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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/7/09

   June 13th, 2009

opera robotIn my library, the reference area is downstairs. This is also where most of the computers are, as well as our quiet study room.

Since the library's main entrance is upstairs, many patrons go to the circulation desk first, and then are sent downstairs with their question. I don't know this to be true, but I suspect the circ staff gets malicious pleasure from some of the patrons they send down.

To wit: A woman carrying a few books, a stack of library CDs, and a portable CD player walks down the steps and comes to the desk...

Patron: The people upstairs said you could show me where a quiet room is?
Me: Sure, it's right down here. But it's not completely quiet - if someone is being loud outside the room you might hear them, but let me know and I'll ask them to be quiet.
Patron: Oh, I'm not worried about that, but I didn't want anyone bothered by me.
Me: ...oh?
Patron: I want to practice singing opera, and I thought they said your quiet room was sound proof.

I waited for her to crack a smile, but she didn't - she was dead serious.

When I hemmed and hawed about the singing, she decided to just use a computer instead. She was listening to her Discman while using the computer, and after a few minutes started humming along with the music. There were only a couple patrons using computers nearby, and none of them seemed bothered so I let it go.

I feel bad whenever we can't accommodate someone's request, but I guess library patrons are just far more creative than library building designers.

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/7/09”

  1. Ellen Knowlton Says:

    Brian, this funny story begs the question: “Can libraries serve every need someone might bring through the door?” Sure, we have moved away from the old traditional model of libraries, but just how far are we going to take it? Are music practice rooms essential to our mission? Can some other organization do something better than we can? (Literacy programs and computer training come to mind when asking this question.) The more roles we assume, the more we will be asked to assume, while the funding powers that be insist that libraries are anachronistic and not worthy of the taxpayers’ support. I believe that we should identify what we can do better and more cost-effectively than anyone else, then put our best resources forward to do it.
    BTW, as a reference librarian, I enjoy your Question of the Week. You never know what you’ll get next!

  2. Swiss Army Librarian » Reference Question of the Week – 7/10/11 :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] question made me laugh – partly because it is so odd, and partly because it’s not the first request like this that we’ve […]