Thursday, July 28, 2011

5 Things Reference Librarians Shouldn't Do

1. Ask a Patron What They Plan on Doing with Their Checkout

If you are a librarian or library para-professional, and someone asks you to find something for them, don't ask them what they are doing with the information. Even if it seems harmless.

For example, let's say someone asks you for a book on flower arrangements, and you say, "Oh! Are you planning a wedding? Because I used an awesome book for my wedding blah blah blah." Then they look at you solemnly, and says it's for the funeral of a loved one. I'm not saying don't perform a reference interview. Just don't ask personal questions or get personal yourself. It's just better not to go there.

2. Engage in Conversation with a Person Who Is Telling You Too Much

This problem arises from an opposite situation to the one mentioned above. You get an overly eager patron, who is chatty and starts to tell you every little detail about their event/party/book club/study group/project., their personal life story, political views, etc. Just kindly ask them to specify their information need, and once that need is met, smile and nod and politely ask them to have a nice day and finish the conversation.

DON'T ENGAGE. You are making yourself unavailable to other patrons who may need your help. As a professional, it is not your business to know what the patron is doing with the information, even if the patron is willingly sharing.

3. Make Someone Feel Stupid

Just don't. Just because you don't understand why someone could possibly want a book that you despise doesn't give you the right to make them feel stupid. People are already a little self-conscious when they approach the reference desk, and those who aren't don't need to be. Many don't like to have to ask for help, so don't make them regret their decision to approach you when it is your job to help them in the first place.

4. Throw Out Disclaimers for Items You Consider to Be Controversial or Inappropriate

This is one that really irks me. If a teenager with a regular library card is asking for a book, you help them find it. You don't ask them what their parents think about the book (or if they have permission to check it out), you treat the teen as if they were any other patron who enters the library.

Look at your library service policy, if the youth is over the minimum age allowed for unattended children, and they are not being disruptive, it is NONE of your business to ask them where there parents are, what they are doing with the book, or to tell them how many swear words are in it. You are not a patron's parent, you are a professional. Do your job. The minute you cross the line and take it into your own hands to be the parent, you are assuming liability, and this is a dangerous position in which to put your library.

5. Don't Acknowledge the Patron 

You're sitting at the reference desk, working on a project. You have that brand new program that is launching today, and there's a waiting list of people who have signed up for it. You just can't screw this up. It's your night to shine, and you "need" to get the right images for your powerpoint presentation. But there is someone doing the "helicopter walk" around the reference desk.

They see you are busy, and are probably nice, so they don't want to "bother you" until you look up. Except you aren't looking up. Your mind is focused on the patrons you will be serving in the future, the patrons that don't exist yet, so you neglect to serve the patron in the present.

Before you go, check out this HILARIOUS Mitchell and Webb comedy sketch, which awesomely illustrates how a patron-library worker conversation SHOULD NOT go down (see number 3). Please do yourself a favor and watch.


  1. LOL! I had everything happen you listed (being the patron, that is ), except for what happened in the video. 

  2. OH NO! I'm sorry that happened to you. BUT I'm really glad that what happened in the video DID NOT happen to you! lol


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