.

“I’m sending you an invoice,” she threatened, hanging up to my own promise, “If you do I’ll kick your ass.” Not physically but figuratively. If I’m forced to suffer undue grief because of this minion who created the problem then she is going down with me along with the whole library.

First, the library will blacklist me because of Debbie. Then assumptive information will be forwarded to the Finance department that will issue an invoice. Lack of payment means the amount owing eventually will be filed in small-debts court.

I guess I’m going to jail because I have no intentions of being a scapegoat for incompetent functionaries.

A similar incident had happened years ago at the behest of an incompetent Yukon Archives where a dozen people’s names were listed on a chart above the Xerox machine. We marked the number of copies under the appropriate box and paid our photocopying bill at the end of each month. One month, the receptionist issued a receipt as usual but forgot to mark my name off the list.

Occasionally, landlords have done the same. They would neglect to mark my name off the list and have tried to collect rent twice in the same month. These wrongful accusations are satisfactorily corrected within two or three weeks. An easily retrievable bank statement, cancelled cheque, bank transaction printout or a receipt provides necessary proof to the forgetful landlord that the monthly rent has been tendered.

With the Yukon Archives about two years passed without a hint of any irregularity. I was still using the archives. No phone calls or invoices. Then I was notified the government had filed my account in small debts court. After that length of time, my photocopying receipt was in storage. The cost would be $25 to bring the boxes down from the warehouse.

Despite principle, it was more prudent and economic to grudgingly pay another $8. But the government never blinked at spending $25 on a court filing fee to collect $8 from me.

I did not blast the Yukon archives off the planet like I intend to do over the present library episode to give patrons warning how vulnerable they are.

At the relevant time of the Yukon archives incident, I was in personal communications with the Yukon assistant commissioner who was a total write-off. His attitude was that an infallible government believed I was guilty of sin. Pay up.

Later, I received an apology of sorts from the Yukon commissioner. I nearly gagged. The letter started off in bold print: “To err is human; to forgive is divine”, then went on to defend the government’s stance.

Shortly thereafter, I was vindicated. The gentleman holds the distinction of being the only Yukon commissioner to be impeached on grounds of financial improprieties. While he was embezzling my $8 for the government coffers, he was caught pocketing thousands in ill-gotten gains from mining interests that were suppose to be disclosed and frozen in Trust.

From hereon, for as long as I am able to use the library–although I might not want to– it will be mandatory that I receive a receipt as proof that all materials have been returned in perfect condition.

I suggest that the library might want to give return receipts as a regular course of action, otherwise patrons have no recourse when wrongful accusations of thievery are levied. Waving a receipt under the noses of library staff and judges carries more weight than an ineffectual denial.


The Upshot

On Wednesday, April 13, I returned my last batch of materials to the library and obtained a receipt for the three single DVDs and a six-diskette set, ironically titled Avatar, only this one was a delightful animated film subtitled The Last Airbender.

By now, rumors had sizzled through the library grapevine. Joyce, a librarian, was not surprised that I wanted proof that materials were returned in good order and on time.

Later at home, I checked the library cataloging system online. The Watson Lake Library had upgraded the status of the sci-fi Avatar DVD from “in transit” to “available”.

To me, that meant the multi-disk DVD set was intact and ready for release to the public. You can’t release a half a movie to a patron, can you?

My interpretation, which could have been wrong for a half dozen reasons, was in fact correct. Joyce, the librarian who had prepared the receipt for me, confirmed my suspicions the following day both by phone and email that the “missing” DVD that was never “missing” had been found.

I never was firmly convinced that the diskette ever went “missing”. The diskettes ride deep inside the package, which is compressed so diskettes don’t inadvertently slip out, thus rendering the disks a bit stubborn to remove. I had suspected the DVD was probably hidden inside the package all along.

Instead of the person at the Watson Lake Library looking for the perceived “missing” material, it was easier to overreact on a slow Saturday afternoon (April 9) and have a Whitehorse Public Library staffer harass the last person who had the DVD checked out–discounting the dozens of interim people who handled the DVD between the time Avatar was received in the Whitehorse Public Library until it arrived back in Watson Lake.

However, Debbie had not conveyed to me that the “missing” DVD had been sent back to Watson Lake. At the relevant time, I was under the impression that the DVD had gone astray somewhere in the Whitehorse system.

My suggestion to the library was that the authorities should caution the library staff about charging patrons with “reverse onus”. Except for gun owners, “reverse onus” is unconstitutional and could backfire. Section 11(d) of the Charter (not that Canada lawmakers and activist judges pay much attention to the Constitution any more) does state “presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

There was absolutely no proven evidence that gave a library functionary the license to insinuate that I was a thief or a liar just because I couldn’t produce the Avatar DVD a second time on demand. And it was definitely premature to utter the threat of “invoice” at that particular juncture.

If I wasn’t mad before, I am now.

Debbie, the harasser who created this mess, had the obligation to follow up and notify me that the so-called “missing” DVD had been located. I didn’t need or want an apology. But she never gave me the courtesy of a phone call to advise that the DVD in question has been relocated and the movie was back on the Watson Lake Library shelf ready for circulation.

Her responsibilities had to be fulfilled by another library employee on her behalf. And Joyce had to send the email that sufficed as a receipt to prove that the Avatar DVD I returned to the Whitehorse Public Library had truly cleared my account on April 6th in good order.

I can only hope that email is a written guarantee that this specific incident will not come back to haunt me in the future like the Yukon Archives incident did.

This distressing screw-up has been a colossal waste of time and energy for a number of busy people. If I were invoicing the government–and believe me the thought has crossed my mind–the billing would be over a thousand dollars.

Jane Gaffin, April 17, 2011

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The author can be reached at Jane(at)

Copyright 2011