The Other, Sadder, Face of the Library

So I know I like to have a little bit of fun here on Librarian in a Banana Suit.  In the last few months alone I’ve written about helping patrons find sex books, finding out if betrothed couples are second cousins or not, and scouring the catalog for novels about psychoactive soy sauce.

But there are many other facets to this job, too — many of them quite sobering.  Working closely with the public as trusted liaisons between them and their deepest information desires, we’re often asked very sensitive questions: we receive reference inquiries about domestic violence, unemployment, learning disabilities, and sexuality, and I’m astounded and humbled that patrons think of the public library as a place to find answers to these kinds of questions.  We can often refer them to social service agencies around the community, which I like to think means we’ve connected them with information that will ultimately really help them.

That’s not what happened a few weeks ago, though.  I was asked a different sort of question, one that was incredibly sensitive but indeed required the skills of a reference librarian.  Towards the end of the evening, a patron came in to look for the obituary of her friend.  She had been trying to get a hold of him on the phone for months when a mutual acquaintance told her that he’d committed suicide earlier this fall.  “I just want black and white confirmation, in print, that it’s true,” she told me.

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