Before I was a librarian, I was a circulation clerk. I understand what the life behind laser gun is like…and I appreciate that library clerks face so many more people than librarians tend to. Everyone has to pass the clerks’ desk. Librarians are slightly more easily avoided, depending on the size of the library!
I just started a new gig as a library sub at an area library. I’m still trying to understand all the processes and the way things are done there. It’s a great organization and things tend to flow super smoothly between departments, but I am still in the “new-girl-gets-confused” stage. Yesterday, I went to a circ clerk with a question about a book I had requested for myself. I asked the wrong question, in the wrong way. She responded by throwing out a series of potential locations of the items and statements about circulation policy. We went around and around and we didn’t understand each other. And then it hit me…
The clerk wasn’t doing a reference interview and I wasn’t acting like the dream patron. I barged up to her desk and blurted out a question based on a series of assumptions (and you know what they say about assumptions…) about the catalog, the system for holds, and the timing of request delivery. She didn’t ask me deeper details about my needs and instead launched a series of standard answers and statements. We weren’t upset, we weren’t hostile, but we weren’t helpful to one another and we were mildly frustrated.
It made me realize that all library employees, everywhere should be trained in the Reference Interview. Librarians need constant refresher, Clerks need to get the basics. The reference interview is a life skill. It can help you understand people and their needs more effectively whether it’s a patron, your own child, or a person walking down the street looking for directions.
I was a bad, bad patron yesterday. I have renewed appreciation for the reference interview, and a new appreciation for that patron that makes assumptions.