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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/7/09

   June 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog

opera robotIn my library, the reference area is downstairs. This is also where most of the computers are, as well as our quiet study room.

Since the library's main entrance is upstairs, many patrons go to the circulation desk first, and then are sent downstairs with their question. I don't know this to be true, but I suspect the circ staff gets malicious pleasure from some of the patrons they send down.

To wit: A woman carrying a few books, a stack of library CDs, and a portable CD player walks down the steps and comes to the desk...

Patron: The people upstairs said you could show me where a quiet room is?
Me: Sure, it's right down here. But it's not completely quiet - if someone is being loud outside the room you might hear them, but let me know and I'll ask them to be quiet.
Patron: Oh, I'm not worried about that, but I didn't want anyone bothered by me.
Me: ...oh?
Patron: I want to practice singing opera, and I thought they said your quiet room was sound proof.

I waited for her to crack a smile, but she didn't - she was dead serious.

When I hemmed and hawed about the singing, she decided to just use a computer instead. She was listening to her Discman while using the computer, and after a few minutes started humming along with the music. There were only a couple patrons using computers nearby, and none of them seemed bothered so I let it go.

I feel bad whenever we can't accommodate someone's request, but I guess library patrons are just far more creative than library building designers.

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