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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/4/11

   September 10th, 2011

This week's question is one we get asked many times a day - it's not difficult at all, but this time had a sort of heart-wrenching twist.

A woman in her early twenties walked up to the desk. Very politely, and with a little hesitation, she asked:

I just printed something for my school, but I don't know where to pick it up. Can you please help me?

For public printing in my library, we use Envisionware's LPT:One, which works well for us. All the print jobs from our public computers go to a central print release station, where patrons pay for their job before it actually gets printed. So that patrons know which print job is theirs, when they print they get prompted to name their job:

Envisionware Print Box

Once a patron goes through this once, they understand how it works. But the first time isn't totally intuitive, so we do get asked for help in printing frequently.

My personal rule is this: if someone asks me where they pick up their print job, I take that to mean they've never printed here before, so I go with them over to the print station and walk them through the steps to pay for and release their print job.

That's what I did in this case, and while walking over to the printer, I asked the patron if she had entered a name for her job. She replied,

Well, a little box asked me to name my job, so I typed in "waitress."

I don't know why this struck me as so sweet and sad - maybe her innocence and naivety, maybe the idea of someone working their way through college. Maybe I'm just getting sentimental in my old age. She didn't mean anything by it though, so when we got to the print station, I showed her how to select the job named "waitress" and print it out. She thanked me and left.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/4/11”

  1. Mahra Says:

    There is something so very sweet about that. Thanks for sharing. It warmed my heart this morning.

  2. Christina Says:

    That’s hilarious, actually! And it makes me glad that our library’s Envisionware “Username” box doesn’t say Name Your Job, too. We have enough trouble just explaining that they have to make up a username, that it’s not their card number or some other offically assigned name.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mahra: you’re welcome – I thought so too.

    @Christina: actually, the “Please name your job” wording was my idea. By default, it said something about a username, which we don’t require, so it really confused people. But now maybe I’ll have to come up with something else.

  4. Lesli M Says:

    I have to say, I’m with your patron. I totally would have written “librarian.” That’s got to be the least intuitive way to identify a print job I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of a better way to phrase the prompt, though.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lesli: It honestly had never occurred to me before this patron. I think we only have about 30 characters for the message, and I’m happy to change it if we can think of something more intuitive. Maybe just “Please type your first name.”

  6. Amanda Says:

    Hi Brian, our library uses EnvisionWare as well (and I agree, very simple and easy to use) but when patrons send their documents to the printer it asks for their last name. That way, if they have more than one item they are sending to be printed, they have the full list right there.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Amanda: last name makes sense. I’ll have to dig out the manual to remember how to change that wording.

  8. Chris Says:

    Maybe just try “Please name your print job”. As a former waitress/current librarian, I appreciate your sharing this. Anything that reminds us of our customers’ humanity is going to help us do a better job.