Reference Reciprocity

People are pretty weird!  In public service — or in customer service of any sort — it’s easy to get swept up in our clientele’s bizarre quirks.  And really, it wouldn’t be any fun without them.  But on the other hand, nearly all of our library patrons — even the exceptionally bizarre — are very decent people.  That’s what I love about my career in public service.  So, in honor of the decency of library patrons everywhere, I’ve got a quick story for you tonight.

Car Repair DiagramIt’s usually pretty slow on Friday nights, but that’s also when I’m asked some of the most unusual reference questions.  Tonight a patron came in to ask me how he could log-in to our website to see our Chilton’s auto repair manuals from home.  First he told me he was a mechanic, then he told me he didn’t know how to read.  I think he was expecting me — the librarian — to laugh or something, but instead I told him he could come around to my side of the desk and I’d show him where to go on the site.  He admitted then that he could read a little, but very slowly, and then he winked and told me he was a really good mechanic.  He loves the Chilton’s manuals because they have detailed visual diagrams, which are exactly the kind of information he needs to accomplish his work.  I showed him how he could get to the diagrams from home on our website, and he was so ecstatic that, at the end of the whole thing, he wrote down the name and number of his business and told me to call for free diagnostic services whenever I want.

I’m a little unsure about the policies and ethics surrounding this exchange; as a civil servant, I’m not sure that it would be right for me to accept a gift from a patron in exchange for my work — what do you guys think?  But what I loved about this exchange was that a) the patron’s information need was satisfied at the library, even though he’s not a big reader, b) we had a reciprocal exchange, viewing each other as peers who could contribute equally to the dialogue, and c) he was just really super nice.

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone, and I’ll see you back at the library soon!


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