Posts Tagged ‘Reference Desk Interactions’

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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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!

Songs for the Season: Library Carols!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Merry Librarian!

Have you ever had a bad day at the library, and wished it could be brightened by song? Well, Merry happens to know a gifted lyricist who has turned three bad-day-at-the-library stories into hilarious songs set to the tunes of popular holiday music. We encourage you to sing along with us as we celebrate the season with these fun new library carols! (The lyrics were composed by Jennifer Stafford. For more information on our talented friend, check out her website here!)

“Johnny the College Student”

The Story…

“I worked at a community college library in the USA. I was helping a male patron in his twenties at the stand-up reference computer terminal with rushing students walking past us between classes.

A woman walked by us and told my male patron in a loud voice, “You’d better go and see “so and so” because she’s pregnant and she says the baby is yours”.

I don’t think the guy batted an eyelash, but it did disrupt our reference conversation. There is no distinction these days between public and private conversations.” ~“Jacqueline”

The song…

“Johnny, the College Student”

(To the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”)

Johnny the college student
Had a kind of wild night,
And when he was in public
All his secrets came to light.
All of the other patrons
Ignored us as they walked on by,
None of them knew poor Johnny
Was about to be “that guy.”
Then that busy afternoon
A lady came to say,
“Johnny with your past so bad,
You’re about to be a dad!”
Then how poor Johnny grimaced
As a blush crept to my face,
Johnny the college student,
The library is not the place!


“I Hate Books!”

The Story…

Yesterday at the library the machines failed us. The computers were down most of the day. Ignorant, I arrived for the evening shift I passed some giddy day shift people. They laughed at me as they left. “Get ready for a nightmare,” one said. Once inside I see that there are towers of vertically stacked books, on armies of trucks. I find out the only thing worse than the library not being able to check in books all day, is the moment when you can check everything in after such a glitch.

We start checking in movies, cds, books transforming vertical stacks to the more processed and evolved horizontal stacks. The phone is ringing, people have noticed their books haven’t been checked in. “Are you going to charge me?” “Are you open Veteran’s Day?” “Have you seen my laptop charger?” People stick their heads in the book slots to describe the horror of how the automated handling system has mistreated them. The automated machine flays books and gets jammed in its unrestrained joy to be online again.

As I check in books I come across a children’s book called “I Hate Books!” I read the title aloud, and I feel great joy. I find the louder I say it, the happier I feel. I hold it up to a coworker and say “Look Joe! I Hate Books!” Joe says, “I Hate Books!” Uma joins us in the “I Hate Books!” chorus. There are so many ways to say it. I like really emphasizing the Aaaaa sound. It can be said staccato like pent up rage boiling over, or whispered like a dark secret.

A librarian walks by and sees the fitful giggling and can just feel our delight. She comments, “You guys are always having such fun in circulation.”

Yes. Yes we are. ~“Jasmine”

The Song…

“I Hate Books”

(To the tune of “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”)

The computerized check-in failed us,
All books flew in and nailed us,
It’s just as bad as it looks…
I hate books! I hate books! I hate books!
I see books piled to the ceiling,
And I have a sinking feeling.
And the patrons all think we’re crooks.
I hate books! I hate books! I hate books!
When we finally make it work,
Then it jams and the books start to shred.
And I want to tell this pesky jerk
That slot is for books, not your head!
At the height of our frustration
They say it’s fun in circulation
It’s not as fun as it looks–
I hate books! I hate books! I hate books!

 “Walnut Bashing”

The Story…

The children’s librarian has a line of people waiting for help. Things are rather hectic, children scrambling about, various people talking, normal chaos that is the children’s section of the Cupertino library. A series of loud noises catches the librarian’s attention and she sees that it is a woman banging the stapler on the desk. A longer take reveals that it is a woman trying to crack open a walnut with the library’s stapler. ~“Joyce”

The Song…

“Walnut Bashing”

(To the tune of “Ding Dong Merrily on High”)

Who brings walnuts in their purse?
We think someone should smack her!
When things couldn’t get much worse,
Our stapler’s a nutcracker!
There’s shells in circulation.
There’s no sane explanation.

Thank you, Jennifer, for your fabulous lyrical contributions to The Merry Librarian!

We wish you all a very joyful holiday season!

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