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

Reference Question of the Week

   October 29th, 2006

So a patrons walks up the desk as says…

Patron: Can you tell me what movies are going to be on television on Halloween?
Me: [After checking TV Guide for their program listings, I told him.]
Patron: Great. I'm so excited for Halloween. I'm going to watch a bunch of those scary movies, and then afterwards I'm going to talk to the dead.
Me: [Doing everything I can to keep a straight face] Oh, really?

At this point, my coworker got up from the desk and went into the stacks, because she could not keep herself from laughing.

Patron: Yeah, there's two ghosts I talk to with one of them boards.
Me: A Ouija board?
Patron: Yeah. One is a ghost that lives with me - her name is Catherine - and the other is a witch from Salem. Okay, well I have to go now.

And then he walked away. Ah, life in a public library.

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14 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week”

  1. kathy Says:

    thank you… i’m sitting through a boring excel class…(up to my arse in macros) and through my search for ‘how to make a paper hat’ (some scary middle school origami thing i’m working on).. i came across your blog and it gave me a nice chuckle – which i think woke up the rest of the excel uneducated… so for that i thank you.

  2. Kate Says:

    i channeled a ghost named agnes the other day. she used to live in my apartment. too bad i don’t get tv or i’d watch “a bunch of those scary movies” tonight, too.

    you are a better person than i. i don’t think i could have kept a straight face. you should have pointed him to the self-help section, or given him a list of local psychiatrists. 🙂

  3. herzogbr Says:

    Kathy: I’m glad you enjoy this – I’ve taught excel classes before, so I certainly know how boring they can be.

    Kate: I hope you have a good television-free Halloween – perhaps reading some scary stories are in order?

    As for this particular patron, sometimes I just enjoy patrons for who they are. This is the same guy who asked the Wishbone question. Another time, he brought all his “dirty” movies to the library to ask me if I could hide them for him, because his mom was coming over and if she found them, she’d throw them away. Which, incidentally, actually led to the library rewriting some of our policies regarding customer service. Ha.

  4. Kate Says:

    Wow, your patron really sounds like an interesting guy!

    I can’t believe you didn’t hide his “dirty” movies for him!

  5. Liz Says:

    I know Kate–what happened to male bonding and fellowship and “bros before hos” and all that? Surely it includes hiding the dirty movies of another guy, even if it is at one’s workplace?

    If he’s still interested in Wishbone, maybe he can channel him through his Ouija board…

  6. herzogbr Says:

    Alright guys… our library policy dictates that staff cannot show favoritism amongst patrons, nor do special favors for them. If one staff person does something for a patron, then it is expected that all staff must provide that same service.

    And this isn’t just limited to dirty movies. It includes loaning people money, giving people rides, buying/selling items (like cookies or handmade jewelry), etc.

    We decided that we cannot prevent staff from doing these things on their own, but if they chose to do something like this for a patron, they must make it clear to the patron that they are doing it on their own, and not as a part of the library. Also, such dealings cannot be conducted at a public service desk – they have to do it on break or somewhere in the library away from a desk.

    I guess this sounds dumb when I type it all out, but it was actually a problem at my library (especially with this patron). Once he learned that one or two staff people would regularly give him money, he would then come back repeatedly, going right down the line asking every staff member at every desk for money and favors – which made many people uncomfortable. Especially when he got angry when people said no.

    So, even though dirty movies sounds innocent, they are just the “gateway favor” that can lead to far more uncomfortable situations.

  7. Liz Says:

    Sure, hide behind the _policy_. It’s not your fault, it’s The Man’s. All I know is, if a girl came to my (imaginary) office and said “Quick, my parents are coming–can I stash my adult-themed materials?” or “Quick, my husband is coming–can you hide Pedro?”, I would stash them under my desk. Especially Pedro. In fact, I say to women of the world: bring me your hot international boyfriend, and I will find a place for him under my desk.

  8. Liz Says:

    Oh man, that does not sound good.

    I meant to say, I will _shelter_ your significant other away from your other significant other in a completely platonic, fraternal, non-sexual way.

    That’s much better phrasing. Especially in the context of a “gateway favor.”

  9. Kate Says:

    So offer to hide his “dirty” movies “on your own” and not as a librarian. Make it clear that you will be taking them home with you, not storing them at the library. Offer to meet him out behind the library on your break to avoid the library service desk problem. Have him help you load them into your vehicle. Offer other services.

    Clearly, I see the beginning of a new “friendship” here, as well as a way to expand your personal “dirty” movie collection…

    To Liz – Are you in the habit of regularly men under your desk? You sound as though you have some experience. 🙂

  10. herzogbr Says:

    “Offer other services”? Sigh. I know you can get away with a lot more librarian-patron “fraternizing” in an academic library, but such a thing, believe it or not, is kind of frowned upon in the happy world of town-funded, storytime public libraries. I guess if I want pr0n, I’ll have to get it the old-fashioned way: under Liz’s desk.

  11. Liz Says:

    Yes, yes, I can hardly get my feet under my desk, what with all the men and the stacks of “dirty” materials. In fact, I suggest pre-booking–don’t leave sensitive materials in the hands of the unexperienced, put them under the desk of a pro! Reserve your space now, especially with the busy holiday season approaching. You don’t want your parents accidentally stumbling across your vast collection of “pr0n.” What is pr0n anyway–some kind of librarian adult material? Girls in buns and glasses, guys holding big stacks of books, people being punished for reshelving their own materials and not conforming to the dewey decimal system?

  12. herzogbr Says:

    pr0n: see
    pr0n: see also

    And just because this thread has already sunk lower than it should have, I’ll throw this in, too: it has always cracked me up that public libraries have “adult” sections. Every time I see a library’s “Adult Books” or “Adult Movies” sign, I have to laugh. Juvenile, I know, but there you go.

  13. Liz Says:

    I think this is my favorite definition: “The slang used by underage ubernerds to avoid the embarrising circumstance of their mother walking in to find her son downloading files apon [sic] files of the material on kazaa.” See, we learn something new from you everyday. You are so wise. You’re like a miniature buddha, covered in hair.

    Dorothy Mantooth is a saint,


  14. Kate Says:

    We can get away with more library-patron fraternizing at an academic library? Really? Damn! They didn’t tell me that in library school.

    And geez, you are really hooked on that Babes with Books blog.

    I think I prefer Liz’s original definition of “pr0n”: “Girls in buns and glasses, guys holding big stacks of books, people being punished for reshelving their own materials and not conforming to the dewey decimal system?” Of course, in my case it would be Library of Congress… 🙂