Underestimating Patrons

Last month, my friend was visiting her family in Hawai’i, and she called me to tell me about her library experience.  She visited the library she went to growing up there as a child, and that her two younger brothers had also spent time at.  When she walked in, it was the same librarian from all those years ago.  Not surprising since I’ve been waiting for a job to open up at Hawaii Public Library for years and I haven’t seen any.  I wouldn’t quit my job if I worked there.

But the funny/terrible thing that happened to her while she was there was this:

She looked up a book in the catalog.  Went to the shelf, and it wasn’t there.  She went up to the librarian and explained that she looked it up, it wasn’t there, and she’s wondering if it could be anywhere else.  The librarian looked up the book, walked over to the same section, told my friend the book wasn’t there and she didn’t know where it was.  My friend was like “no duh. i just did that” (in her mind, of course, she can be polite when she wants to be) and left.  She called me to tell me about the rudeness of the librarian and how she felt like the librarian was treating her like an idiot.

I told her I was sorry as I was laughing — laughing because I do this to every patron who comes up to me with that same exact situation.  I told my friend that it’s kind of standard procedure because a lot of the time patrons think they know how to use the catalog and they think they know how to locate a book on the shelf, but over 50% of the time, the book is sitting exactly where the catalog said it was and the patron just couldn’t find it.

Everytime I do this to a patron, I tell them, “let’s just double check the area to make sure it’s not there because sometimes they get shelved right after you leave, or they’re hiding” to try to make them feel not so dumb.  I usually only feel bad when the book really isn’t there and it’s either being shelved or is just lost, but that happens less than the patron having the error on location, or author’s last name, or looking for the book by title.

But I felt kind of bad that I couldn’t be upset with the librarian for making my friend feel dumb.  Because, sometimes, after a long day, we wonder about the education people are receiving today.  Like learning things such as numerical order, alphabetical order, common sense, reading labels on shelves that answer the question we get asked 100 times a day.  But we also need to remember that the patron doesn’t know we’ve already answered their question 100 times that day (with the same patron who came before them) and that sometimes patrons do know what they’re doing.  Working with the public all day isn’t easy and can test your will some days, but in the end helping them and answering their questions is the rewarding reason we got into this business in the first place.

that, and we like to point out what’s wrong with humanity and try to fix it.  oh, the stories librarians can share about the public…


One thought on “Underestimating Patrons

  1. I usually tell patrons we’ll double check it, cause a second set of eyes will some times spot it. Then if it is there I empathize that sometimes finding a book can be like looking for the mayo in the fridge, I stand there looking at the shelf and can’t find it and then my mom comes and grabs it right in front of my eyes. We’ve all had that happen.

    Our biggest problem is that patrons don’t know what branch they are in or they don’t look to see if it is actually available, or they look at the author, but not if it is fiction or non-fiction. I had one lady tell me that she’d looked up Ellen Hopkins and the computer said we had all of her books on the cart and I should go get them for her (she was on the internet), but it turns out ALL of the copies systemwide are checked out and some have hold lists. Of course that is all but the ones I’m hiding.

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