Thursday, February 09, 2006
The Librarian Is In
"Can I help you?" "I'm looking for a book." (They're always looking for something, but they never want to give you information - as if all information is classified, and they haven't yet decided if the person behind the Information Desk is to be trusted. You have to pry it out of them with a crowbar.) "Do you know the title or author of the book?" "Yes" (I'm not joking - about 50% of the students just say 'yes', as if they expect you to telepathically grab the information from their brain) Sometimes, at this point, I'm very tempted to just look at them without saying another word and see how long it takes for them to voluntarily come to the conclusion that I've left my telepathic link-up at home for the day and they will be forced to verbally communicate with me. Invariably, I remember that I'm in a 'service' profession, that I'm not supposed to treat them like idiots, and that I'm getting paid to be nice. "Well, why don't we look it up in our catalog?" (I turn to the computer and open up our online catalog.) "OK" (They stare at me as I sit in front of the computer, my hands poised above the keys, ready to type in whatever information they give me). Do they think I know how to do Vulcan mind melds? "Why don't we try the author first?" (much more accurate than a title - if you have first and last names - because several books can have similar titles, and people never remember if it's "Tales from Space" or "Tales of Space" or "Tales in Space", etc.) "Ok, his name is Raymond." "Do you know his first name?" (Our catalog has spit out 50 authors with the last name Raymond.) "That is his first name." (I don't even want to know how many books we have by authors with Raymond anywhere in their name - which is how I'd have to look it up, since I can't limit to just the first name - but I look it up anyway. 1449 books.) "Do you know his last name?" (How many libraries/bookstores/any-type-of-establishment-with-books go by author's first name?) "Um, no" (still not a crisis) "Do you remember the title - even just one word will help" (God bless the Advanced Search features) "Yeah!" (he's getting a little more animated) The first word is 'The.' Or maybe the second word." I pause for a moment to take a breath. "The" is not really a word to the library catalog- it's just a filler taking up space between real pieces of information. And the catalog only gets along with 'real pieces of information.' I do the search anyway, and now have 685 records staring at me. I point this out to the student - he can go sit and look through all these, I'm not going to - and try again for more information. "Do you remember anything else about the title? Or what the book is about?" (Subject searching is a little trickier than author or title, which is why I save it as a last resort.) "I'm not sure what it's about - it was recommended to me by my professor - but it's something about American Indians. It was something like The Everlasting Indians. Or maybe The Infinite Indians. Or it could have been The Indians Forever." As he keeps on rattling off variations on this theme, I'm trying subject searches, title searches, etc. Finally I come across "The Ageless Indies" by Raymond Kennedy. Take a minute and look at the difference between the actual title and the titles he gave. He thought the book was on Native American Indians. It's about the Dutch East Indies. When I give him the title, author and call number on a piece of paper, his face brightens. "Oh! That makes sense. We're not studying American Indians, so I was confused. But this makes a lot more sense." I wish there was a shot that people received with their immunizations as a baby that would impart common sense, or at least make a red flag go off in their brain and say "Hey! Write this down if you're going to want to remember this later!" I love my job. And even though this sounds like I'm complaining about patrons, I love the feeling of finding something with almost no information. I don't always succeed, but when I do, I feel like I've just won a small battle. Usually, a small battle against a student's brain. But hey - winning is winning.