our cleaner pressures me to stay late with her because she fears our workplace is haunted

A reader writes:

I have a strange question for you. I’m a graduate student at a university in a large city where I also work evening shifts at the university library. The librarians all leave by 8 pm, leaving one or two student workers to close up the library for the evening at 11 pm. I’m a night owl, so this schedule suits me just fine and there are always enough students around that I feel comfortable walking back to my apartment after work.

My problem is with our night housekeeper, “Mary.” She comes in at 10 pm and stays to clean after everyone else has left. She’s a lovely person and does a great job, but … she is terrified to work alone because she thinks the library is haunted. I’ll be honest, the library is kind of creepy and I don’t enjoy shelving in the stacks after dark, but I just do what needs to be done and return to the circulation desk. Mary has begun to ask me to stay after my shift has ended to keep her company and, when I insist I need to leave, will come up with tasks that she needs my assistance with just so I don’t leave her to work alone.

I honestly don’t know how to respond. If she were fearing for her safety, I would suggest she call campus security to walk her to her car or patrol around the building more frequently, but the only thing she has mentioned being afraid of is the ghosts. I told her she needs to talk to the library manager or the head of housekeeping, but I think she’s embarrassed.

Obviously I don’t have any directives to keep Mary company or assuage her fears, but I feel badly. She needs the job (she’s a single mom who works another job during daytime hours) and I don’t want her to lose it, but I don’t want to spend extra hours sitting at my desk because of paranormal concerns. Any suggestions of how I can help while maintaining my boundaries?

You need to kindly say no and stick to it.

This isn’t like refusing a request to walk someone to their car or something else with a minimal demand on your time. This is someone asking you to stay hours late at your job after your shift is over. It sucks that Mary feels nervous being there alone, but it’s not reasonable for the solution to be that you stay late for hours to keep her company.

The easiest way to do it will be to be very matter-of-fact:

* “I can’t stay late anymore — I need to get home and take care of things there.”

* “Sorry, I can’t! I’m already late getting home.”

* “It’s late for me; I’ve got to get to bed.”

Really, anything you say will probably be fine as long as you say it confidently and stick to it. You don’t need to convince her to be okay with letting you leave; you just need to explain you need to leave and then go.

If it makes it easier for you, you can come up with some obligation that you need to be home for — your sister is staying with you and is waiting up, you’ve got a dog to walk, or whatever you’re comfortable saying.

If she comes up with tasks that she needs your help with as a way of keeping you there, it’s okay to say no to that too: “I really can’t, I’m already late leaving.”

Re-reading your letter, I get the sense you’re hoping there’s some other way you can help Mary. But ultimately, Mary has to figure out whether she’s willing to keep the job as it currently exists (meaning she’s going to be working alone in a building that apparently gives her the creeps) or whether she wants to see if it’s possible to adjust her hours or whatever other way she’d be comfortable handling this. That’s not something you can solve for her (if anything, you’re probably just helping her kick that question down the road) and it’s really okay for you to leave when your work is over.

{ 339 comments… read them below }

    1. SunriseRuby*

      If only it were the ghost of Dr. Egon Spengler, it wouldn’t be a problem. (Rest in peace, Harold Ramis.)

      1. Jedi Mike*

        Remember: Don’t. Cross. The streams! (yes that’s a Ghostbusters reference)

    2. Fiorinda*

      Yep – Lockwood & Co. Just don’t be surprised if the building burns down a little!

  1. Stunt Apple Breeder*

    Since you are a grad student, I am guessing you are getting a stipend to work at the library? I’m assuming your stipend is compensation for less than half time (0.49 at my university). You might be able to explain that you don’t get paid extra to work more hours.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’d probably fib a little and say “could get in trouble for working more hours” to make it feel slightly less callous. Not that it IS callous – it’s true! – but if someone is asking you to stay because they’re afraid it might feel tough to say “sorry no one’s paying me for that”.

      1. Stunt Apple Breeder*

        Lavender’s anwer below better explains the policy I was referencing. It might be different at other universities, and may vary depending on whether it is a service (research or teaching related to major) or non-service stipend.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Gotcha – that wasn’t something I encountered in grad school I appreciate the clarification. I hope OP can gracefully duck out of the situation moving forward.

        2. Lavender*

          I’m paid hourly rather than a stipend, but yeah, I definitely can’t go over 20 hours a week. If I did, they’d legally have to pay me for all hours worked but I’d be in a lot of trouble for putting them over-budget.

          1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            That sounds like she’s not just inconveniencing you, she’s pressuring you to devote X hours/week to keeping her company rather than the work you’re being paid for.

            That could lead to your own work going undone, which would be bad for you and/or the people you’re working for. Your boss isn’t going to be happy if there’s nobody on the reference desk Thursday nights because you’re not authorized for overtime.

            You don’t need to tell Mary that, and probably shouldn’t–if you give her reasons more granular than “I can’t” she may try to argue you out of them. But it might help to remember that in addition to causing you problems, she’s inconveniencing X number of students each week.

            1. Lavender*

              Oh, I’m not OP! I was clarifying because Stunt Apple Breeder referenced another one of my comments in their comment. I don’t know if OP is authorized for overtime; I just have a very similar job.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I saw Stunt Apple Breeder’s reference to other suggestions and yeah, OP probably won’t have to fib so much. Just say you are not allowed to STAY (not work later) because “you don’t have to work. you can study/eat/watch videos until I leave.”

      3. Sub Rosa*

        I’d probably fib a little and say “could get in trouble for working more hours” to make it feel slightly less callous.

        No. Humoring unreasonable people does not suddenly make the reasonable.

    2. Nesprin*

      Since you’re a student you also have a ton of folk above you who are paid more who can have hard conversations in your stead. Ask your more senior librarians to stop this.

      1. JSPA*

        ask them for some motion sensor night lights? unless they’re considered a fire risk.

        The other thing you could do (this will read to some like a real jerk move, I’m OK with that if it gives someone’s mind ease) is to take some small nick-nack that you’ve had for ages, tell her that your elderly relative who believed in spirits gave it to you as an anti-ghost charm when you were young and scared, and that you’ve never been bothered since; that she should try it; And that if it works for her, you will make gift it to her.

        1. SleeplessKJ*

          I’m in favor of this. My daughter still remembers how effective my “monster spray” (water and lemon juice) was at keeping her room safe when she was little and has admitted to whipping up a batch during a period of high anxiety early on after moving to her first solo apartment. Anyone that believes in spirits (I do to a point) will likely be accepting of a talisman of some sort.

          1. Stunt Apple Breeder*

            I remember the lavender essential oil diffuser I had in my room, and now my mom seems so much smarter!

        2. Susannah*

          Agree – even if you don’t yourself believe it, it might be a kindness to her.

        3. RagingADHD*

          For crying out loud. Mary is not four years old. She is a grown woman with a job and a child.

          I can’t believe how many people all over this thread are suggesting the LW infantilize Mary by making up random lies to supposedly make her feel better about the library boogieman. Magic knicknacks? Monster spray?

          Maybe the LW should give her stickers for going potty, too.

          It’s not a kindness. It’s condescending and classist as hell to think that the LW should act like Mary’s parent, just because LW is getting a grad degree and Mary is a cleaner. (Who, for all we know, may also have or be getting a grad degree.)

          What LW needs to do is let someone in authority know there is a problem, and then mind their own business and go hime at the end of their shift. Not insult Mary’s intelligence or take responsibility for managing her emotions.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            I agree with bringing this someone in authority, starting with whoever LW reports to. I worked in libraries for years, starting as a student assistant and eventually earning my master’s degree. I would never have been expected to handle something that like this on my own as a student worker, and I would be shocked to learn that any student worker I supervised later in my career was grappling with something like thus unassisted.

            I don’t know what the ultimate solution to this is going to be, but this is both figuratively AND literally above LW’s pay grade! LW, please stop trying to manage this on your own. It’s NOT your responsibility to assuage this woman’s fears or solve her problems, and I can’t believe anyone would really expect you to try to do that.

            Tell your supervisor immediately, and let them handle this through the proper channels. Good luck to you!

          2. lucanus cervus*

            THIS, a thousand times this. Good grief. It’s not LW’s place to be trying to come up with cutesy little tools to manage Mary’s anxiety. This is stuff I do for my tiny children, not for people I work with. It’s a wild overstep and patronising as hell.

          3. JSPA*

            If Mary were as coping as you make her out to be, she wouldn’t be begging a grad student to spend extra unpaid hours at work, as a reasonable path to dealing with her ghost anxieties.

            Believing in ghosts does not intrinsically make Mary childlike; insisting that somebody stay with her, on the regular, practically in loco parentis, does. And the fact that she’s a cleaner is neither here nor there, and does not make the suggestion classist. I’d make the same suggestion for a fellow grad student, post doc, or anyone else whose anxieties about the supernatural might be calmed by having a little piece of protection. (Believing in protection from ghosts is neither more nor less intrinsically superstitious than believing in the ghosts themselves; Some do, some don’t.)

            People are reaching for childhood examples because most people, by adulthood, do not share their ghost anxieties with random others, and certainly do not put off their anxieties onto those others.

            Accusation of “-isms” is quite the belittling presumption in its own right. By all means
            enquire if that might be the dynamic…but to assert it? That is something else entirely.

            1. RagingADHD*

              Thinking Mary is acting childish isn’t the classist part.

              It’s asserting that the LW should act as a parent or authority figure, when absolutely nothing gives them that position. Not even Mary asking to be kept company.

              Do you suppose that all the commenters on this thread volunteering their own belief in ghosts or haunted experiences are making you their parent?

            2. Beware Ye Ghosts*

              I work as support staff for a very highly educated, premiere in their field academic who is 100% convinced the building we work in is very, very haunted and I’ve had to dissuade that anxiety. It can definitely go both ways!

            3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              Making up a fake anti-ghost totem to give her is the infantilizing part. You yourself acknowledged that some people might consider it a jerk move; I read your post in the tone of an “unethical life hack.”

            4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              My BIL worked at a power station. The night watch guy claimed to be afraid, if ever someone broke in, he alone wouldn’t be able to overpower them. So they hired a second guy. This guy was afraid of ghosts and was told that there was a ghost of an employee who died on-site. So they hired a third and fourth guy. Then they were able to play cards all night.
              So Mary is not childlike.
              Believing in ghosts is the same as believing in deities AFAIC

          4. rsqt*

            Well put, thank you. Mary is a regular employee of the university, with an overlapping work shift. Imagine if EVERYONE asked others to stay late or come early for ‘company’ while they worked!

            When leaving simply say, “Have a good night.” If Mary asks LW to stay, “My shift is over. See you tomorrow.”

            Mary will have a supervisor, with whom Mary can share any concerns.

            Afterthought – if LW is staying after hours when the library is closed and LW is not working, is that trespassing?

          5. Anon 4 This*

            Seriously. TBH, I wouldn’t even humor a 4 year old who was afraid of ghosts or monsters, I’d flatly tell them “ghosts/monsters are pretend, and pretend things can’t hurt you”. I’d be even more blunt with an adult who wanted me to spend my time humoring their fear of things that don’t actually exist.

        4. JustaTech*

          Personally I’ve found the motion sensor lights make a dark library creepier (because sometimes they come on without someone there and that’s very alarming).

        5. Princess Sparklepony*

          I was thinking along the same lines. Or an exorcism… I’d say burn some sage but it will likely set off fire alarms and get everyone fired.

          One solution which wouldn’t be good is get them to hire another person to team clean and cut Mary’s hours by half to pay for the other person.

    3. EmbracesTrees*

      Honestly, this is one of the very (very!) few times I disagree with Alison. I think LW needs to be kind but firm with Mary and rather than waffle and hedge, tell her straight to avoid the awkwardness *every time*:

      “I’m sorry, I understand that it can feel a little creepy at night, but I cannot stay late for any reason to help you with that. If you feel like the conditions aren’t okay — which I can understand — please contact the library manager/head of facilities/(whomever is appropriate).” And at the end of their shift, say cheerfully without apology, “leaving now, Mary. See you tomorrow!”

      1. KEG*

        This is kind & firm – You don’t need to convince her to be okay with letting you leave; you just need to explain you need to leave and then go.

  2. umami*

    Being a graduate student, it’s probably fine to say that you are only allowed to work until the end of your shift! She can absolutely call campus police to escort her after her shift ends, she doesn’t have to give a reason.

    1. Lavender*

      That’s a good point! I’m a grad student employed by my university’s library, and they have very strict about sticking to my assigned number of hours (20 per week in my case). I can work less than that when I need to prioritize school, but I absolutely cannot work additional hours without permission from my boss. I believe it’s because there’s a very strict budget for hiring student employees that they aren’t allowed to exceed.

      1. umami*

        Yes exactly. Once the budget is set, you can’t go over it (without approval)! So I am sure OP can legitimately say they are supposed to leave right at the end of their shift.

        1. Lavender*

          Plus there’s always the Universal Grad Student Excuse: “I’m swamped with work right now and really need to get home, sorry!” (Or, in the case of a late-night shift, “I was up all night studying last night and really need to sleep!”)

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I agree with the first part of your statement. The second part doesn’t really help because Mary is not afraid for her safety on her way to her car. She’s afraid of ghosts inside the library. That’s not something a campus security escort will help with regardless of whether she gives a reason.

      1. umami*

        True. I was thinking more in terms of the comfort in knowing there are other people around and that she isn’t alone and can always ask for help. But if she doesn’t want to be inside the building alone, hopefully she can switch to a space that isn’t empty and/or creepy.

      2. Sopranohannah*

        Now that you’ve said that, it made me think that perhaps Mary’s manager can ask security if they could check in on Mary a few times a night. Presumably they are doing some sort of security rounds. They could potentially come in and say hi, so she’s not feeling so alone. I’m not sure if security would be up for it, but when I worked night shift, they used to be fairly accommodating.

        1. Lady Not Waiting*

          Yeah, I can’t imagine security refusing to check on a woman who’s all by herself. Maybe that would help. I don’t think OP needs to do anything more than say goodbye and get out of Dodge, but this could be a kindness.

        2. Cochrane*

          That’s a good idea. So they won’t track dust everywhere, security could cover themselves with a white sheet and rattle a chain, a good reminder to lock up one’s bike to combat theft.

          Mary will be so glad!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I don’t know about grad student stipends but I’m hourly and my workplace is very, very, clear that I am not to work off the clock. If I were making a habit of staying late they would have questions about what, exactly, I was doing.

      I’m not sure what they would do if it was because housekeeping thought the place was haunted but they would not ask me to accommodate it.

    4. Green Goose*

      My only concern is that it sounds like Mary might be asking the OP to do this as a favor or as a friend.
      So OP would say “I’m not allowed to work extra hours” and Mary would say, “you can just hangout with me, you won’t be working” or “just log out and wait for me”.

      1. Lavender*

        That’s true, but it also sounds like Mary is asking OP to help her with work tasks so they won’t leave. (From the second paragraph: “Mary has begun to ask me to stay after my shift has ended to keep her company and, when I insist I need to leave, will come up with tasks that she needs my assistance with just so I don’t leave her to work alone.”) So it sounds like Mary *is* asking OP to work, albeit at a different job than the one they were hired for.

        The good (?) news is that that’s arguably even easier to shut down: “Mary, my shift is over and I can’t help you with work that isn’t part of my job. I’m heading home, see you tomorrow!”

    5. Princess Sparklepony*

      You are right but it’s not getting back to her car that may be the problem. She thinks the interior of the library is haunted. And campus security isn’t going to want to babysit her throughout her shift.

  3. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Aw poor Mary, that’s tough. But it’s not your responsibility, OP.

    I’m curious – how long has Mary worked there? Has she always relied on the kindness of graduate students to keep her company? You said she’s “begun” to ask you to stay – what was she doing beforehand? Did she know this was a requirement when she took the job or did she get rotated onto the night shift?

    You might not know the answers to those questions, but it might be helpful to reflect and realize that Mary was making it work until you started being her ghost buddy, and she’ll make it work again. It really does suck that she’s uncomfortable, but she’s not in any real danger where you should feel guilty refusing to stay late or like you have to help her come up with an alternate solution.

    1. JSPA*

      And now i’m remembering somebody who Was trying to make friends (or a relationship?) under the claim of needing help, another person’s presence, and guidance. Oh, and there was someone else for whom it was an overture to an invitation to come to a meeting of [soon to be problematically-in-the-news cult].

      But neither of them were as much of a drag as the endless parade of fresh faced students and intent fellow researchers who just needed me to do, teach or write “one little thing.”

      If you are an academe, you will always be prevailed upon by nice people wanting chunks of your time for their own needs. This is a good low stakes opportunity to learn how to say no kindly, and stick to it.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Yeah, this kind of thing is very common in higher education. People who know their requests are unreasonable/against the rules will target the person they think is least likely to say “no” — usually a junior staff member who feels like they lack the standing to set boundaries.

        That’s exactly what Mary’s doing here.

        1. metadata minion*

          It’s common in higher education, but usually from the Provost or faculty, not housekeeping staff.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Correct, but I think the point is that OP is going to encounter this more than just this one time and this is a good opportunity to practice setting boundaries.

            I don’t believe Maria is being malicious, but the steps OP should take are the same.

        2. Blue*

          Yeah, the admin office at my college is notorious for farming out their work to grad students.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      As Alison points out, not only is it not your responsibility, it’s not in your power to fix. Mary needs to find a real solution, not the stop-gap measure of imposing on grad students.

    3. Sloanicota*

      I’ve heard this advice to people who want to dump needy boyfriends/girlfriends but are afraid because they have nowhere to go / are so very needy – “this person found other people to give them rides/a place to stay/a friendly conversation before they met you, and however they did it, they’ll probably do it again.”

  4. Lavender*

    I work in a university library (in an off-site location that’s pretty old and run-down) and I was just thinking today that I would definitely think my workplace was haunted if I believed in that sort of thing!

    I do feel for Mary—ghosts aside, working by yourself after dark can be scary. I agree that it isn’t OP’s job to fix this, but I hope she’s able to get some sort of solution like changing her hours, getting a co-worker who also works nights, or finding a different job.

    1. Everything All The Time*

      “I’m so sorry I can’t stay late, I’ll get in trouble.”
      then leave.

      Mary’s fear of ghosts is hers to deal with, whether that’s via carrying an iron nail/knife/ring and some salt with her wherever she is, or calling security because she feels unsafe.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, I agree. When I said “I hope she’s able to find a solution,” I meant Mary, not OP. Sorry if that was unclear!

          1. MigraineMonth*

            That happens all the time on this site. I think the commenting section is haunted.

    2. umami*

      I wonder if she could just see about working in a different building; her supervisor might be willing to reassign her if she says she feels uncomfortable staying in that particular building so late (I don’t think I would mention ghosts, though!)

      1. Lavender*

        Many university libraries have 24-hour areas that are always staffed—I wonder if she could be reassigned to one of those areas, if there are any.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I live near a university library, and it’s only open 24 hours for Finals Week (and maybe the week before?). Definitely not all through the school year, though. Cal Poly Humboldt wasn’t open 24 hours ever that I know of (2004-2010), and I don’t think UC Irvine was open 24 hours except at finals in the early 2000s.

          1. Lavender*

            I think this varies a lot by university. The one I attended as an undergrad and the one my mom worked at until she retired (both in California) have 24-hour study areas. The university where I’m currently getting my PhD (not in the United States) has them right now, but it’s the end of term so I’m not sure if that’s a year-round thing or just for exams.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              When I went to school at UC Davis (and worked at the library) we had the Undergraduate Reading Room which was open 24 hours. I never worked in that section – they hired specifically for it, I was main library – check out desk, shelving, and backpack check. And we sort of didn’t socialize much between the two groups (which was kind of weird.)

              I just checked and yes, the URR is still open 24 hours. And they open up more areas near finals that stay open 24 hours.

    3. sharrpie*

      I’ve worked at two and yeah, they both gave off haunted vibes – large buildings, unending mazes of books, eerily quiet, dusty/musty smell……

      They’re also hookup spots for the students apparently (so I’ve been told) – so the moaning you hear might not be restless ghosts….

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I don’t believe in ghosts, but compact storage scares the crap out of me. Like I might start in a much dustier version of the trash compactor scene from Star Wars.

        1. MBK*

          Compact shelving really is pretty dangerous. You’re right to be very careful with it. The manual kind is actually more dangerous than the motorized version, because the latter has obstruction sensors that cause it to auto-reverse like a garage door motor when blocked.

          1. Lily C*

            Can confirm. We used to have manual compact shelving in our file room, and even though there were locks that could be engaged on each set of handles, sometimes you thought you’d only be a second and it’d be fine, and then whoops, it’s squishy time when someone came into the room from the other door and didn’t know you were in there. And then even if you called out, there’s still a little bit of momentum after the handle’s stopped.

      2. Leia Oregano*

        My partner works in info services in a university library and can personally confirm that college/university libraries are, for some reason, very popular with students looking to hook up. He has unfortunately seen this with his own eyes multiple times.

        1. MBK*

          Quiet, secluded, just public enough for there to be the thrill of a small risk of discovery. Combine that with the hormones and still not quite fully formed decisionmaking skills of the average undergrad, and you’ve got a recipe for Bad Idea Sexytimes.

          (I’ve worked in academic libraries for 15 years and have seen… too much.)

        2. Princess Sparklepony*

          I lived a sheltered life and I was a college library worker. The most we had was people getting asked out on dates they didn’t want to go on… But my school was a little weird – more hookups were going on in the cow barns (supposedly.)

      3. Lucky Meas*

        My college library had a rumor that someone was sxually assaulted in one of the stack floors. They were very secluded and no one would have heard. I know I stopped going there alone after hearing that…

      4. GreyjoyGardens*

        Haha, I know a woman who boasted about her late-night library hookups as a grad student. If Mary is hearing moaning, it’s…not ghosts, it’s definitely embodied people!

    4. Dust Bunny*

      The top floor of the library where I went to school had a weird reputation and *nobody* stayed there late, no matter how much studying they needed to do. But I don’t think custodial staff had to be up there alone, either.

  5. MAB*

    Totally agree with this response, and also might suggest sharing with Mary a few ways that people who get creeped out easily (ME, lol) deal with working late night or in places that read as scary:
    – humming or singing a song
    – playing a funny/dramatic podcast or show on your phone (maybe suggest a few to her if you have some in mind and make sure she has access to the library Wi-Fi network!)
    – having a friend on speakerphone

    1. Observer*

      I think that this may backfire on the OP. The OP is already being expected to do too much. It’s not just the fact that the cleaner wants them to stay with her, but that she’s also expecting the OP to actually help her with various tasks. That’s how she’s keeping the OP there now.

      The OP needs to create a firm boundary that says that they are not responsible for Mary. Also, the OP needs to not get into any kind of discussion that could be seen as invalidating her fear.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah a lot of these suggestions are very kind, but anything besides a “no” really does have the potential to backfire on OP. That “no” could be couched in a real excuse or a polite fiction, as Alison suggests, but anything that means OP getting more involved, even if they mean to do so as a kindness, is just going to make it harder to disengage.

      2. DrSalty*

        I don’t think it’s out of line for LW to say “I can’t stay late anymore, but maybe if you played some music or a called a friend it would help. See you tomorrow.”

        1. Rose*

          I think it’s dangerously likely Mary would want to talk about why these wouldn’t work for her. This isn’t someone who has a good handle on boundaries, what’s reasonable to ask of others, etc.

          1. Lana Kane*

            That’s where it’s important to already be turning around when you get to the “see you tomorrow”.

        2. MBK*

          I guarantee Mary will hear that and want/expect OP to be that friend on the phone, probably the whole way home and beyond.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Truly, this is not OP’s problem to solve. I worked with someone just like Mary; we both worked later hours but she didn’t want to be the one to close the computer lab up by herself if I left first. Mind you it was a small dilapidated trailer on a government base, but it was well lit and you could easily see from one end to the other. Not especially creepy.

      She always asked me to wait for her and I just wanted to get going, especially when I finished a half hour or so before her. (She’s also that person who says “let me finish one thing real quick,” when one thing takes 20-30 minutes.) I finally told her I couldn’t wait anymore; I had a class to get to. She managed.

    3. Susannah*

      Those are great ideas – especially having a friend on speaker. Makes you feel not alone.

  6. LoV...*

    Just tell her the ghosts are friendly or indifferent and not to worry about them. Library ghosts are well known as benign ghosts. They just want to be around books. Surely that will help.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        “Chapter One: Clanking Chains–An Every Night Effect, Or Save For Christmas?”

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’d look up saging techniques and other ghost-busting stuff the pagans do, honestly. Do something to take some action about feeling better and getting in control instead of just feeling creeped out.

      I note I actually participated in something like this when a friend’s son felt like he was living in a haunted house, I think we just walked around burning sage and chanting and the like. No idea if it worked, though, since he moved out the next day.

      1. DocStudentConny*

        I have to strongly disagree with the suggestion of anyone lighting sage in a library. In addition to the issue of the smell lingering on the furniture and books and potentially causing issues (headaches, migraine, allergies, etc.), lighting small fires near the stacks is just an extraordinarily bad idea. Even if nothing else catches fire, the smoke could set off automatic sprinklers and cause massive damage to the building and books.

        1. Silver Robin*

          agreed. neither the sage nor the burning is smart here

          1) sage as a cleansing ritual is, to my knowledge, usually appropriating from Indigenous American customs so best to avoid sage

          2) I immediately thought of Kvothe, from the Kingkiller Chronicles, who got permabanned from his library for walking around with a candle, because fire + books = terrible idea

          I *do* think some kind of protective ritual from a relevant spiritual practice (medals of protective saints for Catholics, for example) might be a good idea for Mary. Something to feel active in protection/grounding while getting creeped out seems smart

          1. I have RBF*

            White sage is endangered and appropriated from Native Americans. Garden sage is not. However, fire in a library is a bad thing. A small amount of ground sage can substitute or other herbs can substitute without setting off a fire alarm.

            But you can also go to a bodega and get a medallion for protection against ghosts, IIRC.

          2. yvve*

            homelike, i don’t understand the concern in #1 there– OP isn’t selling the sage or making a public ritual where she acts like an authority in indigenous rituals. we’re taking about using it personally, with two people in private, in a pretty respectful way (using the ritual sincerely for cleansing, not for like a joke or to seem spooky) .

            Fire in a library still not a good idea tho.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Please do not burn anything in a library! (Also, offering to help with a ritual like this would be deepening the OP’s involvement when she needs to do the opposite!)

        Closing this thread.

    2. desdemona*

      I’ve always been comforted by loudly but politely saying to an empty space, when it’s feeling creepy/haunted, something along the lines of “Hello. I am just here [working/cleaning/meeting a friend/etc] and not here to bother you. Please leave me be.”

      Weird? Maybe. Does it help? Yes.

      1. desdemona*

        That said, I’m not sure it’s OP’s place to suggest this (lest they get more dragged into it than they already are).

    3. Ash*

      Seriously. ALL libraries are haunted. Learning to work with the ghosts is part of the job.

  7. Smithy*

    On Dear Prudence they recently answered a question about someone disliking a coworker using the phrase about “protecting their boundaries” to essentially decline to do work they didn’t want to do. And the writer clearly felt troubled as if there was a mental health boundary in question around sharing a specific file or making 20 copies, they didn’t want to cross it – but the requests were generally part of this person’s job description and not around staying after hours or answering emails on the weekend.

    All to say, I get a similar vibe that expressing a concern that the building is haunted or a request that violates someone’s boundaries makes us feel that someone is being asked to do something above and beyond what is appropriate and puts us in a position of feeling badly. And ultimately, maybe the job is a bad fit and a more serious conversation needs to take place with their supervisor. But this is more so a case where this is not a problem for the OP to fix so much as managing their feelings about letting this person down (while politely).

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Notably, Mary is asking the person with the least power to do anything about it.
      She is not telling her manager, she is not telling the head librarian or any full time staff about this. She is a telling a student worker who is scheduled after anyone with manager level power is available.
      (or she did and was told they would not accommodate this. So she came up with a plan when she saw OP.)

      1. Smithy*

        This was the same dynamic in the “I’m not doing this to because of my boundaries” letter – where the person was saying it to a peer and not their manager. But I do think the dynamic it creates is one where a peer or someone with less power feels badly for pushing back.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        That’s part of the reason I think the LW should bring it up with a supervisor. It’s possible that this is not the first time Mary’s asked to be kept company after hours. LW would have no way to know if that’s the case, but a supervisor would.

        If this is a weird one-off, I don’t think a supervisor would discipline Mary for this, they’d just say “stop doing that.” But if it’s a pattern, the supervisor needs to know so they can address it appropriately.

        1. Despachito*

          But is it really needed to bring it up to a supervisor (given OP is worried about Mary being a single mom and may lose her job), while OP can easily say “sorry, I can’t do that” without any repercussions from Mary? The only thing OP has to handle is their own feeling of guilt, and this would happen anytime they are saying “no”, and as someone said, this is a pretty low-stakes situation to practice.

          1. DisgruntledPelican*

            It sounds like OP has been trying to say no and Mary keeps trying to convince/guilt her into staying, sometimes even making up tasks she would need OPs help with. So yes, since saying no hasn’t helped, it’s time to bring in a supervisor to tell Mary to cut it out.

      3. Gray Lady*

        My hunch is that she’s afraid to ask a supervisor for a change of duty and then probably have to explain her fears because it will have negative consequences for her job. But asking the nice grad student to “do her a favor” by staying with her allows her to keep her fears under the radar of the supervisor. It’s precisely because LW doesn’t have any power that LW is a “safe” person to ask to do this.

        That’s still not fair on LW though; I’m not saying it’s at all justified as a course of action on Mary’s part. I can just see the thought process that gets her to asking for help from a very low level person instead of the person actually responsible and able to make a real accommodation to her situation.

  8. Bluebird*

    So if you really want to be kind to Mary, I suggest staying late one more time and helping her with some sort of cleansing ritual. (Ghost cleansing, not her housekeeping tasks lol). If she believes in ghosts, she probably also believes in getting rid of ghosts, and as long as it’s not dangerous, won’t alter the library in any permanent way, etc., even if it’s not something you believe in yourself, it might help her feel more comfortable to do it, then you can start leaving on time. You could even say to her “I won’t be able to stay late anymore after tomorrow, why don’t we do a (insert here) so the ghosts can move on both you and them will be at peace?”

    1. Bluebird*

      And by dangerous, I should clarify that I mean I wouldn’t burn anything in a library! I’m not insinuating any particular belief may be dangerous!

    2. SGPB*

      This is TERRIBLE advice. You have no idea what religion Mary is or what she would accept. Also it validates her irrational fear and will make her think you believe her and therefore if you don’t stay to protect her from ghosts, you are a bad person because you know there are “dangerous” ghosts lurking about. What is up with this website and suggesting cleansing rituals for the office??????????????? So completely inappropriate!!

      1. JSPA*

        Nothing says that the LW has to choose the ritual (and an offer is an offer, not a command- – and as for “religion at work,” Mary has already broken that boundary by taking about ghosts… and in any case, a grad student is exactly nowhere in the chain of command over a cleaner, and vice versa. (They’re basically in separate workplaces, that just happen to be the exact same space.) And in any case (whether it’s logically defensible or not) a rather dramatic number of people do not consider “spiritualism” or “rituals” to be what they think of as “religion,” in any case.

        People do little ritualistic things to ward off bad luck or invite good luck on the regular–to the point where it’s ingrained in the culture so deeply that we mostly don’t even recognize them for what they are.

        Do you go off if someone says, “fingers crossed” while hoping for a good outcome?

        1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          Separate workplaces, yes, and probably OP is technically Mary’s client. Because if Mary works for a cleaning company, and the university is their client, then Mary is supposed to treat OP more like a client, even though they both probably feel more like coworkers if they work in the same place every day. It’s not appropriate to ask your clients to keep you company for long times.

          1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

            I don’t think its good thing to say that the OP is Mary’s client. Not only does it have a bit of a classism feel for me but I think Mary works for the university. I don’t know of any university that hires a cleaning company. (There may be just not in my experience) Any schools that I have attended or worked for have their own custodial crew. In fact, OP specifically says “head of Housekeeping” which implies that Mary is a university employee. If they worked for another company OP would have said “cleaning company manager” So therefore, I belive Mary and OP work for the same company (the university) but they are not in the same departments.

          2. JSPA*

            That’s…not how cleaning crew works (whether staff or contracted). Or how being a grad student employee works.

        2. Gerry Kaey*

          absolutely wild false equivalency between crossing your fingers for luck and doing a spiritual cleansing/exorcism/large ritual. not even remotely in the same category or behavior.

          1. JSPA*

            It’s not the same…to you. And a cleansing ritual is a big fancy thing…to you.

            People do a lot of projecting about what things look like, for other people.

            A ritual doesn’t have to be complex or fancy or loud or long or have a bunch of acoutrements, to be a ritual. (That may well be your experience of ritual, or your understanding of ritual–but it’s nowhere in the definition.)

            Crossing fingers was a ritual. Ditto knocking on wood.

            They’ve become largely divorced from a solemn meaning, but people still do them, essentially reflexively. (That’s nearly the definition of a ritual–something that starts as a religious or solemn rite, and becomes a pattern so engrained that it is followed without even thinking.)

            1. Gerry Kaey*

              Okay? This isn’t a theology thread, this is a work advice thread, and for the sake of what is and isn’t appropriate to do in the workplace, crossing you fingers or knocking on wood is completely normalized and appropriate while ritualistic space cleansing is not, so I don’t think the comparison is especially relevant to any real world application, nor do I think it justifies the suggestion that OP get involved in a spiritual ritual that she doesn’t believe in to appease the beliefs of her coworker.

        3. Happy*

          I mean, I say “fingers crossed” all the time…I don’t actually expect it to have any effect on whatever I’m hoping for.

          It’s not at all the same as a cleansing ritual that someone expects to get rid of ghosts.

      2. lilsheba*

        It IS appropriate, and has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. Cleansing with sage or whatever is a spiritual magical practice, and would definitely get rid of any bad spirits that are lingering around. I say do it!

        1. Rose*

          Most of these rituals have religious roots and would be a big no for some religions and cultures.

          Cleansing with sage would not definitely do anything.

          This is unequivocally bad advice. The problem is not OPs to solve, and none of these are a one and done guaranteed solution. The answer is not “get a little bit involved,” the answer is “learn how to say no clearly and kindly to coworkers who ask you to spend your personal time managing their emotions.”

      3. Lana Kane*

        “Hey, I don’t know if this is something you would be interested in, but do you believe in cleansing/protection rituals for ghosts? You might want to look up something (that doesn’t involve fire)” -if Mary already believes in them, then I don’t think this is a huge leap. Suggesting it -in case- it’s something they believe in isn’t inappropriate.

        What I do find inappropriate is assuming that believing in ghosts is irrational. I don’t believe in them, but I also know that belief in the supernatural is a part of more than one religion/culture and I’m not about to tell someone their spiritual beliefs aren’t rational.

      4. Spencer Hastings*

        This. Also, the implications are unfortunate — like, oh, this blue-collar worker is not very smart and believes all this stuff about ghosts, so LW should humor her by doing rituals (or giving her a good luck charm, like someone said in a different thread up above). Nope! Not appropriate. Not LW’s job.

    3. umami*

      Oooohhhh, no. Please don’t suggest anything that a) affirms her belief in ghosts is justified, and b) assumes a cleansing ritual is something appropriate for OP to engage in. There’s also nothing to indicate that Mary believes a building cleansing is necessary!

    4. Bee*

      I did this to help my child get over a nightmare. Holy water sprinkles, smudging sage, and giving her an iron pan to whack any fae that might disturb her (a la Tiffany Aching). It doesn’t matter if I believe in it; it mattered that my child believed it would work and felt safe.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, but that was your child. It’s a very different relationship.

        It’s also a different stage of life. With a small child, you can assume that you are not really reinforcing a belief in ghosts, because there is good reason to believe that they will outgrow it. That’s not the main reason for the OP not to do it, but it’s valid to think about.

    5. CRM*

      I absolutely would not recommend that the OP offer to do this. It might work, but it’s also very possible that it won’t, or that Mary will ask the OP to do this ritual on a regular basis and it will be even more difficult for OP to say no (since they agreed to do it the first time).

      OP doesn’t owe Mary anything in this situation, especially since Mary has already taken advantage of OP’s good will. If Mary really thinks a cleansing ritual will help, she can do it on her own.

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      This sounds really infantilizing and HUGELY crosses the exact boundary LW is trying to assert.

    7. Lucia Pacciola*

      Presumably Mary is a grown-up who can devise and practice her own cleansing rituals if that’s what she needs.

    8. Vio*

      It’s a nice idea but the OP will likely just get drawn further in. If she’s still scared afterwards, and she probably will be, then she’ll just feel that the ritual didn’t work and want more help. The further into it OP gets pulled, the harder it will be to get out because the more reliant on them she will become.

    9. The Person from the Resume*

      No, nope, no.

      The LW just needs to tell Mary “no” and leave on time. Let Mary handle the problem of her fears by speaking to her own supervisor or someone else in the library management with the power to do something about this.

      The LW needs to remove herself from being any sort of go between for this. The LW is a student worker. Mary is a full time, adult employee of the the university and needs to handle her issues by dealing with the folks who have the power rather than an employee who she can pressure to stay late to hang out with her.

    10. Santiago*

      This is fantastic advice simply because it is entertaining. Ignore everyone else OP!

    11. Zarniwoop*

      I don’t believe in ghosts, but on the off chance I’m wrong such things should be done by a professional (new age shaman, Catholic exorcist, whatever) rather than some nonbeliever just making stuff up.

  9. not casper*

    Are there any security guards nearby when the cleaner works? Maybe an introduction would help calm her nerves?

  10. RL*

    I run the maintenance, housekeeping, and grounds crews at a university now and have done similar work for years. It would be a kindness to Mary and to the person in my shoes if you would reach out to them after talking to Mary to explain the conversation you had. At one point, I had a custodian with similar concerns and there were a few options we looked at for helping: arranging a switch so someone who wanted a vacant building was there and she was in an occupied building, assigning the cleaning route to a team rather than each building to one person, having regular radio check ins, changing the settings on the lights so she could turn them all on in when cleaning rather than just the area she was working in. This will probably help you avoid awkward follow up conversations with Mary and keep her from doing the same thing to others in the future.

    College campuses can be creepy. I’m not particularly prone to belief in the paranormal and walking empty buildings after dark will never not feel a bit odd. If this were my employee, I’d want to have an honest conversation about what we could and couldn’t do to assist so Mary can decide if it’s the right job for her.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Creepy building aside, if Mary is alone and uncomfortable, then it could be couched as a safety issue. “I’m not able to stay late but I’m worried about Mary being here alone at night. Is there any way the security team could patrol more often…?” But at the end of the day Mary also needs to advocate for herself. I’d tell her kindly but firmly that I need to go at a certain time and make a few suggestions to her but then start leaving when you need to.

      1. Observer*

        then it could be couched as a safety issue. “I’m not able to stay late but I’m worried about Mary being here alone at night. Is there any way the security team could patrol more often…?

        No. It’s neither appropriate nor helpful for the OP to seek solutions for Mary. And it’s also not helpful or appropriate for the OP to frame it as something security should look at for the OP’s sake.

        Also, there is no good reason why the OP should try to obscure the issue. I’m not suggesting that the OP should report this like “OMG. Mary is being ridiculous and is afraid of ghosts! Can believe it!” But “Mary is afraid to stay alone and wants me to stay with her. Of course I can’t do that.” From there, it’s on Mary.

        1. Vio*

          Honestly even if that’s not the reason she’s afraid, it’s still a valid concern. If I knew somebody was working very late into the night, alone, I’d have some concerns for their safety. It’s certainly not appropriate to use it as a redirection away from her real fear, but if it IS an actually valid concern (and it may be) it’s worth bringing to somebody’s attention.

          1. Observer*

            Maybe. But still not the OP’s place.

            They should let someone know that Mary is afraid to stay by herself and leave it to them to deal with it.

        2. Dahlia*

          It is hardly a overstep to say “I see another person alone at night and am concerned”.

          1. Student*

            For many people, that would be a huge overstep. I have personally had people do this to me without my knowledge and consent. It is infuriating. It can be hugely undermining and infantilizing. It’s very much a thing people do to women, specifically, and can hold us back at work.

            It can actually exacerbate safety issues, too. Men are more in danger from men who are strangers; women are more in danger from men they know at least casually. However, since we tend to center men’s narratives, there’s a common misconception that strangers are more dangerous than people you know universally. That’s general crime statistics (in the US), and it’s also practical lived experience. So if you demand that I work in an isolated environment with one guy I marginally know, because you are afraid for my safety, you are generally putting me in more danger than if you let me get on with my job in isolation.

            I think it will lack credibility with a custodial staff manager, especially. I think it’s one thing to chat with Mary and ask her if she’s tried working out a solution with her manager. I think it’s another to try to go over her head to her manager and demand a solution on Mary’s behalf. If the custodial manager is any good, they’ll talk with the OP’s manager to get the OP to butt out of custodial business and alter the OP’s manager that OP may not be suitable for the shift that OP is actually fine with. If Mary hasn’t raised the issue with her manager, then she may have a very good reason for that decision.

        3. Lana Kane*

          The person who started this thread runs a university grounds crew and said they would appreciate the heads up.

          It may not be the LW’s responsibility, but wanting to do the kindness anyway isn’t wrong. And who knows, maybe Mary never owuld have done it herself, but if someone starts the conversation for her it could help all parties involved.

          Personally I’d be reporting this to my manager so I agree with the sentiment of letting them hash it out but I think before that, even I would have tried to assuage Mary a little.

          1. Observer*

            The person who started this thread runs a university grounds crew and said they would appreciate the heads up.

            Yes, give them a heads up. But I think that the idea of putting it as a problem that the OP has, or getting into solutions is not the way to do it.

            I think before that, even I would have tried to assuage Mary a little.

            If Mary had simply expressed fear, it might have made sense for the OP to try to assuage Mary’s fear. But given how much Mary has crossed boundaries and has tried to push the OP to take on her burden, the OP needs to draw a harder boundary.

      2. Morning reader*

        Doing a similar late night job alone on campus many years ago, the only time I ever felt unsafe was when a security dude was following me around. Those guys are often not well vetted. Plus someone “patrolling” nearby when you think you’re alone can feel unsafe too. I like all the suggestions of RL above and I notice they don’t involve using campus security. A strange dude turning up when you’re working alone late at night is not safer than a ghost, even if he’s in uniform.

        1. Zweisatz*

          Yeah… I hope security is well-vetted here but personally I wouldn’t feel better.
          Fortunately when Mary (hopefully) contacts her supervisor, they can go over which options are available and would make her feel safer.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Working completely alone in a building, would have been against health and safety policies everywhere I have ever worked because if people become ill or have a heart attack or faint, they have no one to assist them. There’s a myth that is against health and safety everywhere in the UK – but that’s not the case; it’s just that every employer has to assess the risks of lone working and make a case or plan for the eventualities.

        1. Happy*

          This is so interesting to me, because I’ve never seen a policy like it (in the US) and you make it sound pretty ubiquitous (in the UK).

          What happens if someone needs to work late? Does someone else have to stay even if they are otherwise done with their work? Does the first person to arrive in the morning have to wait for someone else to show up before they can go in and use the toilet or get out of the rain, etc.?

    2. HonorBox*

      I like this suggestion a lot. OP could mention this all to their supervisor who could both support the need for OP to be out of the building at the end of their shift AND contact Mary’s supervisor. Then it isn’t on OP to directly fix a problem or have Mary’s supervisor wondering why a student (just describing…not being pejorative) is reaching out to them. Supervisor to supervisor would probably work well, I’d think.

    3. Chris too*

      My husband worked for years in security and there are many cases of certain guards who won’t work in certain places alone at night. I think this would be considered less weird than you’d think.

      1. STAT!*

        Years ago, I sometimes used to work till 9.00-9.30pm in the annexe to a 1920s-era building. After I left the job, one of the security guards told me a couple of the night time guards would refuse to patrol that area after dark because of the supernatural. (Thanks for the heads up guys!) However I never saw anything, though I’m a non-believer in any case.

    4. Goldenrod*

      This is great advice, RL!

      I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do think campus libraries can feel very creepy at night, when they are mostly deserted.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Buildings echo in the weirdest freaking ways when there is nobody else around. I work in a personality-devoid, absolutely non-creepy, early-1980s warehouse bloc but if I’m the only one in the office that day, suddenly all the trivial background noises are so much more noticeable. I know they’re just pipes or the air-conditioner or whatever, but it’s still ridiculously spooky.

        1. I ain't feared*

          Yeah. I worked a temp job last summer where I did safety patrols of a factory at night. It was just me, my flashlight, and a security guard onsite, and I only crossed paths with the guard maybe twice that whole summer. The factory was noisy as heck during my first hour of each shift when all the employees were working. But after they left and the shops went dark and quiet…Every single tiny noise of the buildings settling or the machinery running self-test cycles was suddenly louder and more alarming than having the whole place lit up and screamingly loud during operating hours.

          My eyes definitely played tricks on me more than once. Didn’t help that raccoons would often slip inside to raid the trash cans, either. And there was one giant tank of some kind that would start spewing blasts of air that always, always scared the crap out of me if I was too near when it happened. I memorized the timing of the blasts to ensure that I was never walking close by when it went off, and I knew it was harmless. I just could never get used to that one thing, not even after hundreds of patrols.

          I’m into horror stories, so the creepiness was actually a bonus to me, even though I did worry a little at every sound because the shops got broken into on a somewhat regular basis (that was security’s duty to handle, not mine). But once I had to trade shifts with another patroller, so I was working the day and she did the night. The next day, she told me she was so creeped out by her experience that she would never ever work another night shift in that factory again and had no idea how I could do it every time.

          I miss that job, scary tank and wild raccoons and potential break-ins and all. :( It was like getting paid to walk through a Halloween haunted house where you didn’t have to worry that some jerk in a clown costume was going to run out at you with a fake cleaver.

            1. I ain't feared*

              Haha, I definitely got some really cool story plans for my next RPG campaign! The factory makes heavy equipment that looks similar to, and is about the size of, those massive trailer truck cabs. I would take photos between factory patrols because seeing all these spooky half-built cabs with dark doors open to yawning blackness in the barely lit factories was so creepy-cool that it gave me tons of horror ideas.

          1. Skytext*

            I don’t understand what your job actually was. Safety patrol? What were you watching for? You said there was security that handled break ins. If it was just fire watch it seems like security could’ve handled that at the same time. Just curious.

            1. I ain't feared*

              It was fire watch safety patrol! Security was handled by the local sheriff’s department; they were performing an entirely different set of duties from mine. We were required to have dedicated fire watch patrollers in addition to the usual security guards, or else the fire marshal would have ordered the factory to shut down operations until we complied. It was a temporary gig because the old fire alarm system had broken down, but there was a waiting period for the new system components to arrive and be installed/tested/approved by the fire marshal.

              The security guards couldn’t legally do fire watch and security guard duties at the same time and still conform to fire code. Our paperwork from the fire marshal’s office specifically said that anyone doing fire watch is not allowed to perform any other work during a fire watch shift, under any circumstances. Reason being, if you’re doing, say, security guard duty by watching for intruders, you’re being distracted by that and not properly looking out for fire hazards.

    5. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

      I endured a series of small but unsettling events at my last church job. Yep, don’t care what anyone else thinks, sometimes the paranomal/supernatural is real.

    6. Looper*

      This is awesome insight because cleaning/environmental services teams tend to be contracted out in all sorts of industries. Thanks for sharing!

    7. Splendid Colors*

      Thank you for offering a practical solution based on experience in a similar setting!

    8. Cam*

      If I were solving this for Mary, I would consider whether a music player or radio is the placebo she needs to dispel the quiet of an after-hours library. But I’m not sure we’re in a situation to really offer that.

  11. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    OP, please be cautious about assuming the responsibility for other people’s issues. It can really pull you down emotionally. Mary has a number of options available to her. It’s possible that her work could be done earlier in the evening, for example. She might want to consider a different job in an office or hotel that doesn’t have ghost vibes.

    She’s an adult and needs to solve her own problem without making it yours.

    1. NotAManager*

      I’d like to add on to this that while it’s very admirable that LW clearly feels for Mary and wants to help – it’s really not appropriate for Mary to ask LW for help with tasks that she’s been assigned, separate from Mary wanting LW to stay because she’s afraid to be alone in the building. The “I need you to stay because I need help with X task,” is not a reason to stay; not only is LW’s shift over at 11, they don’t have the same job responsibilities.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*


        All the posts suggesting LW do this or that to try to help Mary are kind but very misguided. LW is a part time student assistant, not a full time member of the staff. Dealing with Mary is NOT, repeat NOT LW’s job.

        LW needs to report this to an actual staff member and let them handle it in whatever way they deem appropriate. This is not LW’s responsibility and frankly, not their call!

  12. Bunny*

    Procure for her an amulet you discovered in a copy of Macbeth you were reshelving. The slim volume hadn’t been checked out in a long time—why was it on the desk, here? Perhaps a student changed their mind. Then you saw the tarnished silver chain snaking from the pages, like the River Clyde on a cloudy day…

    1. Observer*

      Not only is this unhelpful, it’s really unkind. I get the temptation to snark, but this really is a difficult situation for her and making fun of it isn’t a great look.

      I’m not suggesting that Mary is being reasonable – she’s not. But there is a difference between recognizing that and acting on that information and simply mocking someone.

      1. Lavender*

        I agree. I think Mary is acting irrationally and her behavior is inappropriate, but I also feel really bad for her. She’s working by herself, away from her kids, in the middle of the night—it’s not entirely surprising that she feels unsettled and wants company.

        (Plus, Mary might read here and recognize herself in this letter. I don’t think she’d be happy to see comments like this one.)

    2. Elle*

      I would read this if it were a book. Haunted amulet in the library? Yes, please.

      ( I’m sorry other people don’t have a sense of humor)

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Oh, good grief, the purpose of this blog is to provide advice, not write fanfic, lol! Yes, that would be a clever plot twist for a piece of fiction, but that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing here.

    1. Blythe*

      Or actually get a dog!!

      Kidding, kidding. But getting dogs has done wonders for my work-life balance!

  13. GrooveBat*

    LW, does the library otherwise feel safe and secure? You mentioned it being “kind of creepy.”

    I’m just giving Mary the benefit of the doubt and wondering if she has a generalized discomfort that, for whatever reason, she ascribes to “ghosts” that is more just like “she doesn’t feel safe working there alone.”

    1. GrooveBat*

      …and just to clarify, none of this means that it’s your responsibility to assuage her fears. Just that some of the other suggestions you had mentioned about having security do extra rounds after 10 p.m. etc. might be do-able.

      1. Cheese & Onion*

        Reminds of the When Work Gets Spooky Article from a few years ago..
        One of the readers worked at a library. One morning, a clearly shaken security guard showed them security footage (from the night before) of a shadow-like figure walking towards the libraries childrens department, only for it to stop then saunter away in another direction.
        Now I’d love to pretend it was probably a reflection from the windows or whatever, but man that story spooked me!

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s worth asking, but I’ll say I used to work in a museum that was very secure, in a high traffic area, and I was never there later that 7pm alone. But in the winter, when it got dark early, it was still incredibly spooky to be the last one there. Sometimes places like this just tickle something primal in the brain and make you feel creeped out.

    3. metadata minion*

      It’s definitely worth checking out, but university libraries — especially if they haven’t been very recently renovated — are kind of notorious for being creepy at night. Long dark aisles of books, old building that makes weird noises, motion-sensing lights that either refuse to turn on or turn on when nobody is there… seriously, they’re just weird buildings.

      1. Vio*

        Those motion detectors can be the worst! Some of them are so fickle it can really be frustrating to figure out what’s setting them off. Worst real story I’m aware of was when a security guard at an old building eventually figured out that the motion detector was being set off by bats. He said he was just glad it wasn’t a big spider.

        1. Quill*

          My lab has a motion detector for lights that I have to jump to get to recognize me…

      2. Urkel*

        My suburb just had a newly built state of the art 2 storey council office that has a heckin’ impressive library.
        My brother was hired as a front desk client services officer, and is often one of the last to leave the building. And despite the new building and facilities and all, he often feels an eeriness and haunting vibe, especially from the library are thats on the same floor on the other side.
        I guess libraries are just spooky in general!

    4. DocStudentConny*

      I’m also a graduate student, and my spouse is a university librarian. Between the two of us, we’ve never encountered a college library that didn’t have enough ghost stories and urban legends to fill its own book. Large buildings that are usually busy by day feel very “off” when they’re empty, even during the daytime, so I understand why Mary feels spooked but I think it’s unlikely that her fears are related to anything tangible. That’s not to say that nothing odd ever happens in libraries, but it’s more along the lines of “university police had to remove a raccoon from the computer lab” (true story) and less “the third floor is haunted by the ghosts of professors past.”

    5. NotAManager*

      Eh, I’d take Mary at her word. Plenty of people believe in ghosts and libraries have lots of dark corners, nooks, crannies, and shadows that the human brain will naturally produce an anxiety response to. I say this as someone who works in libraries and (generally) loves walking around in dark buildings alone because I find them peaceful. Even I will occasionally be struck with a sense of ‘I am not alone in here,’ when I very much am and I logically know that. Your sense of self-preservation kind of takes over and is just like ‘GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT,’ even when there’s objectively no threat. And if you truly think there’s a malevolent supernatural force behind that feeling, having security drive around the building won’t help.

      Ultimately, if Mary truly believes the library is haunted and can’t bring herself to work there alone at night she’s either going to have to change shifts or change jobs. Neither of those outcomes has anything to do with LW; what’s Mary going to do when they graduate if the next student can’t/won’t accommodate her requests?

  14. Adultier Adult*

    100% not your issue to manage; I would have my mom (or a friend) call me for a few nights right when my shift ends to give me a reason to hop up and leave- after a few nights of not having the conversation, hopefully, she would have moved on from asking. If not, I would (now as an adult) have the awkward convo; as a college student, I would probably have a standing 5 min phone date with my mom every night to get me out of the building LOL

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Heck, set up an alarm on your phone. On my phone I can set an alarm that sounds like my ringtone. If the other person can’t see the screen I think its a great cover.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      It also sounds like it’s time to loop in whoever is the LW’s boss or supervisor–as many people said above, this is A) a potential budget buster if the hours exceed what she’s supposed to be working and B) this really isn’t her job to handle, but she does not have capital to spend trying to fix it, nor should she.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > a potential budget buster if the hours exceed what she’s supposed to be working

        It wasn’t stated in the letter, but I get the impression these ‘extra hours’ for OP are unpaid. I think she’s got into this situation where she isn’t sure what to say/do about Mary, perhaps doesn’t want to initiate ‘conflict’ etc.

        Submitting a time sheet (or however the hours get logged) with those extra hours on it would probably flush this out quickly..

  15. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    It really is easy to assign unfamiliar noises, unexpected occurrences, and sensations to otherworldly causes, but probably it’s building noises that are too quiet to notice during the day with all of the activity of humans. Or, there might actually be an entity in the form of a real unhoused human that has taken up residence somewhere in the building…that’s an increasing problem in my university buildings.

    I would encourage Mary to talk to campus security about her real concerns — what, where, when, how often she experiences the feeling of another presence. Where is her fear coming from? I have no idea how large this university or building is, but I default think it’s not safe to have only one person working in a building — what if she was injured? would they just find her in the morning? Is the inside of the building monitored by campus security or only the parking lot?

    She does need another person there, but not the letter writer. This is something to mention to supervisors, “the night custodian is fearful of being alone in the building (you can leave ghosts out of it), is there a way to have someone scheduled to join her?”

    1. Observer*

      I really don’t think it’s on the OP to come up with solutions.

      I’m not even sure that someone else needs to be there. But that doesn’t essentially matter. This is not the OP’s to deal with.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        “encourage Mary to talk to campus security” and “mention to supervisors” seems like the least amount of effort to make for another human being.

        1. Observer*

          Mention to supervisors, yes.

          Anything else? No. Especially “encouraging” Mary to do anything, because that draws the OP further into a situation where they have already been pulled in too far.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        It’s become the OPs to deal with, and the only way something will change is by taking action of some kind.

        1. STAT!*

          Yep, and that action is the OP leaving immediately after saying “Goodnight Mary, see you next time”.

  16. Self Employed Employee*

    I don’t know if it’s allowed, but as a helpful suggestion, could you suggest ‘body doubling’ with someone through facetime? That way she would have someone to talk to in real time and that could help her feel safer. It could be a friend or relative, or even another late night worker.

  17. redflagday701*

    I hope we get an update, and I hope it’s that OP took Alison’s advice and then stopped seeing Mary, which prompted her to ask the library manager if Mary had to quit.

    And the library manager said, “Mary? We don’t have a cleaner named Mary. There was a Mary — she actually died while she was working here, many years ago…”

    1. Yoyoyo*

      Omg…”My roommates say this place is haunted. I’ve lived here for 273 years and I’ve never seen anything!”

      1. Ook*

        I feel a lot of sympathy for Mary- it sucks working in an environment you’re afraid of. Whether that is a justified fear or not isn’t the point. I am exceptionally insensitive to building atmosphere myself, (growing up in a 300 year old vicarage located in a graveyard will do that), but I wouldn’t use that to dismiss other people’s experiences.
        However, Mary’s fears are not the OPs problem to manage or solve. In fact, OP, you can’t solve them.
        You can’t adjust Mary’s shift times, assign other workers to the library when she’s there or persuade Mary not be be fearful of the library.
        Mary needs to deal with the situation herself. Either by working through her fears, getting a shift time change, therapy, protective charms- whatever works for her! Getting the OP to keep her company is a stopgap solution at best, and it’s really unfair on the OP, too.
        OP, be kind but firm to Mary. Tell her you have to leave at 11pm sharp- and then stick to it, as Alison advises. You could give your supervisor a heads up that you’re going to do this; that would tell them about Mary’s issue and your issue with her issue without anyone being blamed or complained about.

  18. Boo*

    “Mary the cleaner?” her supervisor questioned. “That’s the name of the woman who was murdered here in 1973, we’ve not had a night cleaner since”.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “This place isn’t haunted! I should know–I’ve worked here since 1883!”

    2. hypoglycemic rage (hopeful ex librarian)*

      i just got chills

      (you made such a good comment)

  19. Goldenrod*

    “That’s the name of the woman who was murdered here in 1973, we’ve not had a night cleaner since”.


  20. Molly Millions*

    As someone who did work alone in a haunted old building (and did have to apologize to the ghosts for offending them), this is tough and really not something anyone can solve for someone else.

    Because the LW sounds genuinely kind and concerned – can she dig a bit into why the housekeeper believes the place to be haunted?

    Unexplained draughts/sounds/temperature changes often have a mechanical explanation, anything from poorly-secured windows to “oh yeah, the security guards watch TV in their office and the sound carries through the vents.” (And it’s not always an obvious cause – something like a floor that’s not exactly 90 degrees from the wall can cause unbelievably weird occurrences). The facilities staff can likely identify the source, and it sounds like the housekeeper might have been too embarrassed to ask them.

    If there’s *not* a rationale explanation, perhaps someone could do a bit of historical research to find out who exactly might be haunting the place. The housekeeper might be comforted to know her ghost is likely the kindly former Dean who died peacefully in an armchair.

    In my situation, I’d been told that the ghosts were just protective over the building. Once they were no longer mad at me, I actually felt comforted knowing they were around.

    1. Molly Millions*

      I should note – I actually agree with the “it’s not the LW’s problem and she should just leave when her shift ends” advice.

      But she seems like she genuinely wants to help and if there’s a chance this can be solved by 10 minutes of research or a conversation with building maintenance, might as well try.

      1. MsM*

        I feel like people who find skeptical explanations soothing are either going to naturally come up with those on their own without prompting, or do the research themselves. Mary strikes me as more likely to come up with reasons why LW’s theory won’t work, and can’t they just stay to see for themselves…? Better to just set a firm “sorry, can’t help you” boundary, and let someone higher up sort out whether there’s a way to keep Mary on or not.

    2. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

      At my second church job, there was a series of small but unsettling events. Not a haunting, I think it was something the horrible new pastor brought with him. That stuff can sometimes be real.

  21. scurvycapn*

    Mary: I need help with some tasks!
    OP: That sounds like a “you” problem.
    Mary: But there are ghosts!
    OP: That sounds like a “Boo!” problem.

    I’ll show myself out.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      Your humor took some of the sting out of reading the “comedy” upthread about former employees who were either murdered in the library or have been on staff since 1883.

      I did like the idea of “the kindly former Dean who died peacefully in an armchair.” Maybe the ghosts are all former scholars propelled by their continuing thirst for knowledge — even from the afterlife?

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          The idea of a ghostly Mendel getting all excited over pcr and mRNA vaccines is really quite delightful.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        This reminds me of when I was subbing in the school attended by my favourite historical person, Eamon de Valera in his teen years back in the 1890s. The guy was a Maths teacher, before joining the fight for Irish independence and going into politics, and a couple of times when I was covering Maths classes, the door opened mysteriously. It didn’t happen when I was covering any other class. So I joked it was the ghost of de Valera, haunting the Maths classes in his old school, possibly to express his disapproval of a non-Maths graduate covering a Maths class. He was completely obsessed with Maths and it seemed the sort of thing he’d do (though honestly, he’d probably haunt PhD level Maths or Physics courses rather than 14 year old ones!

    2. Ally*

      *slow clap* as you see yourself out

      But a bit of humour can always help a situation, there could definitely be a way to make it a bit of a joke with Mary, without any teasing / mocking element.

  22. RoundRobin*

    I can’t speak to the specifics of your position LW, but please loop your direct supervisor in about this!

    I work with both undergrad and grad students as an evening Circulation supervisor in an academic library, and I would 100% want to know if another staff person, regardless of their department, is not only pushing one of my student workers to stay late (!) but is also making up tasks (!) for them to do to “justify” it. You should not be staying late or doing any work outside of your regular shifts.

    I definitely understand being sympathetic to Mary, but it’s not okay that she keeps pushing you and making you uncomfortable. Please escalate this to someone who has more authority to either speak to Mary directly or speak to her supervisor. It’s on staff who are “higher up” to work with Mary and find accommodations if she cannot work alone.

    1. Grace*

      This! I’ve worked night shifts at university libraries before, both as a student and as a supervisor. Please tell your supervisor–this is the kind of thing they need to know about and back you up on setting a boundary.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      This is 1000% a “need to loop in a higher up whose job is to deal with this kind of thing, and is also NOT me” situation. Many commenters have pointed out that Mary is probably targeting the LW because she’s young and does not have a lot of professional standing.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Adding: this is also important to make sure Mary doesn’t try similar tactics on other students (and she might be already–if the LW doesn’t work every night, especially.)

    3. Lana Kane*

      This is the way. Asking OP is not great, but would be ok if it was only once and she accepted the no. But it’s escalating and this is a management issue now.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, sounds like a good idea. I get it that the LW may be hesitant to contact a supervisor because potentially Mary could lose her job if she can’t work at night. I bet it’s easier to find someone who isn’t anxious about working alone in a more or less empty building after dark than it might be to reschedule Mary’s shifts. Or maybe not. But either way, the current situation isn’t working for either Mary or the LW, and there’s nothing the LW can do about Mary other than assert their boundaries.

    5. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      This, right here! As a former (now retired) librarian who has worked at every level from undergrad student assistant, through clerical staff, up to a faculty position in a university library, I would be APPALLED to hear that a student worker was trying to deal with a situation like this on their own.

      LW, what RoundRobin says is absolutely true. I know you feel sorry for Mary. I get that. But this is not your responsibility and not your call. Turn this over over to someone who has the authority to handle this in an appropriate manner (whatever that may be).

      Unless your supervisor is completely incompetent and irresponsible (which I certainly hope is not the case), they will WANT to know about this, and they will NOT want you to handle this on their own.

      Mary’s problems are not your responsibility to solve, and she is behaving very inappropriately in trying to get you to stay past the hours you are supposed to be working, much less rope you into helping her with her tasks. She is completely out of line, and no matter what her reason or excuse, that’s NOT okay. Please refer this to someone higher up, asap!

    6. Blue*

      Especially since OP already tried to tell Mary that she had to leave and Mary responded by finding tasks that OP needed to help with.

    7. Chevsapher*

      Yup, yup, yup. All of this. This is absolutely a good reason to speak with your supervisor directly. If your supervisor doesn’t care, then talk to the head of the department or someone in the library’s admin office.

  23. deannie*

    This isn’t exactly related to your question – but what kind of library lets the student workers close with no librarians!? I’m a librarian and we do the exact opposite: the students go home earlier in the evening and then a librarian is responsible for locking up, putting away the money, turning off the lights, and so on. I can’t imagine making a student do that alone (both from a “they’re not getting paid as much so they shouldn’t have to stay late” perspective but also from a “if there’s only one person there it should be the one with the experience/authority to act/react/whatever if something goes wrong.”)

    Related to your question – do what Alison says and tell her you can’t stay past your shift. If you turn the lights off when you leave but before she does, leave them on and just ask if she’ll please turn them off when she leaves (if that’s possible with your lighting situation). Mention to a librarian or whoever supervises you that this is happening, if you think it’s needed, and they can figure out how to accommodate her.

    Good luck! I worked in a haunted building for years (so I’m desensitized haha) and the ghosts were fine but things like this are what made it rough

    1. Grace*

      Libraries that have no funding and/or little respect given to them by the admin/other faculty.

      But also, there are tons of academic libraries that are open 24 hours, and they’re rarely staffed by a full-time librarian, in my experience. Usually that work goes to staff/para-pros or grad student employees, even at well-funded universities. It’s a matter of whose time is better spent covering which hours.

    2. J!*

      It sounds like the LW is a grad worker. When I was a grad student (in a different field), we were responsible for teaching classes on our own as teaching assistants, I can see a library program assistantship having different responsibilities than an undergrad student on work/study.

    3. Felicity Lemon*

      The academic library that I worked in as a grad student had a similar schedule to OP’s: we grad assistants worked the morning/evening reference shifts (from 7-11 pm and 7-11 am) and the FT librarians had ref desk shifts from 9am-9pm. There was still a circ manager and security who were ‘in charge’ of opening/closing, handling money, and so forth, but the FT librarians would not have been pleased to have to come in early or stay late for reference duty.

      And in OP’s situation, I agree that the best bet is to tell Mary you can’t stay late, but mention the issue to someone in charge (your supervisor, or the circ manager, or security, or whoever) so that they could work with the maintenance supervisor to try to help her.

    4. Olive*

      Graduate students are almost always adults. By the time I was in grad school, my friends who had started working earlier did things like closing up the stores they managed.

    5. KatEnigma*

      Back in 1991, I worked the closing shift at the university library often, and even then a grad student was the only other staff. The librarians didn’t go home as early as at LW’s library, but they certainly weren’t there until midnight. Said grad students were always supervisors over the undergrad worker bees anyway. Even then the reference and help desks closed 2 hours before the library itself. After that point, it was students. The undergrads left at midnight. The grad students helped security sweep the building and lock up.

    6. NotAManager*

      Academic libraries will do this, sometimes there will be a paraprofessional on-site overseeing the students workers, but generally the degree-holding librarians end their shifts at 8 or 9, depending on how late the building is open. Especially if there’s a custodian coming in to clean/secure the building, that way the students aren’t responsible for doing anything more than turning the computers off. In terms of “closing” – checking to make sure no one is in the building, setting alarms, etc., those are probably part of Mary’s job.

    7. Lavender*

      I’m a grad student who works part-time in my university’s library, and I actually don’t think this is that unusual. (Granted, I work in an off-site location that isn’t usually open late, so not identical to OP’s situation.) The last person to leave locks up—usually it’s a higher-level employee, but not always. I’ve never had to do it but a few of my coworkers have. It’s not ideal but that’s sometimes just the way it works out.

    8. Professional Button Pusher*

      Agree, this is common. Large universities with libraries open very late do this, and I did this job in grad school. No ghosts at my library, but lots of late night toilet clogs.

    9. Pointy's in the North Tower*

      Mine did. I worked at a smaller campus library instead of the main one. I closed a couple of times a week and worked 8-5 Saturdays and 1-5 Sundays (our entire weekend hours) with another student worker and no responsible adult.

      Then I got my library degree and worked at the public library as a part-time librarian on the Friday closing shift and the Sunday shift, again with no full-time staff or official supervisor in the building. I was both amused and horrified to know that I was the “person in charge.” I was 25 and had never been a “responsible adult” at work before.

      Libraryland is a special place.

  24. Unkempt Flatware*

    I’m the type who would get roped into this simply because I didn’t learn healthy boundaries until my 30s and I thought saying no to anything was rude or mean. I look back on so many things I wish I hadn’t agreed to and I now know that like Amy Poehler says, “clear is kind”. It is kind for you to tell her that, No you cannot stay and would appreciate it if she never asked you to or hinted for you to again.

  25. kris*

    Does it count as a “fear of ghosts” if it’s more like “I really hope that *was* a ghost that turned that faucet on and not someone who realized I’m all alone and vulnerable to harm”? Because I’ve worked nights/alone in places where we “joked” about ghosts but there was still a real underlying fear for our safety but we were afraid to admit it for fear of being seen as weak.

    1. Observer*

      If that’s what Mary is afraid of, then she needs to say so. And it’s still not on the OP to stay late, but it would be more reasonable for them to say to their manager “Mary has been worried about being here alone at night because she’s worried about security.” And then leave it to them.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Yes. This is a problem for campus police and admins to work on, not a member of the janitorial staff and one grad student! If, God forbid, they were faced with a dangerous person, what on earth would they be expected to do?

        1. Splendid Colors*

          The probability of people hiding in the library after hours is proportional to the number of people living on the streets nearby. And the ones who break the rules, such as leaving when the library closes, are more likely to be a problem…

  26. Hiring Mgr*

    It doesn’t seem like being a cleaner late at night is a great job for someone who is worried about ghosts, or being alone in the dark. Not that it’s LW’s problem to solve but maybe Mary can at least request a schedule adjustment?

  27. Helvetica*

    I just wanted to highlight this part of Alison’s response: “You don’t need to convince her to be okay with letting you leave; you just need to explain you need to leave and then go.”

    The “then go” part is key. I find many people have a hard time declining salespersons, in person or over the phone because they want to be polite and close the conversation loop – but people like that will not let you because it would be against their interest. You need to be firm and override your impulse for politeness. So, don’t wait for her reply after you use Alison’s script. Say “goodnight” and just walk away.

    1. Heather*

      Absolutely. It can be so so hard to walk away when the other person is still on “Oh but wait I just have one more thing to say.” You’ll need to make up your mind ahead of time that you will walk away, even if it feels incredibly unkind in the moment.

      1. STAT!*

        Yes. Also, when you have little experience with saying no, you can be fearful of the other person’s reactions (both short & long term). Will they cry? Swear at me? Act with hostility towards me in future? In truth, people are often resentful of others standing up for themselves. But acknowledging your fears, & preparing yourself mentally for the consequences of your self-assertion, can significantly reduce action paralysis.

  28. El l*

    OP, there’s nothing you can say to her to make her fears go away. You’d be doing her a favor in fact to just ask,

    “If you feel this way, is there another place you can work instead? Because it’s not normal to spend your working day afraid of ghosts. Don’t have to put up with that.”

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      ” is there another place you can work instead? Because it’s not normal to spend your working day afraid of ghosts. Don’t have to put up with that.”

      I don’t feel that this is helpful at all. Sometimes people are forced to work jobs they normally wouldn’t I’m sure Mary would love to be able to be at home in the middle of the night with her kids rather than working as a cleaner for the univeristy.

      1. Celeste*

        But there might be another job she can do that doesn’t involve being alone in a large building that creeps her out.

      2. NotAManager*

        I’m wondering if a change of shift would be possible or maybe a change of location. Since this is Mary’s night gig, it could be possible for her to ask her supervisor if she could work the same shift in another building. Or to move her hours back so that she’s still there in the evening, it’s entirely possible there’s someone else on the custodial team who wouldn’t mind being in the library, but that’s on Mary to ask for, not for LW to interevene with.

        Hopefully another letter comes into Allison’s inbox titled, ‘Help, my workplace is haunted and I’m there all alone with the ghosts,’ so that Allison can offer a script for helping the individual with THAT workplace issue handle it. LW needs a script for declining to stay with Mary because Mary’s fears are not her work issue, they’re Mary’s work issue.

  29. Lulu*

    As a director of an academic library that hires student workers, you should firmly (but kindly) tell Mary that you can’t stay, and also let your supervisor know that this is happening. Your supervisor is *not* okay with the cleaner making you work more than you signed up for, because you’re either working without pay or you’re working without authorization. They also can’t take care of the issue in a broader and more complete way unless they know what’s happening. I feel you for feeling for Mary, but there are plenty of potential work-arounds, or at least clarity for Mary about the expectations of the job, and those can only happen if you communicate.

    Another thought: you are not authorized to be in the library after your duties are completed at the end of the shift. You’ve closed the library, and now you’re hanging out there. You can get in trouble for this, beyond the extra work you’re doing.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Yes. It’s not that Mary is just asking her to wait. But she is making up tasks for OP to do claiming she needs help. OP needs to say that “I’m sorry but I’m not authorized to help you with X. Maybe you should ask head of housekeeping for a partner since you seem to need help. I am not allowed to stay any longer than my hours are.”

      I want to know what these tasks are? Is she asking OP to climb a ladder or move furniture? I mean what if something did happen and OP wasn’t supposed to be working? Like if she slipped and fell? Workers comp wouldn’t cover her because she was not clocked in.

      1. Heather*

        I think the commenter was saying that she herself is a library director, to give context that she knows what shes talking about.

        1. Lulu*

          correct! I myself am a director of an academic library, and as such, I give this advice.

  30. Catherine*

    I’m sure others in the comments have said this, but just in case they haven’t, here’s my take:

    The cleaner is not your supervisor. It is nice of you to help her but I’m assuming “assist cleaning staff” is not part of your job description and if you’re logging this as part of your working hours, you need to alert your supervisor. Or, if you’re not logging those extra tasks, you’re doing unpaid work for the university, even if it’s voluntary, and that might cause issues too.

    Either case, if you feel uncomfortable saying no definitely let your supervisor know and let them handle it on their end.

  31. Falling Diphthong*

    When I started reading AAM I had no idea what a widespread problem ghosts would turn out to be.

    1. MsM*

      And that’s not counting all the offices that are just plain haunted by the ghosts of terrible management decisions.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Well, I mean, there’s only so much TV you can even watch in the afterlife…

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        There’s a comedy series called Ghosts, and in it a house is haunted by all the people who have died on the estate throughout time. Eventually someone moves in who can actually see and hear them, and they pester her constantly to leave the TV on because they are so bored without the the ability to touch or do anything (and therefore flip channels or read a book)

        1. Splendid Colors*

          There’s even a UK version (available on HBO Max) and a US version (available on Paramount Plus). I watched the US version first, and then found the original BBC show. The cultural differences are interesting.

  32. Side slow Bob*

    There’s actually a simple way to find out if your building is haunted.

    It’s not.

    1. Mensa Maid*

      Hamlet said “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

      I live in an historically haunted house. Nice ghost, never a problem. He clomps around, opens and closes doors, and moves things around in the kitchen.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I appreciate this comment because I use this quote when I start to get too rigid in my thinking.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Some people full-heartedly believe in spirits. Please don’t dismiss their beliefs.

    3. Heather*

      But Mary believes it is. And while I believe the way you do, SSBob, I have no evidence for my position, and neither does Mary. That’s why it’s called “belief” and not “science.”

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I agree. I don’t believe ghosts exist but I have no way of knowing that for sure.

        And I’m not sure that whether or not the building is really haunted is that important from the LW’s point of view (it may be important from Mary’s). It’s not the LW’s job to protect Mary from ghosts nor is it her job to reassure Mary that ghosts don’t exist. Regardless of whether the ghosts are real or a figment of Mary’s imagination, whether she has spiritual beliefs that include ghosts or an anxiety disorder that is affecting her in this way or has heard some genuinely concerning sounds that ghosts are the least concerning explanation for or whether she just belongs to that reasonably large proportion of the population that believes in ghosts, the LW has no obligation in any of these situations to remain with Mary.

        I know nobody has said she does and I don’t mean this as an argument (I feel it could read that way and not sure what I should have said differently, so not sure how to edit), just that I don’t think there is any need for the LW to try and disprove Mary’s fears or convince her that a ritual or talisman will banish the ghosts (which I doubt Mary would believe any more than most religious people would believe “say this prayer and you will be guaranteed to go to heaven”; believing in something doesn’t mean believing anything any random person tells you about it).

        Even if the building is haunted, the advice to the LW is the same really.

    4. Prefer my pets*

      I feel the same way. There are a lot of things to worry about as a woman working alone in a large empty building at night that also has a lot of hiding places…superstitions aren’t on the list. I have lived in two separate small cities that had problems with homeless hiding at closing so they could spend the night in the libraries (one a campus, one a municipal). One person had been doing it for over a year before he was found out. If she was afraid of the building not actually being cleared of humans I would have some sympathy for her.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Yes, as a neighbor of a HUGE downtown library (combo university and public) I imagine this is a big problem for any late night staff. We have so many people unhoused in the area I’m sure at least some of them are tempted to stay overnight at the nice quiet building with WiFi where they hang out in the daytime.

  33. J!*

    Even if ghosts were really haunting the library, are they really going to go after the cleaner who’s just trying to do her job of keep the place looking nice? If I were Mary, I’d soothe myself with that thought when things felt creepy.

    But you’re not Mary, and you don’t have to handle Mary’s problems for her (real or imagined)! You can express sympathy while still setting boundaries, and working well past your shift to make her feel more comfortable from a perceived threat you’re not actually able to do anything about is not in your job description.

  34. Serious Silly Putty*

    Plot twist: The library IS haunted… And Mary is actually the ghost!

  35. Coverage Associate*

    The only thing I would add is that if OP knows some simple physical thing that Mary might not, that might make Mary feel better, OP can show Mary. Like if there’s a way to turn all the lights on at once instead of keeping them on motion activation, or any tricks with the locks or doors. But I agree with the people saying OP shouldn’t give Mary “monster spray” or an amulet, like I have heard for little kids afraid of the dark.

  36. Ann O'Nemity*

    Regarding the extra tasks:

    (1) If there is an expectation that the OP help Mary with certain tasks, I’d suggest the OP let Mary know that moving forward she needs to leave at 11 sharp, so those tasks need to be completed between 10-11, when both the OP and Mary are scheduled to work together.

    (2) If Mary is expected to complete all cleaning by themselves without help from other non-janitorial workers, then the OP should address that specifically. If there really are duties that require two people, that may be the justification Mary needs to have another person on-site with her.

    1. Ally*

      Ah yea this is super smart! We are all focusing on the ghosts, but not on the part of the letter where Mary says she actually needs a second person to help with certain tasks.

  37. pally*

    Assign some cleaning tasks to those spirits (dusting books, sweeping floors).

    Those ghosts will clear out fast.

    OP don’t let Mary’s fears manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to.
    She’s an adult and needs to find her own solutions here.

  38. hypoglycemic rage (hopeful ex librarian)*

    like others have said, this is something you need to bring up with your supervisor, and it’s not something you can solve on your own.

    however, i would be concerned with only having one person in a building/area anytime, especially at night. just from a safety standpoint, what if something happened?

    i used to work the closing shift at a small public library (the latest we were open was 9pm). i never worked alone, but i would frequently go to the basement/dark admin offices by myself to make sure nobody was still there. lowkey freaked me out every time. but i still did it and that fear is not a reason to keep someone late or try to rope them into doing extra tasks.

  39. SB*

    Just a thought, but has anyone considered telling her that ghosts don’t exist & the library is not haunted, just old & dark????

    1. RagingADHD*

      When people have irrational fears, telling them it isn’t real doesn’t help. If it did, they wouldn’t have the fear in the first place.

      And Mary’s fears are not LW’s job to fix anyway. LW just needs to leave when their shift is over.

    2. inksmith*

      I’ve spent 35 years telling myself that spiders are more scared of me and won’t hurt but I’m still terrified of them. So if that’s the solution for Mary, better get on with telling her, and remind the next five generations of grad students to do the same!

  40. Raida*

    I wouldn’t say *why* I need to leave, only that my shift finishes at 11pm and I leave at 11pm.
    That’s a very very very clear statement which does not suggest I need any additional information.
    I do not need to justify leaving work *on time*.

    I would, additionally, make a cuppa tea for us both, stand around and say “Look I’m not complaining to anyone that you ask me to stay late, I’m not making fun of you being a bit spooked here at night, I’m not going to do anything that would in any way make anyone question your employment here. Alright?
    I’m sorry you have a job in a place you’re uncomfortable in.
    I hope you can find a job that’s not uncomfortable or a way to manage your discomfort here.
    I can’t fix those things, and I’m a *student* that has set hours – I’m not your manager, I’m not your sister, I’m not your best mate.
    It is not fair or reasonable – I am not paid past 11pm, this is a job.

    So I am sorry but I’m not signing up to be your night time library buddy. You need to find another solution. If there’s anything reasonable that I can do, let me know. I will be leaving on time every time.”

    and then I’d be happy to discuss ideas on feeling more comfortable – checking all doors and windows with her when she arrives, having all the lights on for her when I leave, offering her my old noise cancelling bluetooth headphones…

    1. Happy*

      I’d be a bit worried that saying, “Look I’m not complaining to anyone that you ask me to stay late, I’m not making fun of you being a bit spooked here at night, I’m not going to do anything that would in any way make anyone question your employment here. Alright?” is going to have the opposite effect from what you’re hoping.

      Your tone might come off totally different orally, but I could see a lot of people seeing it as a threat or being like, “What? You were considering those things?! Yikes!”

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, well, it’s possible that the LW may have to do just that. Tell their supervisor who’ll talk to Mary’s supervisor. The job as it stands is a poor fit for Mary, and it’s possible that the cleaning can’t be rescheduled.

  41. CSRoadWarrior*

    I would speak to your supervisor about this. As many others have said, this isn’t your problem and you shouldn’t have to be forced to stay later just because Mary thinks the library is haunted.

    I do understand that some places look creepy, because I have been in those kind of places before (and I am pretty sure most of everyone who commented on here have as well). But it is not like it is a haunted house, or that anything paranormal has actually happened at the library.

  42. LibrariesRUs*

    This is ABSOLUTELY NOT the OPs to deal with.
    Even the library director who commented above did not mention legal liability of a person who is not on the clock being in the building after hours.
    The OP is a student worker scheduled to work certain hours. When those hours are done, & the patrons are gone, the student worker is clocked out and MUST not do any work.
    I supervised undergrad/grad/paraprofessional staff in an academic library for more than 20 years. We didn’t even allow the students to carry books from the returns-sorting area on the 1st floor up the stairs to our 2nd floor circulation desk for reshelving unless they were officially clocked-in because if they fell on the way up stairs and injured themselves, they would not be covered by workman’s comp. and the campus could be liable for their injuries.
    The OP is LEGALLY NOT ALLOWED to be there after their shift is over. Period.
    That needs to be made clear to Mary. The OP shouldn’t really have to be the one to tell her that… their supervisor needs to have a conversation with Mary’s supervisor. It is not a student’s responsibility to mediate employee issues for someone else, especially a full time (likely) unionized staff person. I used to tell my students they didn’t need to deal with troublesome patrons, call me right away … it’s MY job “that’s why they pay me the big bucks… HAHAHA”

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this.

      I think that I’ve been spending too much time on this thread because I read “paraprofessional staff” as “paranormal staff”… Ooops!

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      This is really the only answer that matters. It doesn’t matter what LW is or isn’t comfortable telling Mary or what may or may not be underlying Mary’s fear of ghosts. The university can’t have LW working extra, unpaid hours for legal and/or liability reasons.

  43. Outside the box*

    I work in a library which has the cleaning scheduled for the early morning, not the end of the night, so one option is to shift the cleaning time. I realize this may not help Mary (who, as a single mother with another job has constraints on her schedule), but if the cleaning is done very early in the morning prior to the library opening, that might help the creepiness factor, especially if it can be timed so that the sun is up. Noisy tasks like vacuuming get done first prior to opening, but cleaning restrooms, emptying trash, washing windows and wiping surfaces can be done while the building is open. It’s probably harder to wake up for an early shift, but starting at 5:00AM means that the sun will be coming up and things will be getting brighter as the shift goes on. If this were an option for Mary, she could suggest it to her supervisor?

  44. Don’t mess with me*

    As a graduate student, there is no time like the present to learn how to honestly, firmly and politely say no to requests/demands that are not part of your responsibilities. It gets easier to do the more you do it. You will also figure out what are the simple one off requests you may choose to help with IF you want to and what are the ones that you don’t even want to entertain even considering.
    Babysitting Mary is not your responsibility and finding solutions for her isn’t either. If she has an issue her direct manager is the person she should be going to, she can also escalate it up the chain of command if she doesn’t like the response of her manager.

    Most of us have been in these types of situations a time or two, being honest, firm and polite when refusing is much better than fibs, excuses or outright lies.

  45. Lobsterman*

    OP, have your supervisor or Mary’s supervisor have the hard talk with her. She is targeting you because you are nice for something she shouldn’t be using you for.

  46. Consul, the Almost Human*

    I think the Library/University should not be making anyone work the graveyard shift alone. Mary is uncomfortable and asking for help. OP is not obligated but the facility is.

    1. Observer*

      Which is totally unhelpful to the OP.

      The OP is not in a position to change policy here. Sure, they can give someone a heads up that Mary is afraid, and perhaps that will get someone thinking about changes that should be made. But fundamentally there is nothing that the OP can really do about policy. WAAAY above their pay grade.

      1. Consul, the Almost Human*

        In my state, most companies and universities outsource janitorial services to a contracting company. The custodial staff are therefore not direct employees and have zero protections. Contracting outfits will usually get rid of their person before saying anything to their customer. Ironically, my employer does exclusively government contracting – they hire us out to fulfill contracts. If their customer doesn’t like me for whatever reason, I will be removed double-quick. But, I have a decent salary, benefits, and have managed to save over the years so I am in a different position.

        I did say that the OP is not responsible and should not stay late. Couldn’t the OP put in a word with management that there is a frightened custodian and perhaps that management should be humane and try to help?

        1. Observer*

          I don’t have an issue with the OP putting in a word with someone. But it’s important to realize that all that the OP can put a word in is that Mary is afraid. Anything will either make Mary look bad (look at all the snarky comments and the ones calling Mary manipulative) 0r will mis-state the situation.

          The thing is that the comment I responded to was not suggesting that the OP give someone a heads up and maybe express some sympathy. It was a statement of what the school should (and should not) be doing.

          1. Consul, the Almost Human*

            My employer has multiple layers of security that make it almost impossible for unauthorized people to be on our campus let alone in our buildings. Universities tend to be more open environments with the attendant safety implications.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              The closest university library to me (about 3 blocks) is particularly difficult for Security because it is *also* a public library. Certain floors stay open later for people with University ID, but someone sneaky enough could figure out how to evade the closing-time sweeps.

              Heck, I live in an apartment building with an intercom system and a guard at the door, but people who don’t belong here have figured out all the gaps in our system and get in here at night all the time.

  47. nightingale*

    I empathize with Mary so much. My uni library creeped me the fuck out. I didn’t think it was literally haunted, but it creeped me out that someone could just be skulking around and I would not know they were there. Some of the floors were so isolated feeling (I couldn’t always tell wig anyone was around or not).

    Still not OPs solution to solve, but it does sort of feel like maybe she needs to work with a partner.

  48. RagingADHD*

    I’ve worked or studied in a number of creepy old buildings that had the reputation of being haunted, and plenty of uncomfortable feelings and spooky sounds to back it up: unaccountable rustling. The feeling of movement or being watched. Momentary glimpses out the corner of your eye, that you aren’t quite sure you saw.

    Rats. Every single time, it turned out that it wasn’t ghosts. It was mice or rats.

    LW, please tell a supervisor what’s going on with Mary. Y’all need an inspection and an exterminator.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, that feeling of being watched is uncanny. Once as a kid when I felt it walking home from school, I looked at a lamppost and saw a huge owl with orange eyes and ear tufts staring right at me. In broad daylight, too. It was so big that it could only have been an Eurasian eagle owl, they can weigh more than 4 kilos (~8.5 lbs).

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Seconded! Rodents chewing is such a creepy sound.

      (My mom didn’t let me have my childhood pets in my room, so I discovered that sound alone when I pet-sat for a college friend.)

  49. The Ghost Whisperer*

    Why not suggest that Mary asks if she can get someone to banish the ghosts, or make sure they are friendly or something?

    Like, I don’t velieve in ghosts, but she does and she’s the one who has to deal with them and there are ways of being able to do that. There are people who have the “authority” to banish ghosts and Mary could probably make a convincing case to the university to let her drag a priesr out there to wander around and chant in Latin for a bit and then tell her that the remaining ghosts have agreed they like to have their space tidied and cleaned and are grateful for Mary’s services.

    1. nnn*

      Depending on the kind of library it is, you might not even need to make a convincing case.

      Some libraries and some campuses don’t care if people just wander in and quietly do their own thing. Some libraries and some campuses have a certain tolerance for eccentricity.

      Depending on what the ghostbusting measures look like, they may be able to just come in and do their thing without any authorization (or come in and do their thing at a time when OP is in charge)

  50. Susannah*

    LW, much as I don’t believe in haunted places, I do feel bad for Mary and also get creeped out in some big quiet building like that at night. Is it permissible for her to have a non-employee friend hang out with her in the last hour? Or do they not allow that? It is really disconcerting to be by yourself in a big library at night.

  51. nnn*

    I’m wondering if the least worst solution might be at the intersection of using the services of campus security and not mentioning ghosts.

    For example, OP could mention to campus security or to their own manager that Mary is concerned about being alone in the library late at night but seems embarrassed to ask on her own behalf, and would it be possible to have security look in on her more often?

    In parallel, perhaps OP could mention to Mary that reporting ghosts to security might not make her look credible, but something like “I’m working alone in the library, there isn’t supposed to be anyone else here, and I’m hearing books falling off the shelves upstairs” is totally within the scope of things security should be checking out – just don’t mention ghosts.

  52. Art*

    I feel like a lot of commenters are missing the main point which is: you are allowed to leave when your shift is over. You are allowed to leave even if Mary protests. You are not obligated to do anything else *nor should you*.

    Also, I’m not an employment lawyer but I do work in a university, supervise work study students, and have previously worked in a university library as a work study student. You staying after your shift like this could potentially be an issue with your supervisor. Safety reasons, liability, “on the clock vs off the clock” etc.

    So that’s yet another reason to Just Go Home when your shift ends.

  53. House On The Rock*

    Assure Mary that all the truly dangerous books are chained up and if she’s ever feeling afraid, yelling “OOK” will remind any unruly spirits who’s in charge.

  54. Katie*

    Just leave when your shift is over. You don’t need to say goodbye or get her permission or make up excuses.

  55. cardigarden*

    OP, you should also let your own supervisor that someone is asking you to stay late after your shift and that you’re having a hard time saying no to it. Definitely just leave when your shift is over, but your supervisor should know that you’re being pressured about it.

  56. Atalanta*

    No advice but I used to work in theatre which are known for superstitious people (of which I am one) and for being haunted. I had an assistant stage manager who was afraid to be in the theatre building alone after shows and would beg me (or anyone) to stay with her as she finished cleaning up. I had keys to the building and had to lock up anyway but she would follow me from room to room so neither one of us were left alone just in case. Knowing how creepy empty theatres can be, I just nod and smile, I get it.

  57. Library IT*

    As a librarian who supervises student workers, if someone on the custodial crew was asking one of my students to stay late/help with their work, I need to know about that. OP needs to tell their direct supervisor – not to get Mary in trouble, but because as the person in charge, the supervisor can help fix this problem for them. It is literally part of the job! All OP needs to do is say “hey, when I’m closing, Mary has been asking me to stay late because she doesn’t like to be alone in the building/wants help with some tasks. Can you make that stop, please?”

  58. Ash*

    I suggest OP invent a friend/relative/fellow student who needs their immediate attention the minute their shift ends. Don’t let Mary rope you into doing more tasks after you clock out. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE.

    Also, I’m assuming that “haunted” here is code for “the building is dark and creepy and I don’t like being here by myself” but if it’s not, if Mary saw or heard “something,” it might be worth finding out if the building has a rodent and/or gas leak problem. MIGHT. But, that’s above OP’s pay grade.

  59. Eric Christenson*

    Sounds like the housekeeper isn’t coping well with dark stacks, since that also bothers LW a bit. Yes, LW, keep your boundaries, but it’s OK to be sympathetic and possibly suggest workarounds.

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