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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/15

   September 19th, 2015

jerkSince the public library serves the entire community, we see patrons on both ends of every spectrum. Last week there was a nice litte girl, and this week I encountered these two people:

Patron 1
On Monday , five girl scouts came in to help with a project. And because girl scouts are shorter than me, part of the project required a ladder. After we were all finished and I was cleaning up, I was walking through the Reference Area to return the ladder to the back room - now, keep in mind, I am carrying a ladder at this point - when I was stopped by a patron who asked,

Do you work here? Are you busy right now? Can you help me with the computer?

I looked at the ladder, looked back to the patron, and said sure. So I carried the ladder over to his workstation, held onto it with one had while I pointed at the screen showing them where to click with the other, and then proceeded on my way back to the office to return the ladder.

Patron 2
Then the next day, a patron called in to have her account's PIN reset. As she was reading her barcode to me, I could hear a cell phone start ringing in the background. She hurriedly finished reading her number, said "can you wait just a minute," and then I could hear her answer her cell phone.

You might ask, "Brian, what did you do while you were waiting for that patron to finish her cell phone call?" Well, I started typing this blog post.

Her other call only took a minute, and when she came back I reset her PIN for her, made sure she could log in, and both of us happily hung up. I've seen stores with a "if you're using your cell phone in line we will serve the customers behind you until you're finished" sign at the cash register, and I've even been helping someone at the desk when their phone would ring and they'd go somewhere else to take the call, but I've never been asked to wait while helping someone. I suppose it's no different than call waiting, but I was still annoyed.

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9 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/15”

  1. Brandy Stillman Says:

    Their rude behavior should not be excused, and if they’re at the desk and someone else is waiting I do take the next person. That said, I find it helpful to make up a story about how the call they’re taking is stopping some terrorist plot, saving a life by providing medical information, or other wildly implausible but acceptable reason. I do the same with people who act like idiots while driving in traffic. It keeps the blood pressure low.

  2. Emma Says:

    Oh man, I hate it when patrons take calls while you are helping them! It always happens so quickly you don’t have a chance to say no. I do as them to step aside from the desk if another patron comes up so I can help that person, but I have no idea what you could do in a phone situation. Saying, “Feel free to call us back when you finish your other call” and hanging up *might* work, or it might bring the patron storming into the library, shouting that “my taxes pay your salary!”


  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Brandy: that’s funny, I do sort of same thing in traffic, except that I remind myself that that bad driver could be someone’s grandmother or a person I know who just had a momentary lapse, and wouldn’t I feel like a jerk if they could hear what was going on in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

    @Emma: I know, annoying all around. I’m sure we’ll all eventually get the patron who answers their phone in the middle of a reference question eventually, and I am not looking forward to it.

  4. Sunflower Says:

    When a patron takes a phone call while I’m helping them I walk away and/or hang up. I find it very rude especially when they asked me for help. I have the fall back of “There were other patrons waiting for my help and the patron on the phone put me on hold”. Bosses back me up.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sunflower: I know it’s tough. We’re still committed to a high level of customer service, and deal with far worse forms or caustic thoughtlessness than this, but the line needs to be drawn somewhere. And definitely if there are other patrons waiting.

  6. Mary Jo Says:

    Perhaps this was an older person. For those of us who grew up in a time when people only used the phone if it was Important (because phone calls cost Money) and phone calls missed could not be retrieved (pre-answer machine and caller ID), there is an ingrained training that a ringing phone means Urgent. I have to make a conscious choice to ignore a ringing phone, my mother can sometimes do it but she has to explain to people in the room why she is doing it so they don’t think badly of her, and her mother never could have done it. So perhaps it was less rudeness, and more a reflex. Older people sometimes really struggle with competing technology.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mary Jo: from her voice, I’d say she was older, so maybe you’re right. You’re also right about peoples’ pathological need to answer ringing phones. One of my biggest pet peeves is someone who answers a cell phone and says, “hi, I can’t talk right now.” Then don’t answer the phone! However, I do still have the let-the-phone-ring-twice rule drilled into me by my parents. I don’t know why that was the rule, but even if I’m sitting right next to the phone at home, I want until after the second ring. Old habits, I guess.

  8. Sunny Says:

    I’m with Sunflower; hang up.

    I have had people ask me for computer help, only to answer their cellphone while I am talking to them. I just walk away. Every time they have apologized.

  9. Sunflower Says:

    High five Sunny! 🙂