24 November 2003

My favorite reference question this evening

So, I'm at the Reference desk and an announcement sounds throughout the library: "Reference, you have a call on line 4. Reference." All right. I'm ready.

Or, I thought I was.

There's a woman on the other end who wants me to look for her son's gloves. He had apparently been in a little while earlier, had checked out a book with the Dewey number 291.blah, and came home gloveless, so could I please go look among the 291s to see if his gloves were there?

So far, so good. No problem. It's even a fun "reference" question. I ask her to please hold so I can look. However, I do not hit the hold button quickly enough, because I hear her shout, "No, wait!" I oblige, and she tells me that she wants to be sure I know that they are brown leather work gloves. Yes, ma'am. I ask her, again, to please hold on while I go look for the gloves. Again, she shouts, "No, wait!"

Like a fool, again, I do as bids. This time she wants to tell me that she thinks her son's name is on the gloves. But apparently her son has multiple names, because the gloves bear either the name X or Y, she's not sure which.

Again, I ask her to please hold, but when she starts to ask me to wait yet again, I feel my professionalism start to slip just a smidge. "Ma'am, I'm guessing that if I find a pair of gloves in the stacks, there will only be one pair there and those will be your son's. Now, hold on, please, while I go look."

I press the hold button firmly this time and head back for the 291s. On the way there, I feel a little guilty for getting impatient, but that only lasts about a second, until I start to consider how absurd the possibility that maybe there really are many gloves carelessly scattered about the 291s, some neatly tucked between books. Maybe I won't recognize her son's gloves amidst the wealth of handwear I am sure to find.

I come to the 291s and am rudely yanked back through the looking glass. Of course there are no gloves in comparative religion!

I return to the phone and inform our patron that her son will have to remain gloveless, because there are no gloves in the stacks. She reminds me, "They were brown leather work gloves." I remind myself to be nice (and not exclaim, "oh! I thought you said purple satin evening gloves! Let me check again!") and say, "Yes, ma'am, but I checked the 291s and there were no gloves there at all."

She is dejected and hangs up. I feel a little bad for her, but not too much. I remember her son and he was a grown man, so I have to think he could get his butt back in his car and come look for his gloves his own self.

I tell one of my Circ friends about this and she laughs. I head back to Reference and my phone rings. It is the woman again. She wants me to have her name and phone number in case I find her son's gloves. She wants to be sure I write down that they are "Brown leather work gloves. Suede leather." I promise to pass the message on to Circ, since they take care of our lost and found.

I deliver the message to the Circ staff. My friend says, "Oh, I know him!" and proceeds to tell me how much trouble this man (and his mother) give them. I tell her that I was just passing the message on in case the gloves turn up. She says, "yeah," and tosses the note into the trash.

At this point, it officially ceases to be, in any way, on any level, my problem. I go back to helping patrons with more traditional library questions: Do you have Things Not Seen? and the like. I get back into the regular rhythm of a busy night at Reference.

After about 20 minutes, I get another Reference call. It is the patron. Again. Wanting to know if we found her son's gloves yet. I apologize profusely for letting these other patrons interfere with what should be the all-consuming task of seeking and finding the gloves, break down in tears, and vow to dedicate the rest of my shift to my new mission. I shall not rest until I have the gloves!

Well, no. But I do promise we'll call her if we come across them.

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