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

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 4/6/14

   April 12th, 2014

Alfred E NeumanI never know what is going to make me laugh - but quite often, it's when I find out I was wrong about something.

Now, it isn't that I actively stereotype people, but when people ask you questions everyday, sometimes you notice patterns. People who ask to use the Value Line or Morningstar often fit a type. When a guy asks for help finding something to read, and he responds to, "so, what topics are you interested in?" by saying "history," that's not a surprise. Most of the people asking for help finding the biographies are older women. And people looking for the bathroom all look alike.

But I had one question this week that totally took me by surprise. A woman maybe in her late thirties came down the stairs, holding in her arms a baby of about one. She looked like a perfectly normal mom-with-young-child. I would have expected her to ask for books on food, health/diet/exercise, kid issues, home improvement, or relationships. She even walked right past the desk over to the 300s like she'd been there before, so I didn't think much of it.

A minute or so later I walked over there on my way to somewhere else. She was staring up at the call number ranges at the end of the aisles, as if she had a call number for a book she was trying to locate. I asked her if I could help her find anything, and she said,

Yes, do you have MAD Magazine?

Huh - I never in a million years would have pegged her as a MAD Magazine reader, but there you go. Well, there I go, maybe, for trying to guess peoples' interests just based on their appearance.

And our magazines aren't really near where she was (not that she would know that), so I was strictly thinking book topics. But that was great, and I was happy to walk with her back to the YA section to show her our MAD collection. She thanked me and later on I saw her carrying a few upstairs to check out.

After I thought about it, I realized that I don't remember anyone ever asking me for MAD before, so her being the first is great. Plus, I get to laugh at myself for being so far off in my preconceived idea of her interests. Every reader their book!

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