things i heard at the library: an occasional series

The most challenging part of being a library page has been not answering people's questions. Pages are in the stacks, shelving books, so naturally people are going to ask us questions. Plus people always ask me for directions and information, it's a lifelong MO. (That's a story for another post.) But we're not supposed to answer questions.

My natural inclination is to be helpful, but I'm not qualified to give good answers. Other library staff are way more qualified, plus if pages answered questions all the time, they'd never get their work done. So the only questions I'm supposed to answer are simple directionals, such as, "Where do I go to check out books?"

On the other hand, we're not supposed to just say, "I'm sorry, I don't know" or point people towards the desk. I'm familiar with this concept from my Reference course, and I like it. Many people find it difficult to ask for help. They're embarrassed, they're shy, they feel stupid. If they've worked up whatever it takes to ask you, and if you seem to be passing them off, they may not ask again. So instead of pointing, we're supposed to bring them over to the desk and introduce the question for them. (Librarians, in turn, are not supposed to point; they're supposed to get up and walk the patron to the proper section and help them find the book. This can't always happen, for many reasons, but it's the ideal.)

So this not-answering and desk-walking thing took some getting used to. But once I got my wording down - and when I saw how effective it is - it was fine. More than fine, it felt really good. It goes like this.

(A parent) "Excuse me, could you tell me where books for very young children are?"

"The folks at the desk will be happy to show you. Let's go over to the desk and ask."

I guide them over to the desk and say, "Excuse me, Jason, this woman would like to know where books for young children are."

Woman thanks me, Jason thanks me, Jason gets up to give the woman a tour of the different areas for different age groups.

Or it might go like this.

(A child.) "Where are the books on rocks and minerals?"

I took this to be directional, so I walked the child down the stacks, and pointed to the Dewey sign. "These are the 540s, chemistry, atoms and molecules, rocks and minerals."

He said, "Yeah, I know that, but I'm looking for this one book, I can't find it."

"OK, let's ask at the desk. They can see if it's in the library, or if it's out, or what." We walk over to the desk together, and I say, "Excuse me, Ann, this young man is looking for a specific book. Could you help him find it?"

Excuse me, do you have the fifth Harry Potter book?

Now, this wasn't strictly directional, but there was only one person on the desk, and she was very busy. I said, "Let's go over to the Harry Potter books and see if it's there. What's the name of the author?"

I asked this because I knew he would know. He answered instantly, "JKRowling."

"Great, so we go to the fiction section"... we walk over... "then over to the R's for Rowling, and let's look. Do you see it here?"

"No, I read all these."

"OK, so let's go to the desk and see if they can find it. It might be upstairs with the grownup books, or maybe we can get it from a different branch..."

* * * *

I'm thinking of a new occasional series: "things i heard at the library". Right now everything I hear is new and fun. Maybe after a few months it will all be routine and this series will fall apart. But for now...

(Mom, whispering) Go ahead, ask her. Go on, go on, it's ok, ask her.

(Girl, barely audible) Excuse me, Miss, do you know where mumblemumblemumble is?

I waited at the desk with her for a full five minutes until a librarian was free. Her mother thanked me profusely.

* * * *

(Boy, looking intently at the Series section, talking to himself.) Maybe I'll start a new series...

The intensity of his gaze, his seriousness of purpose, the importance of the decision - I had to smile to myself, as I could so relate.

* * * *

These are girls books! Let's get out of here!

* * * *

Gay guys are all so cute.

Shut up, you'll get us kicked out of the library!

(Tweens and teens sometimes hang out in the children's department. The library staff is not always very tolerant of them.)

* * * *

Persistent whining. . . whining . . . giving way to hysterical wailing and screaming

Child with finger caught in paper bin of printer/photocopier. Page to the rescue.

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