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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/19/11

   June 25th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Universal Male-Female bathroom signThis question made me laugh - especially coming so close to Oxford University Press' recent release of librarian statistics.

I was sitting at the desk with a female coworker, talking about a request a patron had just made. During our discussion, a female patrons begins to approach the desk, and we both turn to greet her.

The patron is slowly walking up to the desk directly between both of us, and keeps swiveling her head back and forth, as if deciding which of us she is going to address with her question. This always prompts me to say, "Hi, can I help you?" immediately, because delay and indecision is another of my pet peeves.

As soon as I say this, the patron moves closer to my female colleague, but turns her head towards me and says,

Hello. I don't mean any offense, I'm just more comfortable asking a woman my question.

Oh, okay, one of those questions - that's no problem at all. This is actually one of the advantages of having both male and female reference staff - sometimes, people are more comfortable asking medical or really personal questions to someone of their same gender. It happens, and that's fine.

I say something like, "no problem," and turn away from them in my chair to go back to work on the computer. But being only four feet away, I can still overhear the patron's question:

Can you help me find a good cherry cheesecake recipe?

Sigh. Do you see the kind of discrimination all 41 miles of us male librarians put up with in this woman's world? Its true I'm not a great cook, but could have helped her with that. But instead, I'll just go back to my raw meat and football. Oh, and tell the geisha to bring me more whiskey and cigars.

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