The Obituary and the Codfish

I was sitting at our "satellite" reference station out by the non-fiction stacks, away from the main desk, on Monday.  We made it by putting a PC and a phone on  a high dictionary/atlas table.  Now that Adult Services is at full-strength again, we are able to put three librarians on the floor sometimes.

The idea is to be more available to help walk-ins who have gone directly to the stacks.  They may be squinting at a piece of paper with a call number on it, looking at the Dewey subject guide posters on the range ends, or just appear to be unsure where to go.

The reference desk looks remote from the floor station.  When it is busy, as it was during that hour, the two librarians there are all over the place.  One might be wholly occupied helping computer users:  handing out reservation slips, helping them use applications, filling printers with paper.  The other might be answering the phone, handing out today's newspapers, helping with the copiers, taking people to the shelves to find their books.

This time the main desk was so busy that I took reference calls at my little satellite station.  One call was Mr. J., getting back to me about his mother's 1984 obituary, which I had found on microfilm.  Another call was from someone wanting to know how to fry a codfish.

A woman who had been sitting behind me at a carrel had closed up her laptop and was leaving.  She'd been listening to me, and she was impressed.  She didn't know that the library provided a reference service.  I replied that people still need help finding information.  There is a lot that is still not easily accessible on the Internet, (e.g., that obituary).  And, believe it or not, there are still a lot of people who aren't wired.

I formed the habit early on of looking things up for myself.  I never thought of calling the library in the days before I worked in one, until one evening in the late '80's.  A friend of ours was visiting us from out of town.  She had come by an unusual plumed helmet which was part of the uniform of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order.  "What are the Knights of Pythias?", we wondered.  "Let's call the library!", she said, and we soon knew all about the Knights of Pythias.

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