Friday, June 06, 2008

Fragmentary Dilemmas

Patrons frequently request books from us. Patrons frequently know the actual title of the books they want. Just as frequently, however, they don't.

Yes, I'd say half the time they are barely even in the ballpark as to the title they're searching for. This I chalk up to the tendency of people to request books they either heard about on the radio, while driving, without pen or paper to write it down, and faulty memories of what they actually heard. Or, they request books they heard about, second hand, from truly clueless people, who whispered it across a noisy, crowded room during an epic game of telephone but didn't have the title right to begin with. We've even had people who wanted us to look up books based on their shape and color, because they knew precisely fukall information otherwise. We kicked those people right in the junk. Then there are the occasions, like I experienced recently, when someone has merely a title fragment to go on.

Take the phone call I received last week from a lady looking for a book she claimed was called 0pen House by Patr!c!a Wi11iams. She phoned up, asked if we had it, I looked up the title and came up with two books by the same title but which were not written by Patr!c!a Wi11iams. I expanded my search to the county and then to our consortium's catalog, but while there were lots of books with those words as part of the title, there seemed to be none by Patr!c!a Wi11iams.

On hearing this, our patron gave me a lecture on how Patr!c!a Wi11iams was a famed African American writer whose works were widely known and respected and which more libraries should really have on the shelves, implying, of course, that we were falling down on our job because we didn't have the full catalog of Patr!cia Wi11iams books set up in a display by the front desk. That's when I decided to finally do an author search and see what else we might have by her. And there, in my search results was the very book our patron was looking for.

ME-- I'm sorry. It looks like the book you are looking for is available after all. I didn't see it at first because there's actually more to the title. The actual title is Open H0use of Fami1y, Friends, F00d--

PATRON-- (Interrupting) Ah, I see--

ME-- (Interrupting right back) I'm not finished... (Starts again) Open H0use of Fami1y, Friends, FOOD, Pian0 Less0ns and the Search for a R00m of My Own."

(Very long pause)



Anonymous said...

Wait, what? It sounds like you just did a sucky search in your catalog system then tried to make the patron feel bad that you couldn't find it. She had the first two words of the title correct and the author's name. What's so difficult about that? If she had called it something completely different, I'd understand. But in this case, I don't comprehend the issue. Were you upset the patron didn't have come prepared with the ISBN, Publisher info, etc.?

Juice S. Aaron said...

Actually, my search was just fine and the title she was looking for did appear in it, just quite a way down the list. There were quite a number of other books published using 0pen H0use as the actual full title, then several that had additional words in the title or "The" at the beginning, before the book she was truly looking for appeared. If she'd given me even the word "of" after the first two the book she wanted would have turned right up.

No, I don't expect her to have ISBN, publisher, etc. My point is that regardless of the amount of words in the title she did not provide, I still found her book. I just wonder how much less of a hassle it would have been had she been a little more prepared?

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.