Posts Tagged ‘reference questions’

Back to the Basics

After several months of pretty specific themes on The Merry Librarian, we’re going back to our roots for April! We’ve got a collection of wacky patron interactions, reference desk shockers, and some miscommunication moments worthy of a good, old-fashioned forehead-smack. Moments like these are what it’s all about! (We think…)

I was a young librarian, on the desk, still clueless enough for coworkers to be entertained by me getting the weirdos.  My patron approached.  “Do you have a phone book for Deerfield, Michigan?”  No, I was sorry, we did not, (cue shock! and explanation that we paid for phone books, so didn’t get out-of-state books) but I was sure I could find the number for him if he would let me know what he was looking for.  “Well, the Ford Museum.”  Okay, so I found him the phone number and asked if he wanted to know their hours – was he planning a trip?  “No,” but the hours would be great – he’d been there.  Could he call them from the library phone?  No, he could not, but perhaps he could email them?  “Can you help me set up an email account?”  Sure, I could, no problem.  As we moved toward the computers he let me know what he REALLY wanted.  “See, I was at that museum, and they had this video for sale about Henry Ford, and I thought I’d call them and see if they could loan me a copy of it.”  Ah, well, I was sure we could interlibrary loan that for him.  No email necessary!  “You DO that?”

My favorite circumnavigation of the question ever.


Thanks to a fellow librarian in Munich, Germany for this next one!

I’m working at a museum library in Munich, Germany. Last month there was a retraining for the new RDA-system which should be presented to us. In the auditorium were over 150 librarians from all over Bavaria, the teacher talked for hours and after five hours one elderly librarian asked:
“And how to deploy RDA in card catalogues?”
The teacher looked very confused.
“This retraining concerns RDA. It’s a system for online cataloging. You’ve got STILL card catalogues???”

Greetings from Munich!


Security Guards at libraries get the wackos, drunks, vagabonds and vagrants…but apparently they don’t get to answer basic questions…

In most of our Branches our security personal are also trained to perform clerk duties, at the Circ desk.  One of our Security/Monitor person at our branch will cover the Circ Desk while staff is at lunch or working on a project. I was staffing the Information desk, while he was staffing the Circ Desk. I was helping a patron and noticed that the line was getting longer while patron lined up at the Info desk.  I looked over to the Circ Desk a noticed that no one was  standing  there, except for our security monitor asking patron if they needed help, and they would reply no thanks,  then move quietly over to the Info Desk.

I  then asked the next patron in line that the person at the Circ desk would be able to help her and she looked at our security person then looked at me and said, “He can’t help me. He is just Security!”

I looked over to him and he says, “All I wanted was a simple retirement job, where are those termination papers?”


2009, Over and Out

In this final week of 2009, we thought we’d gear up for 2010 with a few more chuckles from the reference desk. Nothing says “Happy New Year” like ignorance, accents and a quirky ex-con. 🙂 Thanks for a great 2009! We’ll see you next year with even more outrageous stories (and a few new goodies!) from The Merry Librarian!

As the media librarian in a four-year University in the metro Detroit area, I frequently dealt with English majors who were seeking adaptations of works of literature on video.  My favorite transaction was with one student who was looking for an adaptation of “Oedipus Rex.”  We had two versions, I explained.  One was done in modern dress from the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre and the other was done in the classical style with a Greek chorus.  After a minute’s hesitation, the student asked for the modern version because she “didn’t want to listen to the musical version.”  Keeping a straight face with some difficulty, I explained that a Greek chorus didn’t actually sing.

~”Bethany” Detroit, MI

Last month a young man of about 13-15 years old came up to our reference desk.
“Where are the whores?”
“Where are the whores?  You know . . . like Goosebumps?
Do you mean horror?
“Yeah!  Whores!”
At this point, everyone cracked up including the child’s shocked parental figure.
Ya gotta love an East Texas accent 🙂

~”Brendan” Houston, TX

A weathered man with dreads walks up to the desk and starts rooting through the golf pencil supply. He picks up each pencil and holds it up to the light; he considers it and then returns it to the box. He then begins to sharpen one pencil at a time, with the very loud pencil sharpener at the reference desk.

I say, “Finding what you need?”

He says, “This is just like jail!” and leaves without a pencil.

~ “Jamie”

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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. 🙂 )

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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