The Rant of the Wild Librarian

I spent half the day thinking it was Monday—not just because of the long weekend,  but because the library was hopping.

Anyone who thinks that libraries are no longer relevant or necessary to the majority of the population should have tried to jump the line that formed at our doors an hour before we opened.

Between 9:30 and noon, my department, which was three staff down,  located and pulled city directories, mortality indexes, assorted Federal Census volumes, alumni directories, government documents, and a map showing our area’s railroad system in 1860; worked out a bus schedule involving three towns and two bus companies for a patron whose car broke down just in time for her first day of work tomorrow;  taught three people several times each how to load microfilm into the appropriate machines and make copies; and helped another patron update both his resume and his profile on match-dot-com, as man does not live by bread alone (R220.5203 Hol).

After lunch, we encountered the new contender for Special Patron of the Year,  who in our* considered opinion, doesn’t appear to know what a research paper is for,** and is laboring—or not—under the mistaken assumption that librarians are there to write them for students who don’t like to touch books.

For any of you who are planning on doing research any time soon in an academic or public library environment, please allow me to offer a few helpful insights:

Library staff have all done their homework.***

We will gladly, happily, and inventively show you how to do your homework, even if we are simultaneously helping several other people while answering our Pavlovian phone that is conditioned to ring whenever we move more than ten feet away from the public desk.

We will not do it for you while you read Cosmo^ and talk on your cell in a quiet area, telling your friends that you’re stuck in the library doing that boring assignment that’s due tomorrow, but you should be out of there as soon as the librarian hurries up, because you’ve been waiting fifteen minutes for information that is supposed to fill up ten double-spaced pages.

Instead, we will kill you with kindness bury you in books, files, indexes, bibliographies, and rolls of newspaper microfilm and wish you luck.

Fear not.  We won’t abandon you entirely: we’ll help you load the microfilm machines, use the photocopiers, loan you a pencil and scrap paper, and even direct you to the restroom.  We may even suggest that you go back to the university librarians who wouldn’t do your paper for you either, but who have the actual resources on your topic and will be open until midnight.

And we will enjoy it, because we’ve done our jobs to the letter and we (this one is the royal ‘we’) get a blog entry out of it.

Listen:  librarians will cross the metaphorical desert to locate data on the migratory patterns of wild camels if you think you need it.   All it takes to get us to ramp up from excellent service to superlative effort is three magic words.

No, not “I brought chocolate,” though that’s not a bad guess.

If you really don’t know, you might try asking a librarian.  Very nicely.


*Not the royal ‘our’—she blessed the first floor with her presence before she graced us.

**To learn how to personally find data in a multitude of legitimate resources, none of which yet includes Wikipedia or YouTube.

***With the possible exception of the pages, who are all holding down jobs.

^I’m exaggerating.  I don’t know the name of the magazine, but I’m assuming Khloe Kardashian’s possible pregnancy is not on the list of approved research topics.


18 thoughts on “The Rant of the Wild Librarian

  1. Have I ever told you how much I love your asterisks? You’ve got style, baby. Oh, and a hell of a lot of patience, too.

    • That’s what people notice most about me—my lovely footnotes.

      It’s not that I have patience, I just like having health insurance. . . no, seriously, these kinds of patrons are rare. That’s why we’re kind of stunned when they do.

  2. Classic.

    Now, could you expound upon the Wikipedia comment? Surely it isn’t for research papers but itis sufficient for historical fiction? I, I mean, one isn’t to actually read factual books and such. Are they?

    I’m going to get a cold compress. I’ll be back…

    • The biggest strength of and worst problem with Wikipedia is that it’s written by anyone who can work out how to add their opinions and typos. A lot of these anyones are both smart and knowledgaeable, some of them just know what they know (y’know?), and some of them are vandals.

      It’s up to the researcher to follow up, or not! Sorry. 😉

  3. May I ask your professional view of having a coffee shop IN the library. I get apopletic just thinking about it. I have been going to our local library since 1973. Have taken out thousands of books. Never lost one. NEVER. Each of my 4 children received their first library card when they were 3. We have gone for story hours, special visitors, films, exhibits etc.. I have been a friend of the library for years. Now they have a coffee shop. It is not enclosed. It is in a corner of the library right next to the new books, my first stop. I can barely stand it. The other day I was there and besides the chatter etc, they started grinding beans. I could hardly contain myself. I have sent emails to the library director but received no reply. The ladies that work there hate it, (we have discussed it at length) but there is nothing they can do. So what do you think?

    • Hmmm. I myself get a little twitchy thinking about liquids near the collections, regardless of noise, but I usually work in what is essentially the rare book room, so I would (no food or drink is allowed in our department).

      Two of our branches have coffee shops, but they’re set apart from the library proper, near the meeting rooms. The same with the two other area libraries that have cafes—they’re offset and behind doors. You can’t hear the blenders, grinders, or chatters and that arrangement seems to work for us. If the noise intruded throughout the entire library—if there were no designted quiet areas—then I’m not sure it would be ideal for either the staff or the majority of our patrons.

      As it is, our patrons would like a coffee shop in our main library as well, but there’s no place to put it in the existing building. And that might be your libary’s problem—how to fit a desired feature into available space. Our coffee shops were part of the design of the branch building, so we were able to place them advantageously.

      But your opinion definitely matters. You might write to the board members as well, and to the organized friends’ group as well, if you have one. Find some like minded fellow patrons—strength in numbers—and address your concerns. If there’s an alternative site for the shop, maybe suggest that?

  4. ” We may even suggest that you go back to the university librarians who wouldn’t do your paper for you either, but who have the actual resources on your topic and will be open until midnight.”


    Okay, a few other points. You seriously helped someone update their profile????? And, I’m racking my brain for what the 3 magic words are to get a librarian’s help -I’ve got please, so that’s one ….

    • I seriously helped with match dot com—but only with uploading the photo. I didn’t offer opinons or editing assistance. Okay, maybe the spelling, a little.

      What do you say when people give you the information you need?

      • Too much information???

        No I’m joking but that’s three words. ( I get it now please and thank you – I was looking for three words together – you know, like SHUT UP NOW!)

  5. I work in one of those research libraries. I once had a patron ask me to help them find ‘the blue math book’.

    We have a course here called ‘Library 160’, which all students must pass before graduation. It’s really astonishing how creative they get trying to get staff to do their homework for them. If they’d just put half of that effort into learning how to find the answers themselves, they’d know how to use the library.

    I know the three words that won’t work.

    • Oh, heavens, yes, “The Blue Book of All Knowledge” (it’s always blue, isn’t it?). If only we hadn’t misshelved it . . .

      Let me guess: “That’s your job.” ?

  6. I was recently at my lovely local library when I passed a reference librarian’s desk and decided to ask him something on a whim. It was for research for my novel, but since I hadn’t even done the pre-research yet (to determine what, specifically, I needed help with) my inquiry was basically like asking, “I’d like to research something on history.” Ummm okay, sugarpie, want to narrow that down a bit??

    The librarian was very kind and tried to help me but I quickly determined it’s best not to ask questions you’re not yet smart enough to ask. I guess I had been busy thinking research librarians are gods who can read my mind and immediately produce the perfect book(s) on the matter. Ah well.

    • We do our best, but telepathy is rare among our people—and most days I’m grateful for that. 😉

      Reference interviews can help both sides figure out what information is actually needed, but sometimes it’s best to step back and regroup.

      What, out of curiosity, was your original question?

  7. first, happy belated anniversary.

    second, your rant should be copyrighted, laminated and posted on every Library bulletin board from NY to CA.

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