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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/25/12

   December 1st, 2012

This isn't a reference question, but it is something desk staff face on a daily basis.

The clip below comes from an episode of Family Guy from a few weeks ago - initially I cringed at negatively portraying public libraries, but then I realized just how amazingly accurate it was. The librarian could be nicer though:

I'm sure every library has its "regulars," but I was struck by how well the writers captured a typical interaction - how, no matter what, it's almost impossible for staff to extricate themselves. Now that is a skill I would love to learn.

I've asked if we could have some kind of button installed under the desk that would just make the phone ring, so we could use that as a reason to break off the aimless and never-ending conversations. No progress yet on a button, so I need to come up with other ideas.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/25/12”

  1. Susan Says:

    The clip also portrays the library as understaffed – and isn’t that true to life too!

  2. Jessie Says:

    Is the desk visible to other staff members? My former library staff had a few verbal and nonverbal cues they could use to signal to another staff member, “Help! I can’t get out of this conversation!”

  3. Awnali Says:

    My boss had to call me on the phone and tell me to come to the back room after a patron had me pinned for 20 minutes. The poor lonely guy followed me all the way back to the staff room before I could extricate myself. I felt bad for the guy, but things were starting to get desperate!

  4. Tori Says:

    We didn’t have a button, but we had a code name we used to ask a co-worker to go in the back and call us if we got trapped.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jessie: not really, unless they’re also working Reference. Like you and @Tori said, the best we have is to desperately signal to someone to save you – however, we know who the most frequent “offenders” are, so staff is pretty good about going to the back room and calling out to the desk to provide an excuse.

  6. Julianna Says:

    button to trap door should be included in every budget 🙂

  7. Heather Says:

    I worked at a library that did have a doorbell installed under the desk that would ring in the work room. If you were stuck (or if there was an emergency or if there was a line building up) you pressed the button. Someone would come out from the back, see the situation, then go back into the room and make a phone call that we *had* to answer.

  8. Kieran Says:

    Our staff has a pretty good track record of seeing when someone is in trouble and calling the desk to get them out of it.