Thursday began just like any other day in Library Land: patrons were in and out, staff was taking care of business. Not too long into the morning one of our more regular patrons came in, and he asked if we were selling hats now.
Now, this gentleman I would place on the "normal to a bit of an odd duck" scale of patron behavior -- he's normally pretty laid back, he's got his eccentricities, but he is far, far away from our strangest patrons in terms of attitude and behavior.
We had no idea what he was talking about, and we explained that we did not sell hats. Why would we sell hats? I cannot imagine a great number of people wanting to rock library merchandise on their heads. Maybe if we were the Library of Congress, or the National Archives and someone had visited on vacation. We sell reusable canvas book bags for $1.
Apparently someone had left 3 baseball hats on top of the garbage can outside the entrance to the library at some point after we had opened for the day. No one on staff had realized this, but it explained why he was asking about hats. I went outside to check the book return, and there they were: three baseball hats sitting in a neat line on top of the garbage can. I left them right there. I am not handling hats of unknown provenance. Also, there was every possibility that someone in the building had left them there and was going to take them back after leaving the library. People do weird shit at public libraries. Seriously.
He kept going on and on about the hats. Did you get a free hat when you paid your fines? Ha ha ha. How big a fine did it have to be to get a free hat? Ha ha ha. He seemed to think repeating endless jokes about the hats was somehow going to make us find it hysterical.
A couple of hours later I went to check the outdoor book return again, and discovered that there were only two hats left on the garbage can now.
Holy crap! Had the patron actually taken one of the mystery hats? Why the hell would you want a mystery hat? What if they belonged to another patron?
By the end of the day the two mystery hats still sat there on the garbage can. I took a picture, wondering how long it was going to take before they all magically disappeared. I know how some of our patrons can act. They slowly stole a bike, piece by piece. When an office upstairs was doing renovations and had a garbage dumpster in the parking people shopped in that thing like it was a great new store. There was no way those hats were going to be there for very long.
Hats from the garbage can! While supplies last!
I work the late shift on Fridays, and I was worried I might miss all the fun of the mystery hats. What if someone just threw them away? (Slim to no chance, but it could happen.) What if they were gone by the time I came in and I never knew how fast they disappeared? It does not take much to amuse me, folks.
When I arrived at work I saw that the hats were still there, but someone had very neatly moved them from the top of the garbage can and they were now sitting on top of the book return. Wait -- did someone actually empty the garbage can and keep the hats? Nope. Pretty sure that was our patron who scrounges for recyclable cans every morning.
I went on my dinner break a few hours later, and another hat had gone missing. One lonely hat remained and, as if to add to his sad state, he had once again been moved back to sit atop the garbage can.
And then there was one...
Apparently we do not have a lot of golf afficionados as patrons, or else they are not cool with wearing other people's discarded mementos. This hat was from a championship at a local golf course. Poor, lonely hat! How long will you have to sit there?
Not long, as it turned out. By the time I came back from break the last hat was gone. It only took about a day for three mystery hats of unknown origin to find new homes. Unbelievable!
We have a lot of awesome patrons: they are kind, they like to share with others, and they donate a lot of things. We get tons of donations for the library and its book sale. We constantly have patrons trying to give us their old magazines. We have had patrons bring us art work to see if we could sell it at the book sale. Our knitting groups make hats, afghans, and lap blankets for the local veterans' hospital, homeless shelters, and other organizations, and patrons bring in items they have made at home to donate to the cause. Our patrons rock!
That being said....
REASONS NEVER TO TAKE ITEMS LEFT ON TOP OF A GARBAGE CAN AT THE LIBRARY
1. Common sense, people: you DO NOT know where these items came from. They could have lice or bedbugs for starters. Why would you want to risk it?
2. They might belong to someone inside the library. Most of our patrons are great, but we also have a fairly large number of patrons with various issues that might lead them to believe it is perfectly logical to leave their multiple hats on a garbage can outside. Trust me when I say you do not want to piss these patrons off.
3. They may have actually been in the garbage can, along with god only knows what else, and someone removed them. It happens more than you would think.
4. They could be stolen property. Seriously. People have brought stolen bikes to the library, a purse they stole from someone at the mall, stolen phones, etc. Do you really want to end up involved in a situation like that?
I think that should suffice on reasons why it is a bad idea to take mystery items left on a garbage can.
*To the kind folks who think they are being "helpful" by leaving such articles for others: please don't do it here. You know the library is not the proper place for that. Take them to the Good Will or the Salvation Army. Donate them to a homeless shelter of half-way house. Leave them in front of your own home with a "free" sign -- you will be amazed at how quickly things disappear!*