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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/13/11

   February 19th, 2011

Academics use these to measure their degrees (sorry - I have a weakness for bad jokes)One afternoon, a middle school-age patron asked to borrow a protractor. Normally, requests like this aren't a problem - we have lots of school tools and office supply stuff that we let people use all the time. But this time, I looked everywhere - Reference, YA, Childrens, and our supply closet - and there wasn't a protractor anywhere.

After my search, I went back to the table where the patron was sitting with her tutor to apologize for not having one for her. As I did, kind of spur of the moment, I offered to see if I could find one online to print out - if that was okay with them.

The student and tutor both kind of looked stunned, but then said sure, a printed one would probably work fine - although they both seemed kind of skeptical.

I went back to the desk and searched Google Images for "protractor" (limited to Large size since I was going to print it).

The very first result seemed perfect, so I printed it and took it, along with a pair of scissors, over to their table.

As I handed it to them, I think it finally dawned on them what I was doing - and that they now had to cut it out. They both were laughing and kind of delighted with the novelty of adding a craft project to math homework.

An hour or so later when they were finished, the student came to return the scissors to the desk. I asked her if it worked okay, and she smiled and said she liked it so much she was going to save it to take to school.

Meanwhile, my homework is to go to the dollar store to get a protractor to leave at the Reference Desk.

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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 2/13/11”

  1. philip willems Says:

    Never saw one loose. Over here (Netherlands) students use what we call a geodriehoek (geotriangle). It has the protractor incorporated.

  2. Dan Says:

    Brian you are not going to believe this.

    A customer just flagged me down and requested help printing something. She said that she had tried to print a picture but the paper came out blank. When I went over to see what it was that she was trying to print, it was a PROTRACTOR.

    Now, it wasn’t the same protractor that you found. It was a pdf file and for some reason it wouldn’t print. Instead of Googling “protractor” I Googled “Swiss Army Librarian” and viola. Done. Customer happy.

    I haven’t had anyone ask for a protractor in years. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone try to print one.


  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Dan: That is bizarre – I know libraries are rife with serendipity, but this is a bit beyond that. However, it does give me the opportunity to quote Too Much Joy: I’m ahead of my time, but only by a week. Thanks for sharing this.