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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/29/15

   December 5th, 2015 Brian Herzog

The Only Museum signSometimes, the most interesting part of my job is the unexpected glimpse into a stranger's life.

About fifteen minutes after I got to work on my first day back from spending Thanksgiving in Ohio with my family, the phone rings:

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Oh, hi, do you have, can I, go to the museum?
Me: Okay, sure, when would you like to go?
Patron: This Friday.
Me: [click to my library's museum pass reservation page for the right date] Okay, now which museum would you like?
Patron: Um, the museum.
Me: Oh [huh?], we have passes for a few different museums - which one would you like to go to?
Patron: What do you mean, like different days?
Me: Well, we have one pass per day for each museum, and we have passes for about 20 different museums. Would you like me to list them for you?
Patron: You mean there is more than one museum?
Me: Y-yes.
Patron: In Massachusetts?
Me: Yeah.
Patron: You mean Massachusetts has more then one museum? I thought there was only one.
Me: Oh, no, there are lots - like art museums, history museums, activity places - and we have passes for a few different ones.
Patron: I thought there was only one museum in Massachusetts. In Boston?

Okay, the idea that someone could live in Massachusetts and not know that you can't throw a rock here without hitting a museum is just fascinating to me. Just about anywhere, really, but Massachusetts in particular.

Anyway, from this patron's voice, I thought she was in her early twenties, so just to get the call back on track, I went out on a limb and guessed she might be a new mother...

Me: Yeah, we have a lot. Are you looking for one to take kids to?
Patron: Yes. You know, the museum in Boston.
Me: Okay sure, the Boston Children's Museum. [very quickly look to see if it's available so we don't get sidetracked] Oh good, it's available - do you know your library card number?

And from there I reserved it for her like normal. She was happy, and that pass does give a pretty good discount, so great.

But wow. Not that I border on omniscient, but it really is amazing how peoples' lives can be so narrowed to their own stuff that they totally miss things that are common knowledge to most other people. It makes me wonder what I don't know about.

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