Librarians are trained to answer questions. We are taught the reference interview process so that we can discover what the asker is really seeking, as often what they initially ask for is either too general, or not really what they are wanting at all.
But some questions are just too general or maybe too tentative and have a tendency to amuse library staff – although we would never show our amusement to the asker.
What sort of questions, you might ask?
My favourite and the most common one I get asked, usually on the phone is: Do you have a book? Followed by a distinct pause. What I sometimes want to say is we have over 300,000. Instead, I start by asking for the title.
Another that I get often is do you work here? Usually when I am walking out of the workroom or from behind the desk and/or with shelving, or other obvious library accoutrements that I would otherwise have to be stealing to have in my possession. But the answer I give is yes, how can I help you.
One of my favourite stories about this was from a few years ago. I was at the desk and watched this gentleman walk into the library and stand just a metre or so inside the door. He then did a complete 180 degree scan of the library and back again, including looking over the desk where I was standing. He then came up to the desk and asked if we had a photocopier. Doesn’t sound like a silly question, except that it was only a metre further in from where he stopped to scan, there was nothing between him and the copier and there was a rather large sign above it saying photocopier. I didn’t say anything (although I thought plenty), as I was so surprised, but I did manage to point him to the facility and then offer to help him if he needed assistance.
There are the people who ask if we really do provide school holiday programs for the whole day for their child to attend, for only $1? – No, our programs only run for about an hour and parents need to attend with their child. There are the people who ask if really have to pay the overdue fine on the items that they have a courtesy reminder, overdue notice and billing notice for? Yes, we made every attempt to remind you that the items were due. And those who ask if they have to pay for the damage that was incurred to library items whilst they had it on loan. Yes, when you borrow an item you are responsible for it and anything that happens to it whilst on loan to you.
I am always diplomatic when dealing with any of these sorts of questions, after all, everyone has a awkward moment or two in their life, including us. But I can’t help but be bemused, when we seem to encounter the same sorts of moments over and over again.
I am sure this happens in all libraries – so in saying that, what are your favourite interesting questions?