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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/30/08

   December 6th, 2008

toy gunThis week's reference question is a series of interactions over the course of about twenty minutes. To get the full impact, I need to give some basic background on the patron.

This patron is one of our regulars at the library. He is a special needs patron, and often asks for help with spelling and things like that. However, he is a savant when it comes to anything having to do with horror films/actors, superheros and comics. Also, every so often, he lets us know he's looking for someone to hangout with, by which he means a girlfriend.

One day, he comes to the desk and asks,

How do you spell white?

I write it on a slip of paper for him, and he goes back to his computer. A few minutes later, he comes back and asks,

How do you spell girlfriend?

A few minutes after that, it's

How far away is Florida?

I try to describe it to him, and then show him on a map. Basically, the bottom line is that it's too far away to walk to, which disappoints him. He then tells me this:

I met a girl on the internet, and she's nice. She lives in Florida, and she's a sheriff. She said she wants me to get a fake gun and handcuffs and come to her house and pretend to kidnap her, and then she'll go out with me. Isn't that cool?

I was kind of stunned. Professionally of course, I can't tell him what he can and can't do. But I did give him a lecture about being careful about who he meets online and what he tells them. I also told him that showing up anywhere with a toy gun is dangerous, but he kept telling me it would be a fake gun.

Thank goodness Florida is too far to walk. I honestly don't know what I would have done if he told me this and the person was close enough for him to walk to. It feels wrong to call someone, but he could get shot or who knows what doing this.

Librarians can't monitor patrons' lives, but when a special needs person volunteers this kind of information, I do think it is our place to intervene to keep him safe. With this particular patron, I usually just need to remind him that his mom would be angry with him is she found out, and that's a good deterrent. Otherwise, I'm not sure what I could do.

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/30/08”

  1. Leah Says:

    I’m sure you meant to say that your patron HAS special needs….not that he IS special needs.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Leah: Actually, I meant to say “he is a special needs patron” – so much for being my own editor.

    I tend to be on the wordy side, so after I finish the first draft of a post, I go back through and try to edit out about a third of it. Sometimes, like this time, I don’t read the rephrasing as closely as I should.

  3. Librarianguish Says:

    I can totally relate! We have a regular patron at the library who has cerebral palsy and diabetes, lives on her own, seems to have a family that is less than supportive, and often seems very vulnerable, especially when it comes to her health and well-being.

    It can be very frustrating at times, because I worry about her. On the other hand, it isn’t my responsibility to take care of her, so there is only so much I can do in my role as librarian…

  4. Liz Says:

    Just out of curiosity… is this the same patron who once asked you to hide his stash of adult periodicals when his parents were coming to visit?

  5. Sarah Says:

    Is it possible to give him contact information for local Social Services groups that might help him with his desire for a social life? He is probably not the only Special Needs Adult in the area. You might advise him to share the contact information with his Mother.