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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/19/10

   September 25th, 2010

Lost Cell Phone signThis is more of a reference anecdote than a reference question, but it was still unusual and entertaining. The phone rings...

Me: Reference desk, can I help you?
Caller: Hi, I work at [Local] Bank, and I found a cell phone in my office earlier today. It just rang, and when I answered it, the person who called said the phone's owner is probably at the library right now. Can you find [patron name] and let him know I have his phone?

I had to ask her to repeat all that before I understood it. And she didn't know who the phone's owner was, so didn't have a physical description of him. It seemed like a long shot, but I was game - I made an announcement over the library's overhead paging system asking for that patron by name to come to the Reference Desk (but not before double-checking to make sure this wasn't some kind of Bart Simpson prank).

In about three minutes a somewhat bewildered man presented himself and asked why he was paged. I told him the bank called and said they had his cell phone, gave him the bank's number and offered him our desk phone to call them. Before he did, he stood there for a good five minutes trying to puzzle out how in the heck losing his phone at the bank could evolve into being paged at the library.

After he got off the phone with the woman at the bank, he explained the interworkings of his day:

  1. He left work for lunch, and stopped at the bank. It was unusually warm today, so he took his jacket off while in the bank, and the cell phone must have slipped out of his pocket
  2. He left the bank and went to get a sandwich for lunch - at the sandwich shop he looked at his watch to see what time it was, and realized his watch had stopped
  3. There was a jewelry store across the street, so he went there to see if they could replace the battery. The jeweler said it would be about a half hour, so he gave her his business card (with his cell phone number on it) so she could call him when it was ready. Before he left, he casually mentioned he was on his lunch break and was going to run over to the library after he finished his sandwich
  4. He comes to the library to browse for DVDs for the weekend
  5. The jeweler replaces his battery, and dials his cell phone number
  6. When the cell phone rings under a chair at the bank, one of the employees picks it up. Seeing no obvious owner in the area, and thinking it might be the owner calling to find out where it was, she answers. I can only imagine the conversation the banker had with the jeweler, but the jeweler tells the banker the man said he was going to the library
  7. The banker decides to call the library to try to track down the man, gets me, and you know the rest

He was funny - the more of the story he related, the more excited he got about how crazy and convoluted it was. I think he used the phrase "weirded out" twice. He was the epitome of bewildered delight, and eventually thanked me for my [small] role in returning his phone and walked off to collect it and his watch.

So, yay for small town helpfulness - and even though we were just a minor cog in this complex anecdote, this is one more patron with a positive library experience.

Also, here's a slightly-related tangent: wristwatches are one of the things becoming obsolete because of cell phones, so stories like this may soon be a thing of the past.

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10 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/19/10”

  1. Winnie Says:

    In our tiny community we regularly get calls at the library that go something like this:
    “Hi, this is A. Is my spouse/child/parent there?”
    Librarian: (after looking)”No, I’m sorry, they’re not.”
    “When they come in, can you ask them to pick up some milk/eggs/the mail on their way home? Thanks.”
    This is on of the great joys of a small town library.

  2. Krista Says:

    That is awesome! Gotta love small towns.

  3. jpetroroy Says:

    I love this story!

  4. Liz Says:

    “He was the epitome of bewildered delight” – sometimes you are so dang adorable I could just throw up.

    Your last link reminded me of a list my friend recently sent me, saying “I heard this on the radio and thought of you.” It was “Ways to tell when someone is over 30,” and included wearing a watch, concluding that the under-30 set simply check their mobile phone for the time.

    Just the latest in a line of good natured sassing – I give her a hard time for being late, she gives me a hard time for being old enough to wear a watch. I maintain I won’t be “over 30” until my 31st birthday, and give her a hard time for listening to John Tesh (the list I mentioned can be found at http://tesh.com/ittrium/visit/A1x97x1y1xa5x1x76y1x2437x1x9by1x243cx1y5x1bfd3x5x1 – and in the interest of full disclosure, I also am a habitual voice mail leaver and shout into ALL phones).

    Kudos for finding the gent and patiently listening to his recounting of his story – one of the most wonderful things about librarians, to me, is the patience and consideration they give even the most flustered and rambling of patrons (not that this man met that standard, but you get my drift).

  5. Diana Says:

    Love that their are still honest people in the world!

  6. Erin Says:

    classic story, just classic 🙂

  7. Swiss Army Librarian » Reference Question of the Week – 9/19/10 :: Brian Herzog « Nogginquest’s Weblog Says:

    […] via Swiss Army Librarian » Reference Question of the Week – 9/19/10 :: Brian Herzog. […]

  8. Aaron Says:

    i <3 this story!

  9. Noreen Says:

    I haven’t reunited anyone with their cell phone, but do get occasional calls from someone seeking to reunite a set of keys with the owner. If it’s got one of our keychain library cards, the finder will usually call us and ask for a phone number. I don’t give that out, of course, but I will call the patron myself and let them know how to reach the finder.

  10. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Noreen: that happens at my library, too. And sometimes it also goes in the other direction – someone leaves their keys at the library, and it has a gym or grocery store membership tag on it. I’m with you on not giving out patron information, and am surprised when some of the places I contact do.