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

Library Day in the Life Project 2009

   July 27th, 2009

Today, July 27th, 2009, I'm participating in "Library Day in the Life Project" (more here) I'll be live-blogging what I do during my 9-5pm shift at the reference desk. And today might be more interesting, since my coworker called in sick.

Today's To-Do Pile (so far)9:00 am: - Get to Library

  • sort mail, make "to-do" pile for the day
  • find out catalog is down, put out-of-order signs on lookup stations
  • check Reference Desk email, respond to 2 emails
  • start pulling books requested by patrons over the weekend (we call this the "pull list")

9:30 am: - Library opens to public

  • grab cordless phone and keep pulling books
  • field lots of phone calls from people requesting museum passes
  • 9:50 am - catalog comes back up; can start placing requests for books that I'd been keeping on note paper so far this morning
  • Update events listing on homepage, and book sale drop-off schedule


  • help someone locate a lawyer in the area; make note to improve "find a lawyer" section of our website
  • 10:40 am - all public computers are in use
  • assorted reference questions
  • take recently-returned books off shelving cart from circ desk to put on sorting shelves; put pull list books on cart to take up to circ desk

Mysterious Box from Ebsco11:00-12:00

  • sudden rush of in-person patrons and calls, need to IM director to come to the desk for backup
  • date and shelve latest Banker's & Trademan, Morningstar, CQ Research, Central Register and Goods and Services Bulletin to collection (which arrived in the mail this morning)
  • patron calls: "what was that Glenn Close movie from the 90's where she died and came back in someone else's body?" I didn't know, so went to IMDb and read her all the titles from the 90's, and then 80's, before she recognized "Maxie" (from 1985)
  • open mysterious "fragile - glass" box from Ebsco - hey, we won an award (more on this soon)
  • trying to help patrons and type about helping them at the same time is really difficult


  • try to coordinate lunch breaks, so ref desk is covered while I'm eating
  • patron asks: "if I give you someone's name and social security number, can you tell me their address?"
  • show a student how to log into databases to research the science of attraction
  • finally finish placing requests for all the items on my note paper from this morning
  • well into the lunchtime lull - slow enough to spend a few minutes straightening the 520's, which I noticed were a mess while doing the pull list this morning
  • too bad today isn't one of the days we track stats (by counting the number of questions asked) - it was a busy morning, but not with questions significant or interesting enough to type here
  • print 1 and 0 to participate in Library 101 video


  • working my way through to-do pile - all mail and catalogs dealt with, now on to magazines
  • just extricated myself from one of our chatty regulars - 10 minutes of monologue; I just listened, but I'm exhausted
  • 1:30 pm - time for lunch (my first break of the day) - yay


  • back from lunch (turkey, lettuce and tomato on wheat from Subway)
  • the August BookPage arrived - two patrons asked for one while I was taking them out of the box
  • Patron called to ask for the phone number of Sotheby's, Christie's, Leslie and Leigh Keno, and Skinner's. After I gave them to her, she asked if I thought they would auction something she was going to send to them as a photo from her camera phone
  • Circ desk called to tell me there's a pizza delivery guy here with three pizzas, and do I know anything about it. Turns out, some kids called and wanted them delivered to the front steps for a study break on the library lawn


  • today must be spring-cleaning day; I've had three calls from people asking how they can donate books to the library - why, on our drop-off days or using our new drop box, of course
  • quiet afternoon means I was able to add a big stack of new magazines to the catalog with only two interruptions (usually Tech Services adds items to the catalog, but I'm filling in while someone else is out sick)
  • scan some recipes for a coworker to email to her mother
  • while adding magazines to our catalog, I noticed a couple not listed on our website's periodicals listing. So, I printed the webpage to compare to our latest Ebsco list


  • trying to find empty carts - some of our pages have been off on family vacations, and we've had so many books returned in the last couple days that we're running out of room
  • started creating a Legal Information Resources subject guide webpage - needs much more work, and isn't linked-to from our website yet, but it does have a feed in from our Delicious account
  • just did an Abbott and Costello routine with phone patron on reserving museum pass: "you'd like the pass for the twentieth? No, the twenty-eighth. Okay, the twenty-eighth. No, not the twentieth the twenty-eighth. Yes, the twenty-eighth. No, not the twentieth..."

5:00- - Bonus Time (staying over to cover for someone to take her dinner break, because she's been here since 11am and is working to 9pm)

  • Things I have not done today that I wanted to do: read rss feeds in Bloglines, do selection (via rss and journals), sort donated genealogy books to see if they should be added to collection
  • patron: the computer I'm on isn't playing sound. me (after walking over to the patron's computer): oh yes, I'm sorry, the sound card on this computer isn't working (I say this as I casually point to the hot pink sign taped to the computer). patron: so that applies to me, too?
  • actually getting some selection done - made it halfway through 7/09 Library Journal
  • 5:30 - time to go
  • last job of the day: check & empty the new book sale donation box on the way through the parking lot

Thanks to Bobbi Newman, aka Librarian by Day, for this great idea. I don't think I could possibly do an entire week, but this may be a more-than-once-a-year project for me.

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7 Responses to “Library Day in the Life Project 2009”

  1. Winnie Says:

    In reading the “day in the life” posts I thought I might take part. However, today, the second annual, is a day off for me. So my day has gone something like:
    5 am curse husband for waking me as he leaves for work
    8 am get out of bed
    tea, I must have tea!
    read personal e-mail and RSS feeds.
    9:00 am reading a book
    11:00 am do some sewing
    12:50 pm read Brian’s blog about his work day and write this.
    Next up: lunch and then the rest of the day will be spent in a vain attempt to avoid the heat – forecast for 37 celcius. At least if I was at work there would be air conditioning. Maybe the basement and a movie is the answer.

  2. Bobbi Says:

    I hope the students let you guys have a piece of pizza after all that! 🙂

  3. Joe Says:

    What an enjoyable post! This could easily be a day in the life at our reference desk. There is so much about our work that is the same regardless of the size of the library or the part of the country, yet every library has its own personality and character (and characters!).

  4. Sara Says:

    Thanks for this, from an MLIS hopeful.

  5. Emily Says:

    I like this post. It makes me miss working in a library. 🙂

  6. Susan Julian Gates Says:

    Brian, I love your blog. Thank you for writing it and for all your work for Chelmsford.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    You guys make me blush. I’m glad you enjoy it, and thank you for reading and commenting.