or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/09

   February 7th, 2009

pen speed testI consider myself a creative person, but I could never had made this up.

A patron comes to the desk and asks to borrow a pen. She takes one from our little cup and goes back to her table. A few minutes later, she's back at the reference desk:

Patron: Do you have a faster pen?
Me: [utterly speechless stunned silence]
Patron: I need to take a lot of fast notes, and that first pen wasn't writing fast enough.
Me: Oh... well... I don't know. You can try the rest in the cup, if you like.

She did, and left the paper and rejected pens sitting like the picture shows. I did the same thing, but all of the pens seemed to more or less meet my speed requirement. I must just have lower standards.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/09”

  1. Cari Says:

    OK, I know this is snarky… but if she didn’t like the pen you gave her… she should have brought her own! (Maybe I’m just bitter from working with the public so much.) :-D

  2. Mary Ellen Petrich Says:

    Well, ball points do kind of write slowly. Especially old ball points. A brand new ball point is faster. A fine tip felt tip is probably fastest. But I agree with Cari; it’s not really up to the library to supply fast pens.

  3. Liz Says:

    I agree with both above – and can tell you, after innumerable years of schooling, that the rollerball pens work the best (read: fastest), if anyone has stumbled upon this page while searching to procure a speedy pen for more efficient notetaking.

  4. Mary Jo Says:

    A local bank donated a whole slew of really crappy pens to our library, so I have some empathy. You could suggest a nice, soft 2B pencil – they can be pretty fast. Alternately, you could suggest to her that perhaps it is not your pens that are the problem, but her own substandard writing paper.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    I still think the idea of a pen not being fast enough is a funny one, but I was glad we had something that seemed to meet her needs. And actually, we have all kinds of “office supplies” available at the reference desk for people – pens, pencils, highlighters, paper, tape, scissors, staplers, three-hole punch, paper clips, white out, erasers, etc. – even envelopes, if people ask. We have all of this in a little self-serve area on the front of the desk, and it is very well used by our patrons.

    In addition, our Childrens and Young Adult desks have markers, colored pencils, glue sticks, and other craft supplies for any student who needs them.

    My library’s culture is to try to anticipate (or respond to) patron needs, and then fulfill it, when possible. However, I never would have anticipated the whole fast pen thing.

  6. Lisa K Says:

    We loan and give useful things like paperclips and pens, too, but don’t set them out specially — which is more A+ customer service to our B+ stab at it. :-)

    With various budget cuts going on, I know patrons will be upset if the day comes when we have to say “no” to “can I have a paperclip?”

  7. Exile Bibliophile Says:

    Actually, I can identify with the patron. But, I bring my own pens and pencils with me nearly everywhere I go. If I forget, I don’t complain (out loud). I only berate myself and vow to do better. My favorite cheap pens? Foray .6mm in black. It’s ballpoint, so it doesn’t get smudgy, or have excessive bleed, but it writes very fast. I like pen ink to feel fast, so many gel pens feel gloppy, even sticky. Rollerballs bleed too much and get on my hands. If I want full bleed, boldosity, I go with my Parker Jotter fountain pen.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lisa: I don’t know if it’s A+ service, but I would have a hard time telling a patron they couldn’t have a paperclip or borrow a ruler. I think the only thing we try to “manage” is paper – if someone comes up and asks for a piece of paper, my staff shows them the scrap paper bin we have on the desk. But if they say they need a clean sheet, then we do give them a regular sheet of paper.

    @Exile: I honestly had no idea that people cared this much about pens. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – I know people who are the same way about hand tools, cars, etc.