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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/29/15

   December 5th, 2015

The Only Museum signSometimes, the most interesting part of my job is the unexpected glimpse into a stranger's life.

About fifteen minutes after I got to work on my first day back from spending Thanksgiving in Ohio with my family, the phone rings:

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Oh, hi, do you have, can I, go to the museum?
Me: Okay, sure, when would you like to go?
Patron: This Friday.
Me: [click to my library's museum pass reservation page for the right date] Okay, now which museum would you like?
Patron: Um, the museum.
Me: Oh [huh?], we have passes for a few different museums - which one would you like to go to?
Patron: What do you mean, like different days?
Me: Well, we have one pass per day for each museum, and we have passes for about 20 different museums. Would you like me to list them for you?
Patron: You mean there is more than one museum?
Me: Y-yes.
Patron: In Massachusetts?
Me: Yeah.
Patron: You mean Massachusetts has more then one museum? I thought there was only one.
Me: Oh, no, there are lots - like art museums, history museums, activity places - and we have passes for a few different ones.
Patron: I thought there was only one museum in Massachusetts. In Boston?

Okay, the idea that someone could live in Massachusetts and not know that you can't throw a rock here without hitting a museum is just fascinating to me. Just about anywhere, really, but Massachusetts in particular.

Anyway, from this patron's voice, I thought she was in her early twenties, so just to get the call back on track, I went out on a limb and guessed she might be a new mother...

Me: Yeah, we have a lot. Are you looking for one to take kids to?
Patron: Yes. You know, the museum in Boston.
Me: Okay sure, the Boston Children's Museum. [very quickly look to see if it's available so we don't get sidetracked] Oh good, it's available - do you know your library card number?

And from there I reserved it for her like normal. She was happy, and that pass does give a pretty good discount, so great.

But wow. Not that I border on omniscient, but it really is amazing how peoples' lives can be so narrowed to their own stuff that they totally miss things that are common knowledge to most other people. It makes me wonder what I don't know about.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/29/15”

  1. Monica Says:

    I bet she was thinking Children’s Museum and either didn’t realize she hadn’t fully verbalized it or didn’t know there are non-Children’s Museums. I’m hoping for the former, in my optimistic way.

  2. Victoria Says:

    I work in a business library for a state agency. I was explaining our holdings to a young colleague and mentioned that we received multiple newspapers on a daily basis. She was honestly surprised to learn that there is more than one newspaper. She had only ever heard of her (very) local paper. And she’s got a high school diploma. Not a whole lot of room for optimism in this case. 🙁

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Monica: I think you’re right – a lot of people call in asking for the “Boston Museum” pass, but meaning the Boston Children’s Museum. That’s one of those that is usually checked out, so it’s nice to be able to offer the Discover Museums in Action pass, which people often don’t know about.

    @Victoria: well, I think some people say, “all news is local,” so maybe that’s what’s going on here. But then again, other people say, “if it didn’t happen in Chelmsford, it didn’t happened,” so you really can’t trust people.

  4. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    “Oh, look at me, I’m Massachusetts and I have all the museums!” Well, I’ll keep going to the Oklahoma City Consolidated Museum of Art, Natural History, Aviation, Railroads, Osteology, Western Heritage, Banjos, and the American Pigeon, because we believe in efficiency here. That’s why the gift shop is a Sam’s Club.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: hey, you got me excited there for a minute – that sounded like an awesome museum. All it’d need to make it perfect is a museum of bad art in the basement of it’s movie theater.

  6. Chris Says:

    I went a few rounds with a patron who wanted to go to the “Children’s Museum of Science.” She tried to clarify by saying it was “on the water” and “near the train,” neither of which helped if you know the geography.

  7. Edith Says:

    We also do not get paid after closing, but our computers are shut down 10 minutes before closing, the money is counted the next morning and things like turning down the thermostats can be done before closing. If things are quiet we even shut down the copier 3 or 4 minutes before closing. However, if a patron is waiting on confirmation for a fax or needs a book at the last minute we will stay late to oblige them. This is not encouraged by the city (they want lights out and the building empty after the stated time)but we do it. On the other hand when someone comes in at the last minute and wants to write their report or place an order on line we have management backing to tell them to come back tomorrow.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chris: ha, I have not had that request yet, but I can easily see it happening. I can also just hear you asking, “are you looking for the one by North Station or South Station?” and the patron replying, “yes.”

    @Edith: that’s interesting to have the City so involved. I guess it makes a lot of sense, but we don’t have that kind of pressure at all in my town.