Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Here's your... well, you know

Ever have one of those days when nearly every question you were asked by a patron had a terribly obvious answer and you had to do some mental-gymnastics in order to come up with a way to answer them without seeming rude? Today was one of those days.

Granted, even though it’s MLK Day, we were open, which led to quite a number of obvious questions.

For instance…

Our first patron of the day today was actually one of our regular Wednesday patrons. He’s been in the library almost every Wednesday for the past couple of years and before that was a regular weekly visitor on other days. Today he chose to come in on a Monday. Ten minutes after we'd opened for the day, he walked through the front door, said hello to me and then stood there looking around for nearly a minute before saying, “The bank and post office are both closed for the holidays. Are you guys open today?”

That’s right. Dude drove to the library, walked through the open and unlocked door, stood in the middle of a building obviously open for business and asked if we were open. My inner Al Jaffe began dueling with my inner Bill Engvall for the privilege of coming back at him with a snappy answer to his stupid question. I didn't really want to be rude, but I knew that any answer I could give was treading on dangerous ground. Almost any reply to such an obvious question could be construed as rude no matter my intentions or tone of voice. Then, before I could actually make with my intentional or otherwise rude answer, I realized the perfect inoffensive out.

“Yes,” I said.

This seemed to satisfy the man and he immediately sat down at our card catalog computer. My temptation to be rude wasn’t over yet, though. A few minutes later, the patron said, “Hey, I don’t see a call number for this book here.”

I glanced over at the screen to see that he’d brought up a list of titles by an author but had not actually clicked on the Full Record itself for any of them in order to bring up information about an individual title. No problem. If you’ve never had to click Full Record before, it might not occur to you to do so despite the big FULL RECORD link beside each title. So I very politely explained it to him.

“Oh,” he said, clicking on the link. Then he rounded with a followup: “The call number is F Martin. Where would I find that?”

Now, keep in mind, this is a man who’s been in nearly every week for years. You’d think that in all that time the general fiction section would have given up all its deep and alphabetic classification mysteries to him before now. This time I could see no way for me to keep from possibly sounding rude. So I lowered my tone to what I hoped was a very pleasant and passive sounding one and said, “Um, it should be over there… in the M’s.” I helpfully pointed toward the M’s for him.

“Oh,” he said, with what sounded like the dawning of embarrassment creeping into his voice. "Oh, I see."

Not long after the first man checked out, another patron came in to use a computer. He asked in advance if the printer was turned on and I assured him that it was. After printing out a couple of things, the man returned to the desk and asked, "What's the most efficient way to print e-mail attachments? Should I save them to the desktop first or just open them and print them from there?"

Dammit, why must I have so much temptation in my path?!

“It would, um, probably be best if you just… opened them… and then printed," I said. "If you save them first, it just adds an extra step.”

The man looked at me as though I had just told him the most obvious thing in the world. Which I had—but, again, HE ASKED!! He wasn’t done with me yet, though.

“What’s the best way to print them, then?”

Now he was just taunting me, right? I mean, there really is NO good answer to that question. Almost anything I could say would sound sarcastic from a conveying-REALLY-obvious-information standpoint, so I might as well go whole hog and say something ultra-snotty like, Well, when I’m printing, I tend to get the best results if I use my little mousy to click on the PRINT button. Alternately, you could go to FILE and then PRINT, or just hit CTRL P, but I like using the little mousy cause it’s such a rush!

Before I could take either route, though, he said, “It’ll give me a print dialogue box, right?”

Urgh. Now this was a question that I couldn’t answer at all, or, at least, not clearly. See, our stupid patron computers don’t always give patrons a dialogue box for their printing convenience. Really, it depends on the program they’re trying to print from. If they’re printing from the web and just hit the print button, usually it just dumps whatever’s in the active window to the printer with no dialogue box provided. Without a print dialogue box, some patrons just keep hitting print hoping one will pop up and then gripe and moan because they printed eight copies of their document (or, more often, the entire website they were visiting). If they hit the print button from a word processor, or, better still, go to FILE and then PRINT, they’ll usually get a dialogue box. I tried to explain all of this to our patron in the hope he could find an answer he liked, but the long short of it was that I didn’t know what would happen if he was printing from an attachment because I didn’t know what program would be opening those attachments.

At the end of my lesson, he said, “You’re a real optimist, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” I said.

Bastard. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.

As soon as he was out of earshot, I turned to Mrs. C and said, “You know, I’m going to stop trying to answer patron questions altogether. Next time somebody asks me what the best way to print is, I’m just going to tell them go give it a whirl, hit print and find out for themselves.”

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.