It’s storytime folks, so get comfortable and read on about this experience I had recently that is probably not at all shocking for other librarians, but may be eye-opening for non-librarian readers.
Two older gentlemen came up to the desk the other day and I happened to be able to help them on the computer. The older gentleman explained, that his home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and basically all he had left was in the manila envelope in his hands. He is one-month shy of his 90th birthday. The other gentleman with him was his younger brother (he’s 87 years old) with whom he’s been staying with. He has been given insurance money from his property and although he was able to set-up a bank account and deposit money, in order to access the money he needed a photo ID A few years ago, he had given up his license and had not gotten a state-issued photo ID at the time. In order to get his photo ID, he needed his birth certificate. Do you see where I’m going?
So, the bank couldn’t help, they couldn’t go to the DMV and so they came to the library. So I learn that although he had his original birth certificate (without the raised seal), his certificate of baptism, his social security card and a host of other documentation with his name on it, none of it worked to get his photo ID.
So without giving away too many of his personal details, I jumped online and found the website to order a New York city birth certificate, after helping the man fill out multiple boxes, we got to a required field for email address… he didn’t have one and neither did his brother. So that day, I sent them home with the phone number of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and wished them luck believing they could order the birth certificate over the phone. They left happy with my help, even calling me “beautiful and nice.” (in the sweet way, not the creepy way)
The men called back the next day and asked to speak with me and explained that the person on the other end of the telephone call with the Department of Health directed them to the website (the website we had already been on), so I told them to come back into the library and we’d see what we could do. Because, if I couldn’t help them, who would?
After a little more research on my end while I waited for them, I found out that without a debit/credit card in his name, the only way to get a birth certificate was with a money order and a mailed in application that can take 4-6 weeks to be processed. So, the gentlemen came back to the desk, I printed out the application, helped the gentleman fill it out, made copies of documentation to prove that he is who he says he is, two envelopes, two stamps, help from out part-time notary/staff member who happened to be at work and directions to the nearest location to get a money order, I sent them on their way. They were so appreciative and kind, even trying to slip me a tip when I said goodbye. I assured them that they could come back anytime and went about my day shaking my head at the difficulty of the government at times. I came back from lunch to discover red roses on my desk from the brothers because they wanted to express their thanks. I don’t need the roses, I just hope that this gentleman can get his birth certificate.
And although this is one of those times that took well over an hour of my time between the two visits, it was well worth it to help someone who needed it. I don’t need recognition or thanks, I just want people to know that libraries aren’t just about books and librarians aren’t just around to say “shhhhhh.” We are (I truly believe) a special breed of people who want to help and often go above and beyond to do so. Because libraries are for everyone.