I had this great reference question on Saturday: a patron called with the name of the book she wanted, but she only remembered the title in Spanish and that it was a novel about Saint Luke. Now, I don’t speak a word of Spanish, besides the counting I learned on Sesame Street. (For the record, I also know nothing about Saint Luke.) Browsing our catalog and then Amazon for novels about Saint Luke gave me nothing. Finally, I asked for the Spanish title (Medico de Cuerpos y Almas) and used that to get the author,  and then looked for the author in our catalog. We had three books, but none of them were about Saint Luke.  So I did a search for the author and Saint Luke on Amazon  – and there it was! Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell – of course, over the phone, this took 20 minutes – but what a great feeling when I found it! (And by found, I mean that we had to order the book through ILL.)


I also was had a real live Mac versus PC conversation with a patron, which turned out to be really, really interesting. She wanted to buy a new computer, and wanted my advice on which to buy. I did my best to give her resources about both options, but what was most interesting was  how emotional the patron was about her decision, which was only amplified by the larger, highly opinionated debate.

I also spent an awesome half-hour researching light box therapy reviews, and did lots of off-the-cuff reference, where I was essentially at a loss for where to look after I’d consulted health journals and our health database, and yet I was still coming up with more and more places to look. That always boosts my confidence, even if it’s half-casting about in the dark.

Finally, reference and baseball: A woman called to ask if we had a laminator. We do not, but I suggested she try Staples, and told her about how I had once had a picture from the newspaper laminated there. It turns out that was exactly what she needed to do. The best part: she wanted to laminate the Boston Herald cover about the Red Sox World Series win – so, yay!


It’s Halloween, and much to my surprise, the Northernmost Library decided to let the staff wear costumes to work. Having just been to a great Halloween birthday party earlier in the week, I thought, “Awesome. I already have a costume. This will be fun.”

Not so much. I mean, I love my costume, and there are other people dressed up. But no one in my department. The worst thing is that no one really said anything when I came in. Their looks said, “Oh, so you’re dressed up like all those other people downstairs.” They said aloud, “Hello.” They looked uncomfortable, and that made me uncomfortable.

What’s weirder is that the patrons who’ve come up to the desk so far are also just pretending I’m not in costume. No “I like your costume?” or “Happy Halloween!” or anything. Just, “Where’s the Physician’s Desk Reference?” or “How do I log into a computer?”

I don’t know, I just want a moment of human connection. It’s Halloween! Be silly! Embrace the silliness of others!

So I guess I’m just going to make myself some coffee, and try and spend as much time as I can hiding behind my monitor, working on the electronic resources page, and daydreaming about being home.

I’ve been getting lots of interesting requests and being witness to some very odd assumptions about how searching for information in a library setting works. I’m always fascinated by user search behavior and why we look for things the way we look for them, but in a very practical, at-the-reference-desk sense, it can be extremely frustrating, both for me and for the patron, when I have to explain that the search engine or the OPAC they’re using can’t process information that way, or simply that the information they need does not exist on any one web page or database or secret book I keep behind the counter.

I had a patron (admittedly, one who is regularly difficult) become deeply disturbed that he could not return any useful results when he searched in Yahoo for what the cost would be of a specific number of bottles of spring water. We talked about how search engines search, how keywords work, and how he might try another search engine that searches whole questions, but he still didn’t understand why the answer to his question wasn’t just out there where he could find it.

Another patron couldn’t understand why all the plays weren’t all together (they were, in the Dewey way that things are “together”) but what she meant was that she wanted to look for the plays alphabetically and for collected plays not to be included in that section. She did, however, wonder why a copy of the play she was looking, which was already checked out, wasn’t also included in the publication, ‘Best Plays of Insert Year.’

I had one irate patron give up on our search because I, as a librarian, did not have the extremely specific map of Idaho he needed (at the New Hampshire library – I’d be a little more sympathetic if we had actually been in Idaho.) The part that cracked me up was that he kept saying, “You, as a librarian,” as though the first day on the job they handed me a magic bag from which I could pull out anything anyone needed. I assured him that my search skills were quite good and that I could find this map for him if he was patient, if it in fact was available for public access online, if he was willing to call or have me call the state of Idaho, and if he gave me more details about what he needed in a map so I could determine if the maps I was finding actually met his needs. He was not interested in this. What he wanted was for me to pull open one of the library databases (or, seriously, my magic bag) and produce for him this topographical map of this river basin area in under five minutes. I’m good, but I am not that good.

When a mother came in with her son to find a book for his class and he couldn’t remember the title, I pulled up both Amazon and Books in Print to see if we could find it. The son had obviously forgotten some key part of the title, because I found no results that were even close, and mother suggested we should just Google it. I explained that Google would return a wider, less specific result, and also, Google would not find it if nether amazon nor Books in Print could find it. I run into the belief that Google has all the answers all the time, but it surprised me to think that this patron didn’t understand the value of specific sources and why a broader source would not necessarily produce the desired result.

And yesterday, someone came in and asked for a medieval cookbook. Sure, we keep the first editions and their illuminated texts with all the other cookbooks. I explained to the patron why we, a modest public library in the United States, did not have an original medieval cookbook (nor was any other public library nearby likely to have a recent reprint which included the original formatting) and I tried to send her to a library that might be able to get a hold of such a resource. While it was great on some level that the patron saw no distinction between an academic library and a public library concerning what information we could provide her, when I explained a little bit about why we’re different, she still seem stunned that I didn’t have what she wanted. I’m a librarian, after all. With a magic bag.