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



Reference Question of the Week – 7/21/13

   July 27th, 2013

Save the Wales t-shirtRemember in library school, during the reference course, how they taught that the reference interview is important? The example I heard more than once was, if someone asked for a book on "whales," do they mean whales or Wales?

Obviously, a little of the mystery is lost when you see it typed out instead of hearing it, but I think you get the idea. However, with that in mind, I'll type out a question I got this week, spelling the important word phonetically.

Two men in their early fifties walked up to the desk on Friday afternoon, and one of them asked me,

Where are your "say-uhl" books?

Now, I immediately start running through the options:

  • Books on sailing, or sailboats, or rigging a sail?
  • Books on sales, and being a salesman?
  • Books on selling things on eBay?

I really had no idea, and had to ask him to clarify. However, before I tell you the answer, take a guess on what you think he was after.

Give up? He was looking for the books we had for sale. Our Friends group maintains a book sale cart of books, and after the reference interview got us on the same page, I happily directed him to it - and the two men happily walked off toward it.

I don't know why, but it's little things like this that entertain me during the day. And trying to come up with a phonetic spelling for "sale."




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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/21/13”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Actually, that was the first thing I thought of when I read the question. The other ideas didn’t even occur to me until you suggested them.

  2. Angelica Says:

    When I worked at the public library (over 10 year ago) a woman came to the desk and told my coworker, “I need books on Leo Pards.” My coworker clarified, “Would you like books by this person or about this person?” Woman patron looked at coworker like she was an alien. There was a lot of back and forth banter before we were able to determine that the woman wanted books on big cats – leopards. Like your example, easy to figure out when you write it down but so much when you’re relying solely on auditory processing (and mispronounciation).

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Angelica: it’s funny how often things like this happen. My best personal story is the wifey/wi-fi confusion.

  4. Donna Says:

    The Director of the library I worked before told a similar story. Except the reply was “Cells, like in your skin”.