While thinking of a title for this post on reference questions, I came across this old ad. Ah, the 1960s, what rapscallions we were.
I thought I'd take a look at what sort of questions I get during a typical day. Instead of using traditional categories, I used the sorts of things we actually get every day. My take on things always is that every question is valuable to the person asking it, and so every question counts!
We get such an endless variety of inquiries, and I don't think people can appreciate how quickly you need to shift mental gears and call upon a huge knowledge base of accumulated information just to know where to look for answers or give the person as much help as quickly as you can because you've got a line of people waiting their turn for help. Think fast, Don't panic, Keep Moving is the order of every day. Sometimes you can help a person quickly and efficiently, sometimes they need more time and more help. There is no way to know with each person how long you'll need to spend with them to assist them. Having people right out front there to help is more important than ever. Nobody else is providing this incredibly wide variety of services.
Reference Questions: People can and do ask for information on every topic imaginable. We of course don't know everything!!! but we need what I call "glancing knowledge" of authors, titles, subject areas. We have to be familiar with adult, teen and children's authors, titles, books in series so we know where to begin looking. Some topics are repeated frequently enough so that you can get right to what the person needs. Sometimes a customer asks something so completely esoteric that you can't even be sure where to begin, so you'll need to ask them more questions to see what resource might lead to an answer. On rare occasions, someone will ask for data or information that has not been compiled by anyone that you can find. It takes a long time to get to that point in the question and answer process, however.
Holds Help (Explain they're filed by the last 4 digits of the library card number, convince the person to take out their card and look at it if they don't do that automatically, if their request isn't on the Hold shelves, go look in the back room for it)
Requests In person (Could be one title, could be 15. Some people will let you show them how to do this themselves on our catalog, some don't care to learn. If the items are on the shelf, some people will go look for them, some won't and you'll need to go out with them and find them) Telephone (Could be one, could be 15, some people call every day, multiple times per day)
These would be stolen every day if we didn't keep them behind the desk:
Newspaper Star Tribune Pioneer Press WSJ USA Today
Tax Forms (We carry Federal and State forms, but only the most common and only what the Feds and State make available to us. Availability of these forms on the web has helped alot, but some folks have uncommon forms they need and don't have access to a printer or for some other reason they want us to be their source of forms. You would be surprised at how outraged people can be when we don't have the form they want and they have to pay for printing.)
Sign up for or cancel a class (We have an online events calendar for sign ups, but because most of our classes are basic computer instruction, the customer isn't often comfortable signing themselves up)
Refer to Circ (Meeting rooms bookings, fines, charges of any kind, card replacement)
Help finding an item in the library (Easy when the item is where it says it is, frustrating when it can't be found at all and the person looks at you and says "But it says it is here". Sorry on that one!
Help using the catalog: Don't understand the general keyword search concept or any searching concepts, show how to use the advanced options for searching by author, title, subject, show how to use their Account to view or suspend holds, pay fines via credit card, show the 83 or so databases and help them find one that helps them with their question, show MNLink, How to use NetLibrary (and sign up for an account)
Copier Help: Using the right coin box, enlarging, reducing, doing double sided copying, paper is jammed
Internet and Microsoft Office Help:
Help logging in (including the reservation terminal, finding that their out of county card isn't registered with us, or they owe old monies and need to pay those first)
What's My PIN
Word (most common--finding the print option under the Office Button, using and finding various options under the Ribbon, how to save to a portable storage device, changing the style set to Office 2003 for the familiar spacing and formatting)
Email Sign up Attach a document Attach or download a picture or file (complicated by the fact that all email systems are a bit different..we have people using free email such as Gmail and Yahoo but also their work and college email systems or commercial systems such as Comcast and AOL. We know the basic concepts but can't have working knowledge of all of these but people expect that we do)
Web Site Specific Help (The problem here can be that some web sites aren't easy to use and we have as much trouble navigating them as the customer, but they assume we know how to use every web site, yikes.)
Applying for a job (problems filling in form, don't know what to write in, filled in form and got kicked back to start page, attach or copy/paste resume)
Paying a Bill
Booking a flight/printing a ticket
Making an appt with the Immigration office
Buying a car
Printing a Casino Coupon
Printing using our multi-step networked printer (There are about ten steps to printing, not complex, just putzy but too much for many people to grasp. We also have instances where people cannot get certain sites to print, or the pages print with nothing on them and you need to explain Print Preview to someone too frustrated to listen...)
Children's PC Help Game is stuck, computer got shut off somehow
Test proctoring (Distance learning must be in its heyday, because we have people taking classes and needing a Test Proctor for their Printed (we get the copy in the mail or sent via email for us to print out) or Online tests from universities as far away as Alabama.
Ebooks (Lots of interest in this now, we are in a position to work with and explain the compatibility issues to people wanting Ebooks for their Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader or iPad and explain what currently have available and if it is compatible or not. Since the library does not offer any of these Readers, we are working somewhat blind trying to help people with something we don't have any working knowledge of ourselves.)