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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/16/14

   November 22nd, 2014

in case of emergency signThis question definitely took me by surprised and I don't think I did a great job of answering it.

A patron, who I would guess was in her sixties, walks up to the desk and says,

Do you have a book to tell you what to do in case of an emergency? I've been taking care of my mother but no one tells you what to do if something were to happen.

For whatever reason, my first thought was that "if something were to happen" was a euphemism for "my mother dying" - but then I thought, no, that can't be right.

We do have books on first aid and emergency preparedness, but just to be on the safe side I asked the patron what kind of information she was looking for. She said,

Like who are you supposed to call or what are you supposed to do? I mean other than a funeral home.

Oh, so we were talking about that.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect we didn't have any books that would tell her who to call when her elderly mother dies. Obviously the police would be a good choice, although I don't think I said that. I think ultimately it's the coroner that needs to be informed of a death, but I don't know if anyone can just call them directly. I'm also not sure why she ruled out a funeral home, and I'm sure if arrangements are made ahead of time, they'd know exactly what to do at every step of the way.

I was still thinking along the lines of some kind of resource to give her, but anything like this would probably be more of a pamphlet than a book. I don't think we have any "preparing for end of life" pamphlets like that, but it occurred to me that the senior center might. I mentioned the senior center and she kind of lit up, saying,

Oh, that's a perfect idea. I was going there next anyway to drop off knitting. My mother has a lot of projects started and yarn that I don't think she'll ever use again, so I was taking it there for other people to work on.

Okay. I gave her the name of the senior center's Director and explained how to find the office, and hopefully they'll have what she needs.

After the patron left I felt bad that I didn't have a better answer. I could have called the senior center, or maybe better yet the town nurse, to get an idea of the protocol for when someone dies. But hopefully the senior center staff will be able to give her the information she needs and help her through this time.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/16/14”

  1. A Says:

    This might be a good starting point.


  2. Jo Says:

    I know these resources have proved useful to library users where I work in the UK:




    They are UK focused, but I thought you’d be interested to know how a reference librarian here has answered a similar question.

    Best wishes,

  3. Heather Says:

    Here’s a good checklist, from a reliable source:

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @A, @Jo, @Heather: thank you all for the links. This entire reference interaction lasted probably five minutes, and I didn’t look online at all. Multiple people have suggested the Consumer Reports article though, so that will be my go-to source for next time. Well, that and any brochures the senior center/council on aging might be able to provide to us.

  5. Stories from the stacks: Swiss Army Librarian | International Librarians Network Says:

    […] Find out how Brian answered the question over at Swiss Army Librarian.  […]

  6. Freya Says:

    I’ve seen several books about caring for an elderly parent. Ours are checked out, but I’ll bet at least some of them include a chapter with practical steps of what to do when they pass away.