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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/3/16

   January 9th, 2016

alphabetical mish-mashMaybe it's not the best way to start off a new year by having someone question the very fabric of your everyday life.

This week, the first full week after the New Year's holiday, someone did just that - and for a few seconds, what he said made enough sense that I doubted that what I thought I knew was true, and underwent an instantaneous reevaluation of my career as a librarian. But luckily, it passed.

In my library, the non-fiction stacks start right next to the Reference Desk - so on the first shelf closest to us are the 000-152s. This, of course, includes the computer books, which is good because this is a section we get asked about a lot.

Such was the case this Wednesday night. A patron walked up and asked where the programming books were, and without a second thought I walked with him the few steps to the first shelf.

As I was giving my normal spiel about, "here are the programming books, and next come applications and then web stuff," the patron interrupted me by saying,

These books are out of order.

Oh. Well, that's actually not uncommon in the computer books - partly because it's a frequently-used collection, and partly, I think, because we have so many books with the exact same Dewey number that people don't always get them in the right order by Cutter.

I started to apologize to the patron and say something to this effect, when he stepped up to the shelf, took a book off, moved it over a couple books and replaced it on the shelf, then took a step back and said,

It's a common mistake, that's a silent "D."

I looked more closely at the book he moved and saw,

Drupal, Drupal, Django, Joomla...

He said it so matter-of-factly that it was at this point that I wondered if I missed a day in library school and have subsequently been shelving books incorrectly my entire career. What other words have common silent letters? Should books about Czars be in the "Zs?" And wherever should we be shelving phone books?

However, rather than get into it with him, I went back to the desk and left him to browse the books. I saw him leave a few minutes later with three or four, so that was great.

And after he left I went back over to look at the books, and sure enough, these were still like that. I'd recovered my own confidence by this point, and reshelved the books so that they were correct again. Take that, patron of anarchy!

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/3/16”

  1. Cheryl Becker Says:

    Hilarious, actually! thanks for sharing!

  2. Billy Larlad Says:

    The trouble with letting the guy think he was right is that now he may see fit to rearrange the books the next time he’s in, too.

    Sometimes — maybe most times — the “customer” _is_ wrong!

  3. Justin Says:

    Did the patron happen to look like this?


  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Cheryl: you’re welcome – I thought so too. Amazing what people come up with.

    @Billy: I thought about that, but sometimes there’s just no convincing someone of something. In this case, even out of place, the books will be findable, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I am kind of curious to see what he says next time he comes in.

    @Justin: nice, I had forgotten about that line, but of course I couldn’t help thinking about that movie this whole time.

  5. Susan Says:

    Should books about Czars be in the “Zs?”
    Unless it’s transliterated Tsars, in which case…

  6. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    We lost a lot of good catalogers in 1993.

    Curse you, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince! Curse you!

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Susan: this may be my favorite comment ever.

    @The Librarian: well, some people just defy classification, so that one’s okay.

  8. JoshR Says:

    We once had a patron in our children’s department get really angry insisting that the children’s picture books were out of order. She insisted that we shouldn’t be ignoring “The” at the beginning of titles.

    I just kept thinking of the one collection of Far Side cartoons that had an index, with every letter listed but with nothing under it until you got to “T”, and then every cartoon was there, listed under “The one about the…”