Over the past week I have had several positive customer service transactions at the Reference Desk.
A woman came to the reference desk and stated “I remember reading in Reader’s Digest in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s about this man who was kind of famous when he was diagnosed as having three months to live. He checked himself into a hotel and then watched all of these funny movies he liked when he was little, like the Three Stooges. After three months he wasn’t sick anymore.” Can you tell me who this man was? I guess if one was familiar with the time period you might know straight off. I was born in 1981, so I had to probe the question a little bit further. I found out that she was pretty sure it was cancer and that he had definitely been given “Three months to live”. I took the woman’s number and let her know I would research it and give her a call back later. So I started to research using ‘cancer’ and ‘three months to live’ as my jumping off point. (This would prove to be red herring) After scouring the historic new York times from the 60’s and 70’s looking in some timeline books, I finally decided to try some new search terms and focus on “laughter cures” and “comedy cures cancer” in Google. I finally reached some headway and discovered the name Norman Cousins. After looking him up in our biography database I concluded that this was in fact the man the woman was searching for. I printed out his biography, put the book that he wrote about his illness on hold for her and gave her a call back. Later that day when she came back I gave her the biography and let her know that I put the other thing on hold. She was thrilled that I was able to figure out this man’s name and that I had taken the time to print out his biography and put his book on hold for her. When she came back to pick up the book, she came back to the reference desk and said she was so happy with her information she wanted to do something special for me, and she gave me a necklace.
It is easy to get caught in a red herring even if you properly do the reference interview. Although I was eventually successful in finding the answer, a few things would have made it easier. First of all, I spent too much time focusing on his illness and the three months to live. I asked a leading question, “Was it cancer?” to which the patron responded “yes”. (His illness turned out to not be Cancer) The important detail I missed was how important the funny movies were to his recovery. Once I hit on that I was easily able to find his identity.
A patron was handed off to me, and he wanted to know who the performer was in a certain YouTube video. (A 1991 benefit performance of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance by the Peace Choir) He said he thought it was one person, but then figured out he was wrong. So, I took a look at the video with him, and he showed me the performer in question. The performer in question had dreads and a feminine sounding voice. I gave him my first guess. “Could it be Tracy Chapman?” He said that it wasn’t Tracy Chapman because she wasn’t on the list. He told me how to pull up the list and we looked at it together. He thought it was a female, but he recognized almost all of the names on the list except for a few. I was able to eliminate the few that he didn’t recognize because I recognized them. Then, looking at the list I saw Terrence Trent D’Arby’s name. I told the man that if I remembered correctly Terrence Trent D’Arby looked very similar to the performer we were trying to identify. We looked up pictures of TTD and decided that it was a very good possibility that we had identified the mystery performer. Because the voice sounded feminine and the person with the voice looked feminine in the video the assumption had been made that it was a woman. When we worked together we discovered otherwise.
This transaction illustrates the importance of working together. Two heads are almost always better than one. This patron had access to the information he needed to solve the puzzle, but it wasn’t until we worked together that the puzzle was able to be solved. It isn’t just patron/librarian transactions that work this way. Never hesitate to ask the librarian or staff member that you are working with what they think about a question. It is possible that they will look at the question from an angle you hadn’t thought about, and the patron will be better served.
Two men came to the desk asking for information about the copy machine. I noticed that they had a Chilton’s guide from Reference with them and that was what they were trying to copy. I could have just let them make the copies, but I used this as an opportunity to promote our databases. The book that they had in their hands was a general guide, not one designed for a specific car. I asked them if they knew about the Auto Repair Reference Center database available online. They didn’t so I explained to them how they could use it, and we looked up the car that they needed to fix right there. We found the exact procedure they were looking for and they were excited to know that they could access this database from home. I gave them a handout that explained how they could access our databases in the future, and they went away with exactly what they wanted.
The lesson: Be generous with information not stingy. Patrons are not always aware of everything the library offers, so anytime you have an opportunity to promote useful resources do so. Don’t be afraid to be proactive. The patrons didn’t ask me about the database, but I knew that it would have something that could help them, so I offered it up. Another place I frequently use this tactic is with foreign languages. Often people will ask for CDs on language learning. As I walk them to the location I let them know how they can enhance the language learning experience by using interactive online resources. (The BBC has an especially strong language learning website). I also let them know that there are several groups in the area that meet up for conversational hours.