Archive for November, 2009

Grumblings from the Reference Desk

Technology. As much as we love it, need it and are addicted to it, it has its quirks. And frustrations. And infuriations. (Is that a word? Hm. Is now. ūüôā )

Perhaps nobody is more familiar with this tempestuous territory than Reference Librarians. Ever since computer labs took over 2,000 square feet of our library floor space, librarians working the reference desks have been faced with questions like: “What’s my email password?” and “Why can’t I print all of my Google search results for ‘cat breeds’?” and “I don’t know how to use Word. Could you just type up my resume for me?”

Yes, Referene Desk workers everywhere have a love-hate thing going on with technology. And we just can’t help but hate it the most when it comes at us in the ultimate, hideous duo of telephone and computer. There’s nothing more frustrating than patrons using the Reference Desk as a computer help line…except, of course, when the patron is as stubborn as they are demanding. Then the real fun begins.

Not funny.  But true.  Maybe you have a Sad, Troubled and Confused Librarian page? Here is a call I got one day from a patron having trouble downloading an audiobook.

He: I can’t download your audiobooks.

Me: Oh, I’m sorry.¬† What’s happening when you try to download?

He: I click on the book to add to my cart and then I click download and then it never downloads.

Me: What message do you see when it doesn’t download?¬† Is there some error message?

He: No.

Me: When you click on the book to download and the download software opens, there’s no error message?

He: No.

I was confused. If there’s an error, there’s usually an error message.

Me: Open the download program now so we can check something.

He: What program is that?

Me: The program that you installed to use the audiobooks. 

I was suddenly afraid that he had not installed the program needed to download audiobooks.

Me(again): Have you downloaded and installed that software that you need for the audiobooks?

He: No. I can’t do that.

Me: Why not?

He: Because I don’t know which one to download.

Me: Oh. Well, the link is right there on the main page. What are you using now to access the site?  A PC, a Mac, or another device?

He: I have all three.

Me: Okay, but which one are you using now?

He: Why am I limited to just one?¬† Why can’t I use all three?

Me: Because you only need one right now.¬† You pick the one that matches what you’re using right now.

He: Yeah, but I have all three.  Why is the library making me choose just one?  Why are you limiting my access to these books?

Me: We’re not limiting anything.¬† You download the program that matches what you’re using right now to get the audiobooks. Are you saying that you have a PC, a Mac, and an iPhone all accessing the audiobooks page right now?¬† You’re using all three right now?¬† You still need to download the corresponding version to each one.

I was mad.  Sorry, does it show?

He: I don’t think I should be limited to just one.

Me: Until you choose one of the three formats to download, I can’t help you.¬† Pick one.¬† Install it and then I can help you.

I never heard back from him.¬† Either it’s my fault because I’m a mean, angry ass, or he still hasn’t made up his mind.


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“Wattle” You Read This! (More Tales from the Reference Desk)

Happy Thanksgiving week to our readers in the United States! (To those of you elsewhere, we hope you enjoy your average, run-of-the-mill Thursday this week. ūüôā )

The holidays are all about two things: food and family. While our Story of the Week this week isn’t¬†exactly food-based (unless you are one of our¬†cannible readers…we certainly don’t want to exclude you!), this story does resonate with something¬†every family has in common: miscommunication.¬†Turns out librarians get confused, too. (But only occasionally…right?)

So grab a drumstick (or perhaps a “tofurkey” stick?), kick back in front of the game, and give thanks for the fact that you aren’t working the Reference Desk today!

This was the ultimate in miscommunication for me! 

A patron called the reference desk and said,”Honey can you give me the number for the body parts store?”

My son was currently taking courses in auto body repair, so I thought I could cover this one. I grabbed the Pittsburgh yellow pages and replied:

“Would that be for a foreign or a domestic car ma’am?”

She replied, “No, no honey. You know, the body parts store. Where they got the kidneys and livers and such!”

She wanted the phone number for the organ donor bank, which I was able to give her before I broke up laughing.


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More Straight Talk from the Reference Desk

Well, we didn’t actually plan it this way (though we clearly should have), but apparently¬†November¬†is officially “Reference Desk Interactions Month.” Let’s face it: the¬†best ¬†laugh-out-loud stories¬†happen at¬†the Reference Desk. There’s just no way around it. And so, we proudly continue the theme this week with these fabulous stories–submitted, as it were, by the same person. Sounds like life in “Jedi’s” library is funnier than a drunken Yoda impersonation!

One (thankfully) quiet night on the desk, I received a call from a man with a low, husky voice. He was calling to ask if I had heard about a book that was going to be coming out on the conspiracy between the police and the African Americans. Inwardly rolling my eyes, I told him that no, I had not heard of this book. Did he want to request it? What was the title? Trying to sound scholarly, the man continued to describe the conspiracy and confided that he was actually writing the book himself, and doing extensive research. He was so passionate about his subject that I had a hard time getting him off the phone once I realized he didn’t need anything from me. The conversation got crazier and crazier until I heard a thump in the background on his end, and his already low voice dropped to a whisper. “Um, I have to go. My parents are home.


As a brand new librarian, I was still in the ‚Äúcan be shocked‚ÄĚ category, and this one was a doozy.¬† A phone call came in to the reference desk, and a very ‚Äėnormal‚Äô sounding male apologized and said he had a sensitive subject he was doing research on. It was for a paper, he said. He hemmed and hawed around a while before finally stumbling out with the topic of his study:¬† Which nationality of men have the longest penis? Other librarians have since said they would have hung up on him, but newly minted as I was, I was determined to treat it as seriously as the patron appeared to be. And you know what? There actually are studies to cite on this subject, and I found a few of them.¬† The ensuing conversation was necessarily vague, since I was at a busy reference desk. To the eavesdropping patron I might have been answering a question on the typical size of vegetables around the world. This call was five years ago, and I‚Äôm sorry to say I don‚Äôt remember which nationality was the winner.¬† And I don‚Äôt have the heart to search again.


Thank you, “Jedi,” for your stories!

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