my coworker brings her boyfriend to work every day — and his kid comes too

A reader writes:

This week I’ve found myself as the mediator between a coworker who I love and my boss, who is also a great lady. I work in a small public library with a limited number of staff. My coworker, “Cathy,” is a single mom who directs children’s programming part-time. Her son has special needs and is home-schooled, so he’s with her nearly 24/7. She acquired special permission to have her son at work when she’s on the clock, and even though that requires a lot of her attention, she makes up for it by completing tasks off the clock. She does a great job and we have a lot of programs and activities that are popular in the community.

The problem with Cathy began earlier this summer. She started dating a guy, “Mark,” whose son has been coming to her programs for a few years. They quickly became inseparable, and I’ve never seen Cathy this happy. However, now that the two are practically sewn together, every day that Cathy works, Mark tags along as well until he has to leave for his own job. Now Cathy has her son, Mark, and occasionally Mark’s son with her the majority of the time she’s working in the library. This began while my boss was on vacation. One of those days while I was working the circulation desk, both Cathy and Mark sat behind the desk with me and were very affectionate. When my boss came back, we received a complaint from a regular patron about Cathy “sitting on Mark’s lap” behind the front desk. My boss had a sign posted that only staff on duty were allowed behind the desk, in hopes that Mark (who isn’t even a library employee) will stay away. Cathy was irritated, but began to feel appropriately chastised when she understood the complaint.

Now my boss is frustrated with Mark’s continued attachment to Cathy while she’s working. She feels it is unprofessional and patrons will feel uncomfortable when they walk in the kids’ room and see the four of them as a family unit, with food and homework spread out on the table. She told Cathy that she doesn’t want Mark at the library all the time while Cathy is working, but Cathy is angry and says that our boss cannot ban Mark from a public building because other patrons come and stay for hours as well. Cathy says that Mark is not negatively influencing her work and he is helping to home-school her son while she’s doing her work. Yesterday, the two came to a head over the issue and Cathy left upset. She says she doesn’t know what to do and she wants to go to someone in a higher position because Mark cannot be banned from a public building. I am trying to help keep the peace because we don’t want Cathy to quit, but my boss is standing firm on the issue. Cathy just doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Mark being there and other patrons staying all day as long as her work quality doesn’t suffer. How do you think we can peacefully resolve this issue?

Cathy got special permission to have her son at work all day, which is a huge accommodation that most employers wouldn’t have given her, and now she thinks it’s reasonable to have her boyfriend and his kid there too?

Cathy … is not thinking clearly, to put it mildly.

I can’t speak to the rules around banning Mark from a public library, but your boss doesn’t need to go that route anyway. She should just tell Cathy that she cannot socialize with Mark while she’s at work, period.

And she should stop trying to communicate via sign. I get that she wanted that “only staff allowed behind desk” sign to speak to Mark too, but I’m baffled about why she didn’t just say directly and firmly to Cathy, “You cannot allow Mark behind the desk here.”

And, uh, “You cannot sit on someone else’s lap while you’re working.”

I mean, come on. She was on his lap.

Your manager is being weirdly hesitant to address all of this. There are flagrant violations of normal workplace behavior and boundaries all over the place, all of which she needs to tell Cathy to cut out.

The messaging at this point to Cathy needs to be this: “Your socializing with Mark has become disruptive and is a distraction from our work. Mark is welcome to come here as a patron and you can interact with him as you would any other patron, but going forward you cannot socialize with him during your working hours. That means that he can’t be behind the desk, you can’t engage in public displays of physical affection with him, and you cannot include him at the table where you’re home-schooling your son. We were able to get you special permission to have (son) here during the day, but that permission does not extend to including Mark and his son in that arrangement.”

Frankly, she should also probably say, “If you continue to have Mark and his son join you when you’re attending to (son), it could jeopardize that arrangement entirely.” Because it should. She was given a very generous set-up that most employers wouldn’t have agreed to, and now she’s abusing it.

You asked how the issue can be peacefully resolved. But if your manager’s primary goal here is “don’t upset Cathy,” that’s not going to work. Your manager’s first obligations are to the library, and she needs to stand behind her decisions about what’s in its best interests — even if Cathy doesn’t like it. Right now, Cathy is willing to be wildly unreasonable, and that’s not someone you should be trying to appease.

{ 511 comments… read them below }

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t know how universal this is, but library rules on food and behavior seem to have slacked off a lot in recent years, I guess because so many kids are there alone after school, and in an attempt to make them more user-friendly.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Huh. That was the biggest no-no when I worked at a library 20 years ago.

        I mean, it’s hardly the biggest issue in this letter, but it really struck me.

      2. Indoor Cat*

        In my local library, there is a food area with tile floors and foldable dining tables, so you can eat food there without making a mess. Ostensibly, you can only eat at the food area. But, inevitably, people began eating at the counter that looks out the window , and then at the table in the adjacent Teen Room, and then at pretty much any study table dispersed throughout the library. The only time the rule is enforced is if someone is making a real mess, or if food is brought into the computer lab.

        While I’m sure it varies, our city had a huge remodelling and expansion of the library building and collection about fourteen years ago, and it was based on a projected increase of patrons. Unfortunately, that proved too optimistic, and while more people did patronize the library, it was ~probably~ not enough to justify the expense. So the library staff seem loath to do anything that’d make people take their patronage elsewhere, especially since libraries in neighboring counties have better reputations (and bigger budgets to do fun things like have celebrity guest authors and free graphic novel workshops and so on).

        As a result, library staff look anxious if they have to reprimand anyone, even if someone is being genuinely disruptive (like having a loud cell phone conversation in the quiet study area).

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        Yeah when I worked at a library the rules also banned any drinks that were not water in a sealed bottle. We had computers for patron use that we couldn’t afford to replace if someone spilled their double-shot tall skinny flat white all over them.

        I reckon it’s already pretty generous that her child’s allowed to eat there (unless there’s a staffroom that he stays in, but the letter makes that sound unlikely… I was kind of picturing a picnic in the middle of the reading area, which made every nerve in my ex-librarian body run cold with dread). I just can’t see how someone could feel entitled to having their boyfriend kicking around at work, much less picnics and canoodling.

    2. Footiepjs*

      At my local library, people can bring small snacks and beverages, but they aren’t allowed to bring in and eat a full meal. It sounds like the spread is definitely crossing that line.

        1. Infinity Anon*

          The library I go to allows food with restrictions mostly related to mess. Food needs to be able to be eaten without utensils and not be greasy or hot. Drinks need to be in a sealable container. Basically, a cold cheese sandwich is allowed while a hamburger is not. I don’t know how strict the enforcement is though.

        2. Yomi*

          Our library has certain tables that are labeled as allowing “closed” drinks (so bottles with a lid or a travel mug for your coffee), and otherwise there’s no food allowed to be out elsewhere.

          That said I haven’t actually been in the study rooms or the kids section, so I don’t know the rules there but I imagine it’s similar that there’s a few places where specific types of things are allowed. Primarily it’s a “don’t make a mess but we know you might want some water if you’re studying for twelve hours and heaven forbid we don’t let you have your Starbucks” kind of thing. These are also the tables where it’s designed for group study so they’re already in an area where they expect some noise, etc.

          1. Marian the Librarian*

            Usually the children’s section is even more strict about food because of the combination of food allergies and small children’s propensity to put things in their mouths!

      1. ThatGirl*

        I didn’t read it as a “spread” of food, just that whatever food was there was spread out over the table along with homework – so maybe books, notebooks, writing implements and a few snacks or whatever. I could be wrong though.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        That actually makes more sense, though, to have a designated area where food and drink are allowed, separate from the stacks. I wouldn’t mind that myself, except our local library is a little tight on space.

        1. Evan Þ*

          Yep, one of my local libraries has the same arrangement. I’ve brought lunch there a couple times while volunteering, and I just ate it in the café.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          I’ve never seen that, but given that cafes in bookstores (like Barnes&Noble) are more common, it’s not a huge leap to put them in a library.

      2. I just might*

        Ours used to have a room for people to eat and drink in, with vending machines. It was removed due to ant problems.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        The one closest to me is attached to a Panera Bread. However, all the branches have meeting rooms where you can have food–my Doctor Who group meets at the big southside library and we often have potluck meetings there. This same branch also contains a coffee shop right near the circulation desk. But I don’t think any food is allowed in the stacks or on the tables.

      4. Turtledove*

        The library in the town I grew up in had a little cafe in the same building – you had to go out into the main lobby to access it, which meant that you couldn’t just casually have a snack or a drink and read a book because you would have had to check out the book(s) first if you didn’t want to set off the security alarms. But it was there, and there wasn’t anything saying you couldn’t check a book out, go have lunch at the cafe and read while you ate, and then check the book back in once you were done reading and eating.

        I’m not sure if the cafe’s still open – the operating hours got really flaky when I was a teen, and I think the place changed ownership a couple times.

    3. LQ*

      Yeah, my library is fine with this on some floors, others they are a little more strict with, but there is also a cafe attached and people bring in full meals to eat all the time in some of the spaces. It’s a fairly common lunching spot because it’s a lovely building, they let you bring your own food and it’s connect to other buildings so you don’t have to go outside in the winter.

      1. LJL*

        We’re in a local cultural group that meets at our library most of the time. These meetings ALWAYS involve food. I think this has changed a lot over the years.

    4. Oryx*

      Some libraries are beginning to relax the food rule, although having it “spread out” is still probably against their policy.

    5. McWhadden*

      Pretty normal for kids’ areas to allow snacks and stuff. Small kids get so fussy when hungry it’s the lesser evil.

    6. LadyB*

      I work in a public library, and we do allow food in some areas. The idea is that we want people to feel welcome to stay as long as they need. That often involves snacks. :)

      We also offered a summer lunch program in our children’s room this year. It’s to help out people who miss out on a regular lunch when school isn’t in session.

      1. neonsparkles*

        I just have to chime in for my first ever comment to say how wonderful that program sounds. I’m in my 30’s now and with a well paying job, but as a child I dealt with food insecurity. Knowing that there are programs out there to help kids in the summertime makes me feel so much better.

    7. Sylvan*

      Could depend on where you live, too. In my area, roughly half of the public libraries are inside of public schools. They allow a little bit of food because a lot of students spend their lunch breaks reading and relaxing in the libraries.

    8. Tuxedo Cat*

      Some libraries I’ve been to have coffee shops and it appears you can take beverages to open stacks. I’m in a library right now that doesn’t have a coffee shop. Both people in front of me have drinks and food.

    9. Super Secret Squirrel*

      The libraries near me have cafes and/or coffee shops in them. I’m not clear on the rules for food in the stacks though.

  1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Wait, Cathy is working off the clock? OP, that’s a big concern — I’m a little surprised Alison glossed right by that!

    1. Juli G.*

      That jumped out at me too. If Cathys non-exempt, this is a big issue.

      (In Allison’s defense, I can see how lap sitting got more weight in the convo.)

    2. Florida*

      It is a concern, but I’m not sure if it’s OP’s concern. If it doesn’t affect OP’s working situation (and it doesn’t seem like it does), I would leave that problem for management to handle.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, the OP isn’t Cathy’s manager and she’s not asking for help with that. (And it sounds like it’s only “off the clock” in that it’s outside of her scheduled hours — but that she’s spending a good portion of her scheduled hours not working, so it’s possible that it’s actually well within the total amount of time she’s being paid to do work, who knows.)

        1. LBK*

          I think we often talk about on the clock/off the clock as though the law specifically only lets you do work when you’re clocked in on some kind of system, but that actually doesn’t matter. The only reason it’s usually treated so strictly is that in most cases working “off the clock” means working extra hours you aren’t being paid for, but if Cathy works 8 hours and is paid for 8 hours, the law doesn’t actually care if she records that in the system as working from 8am-4pm while actually doing 8 hours worth of work from 8am-7pm with breaks in between to attend to her son.

          1. Yomi*

            Yeah, that was my assumption with the way this was worded. I have in the past week brought home some work that I couldn’t get done during my work day. I did that work at home on a day where my schedule read that I was “off.”

            But I also probably spent at least an hour that week catching up with a friend at the office who had been on vacation (talking about personal stuff, not work projects), sitting and staring at the wall while drinking my coffee because I needed to take a break, talking on the phone with my spouse, etc.

            I have absolutely no problem with the fact that I brought work home and it was “off the clock,” and as far as I know my employer doesn’t care that much either because it balances out. If I was doing constant back to back stuff at work and then bringing home two or three hours worth of projects so I could meet deadlines, then I’d say something and I’d really sit down to focus on my time management and my priorities.

            I do think this entire system doesn’t sound ideal or like it protects employer or employee from repercussions if one side of the equation decides the arrangement isn’t working, so it’s generally not ideal and the manager should probably not let it continue in the informal way it’s described here. But that’s just because if things get contentious then it would be easy for either side to claim things that didn’t happen or make it look like the other party was trying to pull something.

    3. Stellaaaaa*

      It sounds like Cathy might be doing part of her son’s homeschooling at the library while she is on the clock. Logically it follows that she should finish up some work unpaid, though that becomes unwieldy so quickly.

  2. always in email jail*

    WoooOOOooow. All I really have to say is that, as Alison pointed out, being allowed to bring your son to work is a HUGE accommodation, and one she is very lucky to receive.
    Also, as she pointed out, he cannot “ban” a taxpaying resident from the library I’m sure, but he CAN direct Cathy’s actions during work hours, such as telling her she needs to be behind the desk working instead of in the “kid’s room” with her boyfriend.

    1. Florida*

      Actually, you can ban a taxpaying resident from the library. My library has trespass warnings with specific people’s names on them posted near the front door.
      If someone is creating a problem in the library, they can be asked to leave (just like any other business). If it is a serious problem, they can be banned.
      In this case, though, I don’t think Boyfriend is the problem. I think Cathy is the problem. If a library employee allows a resident to do a certain thing (sit behind the counter, for example), then you can’t ban the resident for doing that.
      The solution here is not to ban Boyfriend from the library, but to tell Cathy to act like a professional when Boyfriend is in the library.

      1. fposte*

        It’s not quite just like any other business, though; that’s the challenge. You have a right to be in a library that you don’t have to be in a business. Therefore bans exist, but they generally follow clearly established protocols that have been reviewed by lawyers (that’s what they’re supposed to follow, anyway), and there should be documentation of the offenses and communication, preferably written, with the offending patron.

        1. Florida*

          I realize that you can’t ban someone for looking funny (or other stupid reason), which you could in a private business. My point was just that the library DOES have a right to ban people for plenty of reasons. A non-employee sitting in an employee only section would be a good reason to kick him out. My library has a police officer there at all times. Trespass warnings are the biggest part of that assignment. (They are very tolerant, but he still issues more trespass warnings than say, breaking up fights.)

          But as I said before, I don’t think banning Boyfriend is the solution. The problem is Cathy, not the boyfriend. In many ways (not 100%), Boyfriend is acting like a normal patron. It is Cathy’s responsibility to say, “I am working. I can’t talk to you right now.”

        2. Lumos*

          Library employee here. Trespassing someone from our library is highly dependent on the in-charge staff for the day and the police officer that is at the branch at the time. Once something has become a repeated issue, we can get someone trespassed should we choose. Libraries often post a code of conduct that you are required to follow, and if you break it, you can be trespassed, regardless of the fact that your taxes pay for us.

        3. Marian the Librarian*

          Just to echo what Lumos said (I am also a librarian in a public library), the director could absolutely ban Mark from the library in this situation (at least for the day), especially because they have a documented patron complaint about Mark’s behavior. Most libraries have a policy saying that people can be banned for “causing a disturbance to others,” which covers noise, PDA, and all sorts of other things. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we ban people willy-nilly over any patron complaint, but if a librarian evaluates a situation and finds the complaint to be valid (someone yelling profanities repeatedly, for instance), we can ban the patron from the library. But, as others have pointed out, Mark definitely shouldn’t be banned–that’s not the solution to this problem. It’s Cathy that needs to change her behavior.

      2. McWhadden*

        Banning someone from a library is a huge production. First, you have to have cause. Second, you have to give the person notice of their long-term ban. Third, you have to give them some sort of hearing (it doesn’t have to be in person but you have to let them object to their ban.)

        It’s a lot more than just saying “don’t bring your boyfriend here.”

        But as you and Allison point out it’s really not the point, anyway.

        1. Delightful Daisy*

          Also a librarian here. The rules around banning or trespassing a patron vary by state and sometimes by local ordinance. In some places it is harder than in others. It may also depend on the type of public library- municipal vs. district vs. non-profit. I also think Cathy is the problem and the director needs to, well direct, the employee. She needs to clearly communicate the expectations and then hold Cathy accountable. family members often make quick stops in a library to drop something off, pick something up or use the library. These are usually limited to quick visits rather than all day and should definitely not include PDA’s, shared food and homeschooling. As a director, I have occasionally granted staff one-time permission to bring their child to work for special circumstances. It was very generous of the director and/or board and/or city to allow the arrangement of bringing her child to work. I think Cathy is misunderstanding that that is a great benefit and that it can also be revoked if she doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain.

          OP, my suggestion is to stop being the go-between and ask your director to take care of this situation. Good luck!

      3. Marian the Librarian*

        Yes, this! I am a department head in a public library, and we can indeed ban people who violate our policies. In fact, under one of our policies, which is simply regarding “patrons who are disturbing others,” Mark could certainly be banned from the library without any trouble. However, I don’t think this is the right tack in this situation.
        As others have said, Cathy is the one who has the problem. Her boss needs to speak with her again and tell her under no uncertain terms that Mark is not allowed to be behind the desk. My husband has visited me at work numerous times if we’re planning to go out to dinner, but he just reads in the reading area until I’m finished with work. This is the case with numerous other staff members’ spouses/SOs as well! They have hung out in the office, in the break room, or in public areas, but never behind a public service desk. Honestly, he shouldn’t be hanging out with Cathy at all even if he’s in front of the desk–that would discourage patrons from coming to ask Cathy for help. If Cathy won’t listen to reason about this, then she shouldn’t be working at a public service desk.

        1. TootsNYC*

          right–he can be AT the library, and IN the library, and USING the library.

          But he can’t be WITH Cathy while she is AT work.
          Prepositions matter.

    2. always in email jail*

      I didn’t literally mean it can’t be done, I just meant it’s a public space and the focus should be on discussing appropriate workplace behavior with the employee, not focusing on “Marc”

    3. kittymommy*

      I know at my government organization (which includes libraries) you most certainly can ban someone and it happens quite often.
      Cathy is being hugely unreasonable. Beyond getting special accommodation for her son, which I’m shocked by and really impressed with the library, she now wants to bring hee boyfriend and his kid into the mix?? Seriously? Nope, nope, nope.

    4. Hills to Die on*

      Cathy needs to be told that:
      1. She is not 14 and should not treat this like a middle school relationship.
      2. She is not at home and cannot do whatever she wants.
      3. Mark is not at home and cannot do whatever he wants.
      4. She cannot handle the generous arrangement made earlier about having her son here all day because she is not mature enough nor responsible enough.
      5. She is to address your boss about any work arrangement issues (not that she will ever have one again) and not go to her boss’ boss because that is also unnecessary and unprofessional.
      6. She drops this whole thing immediately or is put on probabtion (or whatever the process is).

      Cathy appears to be blinded to rational thought at the moment.

      1. Indoor Cat*

        #4, I can totally see why both OP and Boss would be hesitant to enforce this consequence, even though it’s fairly straightforward. I mean, abuse a privilege lose a privilege.

        But, the privilege was granted in the first place because here’s this special needs child, he clearly isn’t doing well in regular school, and here’s this hardworking single mom, and the boss felt compassion for them and the tough hand they’ve been dealt.

        It’s really hard to turn that compassionate emotion off in a circumstance where the underlying situation didn’t change. What changed is Cathy’s personal sensibility: now she is acting in a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of gratitude. But her son’s problem didn’t change, and he’s completely innocent in all this drama, so that makes Boss feel pretty stuck. It’s like Cathy is using Boss’ compassion against her, which is awful.

        So, aghh, it’s irritating but I suspect that Boss is really not going to want to do #4, which makes the whole scenario harder to solve.

      2. Carlee*

        No one should be able to bring their kid to work, pretty much ever. It’s inappropriate, particularly with a job like Cathy’s, i.e. one in which a significant component involves providing services to library patrons.

    5. Mine Own Telemachus*

      Oh it is absolutely possible to ban someone from a library, even a public one. We had a dude in our city who liked to use the library computers to look at … well, illegal things, if you get my drift. He was banned from the library altogether, and employees were instructed to call the police if he ever showed up.

      1. Annabelle*

        Yeah, one of my close friends used to work at our local library and they banned people somewhat regularly. But it was mostly people who left their kids there for 8+ hours or were caught using drugs in the bathrooms.

    6. Kelsi*

      Yeah. Regardless of whether they can ban Mark, they can definitely discipline (or even, with the appropriate documentation, fire) Cathy.

  3. Nic Cage*

    As a librarian, I can confirm that you can definitely ban someone from a public building if they become a disruption (although it is a fairly long and in-depth process, with documentation required, at least every place that I have worked).

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      And it sounds like it’s Cathy’s behavior that is the problem — there will already be rules about what patrons like Heathcliff Mark can do.

    2. fposte*

      Though the issue here isn’t that Mark’s disruptive; it’s that Cathy’s canoodling when she should be working. Mark should be firmly told that whether his girlfriend invites him or not he’s not allowed behind the desk, sure, but I bet that hasn’t even happened yet.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        One would think that canoodling at work would be a fairly obvious thing not to do but, as I’ve seen from this website, common sense seems to just pass some people right by.

        Also, kudos for using canoodling. I feel like this word needs to be said more.


        (It’s even fun to write.)

    3. Seal*

      As a fellow librarian, I was just about to say the same thing.

      As a manager of a branch library myself (albeit in an academic library system), I’m surprised that Cathy is allowed to spend work time on her special needs son in the first place. It’s one thing to have someone’s kid sit quietly in a public library doing their homework and otherwise keeping to themselves while their parent is at work. But if her son’s needs are such that she winds up doing work off the clock something’s very wrong with that arrangement. Not to mention the inherent liability issues.

      1. Kate*

        Yeah, I’m a public library director, and I have an employee whose kids are dropped off here by the school bus. They hang out for about an hour and a half until her husband comes to pick them up. It’s an accommodation that she negotiated during the hiring process, and she was a strong enough candidate that I was willing to do it. They do homework, read books, play on the computer–and her total “parenting” time during all of that is maybe 5 minutes, which is less time than other employees spend standing around talking about their weekends. This accommodation was reasonable to me, but most of that is based on the fact that her kids can reliably entertain themselves. No way would this work for a kid who needed more constant attention, special needs or no.

        And, yes, you can totally ban someone from a public library–but honestly, why bother jumping through those hoops? The situation is egregious enough that telling Cathy that she’ll be fired if it continues–and then following through–would solve the problem.

        1. Seal*

          One of my employees’ teenage kid semi-regularly sits in our public area quietly doing homework or watching videos. Her mom told me that she’s being doing that most of her life and that from a very young age she emphasized that if her kid wanted to hang out at the library she had to be quiet and not disturb other people. Honestly, if I didn’t actually see her sitting at a table on those days I wouldn’t know she was there. But as Kate states, that only works if the kid in question can reliably entertain themselves.

      2. Snark*

        And she has the unmitigated gall to claim that her work isn’t negatively affected. That’s what blows my mind.

        1. Lissa*

          Somebody saying “my work isn’t affected” is like someone saying “I’m treating my family member just like every other employee.” You can’t judge those things in yourself. Most people think they’re more objective and better multitaskers than they are, so even though it might be true in some cases… not something somebody can assespreadsheet in themself.

            1. Marian the Librarian*

              Right? She’s behind a public desk, where she’s supposed to be helping patrons, canoodling with her boyfriend. If one patron complained, I can only imagine how many just simply didn’t go to the desk because they didn’t want to interrupt their PDA. I can absolutely see patrons being like, “Wow, I don’t want to approach the desk where that’s going on, I think I just won’t ask for help/check out these books today.” So it’s not just annoying, it could actually be affecting their reference and circulation statistics. As others have pointed out, if Cathy doesn’t see reason, this could easily be a fireable offense.

        2. Sylvan*

          Her work during her scheduled time isn’t affected, but she has to do work off the clock to keep up.


    4. Antilles*

      Right. The library likely has a “rules of the library” sign posted near your entrance, which very likely includes a phrase like “patrons who do not follow these rules may be asked to leave”.
      That said, taking that step is likely to lead directly to Cathy leaving the job, because nothing in her actions thus far have indicated she’s likely to take “you banned my boyfriend????” well.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Also – isn’t “asking to leave now (on this one occasion) because you just did X” easier than “banning from library because you keep doing X”? So don’t need to ban – just chuck him out every time he is sitting at a desk with Cathy.

        1. always in email jail*

          Why is the focus on kicking him out? Cathy should be reminded of the rules of her workplace every time he’s caught behind the desk. If she asks him to remove himself from behind the desk and he won’t, then it’s appropriate to escalate it and ask for library staff to help remove him, but until Cathy asks him to leave the focus needs to be on Cathy’s actions here, not Mark

          1. Infinity Anon*

            Yep. Mark doesn’t need to be kicked out. Cathy needs to be told that if she continues socializing during work she will jeopardize her job.

          2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            Agreed. Cathy is the problem. It’s not like Mark is coming in to the library and sitting behind the desk when Cathy isn’t there. Cathy is allowing it to happen. Mark knows that this won’t fly if Cathy isn’t there. Same with his kid being there. He’s not dropping off his child when Cathy isn’t there. Cathy is the one who needs to be spoken to and be advised of what is and isn’t appropriate work behavior. It never fails to amaze me what people think is okay to do at work. I once had to fire an employee at a clothing store who thought it was okay to make out with her boyfriend on the sales floor and then try to have sex in the fitting room. She was honestly baffled when I told her that it wasn’t okay.

            1. Super Secret Squirrel*

              “I once had to fire an employee at a clothing store who thought it was okay to make out with her boyfriend on the sales floor and then try to have sex in the fitting room. She was honestly baffled when I told her that it wasn’t okay.”


  4. 42*

    Yeah. “Public building” is not what Cathy should be focusing on as her fallback defense. She should treat this as any other place of business and realize that a place of business is not an extension of her private home. She was incredibly fortunate to have accommodations made for her, and not crap all over that. It has to be incredibly off-putting to the patrons.

    1. SunshineOH*

      Right. A grocery store is also a public building. Restaurant, mall, gas station… And this wouldn’t be be okay at any of those jobs.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        No, “public” in the sense of it is a government-run property rather than a private business. Grocery stores, restaurants ans malls are all private businesses.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agreed. Many people work in public buildings. It’s still inappropriate to canoodle with your boyfriend at work. I don’t think DMV or police employees should be sitting on their boyfriend’s laps at work, either.

      This whole group is hoping Mark will just suddenly take a hint and stop coming around, and then they won’t have to have a conversation that Cathy won’t like. You can’t have the former without the latter; you have to decide whether cutting back way on Mark’s presence is worth an upset Cathy (spoiler: yes). If these people were that intuitive, or if they wanted to take hints, you wouldn’t need to tell them how inappropriate their behavior is.

      1. Artemesia*

        I am just stunned that people in positions of management don’t manage. This situation is only continuing because the manager is a total doofus. No one likes confrontation but an employee who has abused the good graces of the employer this dramatically needs to be confronted. The first time this happened, she should have been told that she cannot socialize with Fergus at work, cannot entertain his son with her son, and that the lap sitting was appallingly non -professional. And the second time this occurred she should have been fired. This is gross abuse of having been given special accommodations.

  5. Cambridge Comma*

    OP says that she’s trying to keep the peace, but she could consider stepping back out of the issue entirely. It sounds like OP and Cathy’s boss has the right instincts and isn’t going to let the issue go.

    1. Sadsack*

      Agreed. There’s nothing for OP to do here, unless she wants to show this blog to her boss. Boss should quit with the signs and tell Cathy to knock it off.

    2. LBK*

      Depends on their relationships – on a former team I was positioned correctly to be able to mediate a somewhat similar issue between my boss and my coworker where my coworker was aggressively steamrolling over my boss on an issue and my boss didn’t have the wherewithal to hold his ground (the details of the situation weren’t remotely similar, but same kind of deal with an overly passive manager).

      1. Bleeborp*

        Also, I don’t know how their library is structured, but it’s possible the boss doesn’t spend as much time out on the floor and at the desk to observe the extent to which Mark is disrupting work- whenever Cathy is fully involved in her own family/romantic time, that’s a time when a patron either isn’t getting help or the OP or another staff person is having to do her job and that is frustrating and disruptive to the OP’s workflow.

        1. Kelly*

          Given that Cathy is already distracted with her son and others have to pick up the slack for her, including the OP, that’s a problem.

          Most librarians unless they have a background outside of libraries in management or customer service or have good people skills aren’t great managers or supervisors. It’s the norm in library school to have one or two classes at most on library and personnel management. The MLS is required for most library supervisory or management roles in both public and academic library but I’m not sure it’s as important as its defenders make it out to be. The proof is the sheer number of indifferent to awful managers there are in libraries.

  6. Murphy*

    My first job (I was a teenager) was at a library. I was told not to socialize while I was on the clock. I understood, and it wasn’t that hard. I had another job as an adult in an equally public space. I knew not to cross the line from a friendly hello/how are you to hanging out and not doing my job.

    I’m definitely sympathetic to Cathy’s situation, but there’s definitely a clear difference between attending to her son (which as Alison says, is super generous), and hanging out with her boyfriend.

    1. k.k*

      Not socializing while at work seems like such an across the board norm that I’m surprised Cathy can’t understand it. When you go to the grocery store, you might see the cashier give a friendly greeting to someone but wouldn’t expect them to have a friend behind the register with them. It’s shocking the way common sense can elude some.

      1. Red 5*

        Exactly. I’ve worked numerous retail jobs at stores where my friends shopped. While my bosses generally didn’t have a problem with my friends being there, there were also specific professional ways to handle it, which basically was “if I had work to do they could go shop in another section” and “customers take the priority at all times,” etc. I would never even imagine PDAs at work, even on days when my boyfriend would come to pick me up and come in the store. You can speak to your friends, even talk with them if work is slow. But she’s obviously crossed a line and it’s just inappropriate, and would be at basically any business.

    2. Duck Season*

      I worked in my college library, so I was friends with colleagues and many of the patrons; I still didn’t spend my work hours socializing. Cathy needs to grow up.

    3. Forrest*

      I’m not sympathetic. The issue isn’t about her kid – it’s about her boyfriend and his kid.

    4. Mel*

      Same! I worked in my local library my senior year of high school, and occasionally I would see a friend from school there. Other than a hello, I never did anything more than help a good friend take the staff elevator with me one time.

    5. Xarcady*

      I used to supervise undergrads who worked at the university’s circulation desk. One of the things I went over was that they could not socialize with their friends while they were working.

      Their friends could certainly come over and say hi, and the student worker could tell them when they would be off work, but long, extended conversations were not allowed. And if their friends wouldn’t leave, the kids could always flag me or another staff member and we would come over and be the Big Meanie who told the friends to go away until their friend’s shift was over.

      None of our students ever complained about the rule. And most of them really did try to follow it. There were one or two students who just broke the rule, but they also broke just about every other rule we had, so they never lasted very long.

    6. LizM*

      I worked at the Student Involvement desk at my college (we provided support for all the student organizations). Our desk was just off the main part of our Student Union so my friends were constantly walking by.

      It was drilled into us that we could exchange pleasantries, but it wasn’t appropriate to socialize. First, because even if there weren’t any students at the desk, there was other work we could be doing, and also because it’s hard to walk up an interrupt a private conversation, and we didn’t want to discourage students who needed our help.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, can you gently help Cathy understand how out of bounds she’s behaving? This has nothing to do with banning Mark, and by clinging to that notion she’s really missing how deeply unprofessional and inappropriate she’s being. If I did what she was doing in high school I would have been fired. There’s no way what she’s doing is ok as an adult. The fact that she can’t seem to distinguish is really concerning/troubling.

    There is so much wtf here.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      I think Cathy is beyond “gentle.” “She told Cathy that she doesn’t want Mark at the library all the time while Cathy is working…” Cathy has already hints and talking-tos, and she’s still digging in her heels.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        Agreed. There are a few options here:
        1. The manager says nothing and ignores things and Cathy continues to behave inappropriately at work and she’s happy but the rest of the staff and patrons are not.
        2. The manager says very clearly that Cathy needs to behave appropriately while she’s working and that she will no longer be able to watch Mark’s son in addition to her own while working. Cathy will be upset but staff and patrons will be happier.
        3. The manager continues to hint and leave passive-aggressive notes which Cathy notices but ignores. Cathy, staff, and patrons will be annoyed and likely feel the undertones of tension that this approach takes.

        My point is there isn’t an option that works where everybody is going to be happy. Sometimes someone has to be upset in order to get things done. It’s never a popular choice but then again doing the right thing isn’t always the popular choice.

  8. fposte*

    Yeah, I’m a library person, and boss is wimping out here. Of course they can’t ban Mark from the building, but they don’t have to–all they have to do is ban him from visiting staff and ban Cathy from having visits while she’s working. And I’m not sure how old his son is, but the son should also be subject to the library’s rules about how old a kid has to be before he’s allowed to hang in the library unsupervised, because the librarians aren’t babysitters, even if they’re willing to be.

    1. fposte*

      Let me rephrase that first sentence–they *can* ban Mark from the building, but not for being in the library a lot. I’m not convinced they could even ban him for going behind the desk given that library staff approved it.

      1. nnn*

        That’s a good point. I don’t know about the rules about what you *can* do but it’s certainly not *right* to ban a client from the library because he went behind the desk at the invitation of a library employee. The fault lies with the employee who invited him behind the desk.

      2. Liane*

        I would HOPE they could ban him for repeated PDAs, whether the other party was Cathy-the-employee, a fellow patron, or the branch’s namesake.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Depends what PDA means. I don’t think a pair of library patrons should be banned for handholding, leaning on each other, giving each other sappy smiles, calling each other “snookums,” or even sitting on each other’s laps. It’s a library, not a Puritan village, and while it may be eye-rolly to see, people are allowed to be ooey-gooey in public.

          But none of that is appropriate behavior for an employee at almost any workplace.

    2. Snark*

      And, not to put too fine a point on it, they could also solve the entire problem by finding someone else to run children’s programs, who will actually work when they’re at work.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          This is what is driving me up the wall!

          There are *so many* unemployed and underemployed people with MLS degrees. People who would never do this. But Cathy, with all her antics, gets full time?

        2. Kelly*

          Any library in an area with a library school would have a surplus of multiple qualified applicants to replace her.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        It sounds like Cathy does excellent work and they would like to keep her (at least, that’s the LW’s read). Which is fine, if they can address this issue and get her back to the pre-Mark status quo.

        1. Snark*

          An employee’s performance is not just their work product. If you’re distracted to the point of not being able to get work done in the time you’re paid for and your conduct is annoying patrons, that’s a performance issue just as profound as crappy work product.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Of course. But it sounds as though Cathy’s performance before she started her relationship with Mark was sound, even if the accommodations she negotiated were unorthodox. Rather than replacing her, I’d hope the aim would be to reset her performance to that level.

            1. Snark*

              I mean….I agree to an extent, but only insofar as seemingly everyone involved in this situation seems to have parked their professional norms behind the dusty microfiche rolls and forgotten about them, and Cathy shouldn’t necessarily be the goat when everybody let things get this far off the rails. But in a normal and functional workplace, I think this is a firing-level issue.

          2. Samata*

            But it sounds as if she is getting it done in the time she is paid for, just more unorthodox hours; like 8 hours in a 12 hours window with several breaksas opposed to 8 straight hours.

            The core of my job is developing and delivering content. As long as I deliver the content at the scheduled time and do it well it doesn’t really matter how I set my office hours up; i think Cathy’s job might be similar.

            not to mention it sounds like OP wants advice on how to keep Cathy but fix situation, not fire Cathy.

            1. Snark*

              The impression I get is that Cathy is hourly, not salaried, and part time – and in a client-facing, coverage-based position to boot.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          I would even question that assessment, though. As I understand it, library science is an over-subscribed field, so there are lots more qualified people than there are jobs. Moreover, if Cathy is so distracted that she has to do a lot of work on her off hours to successfully run this program…how much more productive and excellent could she – or someone else – be if they actually did their job ON the clock?

          1. Bleeborp*

            Indeed, there is no shortage of folks looking for library jobs and many folks (like myself for a while) have two or three part time library jobs until they can find full time. So it’s really a shame to have someone who is only half assing the job when there’s people who’d be more dedicated. It sounds like her programs are well-attended (but I will say, at all libraries where I’ve worked, childrens program are generally well attended, it doesn’t take some kind of magic touch) but it sounds almost impossible that Cathy is providing optimal customer service with so much of her focus being elsewhere.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              I’d go so far as to say that if there has already been a customer complaint about her behavior — and the details of said complaint make it clear that this isn’t just a matter of a jerk customer complaining because they’re not getting something library policy says they *shouldn’t* get — then she is, by definition, not providing optimal customer service.

            2. Library Land*

              Just as a side note: there’s a pretty big difference, especially in attendance over time, with children’s librarians who have that magic touch, and those who don’t. You might not have noticed it because the field is super flooded with great candidates – likely you haven’t seen one who doesn’t have the magic.

              1. Indoor Cat*

                At the risk of going too off-topic, what does this mean?

                I’ve never worked in a library (or been a parent), and as a kid I don’t think I ever attended children’s programs at the library. So…just some children’s librarians have more creative ideas? Or some are more organized or something?

                1. Library Land*

                  Great question, I probably should have expanded on that. The way I took “but I will say, at all libraries where I’ve worked, childrens program are generally well attended, it doesn’t take some kind of magic touch” was to mean that you didn’t need a particularly skilled Children’s Librarian, the children/families will come anyways.

                  I don’t think that’s true, similar to how there’s this stereotype of teachers that don’t care and just want their huge paycheck. Or thinking that Kindergarten teachers have the easiest jobs because they’re always reading/playing. Handling a group of 20+ children who may or may not know their own names, or how to sit through stories, or that they should not hit the kid next to them is a really tough nut. Even if the parents/care givers are around they may not actually do anything.

                  Being passionate about children, literacy, and learning shows in teachers and youth librarians. It comes out in being a skilled story teller, in caring for the children you see regularly, and in general by creating connections to these families that can span generations. And not to mention all the other parts of public librarianship that are included as well – reference/reader’s advisory, problem patrons, presentations, outreach, etc.

                  Breaking into youth services/children’s librarianship is a rough – especially in the past couple years. There are a ton of highly qualified, super passionate people trying for these jobs everyday. Which is why I was saying perhaps they have only seen skilled children’s librarians.

      2. Super Secret Squirrel*

        The single mom with a special needs child? That’s the one you are jumping to fire?

        I mean, I have some serious concerns about Cathy and how she’s taking advantage of the grandboss’ spinelessness. But managing is not happening and it has to, and it seems like that should be a first step before “firing special-needs single mom”.

        1. tigerlily*

          Her being a single mom with a special needs child is not a reason to keep an employee who’s engaging in wildly inappropriate behavior, getting upset with her boss when her boss tries to correct that behavior, and trying to go above the boss’s head. I’m not saying that firing is necessarily the way to go, but Cathy’s single mom status and special needs child shouldn’t be a factor. I would feel different if the trouble she was having actually stemmed from being a single mom or having a special needs child – like she has a lot more absences than other employees or can’t be flexible when it comes to working late or on weekends. But plenty of single moms know how to behave appropriately at work.

        2. MoreNowAgain*

          While I don’t think firing is the best course of action to take at this point, I also don’t think her marital status or dependents should be taken into account. I would hate to think that a single childless individual would be shown less compassion – it’s about appropriate behavior in the workplace, not who ‘has the most to lose’.

    3. irritable vowel*

      This post says so much about the level of dysfunction that a lot of libraries have. The boss posting a sign rather than talking directly to a staff member, the willingness to let a clearly defined special arrangement slide into inappropriateness in order to avoid dealing with a performance issue (heck, the granting of a special arrangement that is so outside of workplace norms to begin with), the focus on “what a good job” someone does without taking into account anything else about that person and their ability to actually perform the job within the constraints that everyone else is expected to work within… I’ve worked in libraries for 20 years and see this kind of passive-aggressiveness and unwillingness to manage so often. Cathy does not do such an amazing, one-of-a-kind job that she could not easily be replaced by 100 people who could do the same level of work without all of the allowances she’s been given, and she’s affecting her coworkers as well as the people they serve.

      1. Bleeborp*

        Indeed. It seems like a lot of people in libraries move up into management roles despite still being stereotypical conflict avoidant librarian types. OR I’ve had the opposite where people are somehow sweet as pie when doing storytime but are raging aggressive tyrants. But the common thread is nothing is done to address the problem and people just get shifted around to different branches and hope it works out!

      2. Lolly Scrambler*

        100% back this comment. Everything is about “being nice” and not causing disruption and if the disruption is already there, just ignore it and if someone brings it up, they are the problem, not the person causing the disruption.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    Okay, look, I know that being a single mom with a special-needs child is hard, but it’s not a pass to flout all the appropriate workplace behaviors. She’s already been given a massive accommodation (and one that, from the account given, actually does seem to be negatively impacting her work, if she has to complete things off the clock). Now it’s time for her to grow up and act as though she needs this job, and that means focusing on her own work and keeping Mark and Mark Jr. at arm’s length.

    1. Hc600*

      Right, say they all drove in a common car to the library, mark, new kid and son all read the paper or books quietly somewhere other than the desk, and then mark left for his job, I doubt anyone would complain. And whatever logistical issues would be resolved.

    2. Brandy*

      I wonder how much work is getting done. She spending x amount of time with her son and x amount of time with the boyfriend. Also I cant bring my boyfriend in here to my desk and have him sit here while I work. She needs to understand work is work. You see your man later. Any other job wouldn’t allow this. Also imagine youre a patron. Do you really want to go bother the couple being together to ask for help? Theyre making eyes at each other and youre waiting to get in to ask for help.

    3. my two cents*

      I read the “off the clock” stuff as moreso flexible time. There’s probably a better and/or more accurate/legal way to track those hours for a non-exempt hourly employee (like having her clock in and out when she’s focusing on her child, logging when she starts/stops work afterhours). But I don’t read that as “negative impact on work” so much as trying to keep her (very unique and pleasant) accommodation to bring her child while completing part-time hours’ worth of work.

      1. SignalLost*

        But here’s the thing about working off the clock. As long as the employer is content, out can spend all the time you want twiddling your thumbs and doing nothing. As long as the employee is content (and Cathy has a massively unorthodox accommodation in place) they won’t sue over the “off the clock” work. Everyone is acting as though Cathy is doing fifteen hours of work a day that she’s not paid for but a) we have no idea how much work she is being paid for – if her employer is happy to pay her 24 hours a week for 20 hours of work, then she owes them in a strict accounting of work done/work paid; and b) that’s not what the OP wrote in about anyway. The off the clock work is only an issue if (and I haven’t seen this addressed thus far) Cathy is justifying her crappy behaviour with Mark by telling herself she’ll finish the XYZ program work off the clock when he’s not around to canoodle with, and I’m making a massive assumption that she has ANY mental justification of her actions going on there.

      2. nonymous*

        One of the issues I have with undocumented time (especially for an hourly employee) is one of liability. If an employee is performing tasks during hours not captured by their time card, they’re missing out on documentation that may be necessary if they become injured, etc. Even when I have volunteered, we have a log to record activity which is part of the documentation needed for the City’s liability insurance to kick in.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is a flipped version of The Missing Stair. Just as people can get used to incredibly toxic working conditions and view them as normal, people can get used to incredibly generous working conditions and view them as the mundane baseline to be taken for granted, with things like “but if it’s okay for me, why not also for my boyfriend, who is not employed here but is my boyfriend?”

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Yep. Humans tend to mistake pattern for privilege, and will squall if something is taken away from them after they’ve grown accustomed to it. Even if it’s something they never had any right to in the first place.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Perhaps we could call it the Unexpected Piggyback Ride. Not only are there no missing steps on the staircase, but someone will carry you up it on their back at the drop of a hat. Certainly a lovely and even useful service–but not something you’d expect most staircases to have available!

  10. Library HR*

    OMG so many things wrong here.
    You can be banned from a public library for violating library policies. If your policies are similar to ours (most libraries are) here’s just a few reasons he can legally be banned 1. going in authorized areas 2. inappropriate behavior (i.e. having an employee sit on your lap) 3. leaving an unaccompanied minor at the library (he’s unaccompanied because Cathy is working and cannot adequately watch the child)

    Your manager needs to manage. I doubt Library Administration is keen on Cathy’s son being there. She can’t do her job and watch him. What if something were to happen to him or the other child while she was helping a patron? If Cathy has been spoken to about the behavior I would start disciplinary process for every time her bf came to “hang out” not as a patron.

    Lastly she’s working off the clock. This is something so common in libraries and so illegal. She could cause the library to get fined a lot of money if the DOL found out.

    1. Agatha_31*

      “I doubt Library Administration is keen on Cathy’s son being there.”

      I admit to a rather morbid curiosity to see Cathy actually try that “going above the boss’s head” thing, because unless they’re very much like her direct boss, I don’t think it’s going to go even remotely how like she thinks it’s going to go.

  11. Amber Rose*

    If you give a mouse a cookie…

    Anyways, this: “Cathy says that Mark is not negatively influencing her work…”

    Sheesh. LW, you’re close with Cathy right? The next time Cathy talks to you about this, can you just explain that it’s not about her work, but about the negative influence on other people’s work and on patrons of the library? Has anyone even explained to her that her unprofessional behavior around Mark is causing other people to be uncomfortable?

    Moreover, if she goes over your boss’s head, there’s a decent chance that the higher ups will revoke her permission to have her kid around. After all, Mark is only there to help with the kid, supposedly.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      As a frequent library patron, if I saw a library employee engaging in grossly unprofessional behavior…in the kid’s section…I’d nope myself right on out of there. Complaints to the head librarian may or may not occur, depending on how I’m feeling that day. That’s what ebooks are for, right?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, in most instances I’m inclined to nope on out and find another place to (verb) rather than bother complaining. Sure, sometimes the complainer is a crazy person convinced that the kid shelving dvds looked at her funny. But sometimes the complainer is the face of 20 patrons who decided to just walk away, rather than complain.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        It seems like the behavior people are finding inappropriate in the kids section is sitting at tables with food and homework. I honestly don’t actually see the issue with that but it’s certainly within the bosses right to stop it anyway.

        1. Jaydee*

          I don’t think it’s the homework and snacks but that Cathy is preoccupied with her son and Mark and Mark’s son making her less approachable by patrons. The homework and snacks are maybe evidence of the extent of the preoccupation. But I think if it were just Mark and the kids sitting there doing homework and Cathy elsewhere running storytime and shelving books and setting up a fall-themed reading display there wouldn’t be an issue.

        2. OhNo*

          The inappropriate behavior people are referencing is the patron complaint about Cathy sitting in her boyfriend’s lap while behind the service desk, not the food or spreading out and camping at a table.

        3. Super Secret Squirrel*

          Uh, no, no, sorry, no. People are not objecting to food and homework happening. That’s so far off it seems like, frankly, you may be Cathy. The objection is to an employee canoodling and socializing while they’re supposed to be working, and being super entitled when they’re already getting the world’s most generous accommodation possible.

        4. Layla*

          I wouldn’t complain or consider that inappropriate. I *would* assume the employee was off the clock and unavailable for queries.

    2. LSP*

      +1 for that stellar literary reference!

      And I 100% agree that if Cathy goes over her boss’ head, she risks not being able to even bring her son with her, which is likely to cause her a major hardship. OP, if you’re close with Cathy, you ought to warn her against that, and let her know that even if your boss isn’t being clear about it, it is a problem to be spending all your work time either caring for your kid or canoodling with her bf.

      Say this to her as direct as you can, but with kindness. Let her know that as someone who cares about her, you want her to be able to keep her job and keep this generous arrangement. This shouldn’t be the hill she wants to die on.

    3. Snark*

      If she’s doing stuff off-clock to make up for the lost productivity while she’s on clock, THAT RIGHT THERE is a clear-cut performance issue! “I am so distracted that I can’t get work done” is a negative effect! This woman lives in some entirely different semantic universe where words don’t mean what they mean to me, or she’s magnificently and terminally lacking self-awareness.

      And I cannot possibly concieve of any situation where homeschooling your demanding special needs child AND interacting with your boo AND his kid, all at word, does not negatively influence that work. No way, no how.

      1. Amber Rose*

        My guess is she’s pulling extra off the clock hours to get stuff done, which she’s defining as “not affecting my work.”

        Which is terrible to you and me, no doubt, but it seems like the manager in this case has been looking the other way for a long time and when your problems are that deeply rooted, I’m not sure if the people involved will be able to see the problem with it.

        1. Snark*

          Now that I’ve read Sara without an H’s comment below, I’m wondering if the professional relationships are so off the rails due to wanting to be kind and not upset anybody that everybody involved, including OP, has a skewed perspective. Once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole, everyone’s mad here .

          1. Sylvan*

            This makes a lot of sense, although I almost hope I’m wrong in my read on the situation. Working in a place with a certain issue can sort of break your gauge of normality for that issue.

        2. a Gen X manager*

          What is her child doing when she is working off the clock? Still hanging around in the kid section?

          1. irritable vowel*

            Exactly. The LW says that her son is with her pretty much 24/7, so to me it’s not that Cathy is working “off the clock,” but that she takes a lot longer to do the work that she is assigned because she is also supervising/homeschooling her child during *all the time she is working*. So essentially, she is never giving her work her full attention. That is so not okay.

        3. a Gen X manager*

          Also, does working off the clock mean that it is unsupervised time in this situation? Is there a reason behind that other than catching up?

  12. Cambridge Comma*

    “She says she doesn’t know what to do and she wants to go to someone in a higher position because Mark cannot be banned from a public building.”
    I thought that the ‘she’ here is Cathy, but it also could be the boss, which would change the interpretation.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s pretty clearly Cathy–“Cathy” is the antecedent for “She,” and the same comment is made farther up with “Cathy” as the subject.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        But then I don’t get the interpretations that the boss is wondering whether she can ban people — it sounds like she has already done it and it’s Cathy taking issue with it.

            1. myswtghst*

              This really struck me when reading the letter – rather than acknowledging she might be causing a problem, Cathy doubled-down to rules lawyering about how technically they can’t ban Mark from the library. Which, like, just because technically you *can* do a thing doesn’t mean you *should* do the thing, you know?

          1. Courtney*

            Yes, this was my read on it too – boss has threatened to ban him and Cathy is mad and saying the boss can’t do that.

  13. Fake old Converse shoes*

    Is OP’s manager going to wait until they’re found cuacking in the library to address the situation properly?

  14. voyager1*

    None of the things Cathy is doing is related to her child. Cathy needs to be explained basic norms and behavior for a public facing occupation.

    1. TheBeetsMotel*

      Right. This is a very kind and flexible arrangement Cathy has been given here for her son. Being lovey-dovey with Mark could seriously jeopardize that.

      I wonder as to Cathy’s other work experience? Complete conjecture, of course, but if this environment is the sum total of her job history, she may not realize how accommodating they’re being. She’d be in for a short, sharp shock if she were to find herself jobless over this and think she can walk into a similar setup elsewhere.

      1. cncx*

        these were my thoughts- in a lot of ways Cathy is acting like someone who has not had enough real work experience to know that a) she has a sweet childcare set up here; b) there are things that are NOT DONE at work.

  15. AnotherLibrarian*

    Maybe this is just my experience when working in Public Libraries, but they tend to be the most passive aggressive workplace environments I have ever experienced. I also am not at all surprised that Cathy is working off the clock, because that is also chronic in public libraries. I agree that Alison’s language for the manager is spot on, but I don’t see how that helps the letter writer. She is not the person managing Cathy.

    As far as the LW is concerned, I would urge her to be blunt with Cathy when she gets physical with Mark. Simply saying, that’s not appropriate and makes patrons uncomfortable. However, LW, this isn’t your problem to solve. If you manager won’t confront Cathy, you can’t really fix that. If you are close, you might mention that this could jeopardize her job, but after you say that once, than I think you are out of options. I wish you so much luck and I can’t imagine how uncomfortable this is making you.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, it would be a great service if the OP were to say “It’s not reasonable for you to expect Mark to get these privileges, it’s endangering your job to insist on them, and I don’t get why you’d mess up a sweet job where you get to bring Son in, which is going to be hard to find again.” But I would understand if she didn’t feel she could.

      1. K.*

        Right – Cathy needs the job a LOT more than the job needs her. The library can find another part-time children’s program director; I can’t think of many workplaces that would let Cathy essentially home-school her son on their clock.

        1. annejumps*

          “I can’t think of many workplaces that would let Cathy essentially home-school her son on their clock”
          And look after her boyfriend’s son, and canoodle with her boyfriend. I mean, wow.

    2. J.B.*

      I think it makes sense for LW to be blunt once. After that to distance herself from everything as much as possible, and respond to any discussion by supervisor “you are the supervisor, please handle this/please don’t bring me into it/etc”. Eventually Cathy will get herself fired either by the supervisor or the supervisor could get fired by someone over her head.

    3. Antilles*

      I agree that Alison’s language for the manager is spot on, but I don’t see how that helps the letter writer. She is not the person managing Cathy.
      The way I read the letter, LW might not have any formal authority to take action, but it seems like she *does* have enough credibility with the boss to make some suggestions. So while she’s not managing Cathy, she can still talk to him and suggest Alison’s language.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, that was my take — that the OP and the boss are jointly talking about how to resolve this. (“How do you think we can peacefully resolve this issue?”)

        1. Kyrielle*

          I hope so. I read it more as the boss is trying to enforce the rules and OP is trying to figure out how to smooth things over.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I read it as that the boss is trying to enforce the rules (even if in a kinda wimpish way), and the LW is trying to persuade Cathy not to throw a tantrum about it. That can be described reasonably as “smoothing things over,” but not in the sense of attempting to maintain the status quo and get everybody to be calm about it — the LW pretty clearly is no fan of the status quo.

    4. Youth Services Librarian*

      The only thing that would make this more classic small library is if the Friends got involved…

      1. OhNo*

        Or if the boyfriend ended up being in/joining the Friends.

        (No, I’ve never seen that before, what are you talking about… /s)

  16. AdAgencyChick*

    I think the boss should absolutely talk about revoking her privilege of having anyone else with her at work if she doesn’t start behaving appropriately with the boyfriend. And if things don’t change after that, the boss should not only revoke that arrangement, she should be talking to Cathy about “you are now jeopardizing your continued employment here.”

    She was doing a great job before this guy came around, but she’s not doing a great job now — and there are probably other job seekers in the community who could do good or great work without disrupting the environment like that.

    1. Courtney*

      It sounds like the boss already did that by threatening to ban the boyfriend from the library, which Cathy is angry about and trying to say they can’t do that. I definitely think it needs to be made clear to Cathy that her job is in jeopardy if this behavior continues.

  17. anon24*

    If Mark is really there to help Cathy homeschool her son so she can focus on work, good for him! Now why doesn’t he take her son somewhere in the building where Cathy is not working and help him there? Cathy can focus on her work with no distractions, but is still nearby if her son needs her. Of course, I don’t know her son’s needs, it’s possible that he truly needs to be physically close to her, but surely they could still sit on the public side of the counter.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I have the impression that Cathy is a very giving person, and Mark is a taker. So it probably never occurred to either of them that Mark could actually do something helpful for Cathy… and it’s possible that he won’t. But this would be a sensible solution to try, at least.

      1. fposte*

        Cathy seems like a taker in this description–she’s taking library pay for watching her son and goofing around with her boyfriend.

        1. JulieBulie*

          Oh, good point. I meant wrt her personal relationship, not her professional relationship (although she does “give” unpaid time to the library as well… but if she is goofing off while on the clock, the “free” time probably comes out in the wash).

          1. BPT*

            I think people are getting hung up on the phrase “working off the clock,” when I think it means that Cathy is just using flex time. Say she is getting paid for working 8 hours. She works a couple of hours, then spends an hour with her son homeschooling him at the library. Then works for another hour, then spends half an hour with him. Then spends an hour and a half working, then another hour with him. Then another two hours working, then goes home. Then works the 1.5 hours left at home that night after her son goes to bed. It’s not that she’s not being paid probably – it’s that she’s being allowed to work on her own schedule.

            1. Bleeborp*

              Buuuut public library work isn’t really well suited for this much flexibility- there are hours we are open and those are the times we need people working usually with pretty minimal work that can or should be done at home or after hours, especially as a part timer.

              1. Jules the Third*

                Except that Cathy does a lot of work on children’s programming, which can be done in a more flexible way.

                The library seems content with the original arrangement, that’s not the issue. It’s the addition of another adult, taking Cathy’s time and focus, in an unprofessional manner.

              2. OhNo*

                It sounds like she’s designing children’s programs, though, which can be a little more flexible than other library jobs. If she’s not staffing the service desk for her whole shift, or doing other location-specific work like shelving, there’s every likelihood that she can do some of it from home.

                Speaking as someone who works in a library part-time, it’s more common than you think. I could do all of my job but staffing the desk and in-person reference at home, if I needed to.

        1. Sadsack*

          Agreed. Based on the letter, this is all Cathy. She could leave Mark and the kids alone and go to work, but she doesn’t.

      2. Temperance*

        Eh, I think it’s pretty established in the letter that Cathy is a taker. We don’t know anything about Mark besides the fact that he’s grabby and sexually inappropriate in a public place.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, which could be his idea, her idea, or mutual. I’ve seen couples overdo the PDA and it be coming from one party or both equally.

      3. Alda*

        I think that’s spot on. And her being a taker in regards to the library fits as well. Givers often end up giving on behalf of other people as well, when those other people are close enough to be, in a way, part of them. Inside the giver-sphere.

        I’ve had giver partners who’s had no problem offering up my time as well, or taking time they’d committed to spend with me, in order to help someone who’s outside of the giver-sphere and thus a receiver. Without asking me, because I’m sort of part of them,if you get what I mean. They don’t to it consciously, of course, but that’s still what happens.

        So I think that the library has become part of Cathy’s life in a way that when se feels the need to give Mark all he wants, she doesn’t think about the fact that she’s actually taking from the library, because she’s taking the library and her place there for granted, much in the way people take partners, family and certain close friends for granted.

      4. Anion*

        Huh. I get the feeling they’re both takers, actually.

        (And really, for all we know Mark is constantly saying, like, “is this okay, babe? I don’t want to get you in trouble at work,” and Cathy keeps assuring him it’s fine.)

    2. hbc*

      Exactly. I think it needs to be explained to Cathy that the arrangement with her son was based on the idea that she had no help. If she has help available, then she doesn’t need to be actively home(?)schooling during work hours. Basically, she can have her son there solo and take care of him as needed, or she can treat Mark, son, and any other kids he brings as regular library patrons.

    3. Kate 2*

      It sounds like Mark works, but his hours start later than Cathy’s. Maybe she is 8 to 5 and he is 9 to 5?

  18. neverjaunty*

    It sounds like this problem may solve itself. Cathy is going to go to higher-ups and complain that she isn’t allowed to play house with her boyfriend at work? As long as Boss makes a report first, I don’t think that will play out the way Cathy anticipates.

    OP, if Cathy doesn’t understand “you don’t sit on your boyfriend’s lap at work”, it’s because she doesn’t want to, and there isn’t a lot you can do to convince someone who doesn’t want to hear the truth.

      1. Snark*

        I’m frankly aghast that this was a perk in the first place. That was the first big step outside the bounds of professional behavior, the border of which is now miles behind her.

        1. Annabelle*

          I am too. I’m sympathetic to parents of special needs kids, but I’m shocked that any workplace would allow someone to homeschool their child on the clock.

          1. PlainJane*

            I am a parent of a special needs kid, and I think this arrangement is ridiculous. I couldn’t have gotten anything done if my son had been with me at work when he was little.

        2. Jules the Third*

          I think that we are not in a position to judge this. The child’s age, disability, etc are all important factors that we don’t know. The people who *do* know accepted this at her hiring, and have had no problem with it.

          I’m going to defer to the people with more information.

          1. Temperance*

            I disagree. I think this is absolutely relevant to taxpayers, who are paying her to not do her job. I can’t imagine a single scenario where this is okay.

            1. Taxpayers ableist bs*

              I think mentioning ‘taxpayers money!’ is veering into the ableism of judging the deserving or undeserving disabled and carers, and I’d like you to take a step back and think about if that’s what you want to be doing, and then preferably knock it off.

              Suffering is not noble, virtuous, or inspirational, and inflicting avoidable suffering on people with diabilities and their carers – instead of supporting them to be as fully part of our community as they can be – is cruel and abusive and discriminatory.

            2. H*

              I know I’m late to the party, but I find the “taxpayers pay your salary” argument really… possessive? entitled, maybe? I’m having trouble with just the right word here. It feels like a weird justification for everyone in the world to be able to judge your performance and workplace accommodation. It’s often better and more efficient for an organization, any organization, to have well-qualified, desirable employees working at it, and the public sector often has trouble attracting those people because it is really hard to offer comparable salaries and accommodations to people because the regulations can be suffocating. So to look at a specific arrangement that we have limited information about and cry “public waste” is weird to me. The OP said that before Mark showed up, Cathy was doing well with her unconventional arrangement.

              To be clear, I am not saying we throw all regulations out the window: I think they are important, and that responsible stewardship of public funds is really important. But I find the “taxpayer money” argument thrown at every mis-behaving public employee is kind of frustrating given that a lot of public servants are really struggling under draconian regulations.

          2. Indoor Cat*

            I guess the issue for me is, the people who know and approve in this context are (as far as we know) two people: the boss and the OP. Possibly two other people (the hiring manager and the grandboss) are also alright with the initial arrangement.

            What we don’t know is how the other library staff and all the library patrons perceive and are affected by this arrangement, even before the whole Mark thing. I think a lot of the commenters are voicing how they’d feel if they attended a library with their child and the Children’s librarian was tutoring her own son, likely for hours on end, rather than helping the child patrons.

            Child patrons have a range of needs, from help with homework, help selecting books, some direction or intervention if two kids are having a conflict, peace and quiet they might not get at school or home, etc. If my child feels like she can’t ask for the Children’s Librarian for help because Cathy’s “busy” tending to her own son, then she’s not doing part of her job. And if I found out, I’d change my routine to take my kid to a different library where the Children’s librarians are attentive to the child patrons.

        3. GreyjoyGardens*

          My guess is, they felt sorry for her as the single mom of a special-needs child, thought she had a hard lot in life, and wanted to be extra-special understanding and compassionate. Which is all good, but it seems as if Cathy is taking extreme advantage of them.

          And, if she’s actually going to go to the *grandboss* and dig in her heels and demand to carry on the Mark and Cathy Play House Channel on the employer’s time and dime, things will not end well for Cathy, unless the place is so dysfunctional that Grandboss and everyone knuckles under to Cathy’s demands.

    1. Nolan*

      Honestly, even if the manager doesn’t head off Cathy’s complaint to tptb, I can’t see it going well for Cathy. She’d be complaining that her boss is telling her to not hang out with her boyfriend on the clock.

    2. Layla*

      Another factor is that for all Cathy knows, Boss had to fight Grand Boss tooth and nail for Cathy’s son to be at work.

  19. Katie the Fed*

    There’s a major power imbalance going on here. Everyone seems worried about upsetting Cathy, when it’s Cathy who should be worried about her behavior affecting her standing with colleagues/supervisors.

    Your boss has been a bit of a chicken, to be honest. Frankly, it’s amazing that Cathy is allowed to homeschool her son during work, and instead of being grateful for that she’s continuing to push normal social and workplace boundaries.

    The boss needs to stop this, now. This isn’t Cathy’s home – it’s her place of employment.

    1. paul*

      A bit? I feel for OP; she’s stuck between a manager who won’t manage and a coworker who has no understanding of appropriateness. Yikes.

  20. JulieBulie*

    This isn’t OP’s responsibility at all, and I don’t understand why OP says “how can WE peacefully resolve the issue.” Please let the boss resolve it. OP doesn’t have the authority to “mediate” anything.

    The boss should probably come right out and tell Cathy that she is “abusing the privilege,” in exactly those words. I also think “it could jeopardize that arrangement entirely” is too soft. “It WILL jeopardize the arrangement” is better. Frankly, unless Cathy’s help and skills are irreplaceable, it might be better to say “it will END the arrangement, because it is not acceptable.”

  21. CatCat*

    “I am trying to help keep the peace. . .”

    I am not sure what this means. Is Cathy complaining about the boss to you? And/or vice versa? I think the best thing is to extract yourself from being involved in any Cathy-boss drama, including not discussing it. I am sure others would have good language on deflecting this.

    Something like, “I understand you’re upset by the situation, but it’s out of my hands. [Change the subject/excuse yourself to go do some work task].”

  22. Nolan*

    Your manager is being really passive about this whole situation. Whether it can be resolved peacefully mostly depends on Cathy though. Right now, it sounds like she’s putting her job at risk, and trying to go over the manager’s head will almost certainly backfire. If you’re worried about her and the situation, you should point this out to her, as a friend. Work is not for socializing, and that’s what she’s doing with Mark while he’s there. She claims it’s not impacting her job, but if that were the case, no one would have complained about the PDAs. If you talk to her about this, maybe try asking how she’d feel if she went to a store and found the employees there behaving the same way. The fact that some of this is happening in the kids section isn’t great either, and could impact the library’s reputation.

  23. k8*

    dude, cathy is so confused about professional norms right now. i feel like the best thing OP can do for her is try and help her understand how far off the mark she is, because she’s got some funny ideas about how this all is supposed to work.

  24. Akcipitrokulo*

    I suspect – do not know – but strongly suspect that yes, you can ban someone from a public library in US for being disruptive. You certainly can here.

    But even if you can’t – you can instruct an employee not to interact socially with library patrons. That means Mark may be able to sit at a table – but she is not permitted to join him.

    I get you want to be sympathetic – which is fine (no sarcasm, it is!) – but she is not being reasonable, and it would be kind for her to be told “no”.

    1. Sylvan*

      Cool, I was wondering how that worked. It’s good to read your comments and other commenters’ who work in libraries.

  25. KR*

    At the town library growing up, the “children’s room” was downstairs and housed all of the books for young adults and children and also had a hang out spot for young people, lots of tables for homework, and some toys for kids while their parents we’re upstairs reading, getting a book, or doing work on the computers. The librarian down there, who I remember fondly, had a homeschooled child my age who would often hang out there during the days either behind the desk or in the kids room, sometimes with another home schooled friend. The librarian was 100% available though and if her kid was being loud or bothering her while she was trying to do her duties she wasted no time in saying something. It seemed there were pretty established “Mom’s working and you need to behave” rules. Now obviously special needs children are different and the issue really isn’t her child here, but Cathy could potentially keep this arrangement if there were specific guidelines agreed upon like not talking to her boyfriend more than nessecary while she’s at work, or they only take up one table and try their hardest not to be disruptive while they are homeschooling, which I imagine can be loud, or they act like they don’t know each other more than librarian/customer or mom/tutor when she’s working. Everyone has to be on board though and I think your manager really has to sit down and make Cathy understand how distracting things can be right now. With the boyfriend and Cathy taking up a lot of space, and her family at the library a lot it can feel unwelcome to patrons because it feels less like the library where that family always is because they homeschool and more like Cathy’s Space. LW, I think you need to let your manager manage this and side gently with your manager here. I get Cathy is your friend and it’s hard being a single mom, but she’s taking advantage of this situation.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Exactly. It sounds like things were working OK before Cathy let her feelings about Mark override any sense of good judgment.

  26. What the French, Toast*

    I’m completely astounded that this has been allowed to continue as long as it has. I’ve worked in a library and I cannot imagine watching one of my coworkers canoodling with her boyfriend BEHIND THE DESK and not saying, “What are you DOING??” in a very judgmental tone. That is beyond inappropriate.

    LW, maybe you’re friends with Cathy and I’m sure she’s a nice person, but you would not be helping her by trying to “keep the peace.” I would tell her, kindly but firmly, that her behavior around Mark is completely inappropriate and unprofessional and she should knock it off immediately before she loses her job.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      Totally agree, Toast. It’s going to take just one complaint from a patron to the right person (Town Councilor? Town Manager?) and the library staff will likely face a flurry of administrative rules and micromanaging.

  27. Snark*

    One point which has been touched on a bit but not fully spelled out: OP, there is no reason for you to be “mediating” or “keeping the peace” or “helping find a compromise” here. You’re treating this like a personal disagreement or falling out between two friends, or something, and if you just get them both to calm down, maybe you can smooth things over, and no.

    There’s no peace to keep. There’s nothing to mediate. This is a ridiculous and unsustainable situation and Cathy is so far outside the bounds of normal professional behavior that I think your boss should fire her. Or, at the very least, cut off this whole ridiculous “perk” that should never have been granted in the first place. It’s a straightforward performance/conduct issue, and your boss has the authority and mandate to resolve it. Let her do so. Speaking of professional bounds, you’re stepping outside them yourself a bit yourself here. Step back, let your manager manage, and don’t be a drama llama.

  28. Hmmmmm*

    Truthfully, I’m really worried that Mark might be an escalating stalker-turned-boyfriend. They met when he started coming to programming…and now he’s showing up during her shift and causing distractions. He’s helping her homeschool her son? If he is around until he has to go to work, somehow I doubt he is a special needs teacher. “Attached at the hip” becomes scary when it extends beyond annoyance into genuinely irrational priorities. Cathy is being irrational, but I also a decade later remember how irrational my behavior was when I was in the early stages of an abusive relationship. I don’t know how to describe it other than transitioning into being in a cult. Mark might be earning his ban from the library. As her friend, this could be the tip of the iceberg for your concern.

      1. Nolan*

        Yeah, I didn’t read any stalker behavior here, I read that they’re a couple still in the honeymoon stage with non-functional appropriateness gauges. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be kind of young and early in their careers.

        1. Snark*

          Whether or not he’s stalkerish, it’s the same problem as diagnosing mental illnesses in letters – speculating on this kind of thing on the skimpiest evidence gets us into advice column fanfic real quick, and that’s annoying.

          1. strawberries and raspberries*

            “Advice column fanfic” = great way to put it when people start responding to the letter they wanted to read rather than the one that was presented.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                We will now…

                I mean, honestly, who DOESN’T want to “ship” Hax and AMA and CA?

                (okay, I’m falling over laughing. Get back to work, Thneed!)

                1. Snark*

                  Cersei met Jane’s eyes playfully. Jane’s breath caught in her throat, her head rushing, biting her lip.

                  “Jane, my dear,” Cersei whispered, “would you like to join the Duck Club?”

                2. Snark*

                  I’d just like everybody to know that was the weirdest thing I’ve ever posted here, by a gigantic margin.

                3. char*

                  Uh, no, CLEARLY the better ship is Wakeen/Fergus. Stay tuned for my 20 page dissertation on why Ferkeen is totally canon and Jasei shippers are fooling themselves.

                  (No fandom is complete without shipping wars, amirite?)

                1. Chinook*

                  Wait…if there is a Captain Awkward AO3 fanfic subject grouping, does that mean an AAM one is not far behind. I was wondering what to do while looking for a new job and I may or may not have found a new hobby…

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, I agree – I think it would be pretty normal to help out if you’re dating someone with a special needs child. Nothing in the letter sounds overly controlling or obsessive to me. Maybe if she didn’t have a son so there was no need for him to be at the library other than to hang around Cathy, but even then I don’t think it’s inherently creepy to hang out at your SO’s workplace if they work somewhere public and it’s on the way to your work. If they work differing schedules it could allow them to catch a few extra minutes of conversation that could be tough to have otherwise.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        You’re the second person I’ve seen reference that they are reading this as them being young. I was getting a middle aged divorcee vibe from the letter. The part where LW said that they’ve never seen Cathy happier made me think of someone who got royally screwed over by a previous spouse and never thought they’d find love again.

        1. Tobias Funke*

          That’s how I read it too.

          I also learned working in DV makes me unable to assess letters sometimes.

        1. Jessica (tc)*

          My husband has this shirt: (He’s actually on the second one, since he wore the first one out.)

          It’s from an online webcomic called Questionable Content, and as soon as I saw the character wearing it, lo those many years ago now, I emailed the artist to request the shirt. He said he’s never had so many emails about something in the comic like he did requests for that shirt! :)

        2. Else*

          My partner has a shirt that says that (I’m a librarian). We got married on a hiking trail, and she wore it. :)

    1. Bleeborp*

      While I agree this is wildly speculative, a guy who wants to keep tabs on you at work is a red flag. He could just be a loving dude who loves loitering in libraries but it is also possible he’s using “I’m helping homeschool your son!” as a way to be around all the time without it being explicitly controlling. That’s the vibes I got immediately but of course, we don’t know, they could just be socially oblivious people.

    2. Jules the Third*

      Mark has a kid. It is totally reasonable for fathers to take their children to library programming. I *know* my husband occasionally chatted with some of the librarians before and after. Our kid often dragged us up to them to talk.

    3. Anonnigans*

      I got the same feeling, maybe because I have also been in an abusive relationship with a stalker-turned-boyfriend who was threatened by my work relationships. Of course, it’s total speculation and there’s nothing LW could do about it anyway, but I just wanted to say you’re not alone in getting that impression. There are people out there who see their significant other’s workplace as a threat to their sense of control.

  29. Sara without an H*

    I’d like to follow up on what AnotherLibrarian said above: Librarianship is rife with passive aggression, conflict avoidance, and misplaced compassion. (We’re a “helping profession.” Sometimes we “help” make things worse.) I’ve been in the profession for 30+ years, and the time and energy I’ve seen invested in being “kind” and not “upsetting” problematic employees is appalling.

    Cathy has been given a huge concession and now seems to think that she has no limits on her behavior at work. That needs to be address fast, or IT WILL GET WORSE. The working off the clock thing is also a bomb waiting to go off — Cathy probably isn’t the only employee doing it.

    1. Snark*

      I am fascinated and slightly appalled at this little window into the seedy underbelly of librarianship.

      1. phil*

        My girlfriend is a librarian and my best friend’s wife is a librarian and this all sounds ver familiar.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Dark Tales of the Library is clearly an underserved branch of fiction. Or true crime memoir.

      2. Damn it, Hardison!*

        academia + library = so much weirdness/inappropriateness tolerated. I heard tell of a coworker who threw a chair at another coworker with no repercussion. In my last library job I was explicitly brought in to deal with an under performing employee and (unbeknownst to me) to make my manager look bad so he could be “counseled out.” Both had been there for many years but no one would deal with it. I fled to the corporate world and have no regrets.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I work in an academic library and I recall in particular an agonizing set of meetings over what to do about the homeless guy who could sometimes be encountered in the basement ladies’ bathroom (the men were too intimidating), bathing himself. Naked. A lot of our patrons are international students from places where this is even less acceptable than it is in the U.S. We are in a huge city and there are actual services for the homeless here, but nobody wanted to be the person who had to bounce him for good. I don’t think it ended until our new building management required us to install gates, anyway.

        2. Lolly Scrambler*

          What do you do now? This post and comments is really helping me solidify my feelings about leaving libraries.

        3. Anon for This*

          Ahhh, the extra level of wacky of academic libraries! I had a former ex-colleague (I will explain in a minute), who couldn’t handle the stress of academic librarianship. She would stand up in meetings and declare that she couldn’t deal with “this”. Then it escalated to screaming profanities and threats to her co-workers with many a paranoid fantasy expressed that “they” wouldn’t take her job away. Did the admin protect us? Nope, they promoted her! She proceeded to got to another library and pull the same thing. They fired her. She then did the same thing at another library, and got fired. After that, my library rehired her! At a even higher position! The only fortunate thing is that she is now so high above my pay grade that I do not have to deal with her directly. Good times!

    2. LA*

      Seconding this. It is a little crazy how much some people in the library world get away with, and how passive aggressive people can be. We had two pretty terrible, disruptive, missing stair employees that everyone tiptoed around until they retired within a few months of each other. Once they were gone, the change in everyone’s stress levels was dramatic, to the point that it made me pretty angry those two employees hadn’t been managed better, because they had been making all of us miserable.

      1. Seal*

        Thirding this. I inherited a terrible employee when I got to my current job and despite the fact that everyone knew he was all but useless it took almost FIVE YEARS to get rid of him. My then boss told me that he would be retiring within the year so there was no point in trying to get him to do anything productive. As it turned out, she retired before he did, as did the HR person who refused to back me up in dealing with him. It took a new HR person (who quite frankly wasn’t all that great herself, but was at least willing to address this mess) and a huge nudge in the form of rewriting his job description and implying that he would be fired if he didn’t comply to get him to voluntarily retire. And even then, he wanted to come back and volunteer, which in his mind was sitting around chatting people up rather than doing anything productive. Obviously, I said no. Things were so, SO much better once he was finally gone!

        1. Bibliovore*

          I had a supervisor at the public library where I worked. She came in late, left early, took really long breaks, never took a reference desk. Was a hoarder. The entire workroom was stacked with non-catalogued books, old magazines, and “found objects” that would someday (never) be used for craft programs. Her supervisor had me documenting her time for three months. He said don’t worry, she will be retiring soon. Five years later, I was gone, he was gone, she was still there.

          1. Bleeborp*

            OOh the “it’s okay *whatever terrible thing they’re doin”, they’re retiring soon” thing is this common libraries…I’ve experienced it but didn’t know it was industry wide!

          2. Seal*

            My guy was a hoarder too, as was my predecessor (his former boss). While my boss wasn’t interested in forcing him out (see above), she did want me to get rid of all of the extraneous crap that was not within the scope of our library. The thought of it actually made this guy physically ill and he watched me like a hawk, including spying on me through the shelves. He even had the nerve to complain to MY boss about what I was doing. She sort of took my side, but also told me to tread lightly. Maddening.

            The day after this guy I ordered extra recycling bins and filled them to the brim, then proceeded to repeat the process for at least a month. It was wonderfully cathartic.

          3. LNZ*

            My boss at the library was a hoarder too!
            Well she wasn’t my boss officially, she was head volunteer and on the board, but i was there as a national service project so she was to important to lose. We were getting a small village library back up and running after 16 years of closure and she fought tooth and nail every time i tried to get rid of anything. it was all so historically important or could be used as a craft project or we might need it one day. never mind it was a small one room library and space was at a premium.

            1. Y*

              My boss at the library was a hoarder too!

              Can’t think why working in a library would attract people who like to hoard things.

              1. LNZ*

                which is hilarious because a huge part of librarianship is weeding out old and outdated information and making a judgment about what to throw away to make space for newer or more useful things.
                On the surface it looks like hoarders dream but in reality its a nightmare for them.

      2. Marian the Librarian*

        Nthing this, too. I’ve worked with reference librarians who have yelled at both coworkers and patrons and nothing was done about it. There’s a real reluctance to fire people that I just don’t understand. “Cross fingers and wait for them to retire” is the general MO.

    3. GreyjoyGardens*

      I think you are right. And I can see how this particular situation got started – a single mother with a special needs child, poor Cathy, she *needs* this job, let’s bend over backwards to help her. And if Cathy had not been someone who takes all kinds of advantage, I could see where extra accommodations might help a workplace keep a good employee.

      But – give Cathy an inch and she takes a mile. I do think this *is* rampant in “helping” professions as well as the “helping people” kind of nonprofit. (I’m still shuddering at the memory of the nonprofit employee who let her “service dog” eat people food off her plate WHERE EVERYONE ELSE WAS HAVING LUNCH. And she was handling everyone’s food with her dog-licked hands. O_o ) I’ve seen a few workplaces become sheltered workshops for the extremely dysfunctional and all-but-unemployable.

      1. Sara without an H*

        I’m convinced that the road to Hell is not paved with good intentions, but with the desire to rescue people.

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      I do want to say in defense of libraries that many of them are well run with wonderful management. I think public libraries (because of the helper mentality Sara without an H mentioned above) can really fester. My current library… well, this would not fly.

    5. PlainJane*

      Totally this. I’ve been in academic libraries for > 25 years and have seen plenty of this. Many librarians are promoted to management without receiving any management training. And the profession attracts a lot of well-meaning, compassionate people who take that much too far. To further complicate matters, public libraries and many academic libraries are public-sector institutions, and in my experience public sector HR departments are often pretty wimpy about performance management. So even when a library manager wants to address a performance issue, HR may prevent them from doing so. So you get a lot of dysfunctional workplaces–and library staff who think that dysfunction is normal and replicate it at their next library.

      1. Seal*

        This +1000. Unfortunately, quite often the only way to get a promotion and/or raise in a library is to move into a managerial position. Since library work is generally poorly compensated, librarians and library staff members are reluctant to pass up an opportunity to make more money, regardless of whether or not they have any business managing people.

        I once worked in an academic library where a librarian got promoted to a managerial position for the sole purpose of allowing another manager’s wife to work in the same department. The wife technically reported to the new manager, but because everyone worked at the reference desk that her husband managed, he effectively managed her much of the time. And the wife got away with terrorizing the rest of the staff on a daily basis because her actual boss had no idea how to manage and was afraid to say anything to the husband. This went on for YEARS until someone finally complained to the university about them blatantly flaunting the nepotism rules. The worst part is that the librarian who originally got promoted to cover the whole thing up never got better at managing, but somehow managed to work her way up into upper administration, where she resides to this day. And thus the cycle of dysfunction continues.

  30. always in email jail*

    I’m really confused about why there’s so much focus on whether or not Mark can be banned from the library. Mark isn’t the issue here, the employee who is allowing her boyfriend behind the desk and allowing her boyfriend to distract her is. All communication on the issue should be between Cathy and her Manager. If she discloses to her manager that she has clearly asked Mark to leave her work space and he won’t, THEN the conversation can escalate to correcting the issue with Mark.

    1. LA*

      I think the focus is happening because OP said they can’t ban someone from the library, when they very well *can* ban someone. It’s a really irritating and often problematic issue for librarians (lots of patrons like to be all “my taxes pay for this, so I can do what I want!” including urinating on the walls, throwing books at people, masturbating at the public computers, etc.), so some people are fixating on it because they don’t want more people thinking that libraries don’t have the right to ban someone from the premises for bad behavior. Even I initially came into the comments because that assertion grated on me so much (but once I saw enough people had pointed it out, my ire dissipated).

      That being said, yeah, Mark is not the issue here, Cathy’s total lack of professionalism is, and banning Mark isn’t going to fix that.

  31. Corvid*

    Woah. I hope Cathy comes around and sees reason, because what her employer did is so generous it’s almost unheard of!

  32. Jaybeetee*

    Assuming Cathy has taken temporary leave of her senses in terms of professional norms, wtf is going on with MARK in all this? Like, he thinks it’s cool to mack on his gf in public at her workplace? These guys don’t sound like teenagers, but adults with their own children. They both ought to know better.

    I personally don’t see the issue with Mark and his kid hanging around the library, and occasionally visiting with Cathy (particularly during slow periods), but Jesus Christ, no cuddling behind the counter! And if they’ve basically commandeered a kids’ room that’s meant for public use, that needs to be addressed as well.

    That is to say: Mark et al. should be welcome in the library as patrons. They should not be given privileges above and beyond other patrons. And Cathy, having already been given a pretty big accommodation in her job, should not be lobbying for more.

    1. Snark*

      Library Rules:

      No food or drink.
      Please use quiet voices.
      Children must be accompanied at all times.
      Please do not mack on the librarians.

  33. Kyrielle*

    I’m baffled at Cathy’s choices here. Totally baffled. I mean, if I were in Cathy’s shoes, I’d be asking Mark whether he could watch my son and his – preferably somewhere further away from me so that my son could focus on what they were doing, and not on me, and I could focus on work, and not on them – and if he was willing I’d be doing a dance of joy that I could now get my work done during my work hours and have more time outside of work to spend with my family…in places that aren’t my job.

    If I didn’t trust Mark that far yet, then I’d be asking him not to try to socialize when he drops by, although of course he and his son would be welcome as patrons, etc.

    OP…other than a gentle word to Cathy about professionalism, if you feel for her and want to help her*, I would step back and stay out of this one. There’s not a lot you can do, except get tangled in it and have one or the other (or both!) decide you’re on the “other side”. You especially don’t want your boss to think you’re on Cathy’s “side” of this, because it leaves the impression you don’t know much about professional norms either, if you come across that way.

    * Because her current behavior is not a good look, and your boss should fire her if it continues, it’s that egregious. If you think you can get through to her and make her understand that, *and* you want to, it would be doing her a favor.

    1. Hanna*

      Your first paragraph is a good point. Mark’s presence at Cathy’s job could have been beneficial for everyone. Cathy focuses entirely on work and spends less time doing work outside normal hours, the library gets their employee back, and Son gets undivided attention for homeschooling. But somehow, the situation seems to have gone off off the rails. Cathy is more distracted than ever, Mark is causing a disturbance, Son’s homeschooling situation is possibly worse (who’s teaching him when Cathy and Mark are canoodling?), etc.

      The situation went from unusual but (apparently) workable to untenable.

    2. Working Hypothesis*

      I am not even slightly baffled by Cathy’s choices, unfortunately. It sounds as if she’s had at least one failed relationship in the past (that’s how people usually end up being single parents) and is now blissed out on NRE with Mark, and wants to have Mark around her every second of every day.

      This is a pretty comprehensible set of reasons for her choices… it’s just a really bad one. People make terrible decisions that are totally comprehensible pretty frequently. You or I wouldn’t, sure, because we are not so screwed up that we’d ever think our own NREfeels trump the need to behave professionally at work… but I don’t find it terribly baffling that other people do. Especially if they’ve already gotten used to blurring the lines between their personal and professional lives by getting special permission to be homeschooling while on the clock.

      1. Kyrielle*

        …ow. Point. I’m approaching it from a logic point of view, and that’s not at all where she is.

  34. Alison Read*

    I just want to say +1 for a library question. I’ve missed the librarian “feel” around here! Amber Rose’s “Give a mouse a cookie” and fposte whipping out antecedent… pure AAM gold!

  35. Zip Silver*

    I’d just cut her loose. Huge judgement errors on Cathy’s part, and she’s pushing back against it? Let her go.

    1. Anon And Loving It*

      Agree 100%. Cathy seems to be one of those “give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile” types. The fact that she wants to go over her boss’s head (the same boss who bent over backwards to accommodate her) shows a serious lack of good judgment and a strong sense of entitlement. Add to this the fact that her behavior is totally unacceptable. Cathy needs to go.

    2. PlainJane*

      Public sector employees usually have due process rights, so outright firing probably isn’t an option. But her manager should tell her firmly to knock it off, then start the progressive discipline process if the behavior continues.

  36. AKchic*

    OP, you need to stop trying to help “keep the peace”. If you want to insert yourself into this situation at all (which is totally NOT your place), then you should be working on making Cathy see that what she is doing is 100% inappropriate considering the accommodations she’s already been given.

    She is acting like a smitten kitten, which considering the fact that she has a special needs child as a single mother, it’s not surprising. What IS surprising is that she is allowing it to affect her employment. She isn’t going to be granted such accommodations for her son and his homeschooling should she be terminated from this position, which is likely if she keeps pushing this issue.
    She needs to behave like a grown-up, and that means setting healthy boundaries. No more Mark and his child at work every day. They can be patrons all they want, but they cannot be there to socialize with her, and she cannot be a baby-sitter for Mark’s child. Her son was a special dispensation, his child isn’t.
    If Mark and his child aren’t at the library for the library events or to check out a book – they need to leave. And someone NOT Cathy will need to enforce that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Cathy needs to have a 100% hands-off approach to Mark & son at the library since she has already botched this so spectacularly.

  37. MicroManagered*

    Does anyone else feel a little empathy for Cathy? I agree her behavior is beyond the pale, but somehow this story made me feel sad for her. I imagine someone with a special needs child who has to care for him 24/7–and while it’s wonderful that she can bring him to work, she’s not even getting a reprieve there. In the midst of all that, she has managed to find love, which is wonderful, but it seems like she’s pretty blinded by it.

    Maybe that’s a reach on my part, but I’d like to at least hope that’s why she’s so unreasonable as to think some of the things she’s doing are acceptable. It doesn’t make what she’s doing ok, but… Poor Cathy.

    1. LCL*

      I do feel empathy for Cathy. But her behavior is jeopardizing her own support system. The kindest thing to do for her and the kid is for the manager to do what Alison suggests. One thing I have learned from this column is that unfortunately the profession of librarian isn’t as well compensated or respected as it should be, and job opportunities are much less than the number of qualified candidates. Cathy could be replaced in the time it takes to run a job announcement. She should be given the chance to straighten up before she gets fired.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I absolutely agree with that and with Alison’s advice… I just couldn’t help but feel like “poor Cathy.”

    2. FormerEmployee*

      “I imagine someone with a special needs child who has to care for him 24/7…”

      Does she? Homeschooling can be good or bad for average kids. Sometimes, it stunts their growth in the area of socialization. A child who has “special needs” (I wish people would stop using that term because it tells you almost nothing about the child.) might be better off in a school where professionals can address his issues as well as help him learn how to interact with his peers and other people.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I guess I assumed that if her employer would accommodate him coming to work with her, he required care beyond home-schooling (i.e. had more serious mental and/or physical handicaps)?

      2. Annabelle*

        I wondered about this too. I was an ESE or “special ed” teacher for a while and most of the parents I interacted with would never have dreamed of homeschooling. Idk what specific needs or disability Cathy’s child has, though, so that might make a traditional classroom environment untenable.

      3. PlainJane*

        Parent of special needs child here. There are a lot of factors to consider, the biggest of which is whether the local school district has a program appropriate for the child’s needs. They are legally required to provide a “free and appropriate public education” (in the US), but the devil is in the details. I have some pretty unpleasant personal experience in this area, as does my son.

        I also feel bad for Cathy, but the most compassionate thing the manager can do is to talk to Cathy, tell her clearly that the behavior isn’t acceptable, and hope she knocks it off before she has to be disciplined or fired.

        1. Jules the Third*


          We do not have enough information to assess Cathy’s parenting.

          We can assess her professionalism.

          And yeah, she’s got a challenging situation, but she also has an unusual solution that was working for everyone. She needs to protect, and value it.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Because humans sometimes exhibit poor judgment as a result of stress, and there is even such a thing as a positive stressor (like falling in love). I happen to be a human, so I feel empathy when I can imagine how someone might come to make poor choices without malicious intent. Cuz that’s what empathy is? Jeez…

          1. Julia*

            This. Plus, having empathy for someone does not mean we can’t also find their actions wrong.

            Like, I have empathy for Draco Malfoy because of his upbringing, but that doesn’t mean that I’d excuse his actions or that I think Hermione should forgive him for calling her a ‘m*dblood.’

    3. Caro in the UK*

      I feel for Cathy. I sounds like she’s had a very hard life and her sudden, and much longed for, happiness is severely skewing her sense of what’s acceptable. I’ve seen this before in people who’ve been deeply unhappy for a long time, and when they finally find something or someone who makes them feel better, they’ll fight fiercely against anything or anyone who they percieve to be threatening their newfound happiness.

      But the kindest thing to do in this situation is to be as clear with Cathy as possible of the effects of her behaviour if it continues, so that she doesn’t get a horrible shock. If the LW is a friend to Cathy, then she should be as blunt as possible, whilst still being kind.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I sounds like she’s had a very hard life and her sudden, and much longed for, happiness is severely skewing her sense of what’s acceptable.

        YES! This this this!

        And correct–I never said or meant to imply that feeling some sympathy for Cathy in any way negates that something must be done. Of course you can’t use your workplace the way she is doing and exhibit the poor judgment she is showing with things like sitting on his lap behind the desk. Of course, of course.

    4. Hills to Die on*

      Nope, not really. She was given a huge gift of letting her son hang out there and is throwing it in her employers face—and then getting upset!!

    5. AKchic*

      While I feel some sympathy for Cathy, her situation is of her own making.

      She chose to homeschool. She chose not to put her child in daycare. She is not utilizing any resources other than herself and is stretching herself as thin as she has. That is all 100% on her, not anyone else.
      She is the one setting unhealthy boundaries, or not setting any boundaries at all, within her workspace and has created this mess. Instead of allowing her coworkers/BOSSES to set boundaries for her (which she obviously needs), she is pushing back. She has absolutely no idea what normalcy is in regards to work/home life separation because hers is blended to the point that they are literally co-mingled like a bowtie. It worked until she found lust (not love, lust). She allowed this to glom right into things. It’s one thing to play pat-a-cake with your boyfriend in your living room with your kids watching, but another entirely to do so at work (in a public library) in front of other people’s children. But, because her “office” is an extension of her home, she doesn’t get that this. isn’t. normal. to other people.

      Not knowing what the child’s disabilities are, or what resources are available for this child; I’d be wondering WHY the child isn’t in a special-needs education program where she isn’t the teacher, and why he’s not getting individualized special-needs therapies from actual specialists and socialization with peers, not patrons. It would allow Cathy to focus on her job, and give that child more socialization and individualized attention and possibly better educational opportunities (and medical care? physical therapy?). Again, without knowing his diagnoses, and the community resources – I can’t even begin to speculate, and I can only base my ideas off of my own community, which is limited, but not completely lacking services. If a community has a library that has multiple librarians and kids all day long, then they HAVE to have services, and at least one special needs program available.

      1. Temperance*


        To be clear, as a special needs child, he is entitled to services through early intervention if he’s under a certain age and IEP services through his school district, and depending on the region, he could even qualify for free preschool for kids with disabilities. She’s doing him a disservice by keeping him out of school.

        1. Genny*

          I don’t think that’s very fair. We know nothing about this child except that he has special needs. I think it’s fair to assume that his mother, who actually knows what her child’s unique needs are, has selected the best option for their family. Sure, she’s not behaving well at the moment, but the problem is her relationship with Mark, not her arangement with her child (which the library didn’t seem to have a problem with until Mark showed up).

          1. Student*

            We know his mother is trying to do all of these things at once, in a library:
            (1) Supervise a special-needs kid
            (2) Homeschool a special-needs kid
            (3) Work in a public-facing service job
            (meaning her special needs kid is exposed to the library-attending public all day long)
            (4) Entertain her boyfriend
            (5) Supervise her boyfriend’s kid

            Yes, she’s pretty far off-normal here regarding care for her kid. This is not the best option available to her kid (though it is probably the easiest thing available to her personally, as she is essentially being paid to supervise him). A normal kid wouldn’t be getting sufficient attention in this scenario. This exact type of issue is why we have public schools that are legally obligated to take in, educate, and care for any child.

            Just because people are parents, it doesn’t mean they automatically act in their kids’ best interests. Parents are human, and they can be selfish, stupid, short-sighted, or merely unable to foresee all possible futures. It’s willful blindness to look at this set-up and think it does that child any favors at all.

            1. Indoor Cat*

              “Just because people are parents, it doesn’t mean they automatically act in their kids’ best interests. Parents are human, and they can be selfish, stupid, short-sighted, or merely unable to foresee all possible futures. ” <– I appreciate this statement.

              Here are some facts people might be unaware of:

              –The national statistics on child abuse (which only count 1. physical abuse that leaves a mark on the child 2. starvation or deprivation of vital necessities like medication 3. sexual abuse and 4. imprisonment, and do not count equally abusive practices such as verbal or psychological abuse) are astronomically high [source: ] . In some states, as many as one in three children are experiencing abuse at any given time.

              –Children's librarians and teachers are mandated reporters

              So, here's the deal. If one can believe that child abuse is as rampant as the Department of Justice and the ChildHelp line says they are, is it so surprising that there are so many more parents out there who are just crap at parenting without crossing the line into abuse? Is it unthinkable that a disproportionate number of abusive and not-quite-abusive-but-still-not-at-all-good parents choose homeschooling in order to avoid mandated reporters?

              I don't know all the details of Cathy's situation specifically. But I know a lot of kids who suffered abuse, and a lot of adults, my age and older, who carry the shame of being an abuse victim for decades without ever being able to call it what it is. I know more crap parents than good ones, and this narrative that parents almost always do what's best for their kids and have their best interests at heart is destructive and false.

              1. Lolly Scrambler*

                You are 100% right about people’s willingness to ignore child abuse from parents, Indoor Cat.

          2. PlainJane*

            I’m with Genny. What you have a legal right to and what is best for your child can be 2 very different things. I changed jobs and relocated in part because the district I was in did not have an appropriate program for my son. They were complying with the law, but the placement was terrible for him, and they had nothing else to offer. We homeschooled for a short time on a couple of occasions while we tried to get him appropriately placed. It was incredibly difficult for all concerned. New place, new type of program, and he thrived.

            The issue here is Cathy’s behavior at work. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s doing her best for her child. Raising a special needs child can be a hard, hard road.

          3. Temperance*

            I think all of these things are a problem, TBH. The library is woefully misappropriating public funds by allowing her to “homeschool” and supervise her child while she’s working. While they might have granted this ridiculous request, they really shouldn’t have.

    6. Temperance*

      I actually don’t have sympathy for her, but I worry about the kid. She’s chosen to homeschool, and has somehow lucked into a job where she can bring her kid to work and actually avoid working to care for him while on the clock. I have single mom friends, and they often struggle with pickup/dropoff/etc. Having a special needs child is absolutely rough, but she’s chosen not to take advantage of the multitude of resources available through the school district that could really help her son. I obviously don’t know his disability, but a person educated in special ed is more likely to help her son achieve independence later in life.

      She met a guy, and instead of acting like an adult, she’s acting like a grabby teenager. Sitting on some dude’s lap while working is something I wouldn’t have even done in freaking high school.

      1. AKchic*

        I totally agree with you here. We know she’s a director part-time, but it sounds like she is at the library full-time, so what kind of services is this child receiving, if any. What kind of special needs are we talking? How old is he? Obviously if she’s chosen to homeschool, he is school-aged, but that could be anywhere from age 4 to age 17, which could give Cathy’s age from anywhere from 19 to early 60’s (depending on when she gave birth).
        What kind of community has a library requiring at least 3 librarians but doesn’t have a special needs class? What kind of community has a library requiring at least 3 librarians but doesn’t have special needs therapies and support groups?
        Cathy’s lack of support is not the library’s problem, nor should they allow it to be. He is missing out on socialization, cognitive learning, possible speech and physical therapies (without knowing his diagnoses, I can’t actually be sure, so I’m just throwing it out there); conflict-resolution, etc. I highly doubt Cathy is qualified to handle even half of this, otherwise she’d be TEACHING this. Same with Mark, he’s not qualified to teach this, otherwise she’d probably have enrolled her son in Mark’s classes.

        All of this just screams “wrong” in my head. She isn’t SuperMom. She needs help, respite care, a break, and back-up. She is going to burn out. What happens if she breaks up with Mark? It seems like a lot of her happiness is tied to this relationship. I’d be very concerned for her wellbeing, and more importantly – her son’s wellbeing.

  38. Roscoe*

    So I think the first thing to address is her socializing vs him helping with the son. I mean if he truly is helping to home school the kid, I don’t necessarily think that should be a problem. He is basically acting as a tutor. The problem comes in how they are acting WHILE he is acting as a tutor. I’d start with the specific PDA that they are doing and how it isn’t appropriate. If they can curb that, then I think the situation may be able to be salvaged.

    1. LBK*

      If we remove the relationship aspect from it and assume Cathy was able to treat Mark purely as a tutor for his time at the library, I still think that’s something that should have been explicitly approved by management first and could have possibly been turned down – Cathy’s accommodation covers her son, not her son plus a tutor.

      1. Ms. Annie*

        In the Mark is only a tutor scenario, it doesn’t really need to be approved. The library is a public space and tutoring is definitely an acceptable use of that space. *BUT* Mark needs to do the tutoring in an area away from Cathy and not be disrupting her job, and she should not let him.

        1. LBK*

          I guess I was assuming they were doing this in some employees-only area so that Cathy would have easy access to him while she was working, but I guess that’s true that if Mark just took the son off to some other space to tutor him there’s nothing to stop him from doing that as long as Cathy stays away so it’s not distracting her.

        2. Temperance*

          Eh, I’m not so sure that I agree. Mark is not there the entire shift, but apparently the kid is. So Cathy is either minding her special needs son, or doing her job …

  39. Anne of Green Gables*

    I’m a librarian and worked in public libraries of various sizes for 15 years. I cannot think of any circumstance when a non-library staff person should be sitting at a library service desk with a staff person, except maybe a library science student doing an observation. I don’t even think you need to be a manager to address this, I think it’s so much the norm that any library staff could say “Library users expect to get help from anyone at the desk, Mark probably should not be at the desk so he is not mistaken for library staff.” The point being to emphasize what it looks like to the patrons.

    I agree that in terms of Mark being at the library, the problem is that Cathy is spending time with him, the problem is not that Mark is physically present. If I was the manager, I would start there. However, it’s not inappropriate to say to any library user that staff need to be able to do their jobs and limit socializing. Again, this should be addressed with Cathy first, but sometimes you do need to set limits with library users about appropriate levels of chatting with library staff when it’s not about library inquiries. I think it unlikely that would leave to a patron being banned, but it could.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      I’m guessing that part of the problem is that library users *don’t* expect to get help from anyone behind the desk, when the people behind the desk are busy canoodling with each other. That’s part of the problem.

    2. MyInnerDemonLikesCookies*

      Library users also expect that their information is kept private. Behind the desk, we often have access to patron records (name, birthdate, address, etc.). In addition, what people ask library staff should be kept confidential — so having someone who isn’t library staff, and who understands that as staff, our responsibility is to our patrons, is inappropriate. If you go to the bank, it’s bank employees behind that desk (at least, that’s what I assume. I have never seen canoodling at the bank).

      While I sympathize with Cathy’s situation, the whole “no one but staff behind the desk” is something the manager should have addressed up front, and something that any other staff member could have reiterated to Cathy.

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    Cathy seems like the “sexy librarian” we have always dreamed of. From the buttoned up blouse wearing, hair back in a tight bun to her mousy glasses, we have now seen her shake that hair lose, ditch the glasses, and sitting on Mark’s lap to cap it off.

    1. LBK*

      I’m just going to add a pre-emptive explanation to people here that your comments are meant as jokes before everyone freaks out…

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    it’s going to be difficult to talk to Cathy rationally about this. Forbidden love is often the most appealing….We hunger for that which we cannot eat. We thirst for that which we cannot drink. We crave that which we are denied. In many ways Cathy and Mark’s love story reminds one of Romeo and Juliet. Let’s just hope for a less tragic ending.

    1. K.*

      I don’t see anything Romeo and Juliet about this. There’s nothing star-crossed here. Nobody’s saying she needs to break up with Mark; we’re saying she needs to behave within professional norms. They’re free to be in a relationship; they just can’t be cuddling at work.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I don’t see Romeo and Juliet here, but you sure know how to polish an ordinary situation into something timeless!

    3. McWhadden*

      It’s more like Antony and Cleopatra. Forbidden love is all well and good but if it keeps you from effectively fighting off Octavian’s army (or you know being a librarian) then it’s inappropriate.

  42. HappyToBeIncluded*

    She has a part-time job, the hours of which are 100% flexible to her needs to homeschool her special needs child and when not homeschooling, she has essentially FREE “daycare” while she is working. This is quite an arrangement. If she loses her job, there goes the free daycare. And she’s willing to take that risk over a boyfriend?

    But just what exactly is the arrangement? It sounds like the homeschooling is squeezed in during the day inbetween working, which doesn’t sound organized or structured. I’m confused as to how this actually works.

    I’m wondering if the special needs situation is what is causing the manager to be hesitant. Imagine the headline in a local paper. I’m a mother of a special needs child and I lost my job at the library where he wasn’t disturbing anyone! How can they be so mean to a single mom like this?

    1. Ms. Annie*

      I kinda get it. She is a single mother. It sounds like Dad isn’t all that active in the kid’s life. She homeschools so she gets no break. Even at work, she is on the Mom Clock. Finding babysitters for special needs kids is challenging. Her whole life revolves around this kid. Then some guy comes by and is paying attention to her and hasn’t run for the hills at the first mention of her kid.

      I am not excusing her actions. She is definitely out of line messing with Mark at the library. But, I do understand that the loneliness can get to you and make you do stupid things.

      1. Temperance*

        I mean, I would argue that she chooses to homeschool when her kid would likely be better served by professionals and an IEP. She can’t provide the services that he is entitled to, and she’s doing herself a disservice.

        I personally don’t see the value in keeping an employee like this when I’m sure that there are plenty of folks who would come to work, do their job, not do childcare while on the clock (!) and who wouldn’t act like the library is their own personal living room. I mean, library jobs are hard to come by.

        1. animaniactoo*

          It depends on what resources are available in her area and how well they might be able to fulfill the needs of the IEP. Stipulations in IEPs are actually routinely ignored or unfulfilled in some schools/areas when they simply don’t have the staff/funds for them. Homeschooling could very well be the better option of the 2 in her circumstances. It’s not the first choice if you have an actual better option, I’m just saying that the supposed better option is not always the model of help that it’s held up to be.

          1. Snark*

            I’m personally fairly confident that even a middlin’ to crappy school district would educate and serve a kid with special needs better than a parent who is also trying to work (!!!) at the same time. I’m not sure how that kid’s needs could be served worse than Cathy’s approach, honestly.

            1. Genny*

              It’s impossible to make that assessment without knowing anything about the child beyond the fact that s/he has special needs. Unless Cathy is completely clueless or is a total monster, I’m sure she’s examined the options and picked what she thinks is best for the family. But none of that matters anyways, because the problem is how she’s handling her relationship with Mark, not how she’s handling the supervision/education of her child (which the library seems not to have a problem with).

              1. Snark*

                Hard disagree. If this situation is what Cathy came up with after examining the options and picking what she thinks is best, she is catastrophically wrong. I think monstrous cluelessness is not only possible, it’s likely. It’s simply not possible to give any child, whether special needs or neuro/physio-typical, a high-quality education while also working at a simultaneous, unrelated set of job duties. I’m comfortable generalizing that to a pretty absolute statement, even knowing what little we know.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  I’ll go along with you in terms of not being able to give a child a high-quality education this way. But that sadly does not mean that it’s necessarily going to be better within the school system. I homeschool one of my kids, and have been fighting the school district tooth and nail to get the other what she needs, and that’s just for kids who are exceptionally bright… which IS a special need, though not under the government’s definition; it’s just a relatively easy one to deal with. They’re not even doing that, except when I force them; and I can’t always successfully force them.

                  Sometimes, a suboptimal solution is the least-bad one you’ve got. There’s no need to make it worse by spending the time snuggling with her boyfriend instead of teaching OR working; but I think you’re being a tad naive about the school options in some districts, if you think that ANY public school ANYWHERE will have better care available for ANY special-needs child, without knowing more than that.

                2. animaniactoo*

                  I have friends whose kids are special needs. I have a sister who used to be a special ed teacher – and transitioned out after a decade over a last straw where she was physically put in danger and harmed because the school didn’t have the resources to follow the kid’s IEP and made a best guess stab at what tradeoffs for what kids were the best they could do.

                  You are far overestimating the help that a middlin to crappy school district is always capable of giving.

                  This setup may not be the best situation for the kid, but it might be the best situation of what is actually available. And that might be even after suing the school/district to provide what they’re actually supposed to provide, researching other accommodations in the area, trying to find a job in and fund a move to a location with better help and so on. Because if her safety network is in the area, it’s very likely she can’t *afford* to move to a different area because she’d be completely solo vs having available friends/siblings/grandparents.

                  Useful help for special needs kids, and even more so the more special needs you get, is a woefully scarce resource in our country and our public education systems.

        2. PlainJane*

          I’ve made a few comments to this effect above, but I’m going to say it baldly here: please don’t judge the parents of special needs kids when you have no idea of their specific situation. We’re asked not to diagnose people’s mental states. This is a similar thing. We get judged and second-guessed all the time (as do all parents, especially mothers), and honestly, it’s painful. People assume that school districts can provide a suitable experience for any special needs kid. It simply isn’t true. We do the best we can with the resources we have (and, often, so do the school districts). And yes, the situation described in this letter may very well be a better option than what can be provided by professionals and an IEP. Don’t get me wrong–there are many wonderful special education personnel and programs out there. But not every district offers the right fit for every kid–and sometimes the options they do offer are pretty awful. I’m speaking from personal and very painful personal experience.

          1. Temperance*

            I don’t think that this is a similar thing to armchair diagnosis, at all, and I don’t think that this woman’s parenting is beyond reproach. I’m going to judge this woman because she’s shown herself to have remarkably bad judgment, and I’m concerned that this kid has no one to speak up for his best interests. If mom is neglecting him, there’s no one around to intervene.

            While you might be doing the best that you can for your kids, I really think it unwise to just assume the best out of every other special needs parent, and I think “doing the best that they can” is a crap standard. I’ve seen what neglect, educational and otherwise, does to children, and it’s disgusting to me.

            1. animaniactoo*

              I’m not saying it’s automatic that what she’s doing is right or the best. But all the evidence we have so far points to her giving her child attention (to the point that she then needs to do additional work off the clock), not neglecting them.

          2. Carlee*

            Cathy brings her child to work daily and *schools* the child at work.

            Ummm, some judgement re: how this situation is working is appropriate. And would be even if the offspring in question did not have special needs.

            I say this as a special needs mom – I’ve been raising my 10 year old Aspie nephew since age 5 and he’s a sweetheart, as well as effectively my third child. It’s both nowhere near as hard as many special needs parents claim it is and often, clearly, impacted an awful lot by the behaviour the parent(s). (Personal pet peeve? Parents who expect their kids to be *befriended* because of their special needs. Each kid, hell, person is entitled to be treated with politeness as it stops the world from descending into anarchy, and anything beyond that is gravy. Including friends. There are any number of delightful kids with disabilities… and without disabilities. There are plenty of non-special needs kids who are pills… ditto for kids with disabilities. More than anything, a disability is NOT a personality).

  43. vjs*

    I work in a public library and we have a list of banned people…just because it’s a public space doesn’t mean you can do anything you want without ramifications.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t want to take us on a tangent, but I’d LOVE to know what gets you banned from a library :)

      1. Aisling*

        Consistently looking at porn on computers. Doing other illegal things on computers, including trying to hack systems. Fights with staff and/or other patrons. Drug use. Threatening staff/other patrons with weapons. Etc., etc. Public libraries can be interesting.

        1. Marian the Librarian*

          Don’t forget the ever-popular urinating and defecating in places that are not the bathroom.

            1. MyInnerDemonLikesCookies*

              I just read that comment and I’m working on the public desk in a library. Luckily, I was able to stifle my laugh . . . I plan to somehow work that “whipping out your wangdoodle” part into a story in the future.

  44. J*

    Cathy is the luckiest person on the planet to have found a paid position that allows her to homeschool her child during work hours. She is looney tunes for doing anything that could potentially jeopardize this job. She should be bending over backwards to accommodate her employers’ request in every other aspect of her job.

    I don’t care how amazing she is at creating children’s programs; the entitlement of thinking that she could socialize every day at work AND digging in when she was told that it wasn’t OK is blowing my mind.

    1. SL #2*

      I’m not at all surprised by Cathy’s digging in. I think it’s unfortunate, and that she needs to take a step back and see how unreasonable she’s being, but I’m not surprised.

      For background, I have a lot of friends who are disabled and who work with special-needs children and adults, and they feel strongly about the need to constantly advocate for yourself or others, even to the point of “being rude” to the person that you feel is standing in your way because it’s always a battle of “you vs. them.” It is entirely possible, that as the parent of a special-needs child, Cathy is approaching this as another battle she has to fight (reasonably or not!) and that’s why she’s doubling down. It doesn’t make her right. Let me repeat, it doesn’t make her right, and it’s up to her manager to emphasize that she can’t flaunt library rules like this without jeopardizing her job, but I can see why she’s digging in her heels instead of being mortified.

  45. Anonymous LD*

    I’m a Library Director and here are my two cents:
    1) As Director I would have a quick, firm conversation with Cathy about workplace norms (or the lack thereof) and professionalism. Document, Document, Document. Also, I strongly suspect that this issue has been irking the Director for a while and something of this nature was already said to Cathy. Hence the signage. While the OP is getting Cathy’s side of the story she is not privy to the full side from the Library Director for HR reasons. So what looks like passive-aggressive behavior (and it could very well be just that) might be an *attempt* by the Director to be more clear in her communications. Obviously, it isn’t that effective.
    2) Yes, Mark can be banned but that is a long arduous process reserved for the truly deviant, violent or harassing patron. So Cathy is right that *so far* this does not rise to that strict standard. As many have said — you can require him to be in a different location. No conversation with patrons, no unattended children, etc. I’d institute those measures first before totally banning him from a resource his tax dollars fund. Most normal people will back off and get the message.
    3) Here is what most likely will happen if Cathy goes above the Director’s head: Director will pull out the code of conduct that every library has and state how he is breaking policy. I would wager that HR will rightly point out how big of a deal it is to be allowed to bring your child to work and that in any other workplace or department that would be not allowed. Cathy would be made aware that as a representative of the Library she has a requirement to follow policy. If she breaks policy for him that is grounds for termination. Now, Mark might be worth losing her job over, but I bet she or he would back off.

    OP I get wanting to help your friend, but the best thing for you to do is advise how this could only end badly for her and then stay out of it. You have to work for your boss to the good of the Library.

    1. PlainJane*

      And if the city (or county) HR didn’t approve the child care accommodation (i.e. if the director did it on her own), it may well get pulled once they become aware of it. OP, if you feel close enough to Cathy to point that out, you could be doing her a kindness.

  46. Wow'd*

    As a manager, I see so many issues to this situation that I wonder if Cathy’s manager is simply overwhelmed with where to start. If I were the manager of this situation, I would begin by addressing the socializing and affectionate behaviors. If Cathy cannot understand the unprofessional outward appearance of these behaviors, that is a whole other issue. Second, I would clarify that Mark is not being “banned” from a public institution, he is just being asked to behave the way other patrons are expected to behave, and that if other patrons became cozy with the employees, they too would be asked to follow the rules. It sounds to me that Cathy has a pretty sweet deal being allowed to have her son with her during all working hours (and allowed to home school during work hours?), and I would emphasize that this is not the norm, much less allowing her bf and his son to jump on that “perk bandwagon”, risking the loss of such privilege. I’m pretty amazed that she is allowed to get paid to do personal duties while on the job to begin with, and then allowed to work outside of work hours too. Cathy’s manager needs to get this under control and quit worrying so much about Cathy’s feelings.

    And, on a closing note: I work at an institution that is funded by tax payer dollars – as are many libraries. I’m not sure the tax payers in my community would be all to thrilled to know this is how their tax dollars are being spent.

  47. animaniactoo*

    “Cathy, you seem to be missing that your job doesn’t end at getting the tasks done. Part of doing your job is to represent the library with a competent and professional demeanor, as an employee of the library. When you’re doing this while you’re on the clock, you are not at all doing that and it is having a negative impact on THAT portion of your work.

    We have made a huge needs-based accommodation for you based on your son’s needs and the difficulty of the situation. However, spending time with Mark and his son etc. is not something we can define as a need and therefore we can’t accommodate. It may be inconvenient for you to do at a different time, but that’s the kind of inconvenience that almost everyone who works has to deal with. The impression of a “family meal” and “family time” and “employee socializing rather than working” is something you need to work to avoid, particularly in light of the accommodation you have already received and which we thoroughly support you for.”

    Is more or less what the manager needs to say.

    For you OP, I would tell Cathy, as your co-worker/friend, that she’s received not just an inch but a whole foot and is now trying to take that mile. That YOU are happy that she’s happy with this guy, but no – what she’s doing is not professional and not okay and YOU understand why there is an issue with it. Sometimes – it comes better from a friend.

  48. Ruthie Rather Not*

    I have worked in libraries in some capacity since I was 15 years old. I’ve also worked in other jobs, and I can say without hesitation that libraries are the most mismanaged employers you will ever work for. It’s more important for managers often to be friends with their employees then it is to run an efficient operation. Libraries are hotbeds of backstabbing, nepotism, and all kind of other “employee intrigue”. I have never worked in one that didn’t have a toxic work environment.

    1. Bleeborp*

      I’ve been very lucky to work in non-toxic libraries BUT but I have seen a surprising amount of drama, backstabbing, and all that…I think people would assume librarians are low drama! And the fact that people thought it strange that the manager would talk to an employee about an issue with another employee is very funny to me, I have had so many of those kinds of conversations with a boss about situations with coworkers, hardly seemed odd to me at all.

      1. Y*

        I think people would assume librarians are low drama!

        Oh, I don’t know. It’s just like academic politics: it’s so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

  49. Elizabeth*

    The “can you ban someone from a library” question has been covered many times above, but I feel like they don’t even need to go that far. There are always “staff only” sections of public-facing institutions; as a patron, I wouldn’t expect to be able to get behind the counter into the spaces where librarians are working, and it’s not unfair to “ban” (i.e. enforce a rule I assume already exists) Mark from straying into staff areas. There’s the tutoring aspect here in which maybe he can be given temporary dispensation to come into the staff areas, but if he’s not tutoring, he needs to be where the rest of the public are.

  50. hbc*

    It sounds like Manager is latching on to Explicit Rules because it’s harder to enforce more vague standards. “No visitors behind the counter” and “Mark is not allowed on the premises” are easy rules to lay out and pretty much impossible to dispute when they’ve been violated. “Behave appropriately” and “don’t take advantage of how much leeway we’ve given you” are much, much grayer.

    But Explicit Rules meant to stop one person usually backfire. Now the UPS guy can’t pick up the packages behind the desk and the excited kid can’t see her very first library card come off the machine because Rules (and you better believe Cathy will be pointing out any infractions.) And people who the rules are targeted at usually find some way around it–she can just come around the desk to grind on him or play footsie in the kid’s area.

    Cathy needs to treat Mark like a regular patron. Everyone knows what “regular patron” means, even if Cathy pretends she doesn’t and Manager can’t write down a perfect description.

  51. Aphrodite*

    This stinks. And the supervisor is not doing anyone–Cathy, the OP, the public–any good. I think we can all presume that Cathy’s official hours are hours that the library has deemed that the position needs to be filled to accommodate the public’s needs. So she needs to be at work and available to fulfill the job’s duties during those specified times. Not at other times at her convenience. She needs to be doing her job. And she’s not. She received a massive and, in my opinion, terribly unfair (to others) accommodation and she still wants more. And more. When are people going to stop catering to her and require her to work as determined was needed before she got the job? I’d get rid of her.

  52. kb*

    I know it is possible to ban Mark, but I think doing so would be a mistake at this stage. Everything he’s done, he’s done with the permission of a library employee. Though I question the judgment of someone who would want his girlfriend to sit on his lap at her workplace, that’s not the library’s concern. Cathy’ s lack of boundaries is the issue here. I think if the boss focuses more on expectations for Cathy and less on removing Mark, Cathy may be more receptive.

    It’s not really up to the letter writer to do anything, but if Cathy tries to talk to LW about what’s happening, it may be helpful to reinforce how generous and out of the ordinary the library’s arrangement with Cathy was to begin with. It seems like Cathy has really lost sight of professional norms.

  53. Granny K*

    Can we all agree that anybody sitting on someone’s lap in a working environment during normal office hours is inappropriate, and that anyone who acts like they don’t know this is either lying or downright clueless?

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Yeah, given the letter states THAT happened while the boss was away, I’m guessing even Cathy/Mark knew it wasn’t kosher. Apart from “so lovesick they weren’t thinking” my only other stab at a guess is that it was a dead time in the library and there were so few people around they figured they wouldn’t disturb anyone. Now, since a complaint was filed, obviously it did disturb someone.

      Mind you, apparently “getting down in the library” is quite a popular pastime, and I wouldn’t suggest that Cathy was the first ever library employee to, uh, canoodle on the clock, though I’d also imagine most staff would have the sense to do so somewhere more private than the front desk.

  54. Yada yada yada*

    Why aren’t more people commenting on this poor child who’s likely getting a horrible “education”? Can you really effectively home school a child when you’re also working? Even if the kid seems like they can read and do math, kids with special needs often get related services to address social, sensory, or not-so-obvious cognitive issues. Cathy’s presumably not trained to address these. I’m sure this child is struggling in some way. This jumped out at me more than anything else in the letter. If Cathy can’t afford to not work in order to give this child the education/attention they deserve, then the child should go to a real school. I would 100% report her. Seriously, this poor child. It takes a village and part of the village’s job is to look out for neglected children. And yes, depriving a child of education is considered a form of neglect. OP, please do this asap. Reporting won’t get her thrown in jail or anything, but may require her to send her child to school or shape up yet homeschool act. They can also likely provide resources if she’s struggling, or in-home therapy for some of the services I mentioned if she for some reason continues to home school. Here’s how to report:

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “Why aren’t more people commenting on this poor child who’s likely getting a horrible ‘education’?”

      Because it’s well beyond the scope of this blog.

      1. Yada yada yada*

        I think it absolutely is related. The employer is allowing Cathy to “homeschool” on the clock as a paid employee and this means the employer is complicit. More than complicit, she’s encouraging it.

      2. PlainJane*

        It’s also really judgmental and inappropriate. If you don’t know the individual child’s situation and what’s available in the district, you don’t know if the current arrangement is better or worse than enrolling the child in school. We parents of special needs kids have to make some pretty tough decisions that people who haven’t walked in our shoes are unlikely to understand (or even believe). And please, OP, unless you have reason to suspect that this child is being abused or neglected, don’t report this family. That would be beyond cruel to the parents and the child. Choosing to homeschool, even in an arrangement like this, may be the best option Cathy has available to her.

        1. Yada yada yada*

          my original comment did not mention calling social services to report abuse or traditional neglect at all. It listed numbers to call to specifically report educational neglect, which is usually the board or education or some county office. Somebody had a great comment below about what this would entail. It’s not that the police would storm into her house in the middle of the night. Somebody would review her home curriculum and schooling set-up to decide if it was adequate for the child. No harm can really come of it aside from a bruised ego maybe. They won’t take her kid away! I think the word “report” is scary to people, which I understand, but it doesn’t mean what people think it does!

          1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            Except when it does go wrong. There are periodic horror stories in the homeschool community about kids getting taken away by social services. Now, a lot of the fear that parents have is from back before homeschooling had strong legal protection, but things still go wrong sometimes.

            A court case that was settled fairly recently has strong parallels. Vanessa Wilson was single mother of two, the younger child with special needs, (well, diabetes) in California. The kids were taken away because a social worker thought she was mismanaging the diabetes and ill-education the older child. She got the older child back in 29 days, the four year old not for 50.

            Now, if you really suspect educational neglect, do what you have to do. But don’t report wily-nily just because someone is homeschooling. Sometimes it does hurt.

    2. Temperance*

      Children with disabilities should be receiving IEP support from their local school district. I think she is very likely harming this child. HOwever … that’s nothing to do with her status as a bad employee.

      1. Sarah*

        Before March of this year, all any public school had to do to satisfy the FAPE requirement was provide a more than trivial educational benefit to the students. Generally, if the kids were safe and they kind of learned something that was enough under the law. Even now in light of the new standard of “progress appropriate in light of circumstances,” the idea that schools everywhere are providing substantial services to their disabled students is a laugh.

    3. AKchic*

      I actually did mention it above, once, but only as an afterthought.

      Yes, it IS a major concern, but again, it was a secondary thought of mine, after I’d thought about it more, which bothered me that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner.
      If this community is large enough to have a library, and the library is so utilized that they have multiple librarians and children coming in and out all day, then this community is large enough to have special needs education (and maybe even a school specifically tailored for special needs education), special needs services/therapies for adults AND children, support groups, etc.
      WHY isn’t this woman utilizing services? Why is she placing all of the burden on herself? Is she even qualified to undertake this child’s complete education? Of course, we don’t know if she is. We have only been told she cares for him 24/7, but we don’t actually know what she does when she’s away from the library. We don’t know this child’s diagnoses, or what their community resources are. It just concerns me that this child isn’t getting proper socialization outside of library patrons, and may not be getting many services that would be beneficial to his care and treatment and growth.

      This woman isn’t supermom, nor is she superhuman. The fact that she is so obviously starved for human interaction (and love) that she has blurred work/home life and brought her budding love life into the workplace so forcefully makes me think that she SERIOUSLY needs respite care and a better support system for herself and her child. ASAP.

      1. Yada yada yada*

        RIGHT?! And again, if it were a random patron coming in and giving homeschooling to their kid while working remotely on their laptop or something , then it might not be anybody’s business as some other posters commented. But as the manager has specifically given Cathy permission to do this while working it becomes the collective workplace’s business. If the manager clearly isn’t going to do something about it, a coworker should

        1. AKchic*

          Even an anonymous report to the local social services to just check in to make sure that the kid’s educational needs are being met.
          Children’s Social Services programs won’t yank a child for being homeschooled. They will, at best, check that the kid has proper diagnoses and is enrolled in a good charter/homeschooling system and make sure everything is good, maybe give the parent some resource links and see if the parent needs anything. That’s about it. IF they think everything is fine. If they suspect neglect, then they will start digging, and asking questions, and follow-up. They will want to know more, and if there seems to be some issues, then they will want parent(s) to do more (or less, depending on the situation). They will recommend parenting classes, therapy, or if there is a serious need, THEN they will pull a child and place into a protective home, but pulling a kid is a last resort.

          1. Tobias Funke*

            My county wishes they had the foster homes available to be pulling kids for things like inadequate homeschooling. Not that they would (it’s very difficult legally to prove kids need to be removed), but goodness.

    4. Annabelle*

      Yeah, I didn’t want to derail, but this stood out to me too. If her son was struggling in a traditional classroom, I can’t imagine that a library is much better. There are certainly some extraordinary circumstances that would make homeschooling the best option, but having your kid hang out with you at work while you flirt with your boyfriend isn’t actual homeschooling.

    5. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      A significant fraction of homeschoolers choose that option because their kids are special needs. Many times its after struggling for a long time with public schools. My friend growing up had pretty bad dyslexia and ended up being homeschooled because, despite being in one of the best school districts in the nation, it just worked better and was easier.

      Now there is also a point where you do need professional assistance. This mother might be getting it. Appointments with doctors and socail, sensory and cognitive therapists. You know, the time sink that would make a part time job very, very attractive.

      I’m also pretty sure that most any decent parent of a special needs child ends up an expert in their own childs needs, whether they want to or not.

      Bottom line, homeschooling is a valid option for special needs kids. It is entirely possible that this mother, when not distracted by her boyfriend, is doing an amazing job or at least better than the school system. She might not be, but its fairly insulting to assume so based on the contents of the letter.

      1. Yada yada yada*

        I wasn’t trying to disparage homeschoolers, sorry if that’s how it seems! Fact is, she’s working while she’s trying to teach her kid and not giving him the attention he deserves. It would be different if she were not trying to do a job at the same time. She also shows an insane lack of judgement with Mark and you’re right that it’s speculation, but I doubt her judgement is only impaired in this one area.

      2. AKchic*

        And that is why I gave my caveat of “we don’t know”. I am only speculating because we don’t know because the OP didn’t give us any indication. All we know is that it appears that both mother and son are there quite a bit, and she homeschools, which takes up quite a bit of her workday, which requires her to stay later than her normal work hours to complete her work.
        No mention of flex-time for appointments. She could have standing appointments during her off-hours, which is always a probability.
        I am not trying to disparage Cathy. I think she has been overburdened for far too long and needs some perspective, and she isn’t going to get it when she is so obviously embedded in her day-to-day as she has been. She needs a break. She has been given a lot of leeway and forgiveness, but she needs a reality check.

      3. Genny*

        Thank you, Elspeth. This has been my experience with parents of kids with special needs too. They spend so much time researching options and fighting for the support they need to make those options work for their child that it’s laughable to me that a bunch of random people on the internet think they know enough about this situation (and more than the parent) to determine whether or not this arrangement is working for the child.

        1. MiaMia*

          I mean, I definitely question whether it’s working for the child because she’s doing this during work, trying to fit it in around her work. Maybe homeschooling really is the best choice for the kid, but this isn’t really homeschooling, this is some half-assed thing.

          Actual homeschooling takes a good deal of dedication and time. I’m not knocking actual homeschooling. It also should be held to some standards, though, and I strongly doubt this woman’s “homeschooling” is meeting that. I suspect she’s using it as a shield against criticism more than anything else.

          The kid deserves better, and frankly, I’m strongly side-eyeing Cathy here for damaging her kid’s education, which I consider a form of abuse.

          1. AKchic*

            That has been my back-of-the-mind thought too.
            That she uses this “homeschooling” format to help bolster her “SuperMom” persona. A way to help her push some kind of martyr image. I’ve known quite a few mothers (of special needs children, and many, many more mothers of neurotypical/physically whole children) who will do quite a bit to foster an image of martyrdom, to the detriment of their spouses (if one is in the picture) and children. It almost becomes a competition.
            Who’s the most tired, who has the busiest schedule, which little princess/prince has the most-packed schedule, who has the most fluffy-bunny/granola/earth-mother-green-goddess lunch, who has the most bumbling, incompetent spouse? The list can go on and on. It’s why I avoid the PTA like the plague.

      4. PlainJane*

        +1000. Not every district has a program for every kid, and a bad fit can be much, much worse than even mediocre homeschooling (think violence and exposure to some other pretty horrific behaviors). Please don’t judge other people’s parenting unless you know their situations.

  55. Kate 2*

    Honestly, the thing that sticks out the most to me as a library patron, is how it feels to other people trying to use the library to walk into somebody’s living room. It sounds like Mark and Cathy’s kid really spread out there, not just normal stuff like homework, but meals too?

    And there’s a certain vibe you get, when people feel like they own the space there in, and you walk in and sometimes get irritated looks from them . . . it’s just really unpleasant, to be treated like an intruder. I have felt this way before, at some small businesses. The owner has friends/customers who hang out there and if you have to interrupt their conversation to ask a question (because you have been waiting for long minutes for a natural break that never came) you get dirty looks for being “rude”.

    Cathy’s unprofessional behavior is probably driving patrons away and keeping them from using the library resources with their kids.

    1. a1*

      Yes, this! This stood out to me more than the (seemingly) one time lap-sitting incident. It would definitely make me feel like I was intruding regardless of if they looked annoyed or welcoming.

      She feels it is unprofessional and patrons will feel uncomfortable when they walk in the kids’ room and see the four of them as a family unit, with food and homework spread out on the table.

    2. seejay*

      This was how I felt going into a new age / religious store that I’d looked up on the internet and was really excited to check out. The owner took 15 minutes with one client while I wandered around trying to find something, not even acknowledging me. He was nice and friendly when he did finally get to me and directed me to another shop when he didn’t have what I wanted, but the total lack of interaction and acknowledgement and feeling like I was stepping into someone’s home and interrupting for 15 minutes was really uncomfortable, so I left a lukewarm review on Yelp.

      And got *yelled at* in response by another customer who told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and that the store was intended to be an ~*experience*~.

      Say what?

      Needless to say, I’ve never been back. If I’d at least been acknowledged when I came in, I would have left a better review and probably go back if there were things that I wanted, but the feeling of being an intruder in a home instead of a customer in a store never left me the entire time I was there means I’ll never return.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a certain vibe you get, when people feel like they own the space.

      Yes, “How dare that person sit at MY table?” If the director is picking up on this aspect, I’m guessing she isn’t alone.

    4. LS*

      I know exactly what you mean. At my son’s first play school, the owners / teachers were very friendly with a lot of the moms dropping their kids (it was mostly moms). They pretty much ignored me besides a cursory wave. I wasn’t there to chat but it was uncomfortable. Even if I needed to speak one of them about my son, I’d have to wait for them to finish socialising, often just standing there making polite but futile attempts to catch their attention. It made me feel that this was a hobby for them, not something they took very seriously, and I removed my son from that school to somewhere far more professionally run.

    5. Zinnea*

      Reminds me of a store I went into once. It was supposed to have nothing but locally-sourced food. So I go in, and in the middle of a room is a large table with 8 people eating and room for about 6 more. They all turned to stare at me. I glance around, see a cash register and some shelves along the walls with items on it, but I was no longer sure I was even in a store. I asked if I was in the right place. And one of the people at the table said “Yeah” and then they all went back to eating. The outsider feeling from a group of people eating is strong. I left and never went back. Other people were put off too, because it closed a few months later, and locally-sourced food is big in this area.

    6. Tuxedo Cat*

      We dealt with this in an office I worked in. Multiple departments shared a kitchen. One person was allegedly allowed to bring in her son (late teens). He hung out in the kitchen all day when he was in. We all were treated like intruders when she and her son were sitting there, talking about whatever.

    1. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

      I don’t think that’s the very first step to take here. Cathy needs to be spoken to very clearly by management about what’s happening and what is/is not acceptable (as per AAM’s script) AND let her know if they have a process for first warning, consequences, etc. The manager may even solidify expectations on what is to stop by presenting a written document (not a formal PIP) specific to this case, especially in light of the accommodation Cathy is receiving. This reiterates the boss standing firm on the issue very strongly and with clarity. If management does not see improvement in whatever form they requested it, then they have cause to let her go.

  56. Anon of the Spring*

    General comment:

    Recently on this site I’ve seen so much snark, pile-on, misreading or bestowing of the detriment of the doubt on a reader or LW, as well as jerky dismissal of other commenters offering kind takes on the matter in question that I’m now afraid to offer kind suggestions. Sometimes I’ve spent an hour or more on a set of potential factors, perspectives, and scripts, only to stop myself from posting purely out of self-preservation: I’m at a point in my life where me and my major depression will collapse at the slightest interpersonal projectile, so I run an internal cost-benefit analysis anytime I might venture into an environment that’s rowdy with a chance of spitballs. I thank the lovely people here for being lovely. Sadly, it’s clear that others like to use the comment section to practice knee-jerking and windmill-tilting. (I totally get it: it’s easy and fun to burst bubbles. I just wish jerks wouldn’t burst those that another commenter took the time and care to create.)

    I’m even wondering whether to post this comment. I’m screwing my courage to the clicking-place in large part because I’m thinking I might not be the only reader who believes they’ve had something valuable they wanted to contribute but, after observing the action on the playing field, would rather stay on the bench.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I’m not sure if I’ve seen the same thing as you. There’s generally a lot of disagreement in any comments section, but I find the comments section on AAM to be pretty civilized about it. There’s definitely some posters who are more caustic than others, and you should do what’s best for your own health of course. But generally I think if you have something kind to say here, the responses you get will be kind as well. Usually it’s the rude people who are talking to each other.

      Not that there’s a zero chance of having someone give you a nasty reply, but that’s life isn’t it. I can wish someone a good day in the grocery store today and be told to shove off. :/

    2. Temperance*

      Anon, I think it might be best for you to maybe take a breath and take a step back? The comments section here is actually fairly mild compared to many others, and if it’s bad for your mental health, maybe it might be best for you to take a break.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        As someone who is dealing with major depression, AAM comments are the only comments I reliably read as they’re constructive, thoughtful and pleasant.

        1. Laura*

          I sense that any place where people are disagreeing would not be good for you right now. Please protect yourself. This is by far the gentlest and most moderated comment section I’ve ever seen so if you have trouble with this, I sincerely worry about you being on any comment section and urge you to take care of yourself by avoiding reading people disagree. I know someone who really can’t take any disagreement at all when they’re not in a good place and the best self-care for them is to stay away from it.

    3. Anonymous 40*

      Thank you for saying this. I’ve had the same experience. I was tempted to post something similar a couple of weeks ago but expected it would be dismissed out of hand. My impression is that a certain amount of groupthink has set in here and that those who offer perspectives outside the majority position are much less likely to have their thoughts taken seriously. Case in point – the first replies to your comment seem to dismiss your thoughts without giving them any consideration.

      1. serenity*

        The comments above are thoughtful replies of people who have had the opposite experience.

        There have been times recently where comments re: a letter or an OP have been harsher than needed, but where exactly is this feeling of “fellow commenters will dismiss/berate you” coming from? As others noted, this is an exceedingly civil blog compared to 99% of the internet.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          It’s coming from experience, as I said in my previous comment.

          It comes from the responses mostly being politely worded ways of saying, “no, you’re wrong,” rather than engaging with the possibility that these problems really do exist. Thoughtful replies would take that possibility into account.

          “Exceedingly civil compared to 99% of the internet” isn’t a very high bar to clear. It’s usually very polite, for certain, but my personal experience is that it’s unlikely to give dissenting opinions much consideration when there’s a majority opinion.

          1. LBK*

            Thoughtful replies would take that possibility into account.

            Disagreed – I think it’s completely possible to have genuine consideration for someone’s perspective and still think they’re wrong. The end result of empathy isn’t always a middle ground. I don’t want to get onto dicey political ground, but I think this is a common fallacy these days: that if you just understood the other person’s side of it, you’d be more willing to compromise.

            1. Anonymous 40*

              That’s not what I was saying, though. This isn’t an issue of someone being “wrong,” anyway. Anon of the Spring is right that the problem exists for her. The fact that other people don’t have the same problem doesn’t make that untrue. Not every issue is one of “sides” and there’s nothing here that requires compromise of anyone. The even more common fallacy is that a problem doesn’t exist if we’re not personally affected by it.

              1. LBK*

                I don’t understand how these…

                Recently on this site I’ve seen so much snark, pile-on, misreading or bestowing of the detriment of the doubt on a reader or LW, as well as jerky dismissal of other commenters offering kind takes on the matter in question that I’m now afraid to offer kind suggestions.

                Sadly, it’s clear that others like to use the comment section to practice knee-jerking and windmill-tilting. (I totally get it: it’s easy and fun to burst bubbles. I just wish jerks wouldn’t burst those that another commenter took the time and care to create.)

                …are problems that only exists “for her,” with the exception of her fear of offering suggestions. She seems to be stating the conditions leading to that fear as quantifiable fact, and others are saying it’s empirically untrue that that’s what happens on this site.

                If it’s personally untenable for her to be around relatively civil disagreement, then that’s fine, but I don’t see how that’s an actionable problem for the rest of the commenters or Alison as the site owner.

              2. esra (also a Canadian)*

                I don’t think you’re wrong in a general sense, but in this particular case AotS state: I’m at a point in my life where me and my major depression will collapse at the slightest interpersonal projectile. I think it’s safe to say that while that problem exists for her, it does not for the majority of commenters and that perhaps at this juncture (as it has been for many of us) taking a break for self care is a better idea.

            2. Marian the Librarian*

              I very much agree with LBK’s comment. Disagreement is not impolite or hostile by nature, and replying politely to someone with an opposing viewpoint isn’t an attack. There’s a difference between a reply that disagrees thoughtfully and a scathing point-by-point takedown of somebody’s comment.

      2. Amber Rose*

        How is giving my experience dismissing someone else’s? If i’m not allowed to talk about my thoughts, and I must carefully consider and then agree with everyone, then aren’t I perpetuating the group think you’re accusing us of having? Aren’t you, in fact, dismissing my experience? In what way can anyone respond with a disagreement without you dismissing them as being dismissive?

        I’m not trying to be rude here, but I honestly don’t understand what your expectations for conversation look like if you think this is unacceptable.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          When you use your experience to contradict someone else’s, and don’t engage with the possibility that a problem you personally haven’t faced could exist, that’s being dismissive. We recognize this in other areas of human interaction but many appear blind to it here, which to me is exactly the point.

          Imagine this as a letter to Allison: “I recently brought up some concerns with the way my team operates that have been bothering me. Although a couple of people agreed with me, several others just said that they hadn’t had those problems and that our job is better than 99% of the others out there, and never discussed my original concerns at all. Some even suggested that if I was so bothered, I shouldn’t come to work.” I think we’d say those coworkers had been dismissive.

          I’ve never suggested everyone should agree that they’ve had the same experience, but I do think we should treat the OP as though she actually has and respond to that.

          1. LBK*

            Not to be all meta here, but I genuinely don’t see the problem you’re describing occur here a lot. I wonder if you’re reading more dismissiveness into people contradicting your experience than is really there, or if maybe you’re taking someone saying something isn’t a widespread problem as saying it’s not a problem, period.

          2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

            Hm. To take you literally on the job thing, I think in that case it might be one of those “your boss/job sucks and isn’t going to change” responses, honestly (Alison would know more than I).

            You can’t change coworkers and unless it’s not legal, one person changing the entirety of the group they work with is rare.

            To the point you are making about groupthink–I think this blog has a broader base of regular readers now. I’ve noticed more bluntness in the comments (not rude, just direct), than there used to be. I’ve also noticed that people are extrapolating stuff that isn’t in the letters a bit more. However, I think it’s a function of more people commenting. More people saying the same thing can definitely feel like a pile-on, but I’ve not really noticed more direct attacks and sniping, which are my indicators of rudeness and malice.

            Dismissiveness? Hm. I would say not (possibly validating your point). Dismissiveness is different from rejection. To me, dismissive really means I don’t care or I don’t think it’s possible, while rejection means “I understand where you are coming from, but I don’t agree or won’t entertain it”. They can be close, but they aren’t the same.

            Dismissive reads to me as “let them eat cake” and rejection is more “no, I don’t think what you said is what’s going on.”

            Anyway, thought-provoking. Thanks for the comment and making me think.

            1. LBK*

              I really like the dismissing vs rejecting distinction here, and I think people have a tendency to read the latter as the former, especially when they’re in the minority on a topic.

          3. Amber Rose*

            We did. Multiple people have said, “If this is the case for you, then maybe this isn’t the best place for you to be. Please take care of your health.” If that’s not acknowledging this person’s concerns, I don’t know what is. This is a comments section, not a company. There is nothing we can do to enforce any kind of change. The only thing that can be done is to suggest that people take steps to protect themselves.

            If someone comes to this blog, saying, “Gosh, I can’t BELIEVE how awful the parts department is, they take as long as a whole hour to respond to my emails!” then you would see a lot of “that doesn’t sound so bad” type comments. I’d argue a solid third of Alison’s responses are essentially “you’re overreacting.” That’s not dismissive, it’s reality.

            Quite frankly, the reason we’re “dismissing” OP here is because this really isn’t a terrible comments section. And OP admitted to being rather fragile due to illness. So it’s not unreasonable to point out that the issue and solution lies with them. It’s not an overarching problem. It’s a matter of perspective. There is no resolution to the complaint that commenters are rude, particularly in a place where they almost always aren’t. There just isn’t.

          4. Layla*

            Or, looked at another way –

            “I think problems exist in my organisation. 99% of the team have disagreed with me.

            Oh, and I suffer from depression, an illness whose known symptoms include negative thinking and distorted perceptions.”

            I’m not saying that to snark or be nasty by the way. I also suffer from depression and when untreated / badly treated I can take ‘hello’ as a personal attack. I certainly couldn’t handle comment sections.

      3. Temperance*

        I really disagree with this and am frankly not sure where you got that anyone was dismissing her thoughts without “giving them any consideration”. I advised her to stay away if it’s hurting her mental health, which is pretty good advice for anyone dealing with mental health issues that are triggered by internet comments.

        I read her comment and disagreed with her characterization of the comments section, as I’m disagreeing with your characterization of my comment and the response prior to mine. This is one of the few places on the internet where people disagree peacefully and consider other positions.

        1. Lemony*

          I agree with both of you and Bella (below) as well. I still read the submissions each day and the comment section but I rarely comment anymore. Alison’s advice is kind and spot-on.

      4. Student*

        When you are in the minority opinion on a topic, by definition, most people disagree with you. If you’re shocked that people then voice that disagreement, then you are deeply confused as to what the point of the comments section is. The more minority your view, the more people will want to argue with your view. That’s basic math, not a 1984-esque mind control attempt.

        People often disagree quite strongly with me on this site. I’ve always felt such disagreements were relatively polite, well-expressed, and well-reasoned. Sometimes it’s unpleasant, embarrassing, or sad to find out my opinion is so very different from other people’s. Occasionally, I even change my mind. Sometimes, I don’t think highly of everyone who is disagreeing with me.

        But I’ve never felt like a pariah. I haven’t been unduly censored. I’ve never felt that nobody took my opinion seriously. I also walk into this commenting thing expecting some level of disagreement, and I don’t take it personally or let it disrupt my day.

    4. Bella*

      I do agree. I feel that unless you are voicing the same opinion of the majority, then there is a huge pile on. I’m tempted to not comment most times due to this. Everyone must believe the same on here or else.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it depends on what you mean by pile-on. What I see most often is that there are a lot of people here, and when a lot of people say something similar, it can feel like a pile-on — but lots of people just want to leave their thoughts and aren’t carefully reading everything else that’s been said first. If they were, like, attacking you for thinking something different, I would agree with you … but mostly what I see is just about the quantity of commenters around here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The other thing I think is in play is just that whenever you get a large group of strangers from around the world and from all different backgrounds together, you’re going to have different communication styles. What feels thoughtful and civil to one person might feel abrasive to another. (I’ve definitely seen people take offense to comments that I thought were perfectly fine, and I’ve personally thought comments were too harsh even though the person making them truly didn’t see why they’d rub someone the wrong way. Or as another way to illustrate this, think of the way that southerners and midwesterners often find east coast people rude.)

          I don’t think there’s any way to fully control for that; it’s just the nature of having a big group of strangers gathered together. Given that, you’ve just got to decide for yourself if it’s somewhere you generally enjoy or not.

        2. Janelle*

          Agree. I like to read a lot of the comments but to be clear if I read every single one I would no on her be employed and be right back here looking for advice. I often say the same thing as others because frankly I have a life and cannot read 300 plus comments on every post every single day.

          1. a1*

            Whereas I do read every comment before responding, because I don’t want to be repetitive. If what I have to say has been said 100 other times already, or heck 20 times already, no one needs to hear me say it again. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes say the same thing others have, I’m sure I have, but I try not to add too much to it.

            1. LBK*

              On a site that lacks a comment scoring system (so you can’t just +1 the comment that covers your position and move on) and where comments tend to be more substantial than just “I agree,” I don’t know that there’s any way to participate in a discussion without inevitably repeating or doubling down on what someone else has said. Otherwise there’d only be, like, 3 comments on every post covering each of the possible perspectives, and then nothing else to say.

              I tend to read AAM like a conversation, and in the course of conversation I think people do tend to repeat or simply expound on each other’s points when they agree. AAM just happens to be a conversation between a few hundred people, so sometimes everyone giving their 2 cents means a lot of comments saying similar things.

            2. Anon of the Spring*

              Same here :) Some may have time to read every comment before weighing in, and I typically compose a comment in TextEdit or as a gmail draft so I can check I’m not repeating what someone has posted in the meantime.
              Others will add their opinion right away. In some cases I think that may be helpful to the LW (e.g., when a hiring committee member wrote to say “Sansa and Arya are coworkers at Company A and both applied to a job. Sansa didn’t mention her current job but Arya did. Some hiring committee people think she’s a liar. Is she?” It may well have helped shift the “she’s a liar” committee members’ — or other readers — judgement that dozens of commenters said no, not at all: it’s extremely common to leave off short-term jobs, besides she likely applied before she got her job at Company A, etc.); as a reader I may find I have the gist after the first nigh-dentical 70 comments :) and move on.

    5. Kate 2*

      Anon, I really empathize with the place you are at, and I hope you are getting help and will feel better. I have to generally disagree with you though. I have seen a rise in personal attacks, over the past 3 or 4 years, but 95% percent of the time everyone here is lovely. I had to leave the site for a few weeks though, as someone turned my comment, discussing my experiences as a member of the mentally ill community into suggesting I was a hateful person towards mentally ill people (seriously???) and compared me to their abusive ex-boyfriend. I am back now though!

      1. Kate 2*

        ETA: The 95% though has just been my experience, and the personal attack on me happened just in the past few months though. I respect your experience and understand it is different than mine, and I am not trying to undermine that, just discuss what I have experienced.

    6. Student*

      If you’re in as unstable an emotional place as you say, then you are correct that you shouldn’t post comments. Or, at best, you shouldn’t go follow them up to read what other people think.

      AAM’s commentariate is excessively polite by anonymous internet standards. But it is anonymous, and it is only moderated by AAM herself.

      People are going to disagree with you. You don’t get a pass on that for your depression issues. They may disagree with you in ways you find very unpleasant and distressing. It’s possible that quite a lot of people will disagree with you. That’s the price of voicing an opinion, and it sounds like too high a price for you by your own description.

      I hope you consider getting some treatment, because the state you are in is not sustainable. We’d rather have you join in the conversation than shield yourself from any possible criticism – but it’s your call.

    7. Snark*

      I have complained, at times, about a brief trend in “I’m going to interpret what you’re saying giving you the benefit of absolutely no doubt whatsoever, and then inform you in the most condescending way possible that you’re problematic” -type posts, and I’m always a bit annoyed at how quickly we diagnose LWs or their coworkers with various pathologies, but, honestly…..maybe my skin is thin, but this is one of the gentlest, least snarky internet communities I’ve come across. It doesn’t get better than this.

    8. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      I think other commenters have responded thoughtfully to the substance of your comment, but I just wanted to congratulate you for the phrasing that is “screw [your] courage to the clicking-place.” That is delightful.

      1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

        I just noticed your username. That is fantastic!

        /Still an avid Mass Effect Fan here.

      2. Anon of the Spring*

        Thank you! I don’t know why it’s a thing but I do love working in references. I played Lady Macbeth in grade school — it was good fun to wander the halls muttering about the dunnest smoke of hell. ART!

      3. Pathfinder Ryder*

        This is exactly what I wanted to comment on. What a lovely modern spin on ol’ Shakes.

    9. Robin Sparkles*

      I don’t comment often but I try to read as much of the posts and comments as I can daily and I think that you may feel better if you choose to collapse the comments and then expand them. It’s really not often that I think people pile-on but it can seem that way if you read 100 responses to a comment that say the same thing. In general, I think people here are actually quite helpful, civilized and intelligent.

      That being said, I am sorry that you have a different experience and I do think that perhaps commenting on any internet site may not be helpful for where you are at right now.

    10. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Best wishes for your mental health.

      If you feel strongly your point of view will help the OP, you could always post and then never read replies? That way they could have it for reference if they wanted.

      1. LBK*

        Ironically, that might only contribute to the pile-on issue since that’s 90% of the reason it happens (people commenting without reading the comments to see if their perspective has been covered already).

        1. Amber Rose*

          I’d call that repetition rather than pile-on though? Pile-on implies a lot of very negative comments. If someone leaves a kind comment and someone else leaves a similar kind comment, it’s maybe not useful but not what i’d call harmful either.

          1. LBK*

            But I think certain letters are inevitably going to mostly have negative comments, at least where “negative” means disagreeing with the LW’s perspective (the “ex is my new boss” letter being a perfect recent example). I don’t know that it’s reasonable to expect people to only be repetitive in cases where they agree with the LW if being repetitive while disagreeing constitutes a pile-on. If anything, it’s human nature to be more inclined to say something when you have a problem with something than when you don’t (just look at any restaurant’s Yelp reviews).

          2. JulieBulie*

            And sometimes it is inevitable. Sometimes when Alison posts something new and there are just a handful of comments, I read through them and add my two cents. But by the time I’ve finished writing mine, there are dozens more posted ahead of mine, many of which say the same thing I said (or the opposite, if I’m having an unmutual day).

            I can understand why this may look like a pile-on or at least an echo chamber, but often it’s just a case of many people having similar thoughts at the same time. It’s not a coordinated effort to steamroll someone.

    11. MiaMia*

      Honestly, if anything, I’ve seen an increasing trend of “oh, the LW might have this diagnosis, so that excuses their improper behavior!” or “oh, the LW might have [random set of life circumstances], you don’t know, so you can’t judge!” as if either of those things is some magic bullet that lets people just do what they want to those around them. It’s honestly refreshing to me when I see people in the comments push back against that kind of excuse-making and go, wait, no, you still don’t get to harm others or be unprofessional just because [excuse of the day], and also the vast majority of the time, people throwing out those excuses are really grasping at straws.

      So, y’know, if you’re one of those people who likes to toss out reaching, “compassionate” excuses for why someone might be abusing or taking advantage of others, no, I don’t have a lot of sympathy with that bubble getting popped. It needs to be.

      And it’s really weird to me that you posted this comment to this letter, because precisely none of the comments have been hostile jerkish bubble-busting, unless you mean by the many librarians setting the record straight on how yes indeed patrons can be banned. I really do think that if you’re taking any disagreement this harshly, you do need to take a step back.

      1. Oranges*

        THIS. I think because we have so many neuro-atypical commentators here this gets shot down in most of the times. And I am so thankful for it. I may not be able to do everything I want to because depression but the number one thing on my Want List is not to be a glassbowl.

    12. Just a little bird*

      When I first came to this site I was an absolute mess. I was unemployed and extremely depressed and anxious. I couldn’t even think about looking for a new job after being fired from the last one without crying. I certainly wasn’t looking for a blog written by a manager. The thought of seeking employment advice was too intimidating to even consider.

      But I came across a link to a funny post here. And I fell into clickholes to other stories that looked funny or interesting or completely WTAF. The advice that Alison and the commentariot gave actually helped me find the courage to start looking. I have honestly never seen a more supportive place online. I don’t know how this place could be nicer unless it went to the extreme of never criticizing anyone. This letter shows some of the danger in that.

      I hope you get to a better place soon. I really do. I know how bad things can get. But I really think you’re wrong about this commentariot

  57. a1*

    I have nothing to add to all the good advice above, so I’ll just say it seems to me that Cathy, Mark and their respective kids are treating the library as if it were part of their home. They can hang out and do homework and snack together, they can relax together and sometimes Cathy just needs to do this “other” thing for a while, like one would do a chore at home. However, this is not home and these are not chores. This is her job and this is a place of employment. Sheesh!

    1. Marian the Librarian*

      I’ve worked in libraries for years, and I’ve seen patrons try to spread out full family meals on tables in places where food is strictly not allowed an there’s signage everywhere, so I didn’t think anything would surprise me… But the idea of a librarian and her family spreading out a family meal at a service desk is just… WOW!

  58. Temperance*

    This is a huge misappropriation of taxpayer funds, and a ridiculous employment situation. If Cathy decided to sue for unpaid wages, SHE WOULD WIN.

    She shouldn’t be able to bring her disabled son with her to work. She should be even LESS able to homeschool him while taxpayers are paying her salary. FFS, this is all kinds of messed up.

  59. Candy*

    I’m a long-time reader of AAM and I’m still amazed at how far things are allowed to go in some workplaces simply because someone wants to avoid having an awkward conversation.

    Like, OP’s boss posted a sign? Instead of bringing Cathy into her office and saying, ‘this is inappropriate behaviour and I don’t want to hear of it again.’

    And now she wants to ban Mark from the library, instead of actually disciplining Cathy for neglecting her patrons and duties. Is she going to ban every boyfriend Cathy has instead of talking to Cathy about her performance?

    (Also, I’ve worked in libraries for 15 years and I love the aside about the regular patron ratting on her. Library regulars are definitely territorial to say the least LOL)

  60. MuseumChick*

    Wow. Cathy sound very entitled and ungrateful for the extremely generous set up your boss has allowed. I don’t have much to add to Alison’s advice except that you should not let your personal feelings for Cathy cloud how you see this situation.

  61. Cafe au Lait*

    OP, I think the unspoken question you wanted to ask was “How do I navigate this in such a way that Cathy doesn’t become upset with me too?” In short, I don’t think you can. If you speak up, Cathy will see you as “siding” with your manager. By not speaking up, Cathy thinks you’re agreeing with her.

    I’d err on the side of speaking up. Yes, Cathy will be mad at you. Yes, Cathy will probably feel that you’re “against her too.” In the long run it’s better for Cathy to understand that her coworkers are seeing an issue of her own creation rather than this is the boss not liking her.

    1. Jules the Third*

      +1 Yes, this.

      Cathy needs a real friend here, someone who’s willing to explain an unpleasant reality to her. She’s *working* at the library, with the public. While she’s at the library, she needs to be on her professional behavior, not her girlfriend behavior.

  62. McWhadden*

    I don’t have a ton to add but I do want to say that I feel awful for the OP that she’s been put in this position. I know you want to help but it may be impossible through no fault of your own.

    This is why good managers matter. Even if they are nice people who would never intentionally treat an employee poorly they create these tense and awkward situations by not being assertive.

  63. Betty (the other Betty)*

    All this plus: working off the clock?

    If she is hourly, that’s a violation of employment law, right? An employee must be paid for any time she works, whether or not is approved by the employer. (The employer can fire someone for working unauthorized hours).

    1. McWhadden*

      Not necessarily. You have to be paid for hours worked. But not necessarily for hours clocked in. She is using a lot of her on the clock time to not work. So, making up those hours even if she isn’t technically clocked in isn’t necessarily illegal.

      She is likely being compensated for all the hours she actually works. Likely she is even being paid for more than just hours worked.

      And that’s all assuming she’s non-exempt. I know it’s different everywhere. But at my local library the full time librarians are salary and would likely qualify as exempt.

      1. Betty (the other Betty)*

        Interesting. Maybe I made too many assumptions (and I’m not an HR professional or employment lawyer, so I know less than Jon Snow about this subject).

        She is part time, so I assumed hourly non-exempt. I also assumed that she should be paid for all the time “on the clock” except for an official lunch break, and that she would not be paid for time “off the clock” even though it was kind of reverse comp time so she could get her actual work done. Her employers have been extremely tolerant so far!

        1. LBK*

          You’re sort of right – in the payroll system that’s probably how it works. The piece you’re missing is that the time she’s not paid for being off the clock while working and the time she’s paid for being on the clock while not working net out, so she’s still being paid correctly. The FLSA doesn’t care if you tell your time clock that you worked from 1-2 but you actually worked from 2-3 – as long as you still get paid for 1 hour’s worth of work, it’s in compliance with the law. It’s kind of a logistical and auditing nightmare, but that’s your company’s problem, not the law’s.

    1. Jules the Third*

      That seems a bit harsh for an employee who’s done well until recently. She’s not stealing, or touching people without permission, or harassing patrons for their politics, religion or ethnicity. She’s canoodling with a consenting adult. It needs to stop, and Cathy needs to be able to accept correction, but it is possible that when the New Relationship Energy (NRE) wears off, she’ll be able to get back to her prior performance level without any long-term effects.

      1. Janelle*

        I’m all for improving things with certain issues but to me this woman has no sense of…well common sense. And her getting mad that they don’t want him there. Mind boggling. It is not something I would tolerate one time personally. It’s like having to tell an adult not to run into oncoming traffic. At some point logic and common sense need to exist at a certain level.

  64. Student*

    You should remove yourself from the mediator role here. It’s not your problem, and you aren’t going to earn goodwill with anyone by interjecting anything.

    Your manager is a poor manager. She is probably too conflict-averse to address this in a timely fashion, so it’ll probably fester until she fires or drives off Cathy. That is not your problem nor your fault.

    Cathy is distressing patrons and not doing her job in favor of socializing with her boyfriend and babysitting his kid at work. She probably isn’t getting much “home-schooling” done with her kid, either, because that’s a lot of distractions for her and the kid’s attention. She’s a poor employee; try not to let your personal feeling for her cloud your judgement of her professional performance. You’ll probably become friends with her replacement, too.

    It’s hard to see a friend get fired, especially when you have clarity on the situation that she lacks. However, you lack standing to get her to snap out of her ridiculous behavior, and you lack standing to manage her out of this. So step back, don’t get your nose in this, and protect yourself.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      If the manager is that conflict-averse, she won’t fire Cathy, she’ll just let her annoy the rest of the staff and drive them off instead.

  65. DJ*

    Is the child is school aged then why is he not at school. Homeschooling is nice to do but isn’t a have to. May even be better for the sons special needs. Can understand if Cathy’s son is preschool and Cathy can’t get him into preschool due to his special needs.
    But yes boyfriend needs to act like any other patron with or without attendant kids! And Cathy needs to be told what’s acceptable

  66. Temperance*

    Just chiming in: special needs young children are entitled to Early Intervention services, which can often pay for a developmental preschool or other services that can enable these children to be independent later in life. (Just signal boosting in case anyone here doesn’t know and might be able to get these services.)

  67. Jules the Third*

    BTW: You all seem to be assuming that there’s adequate support for Cathy’s child, or there’s lots of replacements available for Cathy. I think that’s some big assumptions there, and frankly, they are not relevant to the issue. We do not have enough information to assess Cathy’s parenting.

    (That said: my town has great special needs support, and if you have a special needs kid, please reach out to your local options! At least check to see what they can do – it’s good for both your kid and you.)

    Cathy’s accommodation for her child is ok with her employer.
    Cathy’s behavior with her boyfriend is not. Her boss needs to address the behavior.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Also, it is very unlikely that any third party described in a letter is going to be receptive to advice on their parenting from a coworker. It’s not just not the point of the blog, but not something that Cathy is going to find remotely convincing

      Whereas a coworker Cathy respects who pushes back on a complaint with a calm, “Look, the canoodling with your boyfriend is unprofessional and makes patrons uncomfortable. Manager is in the right on that” might weigh the advice. Likewise “When the children’s section is set up like your living room, it can make people feel like they’re intruding and should leave.” That’s a little harder–see many upthread examples of awkwardly withdrawing while The Regulars glare at you for interrupting their social time; it’s harder to make people see how what they view as warm and relaxed is translating into cold and stiff. But it might work. Childrearing advice–even if backed up by random internet strangers given a very brief synopsis with no idea of the real-life local resources that exist–isn’t likely to fly unless Cathy has extensive reason to respect OP’s opinions specifically on childrearing.

  68. GreyjoyGardens*

    The Cathys of the working world – and their spineless managers – really poison the well for others who might need reasonable and/or occasional accommodation. They also poison the well for egalitarian and self-managed workplaces. After a Cathy or two, there are *no* accommodations and it’s micromanagement all the way, because the powers that be are afraid of others taking advantage.

    That said, it’s not the LW’s circus or their monkeys; it’s Cathy’s and the manager’s and the grandboss(es). LW doesn’t need to take this on themselves. Let management handle it. (I hope they handle it – but again, LW doesn’t need to step in.) Best case scenario is Cathy gets a clue. Next best – Cathy gets put on a PIP/warning. Bad: Cathy gets fired. Worst case: Cathy gets fired, *and* the mucky-mucks come down on the library staff like a ton of bricks and there is micromanagement and no autonomy because Cathy poisoned the well.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m torn on this. I personally have had coworkers who abuse privileges and I have had privileges revoke, despite having seniority and a good track record of using said privileges responsibly. YMMV, but I blame poor management more than my coworkers. It seems excessive to revoke privileges when one person is the issue and 10+ people are not and have never been the issue.

  69. WandaWoman*

    Cathy is dead wrong. The manager gave her an inch and she took a mile. I’m on the manager’s side.

  70. SallyForth*

    I have a lot of library experience. For me, the biggest point would be issues of patron confidentiality. Both the patron’s computer record, as well as any information assistance requested at the desk, are private.
    The library manager needs to return this workspace to professional standards of service.

  71. Rosemarie*

    I had a similar situation in politics. The local politician (Canadian equivalent to state legislator) opened her new office and hired her best friend to run it. Best Friend had a boyfriend, unemployed, who hung out at the office. I was working there part time as a research assistant. I walked into the office and there he was, sitting on her reception desk, wearing cut off shorts, you could practically see his frank and beans. The best friend worked long hours at the office but also spent a lot of time planning and discussing her upcoming wedding.

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