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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/17/08

   February 23rd, 2008

I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything this weekend, but I’ve heard a lot of talk about this and wanted to help disseminate:

Libraries get solicitations and purchase suggestions all the time. A few times a week I’ll get emails from authors or publishers, asking us to buy their books, or from patrons, asking us to buy a book they want to read or that would be a good addition to our collection.

But this week, I (and many other librarians, it turns out) got a cross-over: a message from someone apparently posing as a patron.

I am not providing links out of sheer irritation, and I won’t publish the person’s “name” for privacy reasons, but the email came from someone with the initials M.T., and the text of the message read:

Hi there -

I was searching in the library and trying to find the book [title] by [author], ISBN [isbn] and did not find it.

I heard about it on NPR, BBC America and saw it on Amazon and the author's website at narcissism.ca.

Will you be getting a copy in soon?

With requests like this, I always check our catalog to see if the book is available from another library in my consortium, and I look up the patron to place them hold for it. But this time, I found neither the book nor anyone by this name in our system. But I did read about it on Amazon, so I replied:


This does look like and interesting book, so I'd be happy to order it for our collection. I searched for your name in our catalog to place you on reserve for it when it arrives, but did not find a [patron name] listed.

If you can email back your library card number, I'll be sure you are first on the list when the book arrives. Thanks for the suggestion, and take care.

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library

I then got a message back saying "Hi Brian - I just moved. I'll be down soon to get my card."

That's when I started seeing other libraries asking about this strange request. I wrote back saying that when they came to get a card, to come to the reference desk and I'll order the book then. I haven't heard anything back.

So, any library getting a similar request can probably safely ignore it, as it is a dishonest sales pitch. It sounds like most library book vendors don't have it, anyway.

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 2/17/08”

  1. Kate Says:

    I’ve encountered this before, too. I have to admit, it’s an interesting and time-consuming idea, but also completely annoying. It’s really easy to tell at a college if the person is affiliated or not. I always write back something similar to what you did – implying I know they are not affiliated, asking if they are affiliated, etc. They never respond.

  2. Robert Says:

    Isn’t the irony that by posting those emails – you’re actually helping advertise that author!

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    I do see your point, but my take is this: I’m providing information, and people can make their own informed decisions. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I did not buy this book after I read what other people wrote.

  4. Leigh Says:

    Our library in Oregon just received this exact same email. I had gone to NPR’s website to look for the review and of course didn’t find one, but with further googling I found your blog entry. Thanks for posting – it will save us $20, which is no small sum to our struggling library system.

  5. The Shadow Says:

    I have worked in bookstores and similar situations arise when self-published authors call in under assumed names and special order their own books, then “forget” to come pick them up. The books, being from vanity presses, are often non-returnable, so the bookstore is stuck with them and has to put them out on the shelf, where generally they languish forever because they are not professionally produced. I have no idea if that is the case here, but it sounds familiar.