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Oranges and Peaches

Read the story below thoughtfully and then follow the directions at the end of the post.

oranges and peaches.jpgThe young undergraduate was standing in line at the Graduate Collections desk. When he reached the desk everyone within earshot found out why. "I just can't find this book," he blurted out. "I have to read it by Monday. I tried to find it on my own, and I can't!!!! Can you help me?"

Mary, the student worker at the desk, replied in a soothing voice, "Sure! Can you give me a title?" "It's called Oranges and Peaches!" the student replied. "I'm at my wits, end!"

Mary calmly typed "Oranges and Peaches" into the computer catalog, then frowned. The library had no book with that title. She asked gently, "Do you have an author for me?"

The question seemed to trigger more anxiety and frustration in the student. "Can't you find it? How could you not have this book?" he asked his voice rising. "My T.A. and the professor said you'd have hundreds of copies of this book!!!"

Mary persisted. "Perhaps you could tell me the author?" The young man dived into his backpack, searching through papers for a seemingly interminable time, to the growing annoyance of people waiting behind him. Finally he found a scrap of paper.

"Charles somebody," he said triumphantly.

The young man's face fell as Mary explained apologetically that she couldn't look up the book under a first name. The librarian added, "I'm sorry, but you have to go back to your instructor and get a last name."

The students despair turned to rage. "I cannot believe this," he exploded. "What kind of library is this: My T.A. swore you'd have hundreds of copies. This book is supposed to be legendary! My professor said its the 'Bible of evolution'!"

Comprehension dawned. "Could it be On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin?"Mary asked. "We do have lots of copies of that."

darwin.jpg"Yeah, thats it!" said the relieved undergraduate.

****************************************************************************************************************

This anecdote highlights how basic communication failures can occur. The student obviously misunderstood the title of the book and had incomplete information. He was also frustrated, adding to the challenge for Mary. However, he also actually had enough information for her to eventually find the item.

Think about our library. How does this story apply to us? Does it?

Answer one of the following question in a comment, plus your name or initials:

1. Were there other questions Mary could have asked that would have helped get more information from the patron before he got upset? What were they?
2. What other approaches could Mary have taken?
3. What did Mary do that was helpful? Unhelpful?
4. How could Mary have used body language to calm the student down?
5. Does it seem like Mary's tone of voice appropriate to the situation? Explain.
6. Can you think of any examples in our library where a patron might not know exactly what he or she needed, or we might misunderstand what someone is looking for?

For extra fun library nerdery, make sure to watch
partygirl.jpgParty Girl, where a version of this story appears.

-- Story excerpted from "Oranges and peaches: understanding communication accidents in the reference interview." by Patricia Dewdney and Gillian Michell. Copyright ALA.

Comments

Mary also could have asked whether the patron knew if the professor placed the item on reserve specifically for his class. Then she could search Filemaker for the item under a course number. KU

1. Were there other questions Mary could have asked that would have helped get more information from the patron before he got upset? What were they?

Mary could have asked for the subject of the book or what subject the book concentrated on. Mary also could have asked what class or professor the book was for. Mary could have searched on the university's website for the class catalog or the professors name to help decide what kind of class the book was for. Getting the class name or professors name could help mary deduce the title name more quickly rather than telling the patron he needed to find more information himself.

MN

KA
1. Were there other questions Mary could have asked that would have helped get more information from the patron before he got upset? What were they?

She could have asked what class the book was for or what it was about.

6. Can you think of any examples in our library where a patron might not know exactly what he or she needed, or we might misunderstand what someone is looking for?
When students are looking for books that may be on course reserve or possibly permanent reserve and they aren't quite sure which one.
-HL

AA
3. What did Mary do that was helpful? Unhelpful?
She remained calm throughout the transaction and made gentle suggestions and non-threatening comments while extracting information from the student. She could have also asked for only the last name of the author instead of the full name which apparently fueled the student's anger when mary could not produce a book with the author name "charles".

Can you think of any examples in our library where a patron might not know exactly what he or she needed, or we might misunderstand what someone is looking for?

When a patron asks for a book that is for a class, I sometimes assume that it is on course reserve, even if it isn't. Or sometimes, it seems that some patrons automatically think that because a book is required for a class, the library has it on reserve. This can cause a lot of confusion.

AJB

3. What did Mary do that was helpful? Unhelpful?
Mary asked for the title and the author's last name which would help to find the book. When she told the student that they would have to go back to their professor, she made it seem like there was nothing that could be done about the situation which made the student more upset. -CJS

2. What other approaches could Mary have taken?
Mary could have asked the patron to the write down the name and see if she could find it, because sometimes patrons do not pronounce the word correctly, etc.
-SS

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