The Unfineables

Behind the Stacks Column Header

Through this column we feature various library materials and services. However, one service that rarely gets featured is something unique to public libraries and arguably a driving force in their relevancy: free help…for practically anything. What does that look like? Read more for an insider’s view.

To you, we may appear a coven of shy, bookish librarians. The ones who drew the short stick, forced to sit at a public service desk when we’d much rather be secluded in archives indulgently reading well-earmarked selections of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

But then you lose your quarter in the print payment machine and find yourself in a reference desk line rivaling the DMV. If you’ve read this column before, you already know that Fayetteville Public Library has online music download services, eBooks, DVDs and naturally, beloved print books, and this knowledge is now reinforced as you observe the librarians behind the desk answer questions about all of these things for the people in front of you.

You are now witnessing “The Unfineables”


Guilt laden I rush to the reference desk with a warm, frothy (covered) cappuccino. Slightly atypical, my normal rushing tends to be due to meetings, book ordering or event planning, but today screamed for Arsaga’s: chilly, overcast, payday. My co-workers are kind to debrief me on how it was a slow morning and that my shift partner is helping someone with a resume in the computer lab. “Scoot, scoot” I assure the morning librarians. It’s quite slow, and I can manage solo until Kelly returns.

Eerily quiet, I commence to sip the perfect cappuccino. Before I lift the cup, the phone rings.

“Hi, Honey, can you help me look up a recipe? I caught the end of a show on Food Network and they were making a peppermint-bacon torte.”

Awesome! I love helping Ms. Polly, an avid Food Network fan and by my deductions probably the most adventurous cook in our service area. Ms. Polly also possesses a tragic sense of timing as she frequently catches the end of her favorite shows and always calls when the library is at its busiest.

One recipe sparks the memory of another and eventually extensive amounts of sleuthing lead to hurried culinary identification and recitation. With the promise of a slow day, however, this delightful reference quest can be savored, as I vicariously enjoy Ms. Polly’s cooking adventures. After finding the torte and then keenly discovering the mystery behind homemade marshmallows, I look up to a line of people exhibiting waning enchantment with my congenial service.

Where is Kelly? Probably at Arsaga’s getting fancy coffee…  Drats, my fancy coffee is getting cold…

“Hello, who’s next?”

A young man steps up, “I just moved into a new house and … there’s been some pretty strange things… I need to research its history to see if anyone was murdered there.”
Rookie mistake — I asked my question wrong…

“Sure, I can help with that. Before we get started, does anyone have a quick question?” I ask the line of patient observers.

“I was adopted and would like to trace my genealogy.”

“How do I get an email account?”

“I need a book that’s in shelving status?”

Promising to return as soon as possible, I connect the ghost hunter with microfilmed historical newspapers and online county property records; introduce the genealogy researcher to our local history collection and; log captainsparkles3000 into a computer with email start-up instructions in hand; and seriously worry that Kelly has been trapped under an avalanche of resume books.

I feel it appropriate to mention here that I am also prepared to gracefully help you retrieve your lost quarter, but you seem to have found the means to print without my help. I wouldn’t use the word ‘pan-handling’ but very clever to exploit increasing progress in line.

Next, off to the sorting room to retrieve The Great Gatsby identified as in ‘shelving’ status!

I have the foresight to check and see when and where Gatsby checked in, and there’s good news and bad news. It checked in within the hour. First, I jaunt downstairs behind the checkout desk and discover that it is not there, which directs me to the library’s sorting room. As its name indicates, this room sorts returned items with a computerized conveyor system that is best explained by “Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!”  The conveyor technician, too young to understand my clever reference, helps me look for the enigmatic book and suggests it may already be on a cart currently being shelved. Mercifully, the first shelver I encounter hands over Gatsby, and I hustle back to the desk.

Channeling a cross-country skier, I approach the reference desk and anticipate the gratitude of The Great Gatsby’s next reader, Kelly’s smiling face and the taste of a now room temperature, yet tasty, cappuccino. So, imagine my surprise when instead I stumble into a sea of munchkins.

Kindergarten tours!

A triumphant crossing through this sea of cuteness and snot, I return to the desk to find what at first glance looks like a ransom note:  a small white piece of paper smeared with inky fingerprints and the etched note, “Looking for copy machine toner and a copy of 50 Shades of Grey.”

Uh oh. Kelly’s fate was worse than I imagined…her face a fleeting memory.

Tune in next time: Is 50 Shades of Grey actually in the library?  How does one install copy toner?

Did I just really make a Laverne and Shirley reference?

Come visit the library and ask for help …

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