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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/10/07

   June 16th, 2007

On older man with a cane walks up to me at the desk and says:

"How long... is... a lawyer's... binder?"

A good ten seconds went by before I could manage any kind of response, and all I could come up with was, "I don't know what that is."

His response? "Okay."

We then just kind of looked at each other for a few seconds. At this point, I honestly wasn't sure if he was earnestly asking me a question, or if he was completely senile. Sometimes it is hard to tell, but 99% of the time someone is just having difficulty communicating. Time to put my "reference interview" skills to work.

So I as didn't appear too direct, I asked him, "can you explain to me again what you're looking for?"

He said something like, "I'm looking for how long... you know a lawyer... when you pay a lawyer... I don't want to pay a lawyer..."

He then rested for a bit and looked up at the ceiling, and then continued with, "...when you own a house... sell it... what are the forms...?"

From these fragments, I guessed that he wanted to sell his house, but didn't want to have to pay for a lawyer to help him do it. I asked him if he was looking for information to help him sell his house, and he nodded his head.

Ahh, now that's something. I took him over to the 333.33's, and we found a few general home selling books for him to browse through. In the meantime, I went into the reference collection to see what we had as far as Massachusetts-specific forms and information.

When I came back five or ten minutes later, he was sitting at a table with the stack of unopened books in front of him. He said the books were all too general, and they didn't answer his question.

Oh, a question?

"You're looking for something very specific?" I asked, hoping he would volunteer what it was, so I could help him find it.

"Yes... you know... people sell their houses to... their sons, for a dollar... ..."

"And you want to find out how to do that, and what forms you need?"

Again, he just nods.

I like to draw on personal experience as much as possible, but since I've never owned a house, this is a mysterious world to me. But, I thought when it got into something as specific as this, then he's right, these books were either too general or too out of date.

No one else was working the desk with me for me to ask, so I decided to call the Town Tax Assessor's office - since they assess and record the value of a house, I figured they would know what was involved in selling a house for less than its fair market value.

When their office answered, I explained the situation: "I have a patron who would like to know what he needs to do to sell his house to his son for one dollar." Her response was surprisingly simple:

Her:"In that case, all he needs to do is to transfer the title to his son's name."
Me:"I think he wants to avoid using a lawyer - are their any forms that he can use to do this himself?"
Her:"Well, it needs to be a legal transfer, so either a lawyer or a title office. But as far as forms, we don't have anything here like that."

I thanked her, hung up, and relayed the information to the patron. He just started expressionlessly at me while I told him, but kind of perked up when I mentioned a title office. He then turned and walked away from the desk, and I could hear him repeating what I had said, "...title office to transfer... forms... no lawyer binder..."

A few days later, I saw him in the library again. It was a little while before he noticed me, but when he did he smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, so I guess everything went well.

home, homes, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, selling

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/10/07”

  1. Kate Says:

    Sometimes your mad librarian skillz amaze me. 🙂 And isn’t it great when you get later feedback about how helpful you were?

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    Even I get lucky on occasion. Besides, as this case illustrates, you don’t need to know everything to be a good librarian; you just need to know where to look (or who to call and ask).

    And yes, getting feedback is rare, usually a surprise, but always nice – especially good feedback.