Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | February 4, 2012


One of the most important things that people can do to help themselves at a library is to know what they’re looking for when they come in the doors.

I’ve written before of various experiences wherein people knew nothing more than the color of a book’s cover and assumed that would be enough to hunt down the text in question.

(Note: It’s not. Not even a little bit. Not even at all.)

Sometimes the issue lies in the fact that the patron doesn’t really know what it is they’re looking for, but they’ve got an idea or a jumping off point and you can go from there to help point ‘em in the right direction.

And then there are times like today…

Leon Listerooni: “I’m new to the library this semester and I’d like to know what books you have.”
Cap’n Charisma: “…what books we have?! Could you be a little more specific?”
Leon Listerooni: “Yes. I would like a list of the books available.”
Cap’n Charisma: “…you want a list of all the books we have available?”
Leon Listerooni: “Yes. If you have it in PDF you can just email it to me to save paper. I’ve got an iPad, so a PDF will be sufficient.”
Cap’n Charisma: “Riiiiiiiiight…our collection has over three million items. I can’t print you a list or send you a list. You can use our catalog to search for specific items that you want.”

He took a few moments to stare at me like our inability to print a list with three million items was somehow a major disservice.

He gathered his bearings with this initial defeat and forged ahead trying a new angle.

Leon Listerooni: “Well, I don’t know what it is I want yet. So a list would still be preferable. You can just give me part of the list. A couple of pages or so would be a fine starting point.”
Cap’n Charisma: “Um…there isn’t, like, a master list or anything. I can do a title search and start with ‘A’ or something, but without some sort of search parameters there’s no guaranteeing it’ll be helpful at all.”
Leon Listerooni: “What if we narrow it down to just books from 2000 to today? Does that help?”
Cap’n Charisma: “Well, that helps a little, but you’re still talking about a whole big bunch of books. What subject area are you researching? That would be a good first step.”

He took a minute to mull this over.

Admittedly, this should have been an indication that I wasn’t going to get an acceptable answer out of the dude.

Leon Listerooni: “I’m researching science.”
Cap’n Charisma: “…science.”
Leon Listerooni: “…and engineering!”
Cap’n Charisma: “You’re researching ‘science’ and ‘engineering.’”
Leon Listerooni: “Correct.”
Cap’n Charisma: “Those are still pretty vague search parameters. Is there any chance you can be just a tad bit more specific? Maybe hone in on a certain aspect of science or engineering? You know…narrow it down a bit.”

He then looked at me like I’d reached out and backhanded him across the face whilst wearing a glove made of smallpox.

Leon Listerooni: “Why on earth would I want to narrow my search?”
Cap’n Charisma: “…so you can actually find some results?!”

We went back and forth like this for awhile with me telling him he needed to be more specific in order to actually get any worthwhile search results and him telling me that specificity would hinder the breadth and eventual success of his research.

Eventually, he just mumbled something about having to be somewhere else and left the library. Just turned and walked out.

I assume that one of two things happened:

1) He grew so annoyed with my unceasing need for search criteria and my unwillingness to just print him a list of books that he just figured he’d be better off coming back another time to bug a different, more list-friendly staff member.

2) He realized how completely asinine his request was and decided to hightail it out of there without admitting as much.

Unfortunately, I fear it was the former and not the latter.



  1. Wow this quote comes to mind

    Select * from user where Clue = ‘True’
    *no rows returned*


  2. You are much more patient than I would have been – I would have grabbed a piece of paper, scribbled and sent him on his way.


    • If I don’t feel an immediate urge to kill them, I am generally able to keep it together long enough to at least attempt to be helpful. This was one of those times.


  3. I’m reminded of one dim bulb who comes into our branch, every Saturday, without fail, and asks for every single book we have on communication. I’m tempted to give him The Art of War next time and see if he figures it out.


    • I love it!

      I should have given this dude the first three or four engineering and science books within reach and just told him “that’s it…that’s all we’ve got.”


  4. Jess and I wish we could hear their side of the story about you. It’d be hilarious. 🙂


    • I assume it’d go something like this…

      “That little prick wouldn’t help me at all. Worst Service Ever! Now my research is hindered!”


  5. Wow. There just aren’t words…

    Kind of makes you worry about the future of humanity doesn’t it? Or at least the future of research. 🙂


    • I just don’t understand how he expects to actually accomplish anything if he has no real idea what he’s looking for…perhaps he’s not really looking for anything, one of those people who is always “doing research” kinda like those aspiring authors who are always “working on a novel” that never sees the light of day.


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