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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/25/11

   October 1st, 2011

Lost and Then Found signIn library school, one things I was taught was the way a library is organized allows for a great deal of serendipity. This isn't really a reference question and doesn't have anything to do with the way a library is organized, but when I came in to work one day, two of my coworkers filled me in on this odd case of serendipity.

About 10:45 that morning, a patron came to the desk and said,

I left my laptop here last night - did anyone find it?

My library is on two levels, so we have one lost-and-found at the Reference Desk (downstairs) and another upstairs near the Circulation Desk. The person on duty at the Reference Desk checked our lost-and-found box, and not finding a laptop there, went upstairs to check the other one.

Nothing there either, so she came back down to the Reference Desk to search a little more thoroughly - thinking that if someone had found a laptop, perhaps they put it somewhere a little more secure than just the lost-and-found box (which is a drawer in the Reference Desk). She searched all behind the desk, and after not finding it, started looking in the Reference Office (which is right behind the desk).

The only thing she found back there was a laptop in a Black & Decker bag that had been left here over a year ago. The battery was dead and we didn't have a charger for it, so we couldn't turn it on to try to identify it. I didn't want to just throw away a laptop, so it just sat in a corner of the office - literally for over a year.

The staff person knew that couldn't be it, but picked it up and showed it to the patron anyway saying something like, "this is the only lost computer we have."

Apparently, the patron looked at it intently, paused, looked at it again, and then said,

Well, wait. That is my laptop. It's not the one I lost last night, but it's mine - I lost it like a year ago just before I stopped working for Black & Decker.

How bizarre is that? Since he had the timeframe right, she gave it to him - but it still didn't help find his most recently-lost laptop.

By then it was 11:00 AM, and the second reference person was just getting to the desk to start her shift - and, it just so happened that she was the person who had closed the night before. She remembered the patron, because just before closing time the previous night, she had seen a laptop sitting unattended on a table, and asked him it if was his (since he was one of only two patrons still there at the time). He had said it was - but even with this reminder, apparently he forgot to take it with him.

Since the laptop was nowhere else to be found, she walked over to the table where she had seen it last night - and there it was.

The patron was happy to have both laptops back, and left - and the Reference staff were kind of baffled that he had them running all over the building looking for it, without even checking to see if it was where he had left it the night before.

Lost and Found Policy
I was happy too, because it made me feel vindicated for not chucking out that laptop long ago. I didn't want to get rid it of without knowing if there was private or personal information on it, but I also didn't feel right drilling or otherwise destroying it.

But this makes me curious what other libraries do with found laptops. For flash drives, I look at the files and 90% of the time find a resume that allows me to contact the owner and return it. Otherwise, our policy basically is keep everything until we run out of room, and then get rid of the really old stuff to make more room (and delete all files on any disk before we recycle it).

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10 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/25/11”

  1. Chris Says:

    Who leaves TWO laptops in a library in a little over a year?!?

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    I know, right? Who knows how many he’s left somewhere else, too.

  3. Christina Says:

    Wow, what a memory that patron has (NOT!). We just had a laptop left overnight, and knew the family name of the owner because the screen said “Blahblah Family” and required a password, but we didn’t have any patrons in our catalog with the right last name. The next morning the woman came in asking us for it. It boggles my mind that people can forget something as valuable (and large!) as a laptop.

  4. Jen Says:

    We once had a Chinese dancing dragon costume left. You know the kind where you need several people to wear it. . .

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jen: I don’t understand how people can leave stuff like that behind – or why they bring it to the library in the first place. Did they come to claim it?

  6. Jen Says:

    It was never claimed.

  7. Stephanie Willen Brown Says:

    A colleague in a science library was initially flummoxed by the number of fancy calculators left in her library. After a period of time (not sure how long), she simply bar-coded them and added them to the collection. Now other patrons can check them out!

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jen, I think @Stephanie just gave you a solution – barcode it and loan it out.

  9. Ellen Knowlton Says:

    I bet the dragon costume was left at the library because the person wanted to get rid of it and decided to “forget” it at the library.

    Have you ever noticed how people are always looking for something you haven’t found, but the stuff you find left in the library is never claimed? Weird! And how can you leave your keys at the library but still drive home and enter your house?

  10. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Ellen: you’re right, it is very rare that I actually see someone reunited with a lost item (but I do enjoy that feeling).