Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Most exciting reference question

Today has been massively slow at all the information desks. I was sulking about it until a woman came up to me with a design like this:

written on the back of a folded envelope. She asked "Can you tell me what this is?"

"Okay," I said. "What else can you tell me about it?"

"Well, it's for an organization. That my friend says he is in."

On a hunch, I did a Google image search for "masonic symbol" and scrolled down until I found this image. "Are you sure the letter is an A?" I asked, and she said it was either an A or a G. So, yep. Definitely a Masonic symbol. Then she wanted to know who the Masons were, so I got her books on freemasonry.

Not only was this possibly my most interesting reference interaction, and also possibly my biggest reference accomplishment (found the answer on the first try!), it was also the question that I wished I could ask follow-up questions about the most.

The motives for most reference questions are pretty clear. Either you can intuitively tell why a piece of information is useful or wanted (where is the closest place I can scan something? How do I get to this address? How do you spell 'Nickelodeon'?) or, if you're at all friendly and interested, the patron tells you (I want information about A.J. Smitherman. He was my uncle.).

But I will never, ever know the end result of this woman's search. New number one frustration with my job.


  1. "Okay," I said. "What else can you tell me about it?"

    Hey, how did you learn how to do reference interviews? That was the perfect question.

    And yeah, it's frustrating never to know what prompted a particular question. (Though if the question is "What are some loopholes for armed robbery?" it's better not to know.)

    1. I guess I learned how to do reference interviews from your work stories. And also maybe from eavesdropping. I don't know.

      I'm glad I'm not a law librarian.