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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/26

   December 2nd, 2006 Brian Herzog

About 9:15 a.m. yesterday morning, December 1st, the reference desk phone rings:

Me: Reference desk, can I help you?
Patron: I get my social security check every month on the third except sometimes it comes on the same day as the SSI check and for other people the checks come together if you are disabled instead of retired when the checks come together but this month the third is on a Sunday and my mailbox is a P.O. box in the city next door because I live with my daughter now and whenever the third falls on a Sunday they send the check out on the first which means it comes with the SSI check for the disabled people and it's quite a drive for me to check my mailbox and I don't want to go into the city if my check isn't going to be there and can you tell me if my check is in my mailbox can you do that for me do you understand what I'm asking you?
Me: You're asking if I can find out the mailing schedule for social security checks?
Patron: No, that's not what I'm asking you at all see my check always arrives on the third and I want to know if it is in my mailbox before I drive to the city because the third is a Sunday so they usually mail it on the first which is today can you find that out?
Me: Well, I can try, but it might take me a little while. Can I call you back when I find it?
Patron: You don't know it right now is ten minutes enough I'll call you back in ten minutes. [click]

Okay, at this point, I'm only about 10% sure I even know what this patron wants, let alone if I'll be able to find it. And of course, since I'm under a deadline, three patrons all walk to the desk at this point and ask questions.

After helping each of them, I'm back on the case. I can't remember the URL of the Social Security Administration (which I have since remembered is very cleverly ssa.gov), so I go to Firstgov.gov, search for social security, and the first search result links to http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

Very happily, front and center on their homepage is a "Questions about:" dropdown box, and the third option is "Checks and Payments." That links to an FAQ, and question two is "When are benefit checks paid?"

This page kind of answers the patron's question, but I hit real pay dirt when I notice a link for a Schedule of Social Security Benefit Payments 2006. This page turns out to be a calendar, with each day a checks are mailed highlights (taking Sundays into account).

How great is that? Here is a somewhat obscure question, on a topic I knew nothing about, and yet I was able to find the answer on a government website in about 3 clicks. When the patron called back (twenty minutes later), I was able to tell her with confidence that her check should have been mailed that day (but I couldn't promise it was in her mailbox). And she was happy.

Who says our government is inept?

firstgov.gov, government, patron, reference question, social security

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