I'm in the community library coding away on some c++11 std::thread work when a library patron enters the quiet area asking to use someone's phone. To his chagrin, he was met with head shakes (no). Those desiring some quiet time with their work offered an occasional "shhhh" and one enterprising gent held up a library sign that read

"No Talking; No Phone Calls; Respect the space".

I'd been paying attention as I tried to focus on my work and the patron then inquired of me. As we headed toward an open area of the library, I tried to subdue him by reminding this is a quiet area. I produced my iPhone 6 Plus and indicated I will accompany him to place the call.

When the calls were complete, I returned to my work and was shortly notified by the patron that he would require the use of my phone again in about half an hour. I tried to impart to him a need to keep his voice down and if he would kindly request of another because I needed to focus on my work.

Sometime later I felt bad about denying his second request and I didn't feel right; I felt as if once I had rendered assistance, there was no reason not to again and perhaps I was creating artificial constructs as barriers considering the initial help I gave was enough.

Is there a way to go about helping someone in this situation without feeling like I am becoming a phone booth or are there behaviors I should prefer to ease my conscience?

  • 18
    Stating that he "would require" your phone again is extremely rude on his part. He should ask, and he should also offer an explanation regarding why.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 5:38
  • 2
    Why did he need your phone, repeatedly? All I can think of that would be legit is an emergency. And for that he should have approached the library itself, not a random patron. Maybe ask about if this actually is a so-called vampire?
    – Bookeater
    Oct 13, 2017 at 5:59
  • @Bookeater He failed to reach someone when placing calls with my phone the first time so he wanted to remind me of his need to utilize it again soon™
    – Mushy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 15:13
  • Well in that case a simple text should have sufficed. Like, sorry I misplaced my mobile today I'll call you tonight...
    – Bookeater
    Oct 13, 2017 at 17:50

4 Answers 4


I hate to sound this cynical, but.... Ya... That sounds more than a little suspicious. At least by US standards were nearly everyone has a cellphone, it's suspicious. To see if it's also suspicious to you, ask yourself a few questions.

  • What kind of emergency does someone have, or would even be aware of, at a library?

  • I know it's harsh, but without a phone, it's not as if this person just learned some tragic news that required an immediate response, right?

  • If it isn't an emergency, why are they in a place that's meant to be silent causing such a stir about needing to use a phone?
  • If it isn't an emergency, what is it really?
  • Do you want your phone tied to whatever else this person is up to?

Like I said, I hate to be this cynical, but... Ya...

I probably think this way because I've lived in some pretty bad neighborhoods, and to be honest, I wasn't always such an honest person. Hustler 101 tends to be something along the lines of creating false urgency. Sales people do the same thing, "Act now, while supplies last!"

From my experience, chances are pretty good that this random stranger who desperately needed a phone, was hustling. They created false urgency to provoke a sympathetic response, in the hopes of gaining quick access to a phone. Which brings up more questions...

  • Why does this hustler not have a phone?

  • If they have a phone, why don't they want to use it?

  • Do I really want a hustler hustling on my phone?

Again, sorry for being cynical... But I think you probably see where I'm going with this.

Chances are pretty good that they didn't have a phone for... Um... "Reasons" or that they didn't want to make those calls on a phone that could be traced back to them. In either case the fact that they needed your phone again, precisely a half hour later, would suggest that they were doing "business"

Whatever that business may be... I'm pretty sure that you don't really want to be involved in it...

  • 1
    "Whatever that business may be... I'm pretty sure that you don't really want to be involved in it..." - If the number they called is still in your phone, maybe try to find out who got called? @Mushy
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 7:44
  • @Fildor That might end up getting you more involved in it. I'd say you're better off dropping the subject than trying to trace the issue. If the call was involved in something shady, then I'd rather have the defense that "I let someone make a call from my phone". You lose that deniability if you start associating yourself more with the situation.
    – JMac
    Oct 13, 2017 at 12:09
  • @JMac Good point. Maybe better note the number for later reference if police knocks on the door and delete it from the phone's log, perhaps.
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 12:54
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    This right here Do you want your phone tied to whatever else this person is up to? is one major reason I don't want someone borrowing my phone not to mention that I don't want a strange person having my number now. I want to ask as many questions about what for, who are you calling, etc. as if I am processing a loan application.
    – Mushy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Mushy it probably won't do much good asking the other person, if they're hustling they'll just lie. The point of the answer is to encourage you to walk through the situation logically by asking yourself some questions.
    – apaul
    Oct 13, 2017 at 16:11

Sometime later I felt bad about denying his second request and I didn't feel right

Do not listen to that feeling, what you did was exactly right!

Helping out once is all well and good, who knows what the situation is, a person may have forgotten the phone or it ran out of battery or something, but that doesn't obligate you to become their phone-servant. If I catch a ride with someone, doesn't make them my chauffeur. If someone buys me lunch when I forgot my wallet doesn't mean they'll buy all my food from now on.

If this person doesn't have a phone, clearly they managed without it thus far, and if they do have it, but it's unusable for whatever reason, it's their responsibility to fix it.

Bottom line is: you owe this person nothing, the fact that you helped them at all means you already went over and beyond the call of duty, most people wouldn't lend their phone to a total stranger


Unless it's an emergency, there's no need to give your phone, let alone a second time. They should approach someplace else or someone else than having to bother you again. It's strange they don't have their own phone.

That said, if they're expecting a call back to your number (which they should have informed earlier) then it's okay to let them answer it, and be done with it, than having to deal with a back and forth about "no, I cannot give you the phone", "why not? but you gave me earlier" and so on. Do watch out for what they're talking about. You don't want to get tangled in some shady matters. And ask them to be quick.

  • 3
    If they were expecting a return call on the same phone, that really should have been made clear before placing the initial call. The person you asked might very well be leaving in 10 minutes.
    – Erik
    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:36
  • Do watch out for what they're talking about. You don't want to get tangled in some shady matters. And ask them to be quick. I made sure to stay right at his side, to observe and understand exactly what he is doing but it is such a hassle I'm hesitant unless there is an absolute emergency.
    – Mushy
    Oct 13, 2017 at 15:21

This whole situation is a little unusual, but perhaps something worth addressing as payphones/land-lines become less common.

To start with, this other person is clearly imposing on both you, and the rest of the library. This isn't inherently wrong if his situation is desperate, but he cannot expect any real degree of continued engagement without at least a decent explanation of WHY he needs the phone so badly. You also shouldn't have to ask for an explanation by the second time this person approaches you for the phone, it should be offered freely as means of apology for the imposition.

If they aren't making the effort to mitigate the imposition, you shouldn't feel pressured to go above and beyond. The easiest way to end the confrontation without being rude or hurting anyone's feelings would be to tell them that your phone just died, apologize, and turn back to your work. If your phone isn't already silenced (it really should be, being in a library and all) I might go so far as to step into the bathroom to turn it off or silence it. That may be my own neurosis peeking through, though.

  • They just used the OP's phone and might be aware of the battery status. Oct 16, 2017 at 17:56
  • 1
    I thought of this, but didn't want the answer to get too wordy. Basically, if the person presses the issue at that point, they are being a nuisance. I would say 'Don't know what to tell you shrug' and get back to work.
    – Nilerian
    Oct 16, 2017 at 17:58

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