Every reader their book...

Posted on Wed 14 February 2007 in misc

I made a mistake, or several mistakes, a few weeks back.

Yes, shocking to hear me admit that, I know.

Here's the set up: one night a week, I'm the LibrarianTM on reference duty. In practice, this means that I continue to sit in my office working on library systems problems while the library assistants who actually staff the reference desk out on the library floor masterfully answer the questions of our patrons. In theory, this means that I'm available to assist the librarian assistants with any particularly thorny reference problems that come their way. Over the course of the past year, that theoretical scenario hasn't happened once.

Until, of course, a few weeks ago. A knock came at my door around 6:45 pm, and D****, the librarian assistant staffing the reference desk said that I had the opportunity to resolve my first issue. The issue? A patron wanted to borrow one of the books that we keep on our quick reference shelf (a combination dictionary / thesaurus) for an exam she was supposed to write in fifteen minutes. D****, knowing my lack of experience in these matters, told me that the typical response to this kind of request was "No", but that if I wanted to allow the student to sign out the book anyways then D**** would have to fill out some forms to enable the circ desk to temporarily circulate the item.

I thanked D**** for the quick summary of the library norms and went out to meet with the patron. I hadn't quite made up my mind, but after allowing the patron to explain the situation, we checked the catalogue to find out if there were any similar books available in our circulating collection. It turned out that there was at least one older edition (by ten or fifteen years) of the same book listed as being on the shelves; so I apologized and told the patron that they should find and check out that book, and that I wouldn't authorize the quick reference item to go out.

The patron seemed to understand this response, and went off to get the book. So one would think that, all in all, this was a successful end to an exceptional situation: library policies that had been put in place years ago prevailed, and the patron was still pointed to a resource that would more or less meet their needs. But I can't qualify it as a success, because I don't know what happened next. Was the patron even able to find the book on the shelf? It's not unusual for these things to be misplaced... Did the last-minute hassle of having to go through this process of twice explaining why she hadn't yet purchased a copy from the bookstore, as had been advised by her instructor, then find this older edition of the book, cause her to under perform on her exam?

If I had the chance to do it again, I would send her on her way with the quick reference book in hand on a four-hour loan. It would have meant breaking with library policy, but we would have had one more grateful patron who would have positive associations with our library. To that patron: my apologies. I hope your exam went well despite your last-minute hassles.