Posts Tagged ‘conversations’

Jaw-dropping Reference Desk Interactions

Sometimes the conversations we have or overhear are worthy of a good jaw-drop. These two stories are shocking examples of both a lack of decorum and (dare we say it?) appalling ignorance. Thank goodness the library is available for people to find answers to their questions about life and lifestyles (and avoid embarrassing displays of assumptions elsewhere) .

Having a courtesy phone is essential at our library. We want our young patrons to call and get a ride home every night. But by having a courtesy phone too close to the reference desk, we heard way more than we wanted to know. There was ‘Melinda’s Favorite Felon’ who was forever calling his mom and his parole officer. Every day. EVERY DAY. There are many other patrons who have a remarkably small and vulgar vocabulary. But the most bizarre phone call I ever overheard …

A young gal came in one day, asked to use the courtesy phone, which was then right on the reference desk. She grabbed it, dropped down onto the floor in front of the desk (privacy?) and dialed. She waited, and waited, then delivered this message, “Hi, Mom. Just want you to know Sonny and I got married today. Talk to you later. Bye.”

When we remodeled we moved the courtesy phone a good twenty feet away from the desk. There are many things we really do not want to know.


A few years after having transferred to the print library’s reference desk, I dealt with a lot of Nursing students.  One of the courses in the curriculum was on diversity, and one of the assignments was to investigate the food preferences and diet of a particular population.  Requests for information were wide-ranging, with students wanting material on some fairly common groups like Italians, Poles, or Mexicans to the more obscure, like Maltese, Laotian, or Albanians.  We were usually able to provide information from our extensive reference collection.

One night, however, I was stumped by a patron.  She explained that she was in the Cultural Diversity class and needed to find the diet and food preferences of a particular group and was having a difficult time.  I asked her which group she was investigating, mentally preparing myself for something exotic.

“Gay people,” she replied.

“Gay people?” I responded.

“Yes. Gay people. What kind of diet do they have?”

“Ummm…” I hesitated, not knowing how to proceed, “I don’t think there really is something as a ‘Gay Diet.’  I suspect they eat the same things as everybody else in their particular ethnic group.”

“Oh!” said the patron, as enlightenment danced among her brain cells, “Maybe you’re right.  I’d better choose another group.”


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Ethics and Easy Credit: Available at a Library Near You!

Just a few brief but delicious stories for you today. Sometimes the little things that make us giggle or role our eyes at work are the stories we find ourselves talking about the most. We thought such stories deserved a few moments in the Merry spotlight!

ethics of freedomSomeone had ripped the innards out of the book “The Ethics of Freedom,” and left with it. Its empty cover now sits on my desk.

Sad Irony.

Sent in from “Jolene” along with the picture of the abandoned book cover…

Today I assisted a 60 year old woman, who had recently moved to town from Hawaii, in getting a library card with our district. When I handed her the new card, she said, “What are the benefits that come with this card?”

It struck me as unusual phrasing, but I figured she was referring to general usage: i.e., where she could use the card, how many items she could check out, etc. So I told her and then helped her locate two CDs she wanted. Once I’d checked them out to her, I handed her the receipt and reminded her the items were due in one week.

“Due?” she said, incredulous. “What do you mean due?”

Her sudden attitude surprised me. “Um, well, media material checks out for one week. It may be possible to renew them at that time, though.”

“I don’t want to return them! Why would you make me return them? I’m not going to return them! I want them!”

She was getting a little angry now, so I tried a new tactic, thinking that perhaps this woman didn’t realize she was in a library. “Sorry for the confusion, ma’am. Because these CDs are library property, you are able to borrow them for one week, free of charge. If you choose to keep them, our billing department will contact you and charge you for the price of the items.”

She stared at me for a moment and then shoved the CDs and library card toward me again. “Then I don’t want them. I thought they were going on the card.”

As she stormed off, I realized that her initial question, “What are the benefits that come with this card?”, should have been my tip-off. She thought that the library was issuing her a credit card based solely on seeing her photo ID and proof of address. If I didn’t personally know a librarian in Hawaii, I would have to question how the island library system works…and maybe get myself a Hawaiian library card! 🙂


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Attention, Australian readers! We still need one or two more stories from your neck-o-the-woods to complete our “Librarians of the World” month in March. Send in your crazy tales from Down Under today!

You are a Librarian, aren’t you?

Ah, the age-old question: “You are a librarian, aren’t you?” What a wonderful question! Whenever librarians hear this one, we instantly realize that what the patron really means is: “You are all-knowing, aren’t you?”


Sorry to disappoint you, patrons, but sometimes your questions are too vague even for our advanced minds to answer. It’s rare, of course, but it does happen. 🙂 Thanks to “Bethany” for sending in, what Merry likes to call, an amusing Reference Desk Interaction (RDI). We just can’t get enough of these!

My favorite reference phone transaction involved our extensive sound recording collection.  A woman called and asked if we had “that Indian music that was on the radio last night.”  Not knowing quite how to respond to an obviously silly question (the caller WAS very serious), I decided to pursue this like any other ref question.

“What was the radio station?” I asked, thinking that perhaps I could locate a play list.  The patron didn’t know.

“What tribe was the music related to? I asked, thinking that among our collection I could find music from the appropriate group.  The patron didn’t know.

“Was it Native American Indian or Asian Indian?” I continued to ask since we also had a fair amount of Asian music.

“I don’t know!” the patron plaintively said, “but my boss heard it last night and wanted me  to track it down.” (She was his secretary.)

“Hmmm,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ll be able to find what you want.”

“Well why not? You are a librarian aren’t you?”

While I was very tempted to say something snotty like “Yes, indeed, I am a librarian but I must have missed the classes on Omniscience and Clairvoyance,” I meekly responded, “Sorry, but I really do need more information before I can proceed.  Please ask your boss if he can remember anything more.” (and then whack him upside the head with a rolled-up newspaper.)


Send your RDI’s to, or phone them in: (216) 23M-ERRY (216-236-3779)

Attention, Australian readers! We need one or two more stories from your neck-o-the woods to complete our “Librarians of the World” month in March. Send in your crazy down under stories to us today!

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