Life Lessons from the Library: If You’re There, People Will Ask You Questions.

Today, there were severe thunderstorms and tornadoes all around our campus.  It was the kind of weather that I imagine inspired the Snow Patrol song, “Lightning Strike” (well, except for the last redemptive section). A student who lives in another county wanted to know if the weather was safe enough around our campus to drive on in to class. So she called . . . the library.

Last week, I received an Ask-the-Librarian email, wanting to know if the other campuses had open labs and Macs in those labs. She kindly said she was asking us because the library got things done. I think she was probably just flattering me so I would look for the answer, but she was right. There is in the nature of library people the need to find an answer for questions. And library people also tend to think that there are no questions that are outside our area.

In fact, there have been many times when students have grown tired of the search and moved on to something else; they have left the librarians still looking and searching until they find the answer.  Yeah, we’re nerds and proud of it.

Still, there is another more practical reason that we receive so many questions. Simply put, we’re available. We’re open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. No matter if some of us are at meetings or teaching or working with other students, there will always be someone at the circulation desk to answer the phone or help the drop-in. Students know they will always get a person, and they take advantage of that fact. And we’re glad that they do.

Still, that does mean we sometimes get some questions that are unexpected:

  • Why is my financial aid not complete? 
  • Will my instructor accept my paper late? 
  • Do you have (fill in the blank)? We’ve had requests for the obvious, such as paper, pens, or calculators all the way to personal hygiene products, creamer, band-aids, and food.
  • What time does the (financial aid, records, admissions, division offices) close?
  • How much does my math book cost?
  • Why is my classroom empty?

In general, whether the question pertains to our area or not, we try to find an answer. (The exceptions are financial aid and what an instructor will or won’t accept.) So we call the departments to see if classes have been canceled. We look up the price of a book on the bookstore list. We have an extra supply of bandages, eating utensils, and folders in case students need them.

And we do this for several reasons. One is that we really like students. But two, we realize that customers tend not to make distinctions between parts of an organization. It doesn’t really matter if we don’t know or just say we don’t know; it appears that our institution doesn’t care about getting the answer if any one of us says I don’t know and I’m not going to look because it’s not my job.

Besides in life, we’re usually on the other end, asking questions and trying to get help, and wishing the person would find us an answer instead of taking so much time explaining why it’s not his/her job.

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