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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/21/07

   October 27th, 2007

String tied around fingerAs I was finishing up helping one patron, I noticed a co-worker just behind him, waiting with a second patron. When the first patron left, patron number two step forward and my co-worker said, "Brian, perhaps you can help this patron."

This was odd, because when my co-workers refer patrons to the reference desk, they don't usually wait with them in line and then introduce them to me. So of course, I immediately became suspicious. When I turned and greeted the patron, he said:

I've been losing my memory. Can you help me get it back?

Are you kidding me? I thought this must be some kind of joke, but when the patron didn't crack a smile, I looked to my co-worker. She Just smirked and walked away, mouthing "good luck" over her shoulder. Thanks, Linda.

I turned back to the patron, still kind of stunned, and pressed on:

Me: Can you explain a bit more about what you're looking for?
Patron: Well, I can't remember things like I used to, and I was hoping you could help me with that.
Me: I don't think we can help you recover specific memories, but...
Patron: No, that's not what I mean. I just want to remember things better.
Me: You mean you'd like to improve your memory skills?
Patron: Yeah, something like that to start with.

Well, so at least now I had some hope of helping him. I searched our catalog for just "memory," and after sifting through the results by skimming the titles, I noticed a few books at 153.1. I also noticed we has some audio books at this same Dewey number.

I walked with the patron over to the shelf, and we found about five books that had promising titles, like The memory key: unlock the secrets to remembering and Total memory workout: 8 easy steps to maximum memory fitness. He took them over to a table to see if they were what he was looking for.

After about a half hour, he came back up to the desk. He said that two of them were great, and gave me the rest to reshelve. I next walked him upstairs to the audio book section for him to browse, and went back downstairs.

This question ultimately ended up being pretty straight-forward, but the way he asked it really threw me.

libraries, library, memory, public libraries, public library, reference question, remembering

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 10/21/07”

  1. sarah Says:

    “I don’t think we can help you recover specific memories, but…”


  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    I guess it was the way he phrased the question that threw me off – “can you help me with this” instead of “can you help me find information about this.”

    People ask us for direct help on all kinds of things – help sending email, help with knitting, help with spelling, etc. – his phrasing must have gotten me into that frame of mind.

    But, this is why the reference interview is important – to get the patron and the librarian on the same page (even if it’s me doing the catching up).