Never a Good Thing
It’s never a good thing when you’re at the Reference Desk and you get a call that begins: I was just watching The View. I got one of these calls today.
The lady was curious about something that was mentioned during the show, namely which Presidents were Mayors before they took office. It turns out that there were three, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge. However, what this patron really wanted to know was if each of these men held offices after they were Mayors but before the took office as Presidents.
This is actually a pretty interesting question, or I should say the, “who was a mayor” part was. The details in between make it excruciatingly boring, and way beyond what a typical public reference librarian can do as far as research because we simply do not have enough manpower. In order to properly research a question like this, a great deal of time must be invested in order to be thorough. A simple biographical excerpt from an encyclopedia (even a biographical encyclopedia) might not contain all of the minor positions the person attained in his/her life. So we direct the patron to the sources that the required information can be extracted from, rather than provide the specific details. I explained that in order to glean the information that she wanted, she would have to read a biography on each of the three men. She wasn’t happy, but she reluctantly accepted the fact that she actually needed to read in order to be thorough.
It can be an even worse thing, when you’re at the Reference Desk and you get a call that begins: I was just watching Martha Stewart… I got one of these today as well!
This lady wanted to know the address and telephone number of a place in Maryland called Acorn Farm that was mentioned that apparently removes trees and shrubs from properties free of charge, as long as they get to sell the things after they do all that work. This lady could talk the balls of a rhinoceros. Again, I don’t have enough time for this. She told me all about the show, and her property, and how she’s “over-treed” and how she planted the things from saplings and that now that she’s older than Methuselah she lives in a forest and wants them removed. I found the place on the Web, and gave her all the info she needed in order to become someone else’s problem and leave me alone. She thanked me, and I told her to have a good weekend and good luck with the tree thing.
Five-minutes later, she called back. She told me that she called the number and got a voice-mail that didn’t state it was Acorn Farm but instead just gave a man’s name, “George.” Disgusted, I rechecked the website and informed her that “George” is the owner of the place, and that she should just call back and leave a message. She thanked me again. Once more, I wished her happy tree luck and hung up the phone.