Can you tell me where the books are?

Sometimes it’s real easy to tell when someone hasn’t been to the library in a long time, or has never stepped in the building in the first place. Questions like “Where can I get a library card?” or “Where’s nonfiction located?” and even “Where’s the restroom?” are key clues, but then there are those that make me stop and blink a few times. Today I had a patron approach the desk and ask, “Can you tell me where the books are?” I must have given her a funny look, because she continued, “You know, the ones you can stick in your car…the DVD player?” After this clarification, I made the wild guess and walked her over to the audiobook CDs, and fortunately that’s what she was looking for. And to make her rookie status even clearer, she asked, “Now you can check these out like the books, right?”

I do hope I’m not giving the wrong impression; I’m not trying to make fun of the patron. There was a time when I, myself, was a rookie to the library stacks. I rarely stepped foot in the small library in my home town–I didn’t find the staff all that friendly, and I pretty much purchased all the reading material that I wanted. Whenever I did take a trip for something I didn’t have, I always felt a little silly approaching the desk with any questions. So I can understand a little bit of confusion and lack of direction when people find their way into the Lawrence Public Library for the first time–the building is probably four times the size of my hometown’s! And I applaud this patron’s willingness to ask without fear of sounding ignorant.

As a reference librarian, on the front line, that’s part of my job–to make patrons feel as comfortable in their information and entertainment seeking as possible. After my initial hesitation, I gladly got up from the desk and guided her to the right location. I imagine if I had been sitting behind the desk, my nose in the computer or newspaper, and if I had rolled my eyes at her approach, she wouldn’t have bothered asking and would have left quite disappointed. She seemed quite satisfied, as it was, and upon walking back past the reference desk, she pointed to the circulation desk (over which a sign reading “Check out” hangs) and asked “I check these out there, right?”

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