Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Reflections from the Reference Desk"

While deep in thought searching something up on my computer at the reference desk, I heard a voice say, “Angel!” Awaking from my reverie and collecting my senses, I asked the good looking man in front of me- “Are you looking for books on Angels?”
“No, you look like an angel”, he replied. I really do not like to flirt and I said a bit curtly, “I am here to help you with reference questions, do you have a question I can answer?” He stared at me in awe, shook his head and said, “Wow, professional too, a professional angel!” and to my dismay and his happiness, I burst out laughing and so did he. I do not know why I laughed but that is the most unique compliment I have ever got and this is a true story. (The good-looking part might be a stretch but everything else is real.)
I love my job at the library. I get to answer reference questions in person, virtually and on the phone and sometimes people just stop by at the desk and start chatting. The questions can be as simple as where a particular book or electronic material is located in the library to something more labor intensive as helping someone build and format a resume or finding several primary and secondary sources for someone’s research paper. There is a woman who calls every evening (yes, every single day) and asks for the weekly weather forecast complete with highs and lows and the percentage chance of rain. 
 Once, a lady called me and said she was researching from a book but she did not write the citation down and she did not remember the title of the book for me to pull it out. She had jotted down the information by pen, if she had made copies, she would have had the title and page numbers at the bottom of the page which would make it easier for me to find the book. I asked her if she remembered what color the book was and after thinking for a while she said that it was bound in green and there were several volumes of it. I went and looked in the reference 920s as she had researched some biographical information on a fairly unknown woman. I found the series, found the exact volume and article she had looked at and gave her all the information needed to cite this reference source. She was delighted and it was such a thrill to be able to help her, almost felt like I had won at a scavenger hunt or something. 
At the library, when I look at the people around me, I can see that it is a microcosm of society. People from all walks of life- the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the homeless, they all visit the library and we treat them equally and respectfully. It is interesting to me how we can gauge the personalities of people just by talking to them very briefly. There are the nice, gentle folks who thank you twice or more just because you told them where the restroom was. There are the impatient, rude people who are drumming their fingers on the desk while you are looking up answers to their questions and you print them some really good information and they snatch the papers from your hands and leave without a backward glance or smile, let alone a thank you while you sit there in shock listening to the click clocks of their pointed high heels fading away. 
I simply love and adore children and sometimes I regret that I did not choose to be a children’s librarian. When my kids were younger I sought a break from them and talking to adults was refreshing and desirable but now that my children are older, I realize that I want to work with children.  Once, this sweet little girl who came to the desk with her mom told me, “I like your shirt!” I was wearing a flowery blue and white shirt and she had a little kitty t-shirt on. I said, “I like your shirt too” and not to be outdone she said, “I like yours better!” She said she loved my black hair and asked if she could touch it. I seriously wanted to bring her home with me. I have one girl and two boys and I have always thought having one more girl in my family would be so wonderful. 
I also feel very sad when a mom comes in to do homework on the computer with four kids in tow and they do not sit patiently (we do have puzzles, books and crayons for them but it only holds their attention for so long) and she is yelling at them. It broke my heart when I heard a mom say to her six year old- “Sit down right now, you do not deserve any Christmas gifts, I should cancel everything!” I do not blame the mom as she is working full time, studying and taking care of her kids which can be so stressful but it makes me feel despondent to hear these things being said to little ones. 
The library is usually a quiet place where people come to read and research but once in a while we get some excitement/entertainment too. The incident I am going to narrate is real and I am going to name it ‘Love in the Library!’ The heroine is a voluptuous homeless redhead who was with her homeless African American boyfriend when apparently a White homeless guy started flirting with her. I do not know what happened but the two men were scuffling, one on top of the other on the table and then whilst trying to punch each other they rolled off and fell with a thud on the floor with that loud noise reverberating in the whole library and startling everyone. Of course, our security guys came running and separated them while they were still yelling and cussing at each other with the choicest of bleep words. People had gathered around and were watching in shock and disbelief and the two guys who were fighting were escorted out of the library. I had been a witness to the whole incident too from the sidelines and when the guys left, I turned to get back to my seat at the desk when my eyes met with an older distinguished looking Caucasian gentleman standing next to me. I told him “That was quite something, wasn’t it?” and he said “Yes, Welcome to America!” and I burst out laughing. Nothing like a good laugh to dissipate all the nervous tension from watching such an incident! 
I was helping a lady who wanted to print some recipes of cakes and cookies for a tea party. She was homeless, had dirty nails and was smelling really bad and so I knew that she did not have a house to throw the party at but I went along with her as in her head whatever she was planning was real. I have so much empathy for the mentally ill, it is the worst kind of disease when you lose control of your mind and the thought of that ever happening to my brain scares the living daylights out of me. 
It is amusing to me that when people misbehave, for example if someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone in a public area, sometimes, they will not listen to you but if you call security they immediately hang up. It reminds me of how the traffic slows down when people see a police car on the side of the road.
There are so many more anecdotes to tell but I do not want the blog to get too long. Let me sign off by talking about my encounters with Indian folks (my people) who do visit the library a lot. I usually get two kinds of questions, the first one being a very disdainful look of why I am not an engineer or a doctor and they cannot believe I actually had to get a master’s degree to get this job. The second kind always think it’s so cool that I work here and they ask me if I can find a job for their wives at the library which I cannot, I am not involved in the hiring process at all. With this, I end my reference desk sagas and maybe I will write a sequel soon as there are a lot more interactions in my inventory.

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