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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/9/15

   August 15th, 2015

off switchModern Reference work includes tech support too.

One afternoon, a patron came in and asked to use a study room. I signed him up for one, and after he got about five steps away from the desk, I got distracted with other things and completely forgot about him.

About twenty minutes later, I was walking in the direction of the study rooms, and notice he was sitting in his room, in the dark, using his laptop (which of course meant his face was spotlighted by the screen). I thought it was odd, but really it's not entirely unusual for someone to have the lights off when they're in a room, so I just chalked it up to "patrons are funny" and kept walking.

But then, as I walked past the windows of his study room, I heard him shout out, "sir! Sir!! SIR!!!"

I opened the door and said something like, "can I help you?" His response was to sit back in his chair, wave his arms around, and say,

I've got no lights!

This is an easy fix - our study rooms have motion sensors that turn the lights on when someone enters a room, but in this case the rolling white board had been pushed in front of it. As soon as I started pushing the white board over, the lights popped on. The patron thanked me and I left.

But my disbelief in this whole situation stems from that fact that it was twenty minutes - twenty minutes - from the time the patron came in to the time I happened to walk by. I wonder how long he would have kept sitting in the dark, instead of coming back to the desk to ask for help. Or, look around the room for the light switch that must be there somewhere.

Patrons are indeed funny.

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/9/15”

  1. Jami Says:

    He might’ve been afraid to leave his laptop alone. Though in that case he could’ve either stopped someone walking by and ask them to get you or even call the desk on his cellphone.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jami: that is possible. It didn’t occur to me because the study room is only about 40′ away from the Reference Desk and in complete sight the entire way, but you’re right, some people don’t like leaving their things at all (which is contrasted by the people who say, “is it okay if I leave my bag here?” and dump it next to the Reference Desk, and then come back four hours later to pick it up. I hate that, but so far nothing has even been lost that way).

  3. Heather Says:

    I once had a couple of teenagers ask to use a conference room. Shortly thereafter I noticed the young man sitting in the dark. I went to check on him, and he said, “Oh, I didn’t know if I was allowed to turn it on.”

    A group of blind patrons was having a regular meeting in the neighboring conference room that same night. Just after my encounter with the young man, in came one of the regulars from that group. Accompanied by his service dog, he went unerringly into their conference room, turned on the light and sat down. I was highly amused by the juxtaposition.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Heather: you’re right, that is now one of my favorite library stories of all time.