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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/28/10

   March 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

catapultI only got involved with this towards the end, but in plenty of time for the punch line. A woman called in to reserve a meeting room for later that day, and during the process, apparently she asked:

Can the ceilings of any of your meeting rooms be raised?

I didn't hear about this until the next day, but it should have been a tip-off that trouble lay ahead. However, she was told there was an available room, and she would need to fill out our online reservation form to reserve it.

That night the woman came in with her group, which is when I got involved. It turns out she never did actually reserve a room, but just showed up expecting one. All our rooms were in use by then, so after much scrambling around trying to find an available space, I ended up dividing our large meeting room with the movable wall - then I went back downstairs to the Reference Desk feeling satisfied about accommodating a patron's request.

About ten minutes later, the Children's Librarian came down to see me. Our Children's Room is right next to the meeting room, so she can often hear what's going on in there, even at moderate noise levels. I thought she was going to commiserate about our online room booking system or not having enough meeting space to meet community demand, but instead she asked:

Did you tell that group they could use a catapult?

Ha. Apparently, this group was a school group, and for a science project they built and are experimenting with a catapult. It wasn't quiet as large as the one in the picture, but still it was too big, too loud, and too dangerous for us to let them use it in the library. I'm actually a little bit in awe of them for apparently thinking it would be perfectly okay.

Now, you know I like medieval siege weapons, but perhaps this is a good rule of thumb: if the library's ceiling is too low to do something, then that is something you cannot do in the library.

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/12/08

   October 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Bank tellersLibrarians are always on duty.

Every once in awhile, I'll get recognized when I'm out around town as "the guy from the library." But since I see so many patrons at the library, I hardly ever recognize their faces when I'm out in the real world.

Usually, people just say hi or thank me for whatever I helped them with, but this time I was asked a real library question (talk about roving reference).

I was at bank during lunch, filling out some forms at the counter with a teller. When my transaction was completed, the teller paused a moment and then asked me if I worked at the library.

She said a club she is in held a meeting there, and the meeting room worked perfectly for them. So much so that she wanted to schedule meetings at the library for a different group she's in, and asked me what our meeting room policy was (of course, she didn't say "meeting room policy" - only librarians say that).

I told her about the rooms we have, how to schedule a room, and took her business card with me when I left. I told her I'd check our meeting room availability calendar when I got back to the library, and call her later that day. I did, we found an open time that worked for her group, and she was extremely happy that I happened to come into the bank that day.

You never know when simple coincidences will work out like that - I guess you just have to be open to them.

However, had this happened about a month from now, I could have helped her right there in the bank. My library is in the process of getting an online meeting room booking system up and running, and we've almost got the bugs worked out (I'll post more about this when it's ready). If we were already on that system, instead of still using paper calendar books, she and I could have checked room availability online from her work computer, and then made her reservation before I even left the bank.

Not that I encourage librarians to walk around town getting people to do personal business while they're at work, of course. But I do think the more library services people can access remotely, the easier it is for patrons to use them, and the library.

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