Sunday, November 18, 2007


Jani, this one's for you.

I encountered, for the first time in my life, someone completely ignorant of the concept of a library, who should have known better.

I work as a reference desk assistant in the Special Collections department of my university's main library. My supervisor wasn't in, so I checked her messages during a slow part of my shift. A patron had called in looking for a copy of the book, Joseph Smith and Herbal Medicine.

Side note: I find the title of this book disappointing and somewhat upsetting, and if it weren't my job to help patrons find materials, I would have deleted the message right there. I'm embarrassed that the library not only had the book, but had seven copies over three editions both in SC as well as the religion department. Not that this is the library's fault; down in SC, we especially look to preserve anything written by or about the Church or church members. But this... Come on. Let's not make inferences where they oughtn't be made. Well, that's typical of my work. For every bona fide source we have about the Church in our locked stacks in SC, we have three or four sources of questionable repute, or downright blasphemous/anti-Church materials. But I digress...

I called this patron back, but got the answering machine for an herbal supplier in the next county over. Okay, easy enough. A few hours later, right before close, the phone rang again. Who would it be but our dear herbalist friend. The following is a reenactment of the conversation:

"Special Collections, this is Hilary, how can I help you?"

"Hello, this is Bob Jones (fake name in case that wasn't obvious), I'm calling back about the book Joseph Smith and Herbal Medicine. You said you had it?"

"Yes. We have editions from 1975, 1980, and 2001. We have multiple copies of the first and last editions, but only one of the 1980."

"Oh, so these are used books?"

Pause. I continued:

"Well, in theory... They are on the shelves both in our protected stacks and in the library itself, so yes, any patron would have had access to these copies."

"Oh, okay. So can I buy one of the newer ones?"

Okay, now wait. Buy? How many times have I just said the word "library"? Was that unclear?

"I'm sorry, I don't think I understand. This is a library. We only lend out materials, we don't sell them."

Pause. Again. I pressed forward:

"I'm looking at the online card catalog description for this book as we speak, and the publisher is Bountiful Books, based out of Springville with Cedar Fort, Inc. It's a fairly popular LDS publisher. You could probably find this in a Deseret Book or a Seagull Books store."

Pause. He tries this time:

"Sooo... Deseret Book would have it?"

Aw, for the love of Pedro. Come on. Regaining my composure, I offer:

"Possibly, but I'm not sure. You'd have to check with the publisher or with those stores."

"Oh, okay. Do you have their number?"

Google, buddy. But I had nothing else to do, so I googled it for him. At this point, it was clear he needed all the help he could get. I gave him the most information I could, and sent him on his way. Now, I never saw him face to face, obviously, but I made the following assumptions just from his voice:

1. male
2. white
3. American
4. between 40 and 50 years old
5. completely inept

How did he not understand the concept of a library? Rarely does one buy anything from a library. I was so baffled. Apparently someone's partaken of a few too many herbs in his day...

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