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

Reference Question of the Week – 7/1/12

   July 7th, 2012

Dorf's Golf Bible coverA patron called asking about videos to rent*. My standard reply in this situation is to ask for the the title the patron is looking for - to my surprise, she replied:

I'm not exactly sure, but I think it's "The Midget Bible."

I had no response to this. Luckily, the patron followed it up with,

Tim Conway was in it.

Ah, I bet she was talking about the Dorf on Golf videos. A quick search for dorf bible showed the title is Dorf's Golf Bible.

Unfortunately, we don't have it in the catalog - actually, there were no Dorf videos in our consortium at all. She was a little sad, but not entirely surprised. I, on the other hand, got to speculate on the other possibilities for a "Midget Bible" for the rest of the day.


*I know it's kind of just semantics, but people using the term video bothers me (and not just because it's ambiguous). But even moreso when people talk about "renting" things from a library. I think they know what they mean, but I believe that thought can follow speech, and not speaking accurately can lead to thinking inaccurately. But, I'm like that.

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/1/12”

  1. Ben Says:

    Well, it may be semantic, but I agree with you about the “rent” versus “borrow” splitting of hairs. In Reference class back in the day, we read an article about the psychological and service differences between thinking of library “users” as opposed to “patrons” (which the article thought was arcane enough to perhaps confuse or alienate the public) as opposed to “customers”. A patron who uses “rent” may unconsciously think of the library not as a part of a community, not part of a civic structure, but sort of a combination Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble. And perhaps unconsciously will think of the services rendered and the service expected in a different light.

  2. Ally Says:

    If the patron was using video to mean either DVD or VHS, that wouldn’t bother me as much as the “video = VHS” folk… But considering how many people no longer have VHS players, or don’t want to deal with them (or for that matter the hold outs I used to run into whom thought DVDs were too fragile and refused to switch – which blows my mind given the number of VHS tapes I’ve had eaten by VCRs over the years, and the fact that I’ve never scratched a DVD in my life, but?) it’s useful if you know which format the patron wants immediately.

    I won’t even address “renting” except to say in my one and only public library experience, most patrons ended up with their movies at least a day late, and at $2 a day, per movie, starting the very first day it was late…it kind of was “renting” from their experience (just cheaper than blockbuster!)

    While we’re on the topic of terminology – may I just say how frustrated I used to be with staff who constantly referred to the catalog as the “computer card catalog?” sigh, at least no one does that at my current library… I recognized that I shouldn’t get so upset, but hearing it used that way was the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me for some reason,,,

  3. Kate Says:

    While the use of ‘rent’ may have reflected sloppy speaking, it could also have had its source in uncertainty – non-regular patrons often ask us how much it costs to borrow DVDs, generally after expressing surprise that we have such things at all.

    It might also reflect experience at other public libraries which -do- charge a small fee for certain items. Growing up, our public library charged for borrowing VHS tapes (somewhat understandably, as this was when they were new technology and they were still very expensive to buy) and consequently my brothers and I were not allowed to take them out.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Ben: I agree – I indeed value the term “patron” for exactly this reason.

    @Ally & @Kate: it’s true that some libraries do charge fees for their DVDs, which sort of justifies “rent.” My library doesn’t, and few nearby libraries do, so I don’t think that was the case here. Of course, I’ve also had patrons ask if we had a particular item “in stock” or “in the store.” I’m sure these slips are not from frequent library users, so I’m always torn about correcting them or not – it’s important to me that they, like @Ben said, think of us as the shared resource we are, and not a business, but I also don’t want to sound like a jerk.

    But that also speaks to @Ally’s other point – how important it is for staff to speak clearly, without jargon, and not use a phrase like “computer card catalog” (or “OPAC”). Staff have to be accurate, or we could never hope patrons to be.