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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/21/08

   September 27th, 2008 Brian Herzog

iPhone: The Missing Manual book coverI really don't like stereotyping patrons, or thinking that patrons who look a certain way will use only a certain type of information and stay away from others. But in this case, a patron breaking out of a stereotype made his reference question even funnier.

A guy in his late forties walked up to the desk. He was scruffy, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans with paint and putty smears, and looked very uncomfortable in the library. He more or less looked like a stereotypical construction worker, and lately when a skilled tradesmen comes in, he is coming to ask for help with writing a resume or with searching the internet for job ads.

So this is what I was expecting, but this guy showed me how wrong I am to stereotype:

Patron: I just bought an iPhone, and the guy at the Apple Store said that I should come here to get the manual.
Me: Oh... Well, we have books about the iPhone, but not the actual manual. Maybe we can download it from their website - so you didn't get any manual in the box?
Patron: Yeah, it came with one, but the Apple guy told me that the best one that could be included is always missing, and I should get it at the library.

Ah. When he said "missing," it dawned on me what the guy at the Apple Store told him about: iPhone: The Missing Manual.

I took the patron over to the 004's and showed him the book. He looked at it skeptically, and said "this is a book; I want the manual the Apple Guy was talking about."

I tried to reassure him that I was 99% positive this is what the salesman sent him to the library for; we don't have product manuals, this one is called "the missing manual," and I even pointed to the "The book that should have been in the box" slogan on the cover. The patron flipped through the pages, and eventually said, "well, even if this is the wrong thing, it looks like it'll show me how to use it."

After he seemed comfortable, we started walking back out towards the Reference Desk. Just then another patron, dressed exactly in exactly the same stereotypical way as the first, walked up to him. As they walked away from me up the stairs, I could overhear their conversation:

Patron 2: Did you find that book? It ain't going to help - you can barely dial a phone, let alone use a computer.
Patron 1: Shut up - with this thing, I won't need a computer. It does it all for me.

Perhaps in addition to our basic computer classes, we need to start a series on iPhones, iPods, and other new devices. Then again, teaching a beginner how to sign up for an email account is one thing; teaching a beginner how to use an iPhone might be more than one hour-long session.

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