Clowns To The Left Of Me Jokers To The Right

Sadly, one of our most beloved staff members moved out of State so another one recently filled the position that he left vacant. Because the wheels of government move at a glacial pace this took a while to accomplish. Anyway, this person has never worked at a Reference Desk before (and only does now in the capacity to fill in for breaks or during emergencies). Today while at the desk she took a call today from a patron and said that she couldn’t understand one word he was saying so she asked me to take the call instead. She said that he was speaking incoherently in unbroken slurred sentences. When I picked up the phone Special Ed was on the other end of the horn.

I smiled and said, “Hi Ed!” Ed just wanted to book an Internet reservation, so I booked one for him and he thanked me and said that he would be in shortly to which I responded, “We’ll see you soon Ed!” After I hung up I told her that that was something she was just going to have to get used to if she was going to be working at the Desk. Hell, Ed wasn’t even “bad” today. I told her that she was going to have a lot of fun the first time an Indian family walks up and wants to ILL a few things while she has people waiting behind them and everyone else is preoccupied with ringing phones and their own particular circles of hell. I think she got much more than she bargained for… Welcome to the party!

~ by Woeful on January 9, 2009.

10 Responses to “Clowns To The Left Of Me Jokers To The Right”

  1. don’t know what I’ll do if my assistant ever leaves. it would take months to understand the nuances of the gimcrack….

  2. That poor woman.

  3. Hi Nursemyra!

    Hello Iris: If she thinks the rest of us have either the time or the inclination to deal with the luck of her draw then she is sadly mistaken. That’s the unwritten code of Reference, you deal with what comes your way, sometimes it’s good and often times it’s not, but when it come to you, you own it… You never make it someone else’s problem.

  4. Woeful, you need to go over the Unwritten Code of Reference with my coworkers. That would’ve saved me a big headache today.

  5. Oh man… I’m glad that everyone I work with on a regular basis instinctively understands this. If you’re sitting in the chair when Captain Freak begins a transaction, you take the hit… And if I’m sitting in the chair I do, it’s as simple as that.

  6. Tsk! Tsk! Whatever are they teaching new reference staff these days? What happened to mind reading 101, social work in public institutions 201, non visual & non verbal communications 502, and of course my personal favorite, emergency psychology for desk survival 605?
    I have to admit I’ve had to ask another staff worker once (o.k. twice, as have they) because I literally couldn’t understand a single word a patron was saying on the phone. It was that or hang up the phone. Since the patron comes first (sigh)… The old timers here (we’re talking 20-30 years) have dealt with everyone at least a few times. With the worst ones you really do need to have seen them AND heard their voice in person at least once in order for you to extrapolate what they are saying on the phone. It’s like the Star Trek translator, your brain has to hear them enough to link to known vocabulary.
    I got some slack for needing help with the two gibberish patrons because I’m the one everyone comes to (staff and patrons alike) for computer problems, my fellow staff have to help me out once in a blue moon or I might get cranky.
    But I have to admit I just love the expression on a coworker’s face when all they hear is gibberish. Priceless.

  7. Nobody can understand some of the people any of us deal with, the best anyone can do is “I’m sorry I can’t underdtand what you’re saying. Would you please repeat that.” The professional thing to do is to at least ask that question a few times before you pass the monkey to someone else. Oh this isn’t a librarian either BTW, this is a paraprofessional who in the waning years of her career at circulation decided she had it with people. LOL… So instead of checking out items and collecting fines, she now has to deal with people in a very, shall I write, “intimate” way occasionally at reference. She traded her frequent casual interactions with the public for the odd in-depth reference transaction instead. What a way to end a career!

  8. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence! Although if she’s been dealing with people and their fines (and lo their many excuses) I can see what drove her. We are eternally grateful to our circulation manager who deals with them. I know I don’t have the patience to deal with people’s excuses of why it isn’t their fault the $50 book etc. got trashed and they shouldn’t have to pay for it. In Oregon overdue accounts get sent to a collection agency eventually – that generates some pretty angry patrons, who I’m just as glad not to have to deal with. You could really lose any respect for humanity dealing with fines and collections. She keeps them cool, doesn’t give them any sign she’s on to them, and so far there hasn’t been any violence.

    Fortunately most of our circulation people are just as grateful that they can send the ‘reference’ questions our way. To each his own! I can at least say I haven’t had to beg for help twice with the same patron. Once things slowed down I found out as much as I could about who the patron was and what they usually wanted. I’m pretty good at recognizing voices and with a clue or two can usually guess my way through. Even the absolute worst of them can usually make yes/no comprehensible if I know what to ask them. I’ve even figured out the one who calls us when his caregiver isn’t watching closely enough…(insert theme song from the Twilight Zone).

  9. ……so first the government takes forever to let you hire a new person, then they hire someone who has *never* worked the reference desk?


    Is there some sort of shortage of educated librarians I’m unaware of?

  10. Hi Wolfy! Actually, there’s more of a shortage of money to pay librarians but that is neither here nor there in this instance. The person in this position just fills in maybe a couple of hours a month at Ref mainly during emergencies (maybe someone is out sick) or for breaks and thankfully that’s it.

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