Not all libraries are quite as nice

YOUNG-ELLISA library is, by nature, a sincere place, isn’t it?

Oh, Portlanders, you have no idea.

The day I took my first steps into the Hillsdale branch, part of the Multnomah County Library system, I was filled with wonderment. What a light, airy, warm, welcoming place! The selection is good, though I haven’t explored every shelf yet, and it has a pretty fair number of novels in Spanish, which I’m often looking for; however, it does seem a little sparse in the classics section.

The children’s area is large and at small-people level, and the facility seems to have a sufficient number of computers for the public to use. It was also lovely to see a sign welcoming moms to breastfeed freely. The website for the county system is useful; emails keep you from having overdue books, and you can take out ebooks as well as the good old paper ones.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGINA YOUNG-ELLIS - The Hillsdale branch of Multnomah County Library offers friendly service and plenty of parking, columnist Georgina Young-Ellis discovers.Still, I approached the check-out desk with some trepidation. I had recently moved to Southwest Portland from Queens, N.Y., a place where you speak to the librarian at your own risk.

I used to use the Astoria Library branch (in Astoria, Queens; not on the Oregon coast), a small and unexceptional facility. It was only two blocks from my house, however, and though the selection was not large, from there I could request books from the entire Queens Library system that I needed for my research as an author. I give credit to the research librarians there. They were pleasant enough, and helped me readily. But heaven forbid you had to actually check out a book.

Before they had an automated system, you had to deal directly with the librarian at the desk, and she was a mean, mean lady. She seemed to loathe the little children who frequented the library, because they were a source of noise — and as we all know, there should be NO noise in a library. If you tried to engage in any conversation with her as you checked out your book, she would snarl at you and put you in your place with a withering stare. If you had a question, she would answer it resentfully. Then, once the automated system came into play, you had better not screw it up and require any help from her, because she’d treat you like the moron you obviously were. She struck fear into anyone, adult or child, who might come in contact with her.

And she was there — All. The. Time.

So imagine my delight when the librarians at the check-out desk at the Hillsdale Library greeted me with friendly smiles, helped me apply for my library card with alacrity and good humor and, in general, treated me like Portlanders expect to be treated: with kind courtesy.

Parking is another issue that, as a transplanted New Yorker, I particularly notice. Hillsdale Library helpfully has an underground parking garage, though it’s not large and you might not get a spot there. On the other hand, it has charging stations for electric cars, and though I don’t have one, I love the idea of it.

Since parking spaces in New York City are as elusive as the Yeti, one might not even bother talking about the lack thereof at the Astoria Library. When I was moving, I had a ton of books to donate, but since the only curb space in front of the building was a bus stop, I had to haul them over by foot, by whatever means I could devise — which meant several trips lugging bags and boxes of books. The person receiving them did, at least, give me a terse thank-you and a receipt for my taxes.

Now I can go to the library free of fear, and relatively sure I can find a parking space. I can appreciate being treated like a human being when I have a question or need to check out a book, and can enjoy the energy of children and families welcomed in a supportive space. Just like a library should be.

Rating: Very Sincere

Georgina Young-Ellis moved to Multnomah from Queens, N.Y., in 2015. She explores the world outside of big-box chain stores to find local businesses intent on customer service, customer satisfaction and a pleasurable customer experience. To read more about her experiences at Portland-area shops, visit

Georgina’s Sincerity Scale

Extraordinarily sincere — Great customer service; high-quality products at appropriate prices; local, sustainable or eco-friendliness given high priority. Makes me want to bring my mom.

Very sincere — Notable customer service; better-than-average-quality products; some thought given to sustainability, etc. They actually seem to care.

Pretty sincere — Working hard to make me believe they’re extraordinarily sincere, but there are some cracks in the facade.

Not sincere at all — Customer walking in the door viewed simply as a dollar sign.

Not even in the ballpark — Poor customer service; price gouging; salesman only available if they think I’m going to steal something.