Archive for the ‘Patrons Without a Clue’ Category

As archivists, my colleagues and I are accustomed to working closely with researchers and usually this is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. However, occasionally we meet a researcher that seems to have been sent to curse our existence.

Hannah (not her real name) is an older, out-of-state grad student who has been working on the same dissertation for the past seven years. I can’t tell you what it’s about because after an in-depth, hour-long reference interview and another 45 minute hands-on session, I still don’t know. Neither does Hannah. That’s the problem.

My colleagues have all made heroic efforts to help. They have listened intently as she bent their ears for hours. They have diplomatically suggested narrowing her research focus. They have made suggestions for specific topics she might pursue. All in vain. Every attempt to narrow her research to manageable level has simply suggested to her new topics that she wants to pursue. Couple this lack of focus with a sandpaper-like personality and you will get an idea of the albatross hanging around our necks.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no law against patrons satisfying their idle curiosity in a library. In fact, most librarians actively encourage this. But there should definitely being a law against wasting the time of the librarian.

Hannah has a couple weeks of research left. Pray for us.


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Off with their heads
Originally uploaded by Jenny Watters

A couple of weeks ago I got a request from a writer for a multi-part interview we had in our oral history collection with a well-known regional artist. I hate getting requests from writers or reporters of any streak because the concept of planning ahead is completely unknown to them. They always need the information immediately, their requests are rarely, if ever, straight forward, and, of course, they haven’t bothered to contact me until the last possible minute.

But I did the best I could for this patron. The artist’s interview ran to eleven tapes and had a 130-page transcript. I offered to look up the specific information that she wanted and then just send her those pages, but, no, her inquiry was not that focused. It wasn’t, in fact, focused at all and nothing would do but that she had to have the complete transcript. Attempting to read through a book-sized transcript 24 hours before your publication deadline is pushing it, but I figured that perhaps she was looking to glean some good quotes for her article.

So I moved heaven and earth to get this patron the transcript. That movement of the spheres required long-distance hand holding via e-mail and multiple checks of the Postal Service package tracking service. But the patron was appropriately grateful to receive the material and I promptly forgot the whole thing. Until yesterday when I received a complimentary copy of the publication.

Pleased by the unexpected gesture, I flipped through the journal to see the results of my labors. The article I had busted my chops for was one page–one page!–in length, filled with an absolute minimum of biographical information on the artist, and included only one quote and a partial one at that. To add insult to injury, when I checked the citation list, the patron had referenced the interviews as being owned by the Gondorian Archives instead of the University of Arnor.

Yes, the Gondor Archives does own a copy of this collection, but were they the ones that sweated blood to get her this transcript? NOOOOOOO!

What kind of writer, you may ask yourself, puts other people through a great deal trouble in order to get information she could have gathered from a reputable encyclopedia and a few periodical articles–and then doesn’t cite her source properly? The kind that will shortly be missing a head, my friends.

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There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.–“Red Wind” (short story, 1938), published in Trouble Is My Business (1939)

Several years back, my colleague, Karen, and I considered putting up a sign at the entrance to the library that would have read: “Must have brain in order to use our facilities”. We decided against it not because Higher Up might object, but because we figured the patrons wouldn’t actually read the sign.

I’ve been in the process of hiring a new assistant so, being short-handed around the office, I naturally have a backlog of work built up. Some of that backlog is heaped on my desk in piles about the size of the Tower of Babel. Yesterday, a young gentleman came in about 45 minutes before closing. He wanted to purchase some copies of our oral history interviews. I explained that it would take a couple of weeks to fill his order as I had other requests ahead of him. He kept changing his mind, asking for different tapes, and then being disappointed when I quoted him the same timeline. In spite of the evidence in front of his eyes, he clearly believed that if he asked for something different, I could magically make the copies for him that very minute.

Another patron, a middle-aged woman, came in to the reference desk several weeks ago. She wanted to find a book about Eskimos that she had seen in a bookstore. She couldn’t remember the title, the author, when it was published, had only the sketchiest notion of what the cover art might be—in short, she couldn’t supply us with any information that might have enabled us to find this book. As a last ditch effort, I volunteered to take her down to browse the Native American section of the Alaskana collection in the off-chance she might run across this book. We have, I may add, an entire floor devoted to the Alaskana collection and have several hundred books on Eskimos, broken down by ethnic group (Inupiat, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Canadian Inuit, Greenland Inuit, etc.).

Patron: (still not grasping why we can’t find the book she’s looking for as I lead her downstairs) You must have books about Eskimos.

Me: We have a lot of them, yes.

Patron: So you don’t know the book I’m looking for?

Me: (with an emphasis clearly lost on her) We have A LOT of them, yes.

Some days I think patrons should wear little name tags on their shirts that say: “I don’t get it”. It would be a help to us all.

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