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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15

   April 11th, 2015

Alright, this question can be filed under, how maybe not to run a scavenger hunt.

Last Saturday I came in to work for a few hours in the morning to cover for someone*. Before we opened to the public I was updating some of the computers, and was still sitting at a public workstation when, a few minutes after opening, two of my coworkers walked up on either side of me. They asked,

Coworker 1:
Brian where are the tickets? Everyone's asking for the tickets. Where are they?

[minding my own business]

Coworker 2:
Brian the Police hid tickets in the library. We don't know where they are - do you?

I had no idea what they were talking about - and to be fair, they didn't really either, because all of this was news to us.

Apparently when they unlocked the front doors at 9:30 that morning, a couple parent/kid combinations all rushed in and started looking for hidden Red Sox tickets - and of course, asking the staff where they were hidden. This was the first any of the Saturday staff was hearing about it, so they came to ask me to see if I was in on the secret. I was not.

It turned out the Chelmsford Police Athletic League has been picking a public building in town, hiding tickets to a Red Sox games somewhere in the building, and then posting on their Facebook page hints to let residents find them. They didn't let the library know beforehand though, so this was all news to us - which I don't think any patrons believed when they asked everyone on staff where the tickets were. And, my coworkers didn't believe me either.

On the one hand, what a nice thing for the CPAL to do for people. And, great that they thought to include the library - especially given the hints (more on that in a minute). But on the other hand, it really sucks to have kids crawling under tables while other patrons are working at them, and having frantic parents who promised their kids free Red Sox tickets becoming increasing intense as time goes on that They Must Find The Tickets. Basically, being in a library and not doing library stuff is really distracting to all the patrons who are there doing library stuff.

But anyway, here's the details on how everything went down. The day before, CPAL posted this photo on their Facebook page as a hint to where the tickets where hidden this time:


Now that's a tough hint - I mean I recognize our carpet and public workstation leg, but how many patrons would? A few at least, as it turned out.

And as the people came in looking for them, this was the only clue that we had too. So it meant they were in the library, but where? Taped to the bottom of one of the public workstation tables (which is what this leg is)? That means crawling under every single computer table, and then every other table, to find out. No? Well then, where else could they be?

In case you haven't noticed, there are millions of places in a library to hid two tickets. After an hour of frantic searching, the tickets still hadn't been found - and still no one believed me that I didn't know where they were.

Then another photo was posted:


Which brought all the searchers downstairs to the non-fiction section. But still no success, and shortly thereafter a third photo hint appeared on Facebook:


By this time staff were all checking the Facebook page too, to learn anything we could about where these tickets might be. After refreshing the page and seeing this third photo, I looked up from the computer to see one mother who had been searching all morning making a beeline back to the 700s (which are back past the Biography sign).

A few minutes later she came out of the stacks with a tremendous relived smile on her face. She had found them! Tucked inside the displayed book. As word spread that they were discovered, and where, word spread back that apparently multiple people had already thought of this logical spot and checked this very book - but somehow had missed the tickets.

And then, as quickly as the ticket search had begun it ended, and the library immediately quieted back down to a normal Saturday morning.

So to recap: a treasure hunt in the library is a great idea for a program, and, clearly, if you have a nice enough prize, people will be highly motivated to participate. However, the better the prize, the more annoyed all the other patrons will be at the disruptive treasure hunters. And, if you're not affiliated with the library, please give them a heads-up beforehand so staff will at least know what is going on. But it really is a nice thing the CPAL is doing - maybe I just annoy easily.

And I swear, I really didn't have any idea this was happening, and didn't know where the tickets were. My coworkers still don't believe me.


*So in other words, I'm not even supposed to be here today.

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11 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15”

  1. Tori Says:

    I’m not supposed to be here today either. This happened to me when I worked in public too. The clues were easier, enough that I could figure out what book to look for in the catalog, and fortunately we weren’t the final stop. We loved being included also but yes, a heads up that a lot of noisy people in a rush would be coming through would have been helpful.

  2. Bret Says:

    A few years back, that happened to another library. A radio station had hidden tickets to a rock concert at the local library. They had to call the police because people were digging through stack, throwing books all over in a frantic attempt to find the tickets. On the good side, they got a whole class of people into the library would otherwise never have been there.

  3. Sunny Says:

    Bret, that was my hometown. Yup, this could have been worse.

  4. Alex Says:

    As much as I appreciate another organization thinking to involve the library, I think you’re letting the CPAL off easy on not giving you a heads-up. It’s disrespectful to not have included library staff in the planning, and I would make a point of letting them know that (politely, but…) What if you’d had a big event planned that morning, and you had to deal with this at the same time?

  5. JoshR Says:

    That Fort Worth incident was the first thing that came to mind for me as well, I was working at my college library back then and it was horrifying to read about.

    Glad your patrons were respectful, and I agree that stuff like that REALLY needs to be discussed with the library staff.

  6. Jane Says:

    Indeed, it could be worse. We are located in the town in which the Goonies movie was filmed. For some reason, that movie has a worldwide cult-like following. One long ago Saturday, with only one staff person on duty, she found out that the Chamber of Commerce was doing a Goonies Scavenger Hunt … that included use of the library.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Tori: now that sounds like a better program – being one stop in a series of clues, so at least it’s not a race to beat everyone else to The One Thing. But of course, with the library being in on it.

    @Bret: wow, that sounds so much worse than this. It kind of reminds me of the urban legend of running a “moving sale – everything is free!” ad for the address of someone you don’t like – people keep showing up and get aggressive about taking stuff (because they feel they’re entitled to it since they saw it in print). And the homeowner has no idea what’s going on.

    @Sunny: I had never heard of that before. It’s just terrible. And I don’t know why the radio station would be so surprised it went so badly.

    @Alex: you’re right, it could have been much worse. But they’re doing a good thing, and things didn’t go too badly. Hopefully it’s a lesson learned and they will let us (and other places) know in the future.

    @JoshR: thanks, and I agree. The Fort Worth incident is actually scary – I don’t know what I would have done in that case other than call the police. And try to close the building?

    @Jane: I grew up in Northern Ohio, and am Indians fan. So Red Sox tickets, rock concert tickets, even free money, all don’t sound like justifications for incidents like this. But a Goonies Scavenger Hunt? Now that is totally worth it. But even still – it’d be much more fun if the staff are prepared for something like that.

  8. Sarah Says:

    Look on the bright side Brian, at least you didn’t have to make a sign saying “Yes we’re open” and smell like shoe polish the rest of the day.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sarah: I know, right? I’ve never had to use shoe polish, but have definitely come close.

  10. Jenny Says:

    My favorite part of this post is the Clerks reference. Also, I agree – it would have been nice if they’d given you a heads-up that they were hiding something in the library, so you weren’t completely surprised and baffled by the early-morning treasure hunters!

  11. Sunflower Says:

    Unacceptable. The police station should know better. I get they were trying to do it for a good reason, but they should make a public statement apologizing to the library staff and library goers for the disruption of their ill thought out plan.