things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 5

"Where can I find book number 285?"

The boy's face was so earnest and so excited.

"What book are you looking for?" I asked.

"Book number 285."

"Is that the title of the book?"

"No, it's the book's number. The title is 'Quick and Easy Cooking'".

"You want a book about cooking?"


"Ok, I'll show you where those are."

I walked him over to the kids' cooking section. "These are all the cooking books for kids. You can look through these books, or if you want a specific book, we can ask at the desk."

"I already know the book! Book number 285!"

Hmm. I stood for a few moments considering the possibilities. I figured he had a partial call number.

Before I could answer, he said, "I'll show you on the computer!"

"OK, great, let's look."

We went to the computer he had been using. He opened the catalogue and chose "search by a word in the subject". Then he typed in "cooking" and clicked to search.

I said, "Too many books will come up in that search. You might want to..."

"No! Look!" He scrolled through the listings to "Quick and Easy Cooking". And... there are 285 books under that category. "See? Book number 285!"


John F said...

This reminds me of an anecdote I read years ago in a science fiction magazine. The regular book reviewer also owned a specialty SF/Fantasy bookstore. In the late 70s, Stephen R. Donaldson had a popular fantasy/Tolkien knockoff trilogy out, the first book of which is titled "Lord Foul's Bane". One day an elderly man came into the store, looking for a particular book for his grandson's birthday. He was sure it was called "Lord Fane's Bowels".

John F said...

Another one: I once called a used bookstore to ask if they had any Sherlock Holmes books in stock. The clerk put down the phone, and was gone for a long while. When she came back, she told me she had looked under both H and S, but couldn't find anything by Sherlock Holmes.

laura k said...

Lord Fane's Bowel


The poor soul looking for Sherlock Holmes shouldn't have been working in a bookstore... but it makes for an amusing anecdote.

Or antidote, as I heard someone say just last night.

Amy said...

Wonderful story! How old was the boy? I am impressed by his persistence AND his interest in cooking. I am also impressed by your patience and persistence! :)

impudent strumpet said...

Awww, that's awesome! I love how his logic was so close to reality - they have so many books, they must have numbers to identify them with, so I'll be helpful and give the lady the number I found on the computer. Very well done considering he seemed to be figuring this out by himself from scratch!

Kids are so good at figuring stuff out that I sometimes wonder if people lose that skill in adulthood.

laura k said...

Yes, it was awesome! I wish I could have praised him more for his ingenuity and initiative. It was very busy, and I by the time we were finished, I gave him a new starting point and quickly moved on.

Amy, I don't know how old he was, I'm so bad at that. I would say 8-11 range. It didn't feel like it took much patience on my end, it felt pretty average in those terms - I guess that's a good sign! But his persistence was brilliant.

I love that he recognized "quick and easy cooking" as a good category for him. Hopefully once I showed him our cooking section, he could look through those books and come up with something. Kids' cookbooks are great.

Jere said...

Late 1990s, Borders books, where I worked in the music department:

The children's books/music section was its own section, on a different floor from ours. A teenager comes up to our music desk and asks my 70-year old co-worker, "Do you have Kid Rock?" Guy says, "Children's music, downstairs."

I had to explain this new Kid Rock character to him, as he thought the kid was looking for rock 'n' roll for children. I wonder how many people he'd sent to the children's section to find cds by this R-rated artist before I clued him in. (He also thought 2Pac referred to double-cd jewel cases.)

laura k said...

Re Kid Rock, I have a feeling many readers of this blog would have done the same thing!

DavidHeap said...

I too love kid's cookbooks, and cooking with kids (for, not so much, sometimes...). I too would've failed on the Kid Rock test, also on 2Pac (until my teenage son enlightened me).

When I was an assistant library assistant (ALT or "page" by another name?) at UofT in the mid-80s, one of my jobs was in Short-Term Loans, which can get pretty busy when assignments are due:

Student: My prof says we have to read a chapter in the blue book.
Me: OK, you can look your reading up by course number here...
I don't know the course number.
Me; (pause). You can find the course title in this list of subject areas.
Don't know the subject area or the course title.
Me: (longer pause): You can also look up your readings by prof...
Don't know my prof's name. He has a beard, and he said the reading in the blue book would be here.
Me (deep breath, suppressing the observation that the beard didn't really narrow down the field of profs very usefully, and deciding I didn't want to go down the "So, what is your major?"path). You're going to need a bit more information in order to find the right reading.
(Genuinely distressed) But he said we HAD to read the chapter from the blue book for next class!
Me (observing line of other students forming behind this time-consuming person): Look at that shelf, there are a bunch of blue books, pick any one you like, any chapter you like, enjoy.

I wonder sometimes if things are better or worse now, when university students have many readings directly e-linked to course pages. I recently dealt with an (otherwise very bright) advanced undergrad who was very surprised to discover the campus library had physical journals which are in the catalogue but NOT ONLINE (in 4 years, she had never been to the periodical room). Rather like my other son, who was excited to inform me he had learned a game JUST LIKE solitaire, except you play it with cards...

laura k said...

Don't know my prof's name. He has a beard, and he said the reading in the blue book would be here.

Oh, well then!

Rather like my other son, who was excited to inform me he had learned a game JUST LIKE solitaire, except you play it with cards...


You know, in my graduate school experience, I am so accustomed to doing everything online, that the rare times I've had to go to a physical library - for materials, not just for a quiet place to get work done between classes - it's been a bit of a shock. I didn't know where anything was, and went straight to the desk to ask!

DavidHeap said...

Yes Laura -- but you knew 1. that you should ask, and 2. that there should be e.g. a periodicals room. My bright undergrad, not so much... well, she did ask me, but the idea that there was a place with paper journals came as a complete surprise.

laura k said...

the idea that there was a place with paper journals came as a complete surprise

Amazing - not her ignorance so much as the total technological change that's taken place.