Refer Madness: A Patron Mount Rushmore

Originally published at Booklist

In the office one day, my colleagues got to discussing who our library’s Mount Rushmore of patrons would be. Not necessarily the nicest ones but the ones who have become iconic among staff largely because of the mystery that surrounds them.

I thought of a few candidates right away. The man with the quiet, husky voice who calls our small, suburban Illinois library for phone numbers in California. Or the woman who calls looking for information on a website, the same one every time, whose calls are so predictable they could follow a script.

And then there’s the man who calls occasionally with a request: for us to print out the Google Maps Street View of certain intersections, all four corners of them. Sometimes it’s a specific one, but other times he just names a landmark or a city and will accept any street-view pictures of it.

He’s also into appraisal. If we’re not on Google Maps for him, we’re looking up the value of certain artifacts and printing screenshots of similar items on eBay. Previous examples include a Star Wars novelty coin, a book about the First Cavalry Division in the Korean War, an 1853 French coin, and a John Lennon and Yoko Ono “Let Them Stay In” button.

All of this begs so many questions. Where does he get these artifacts? Is he a collector or just trying to make a buck? How amazing is his coin collection? Why the fascination with intersections? (I heard a rumor he asks for the street views because he’s unable to travel and uses the pictures to do so vicariously.)

Whatever the truth is, it’s not my business to ask. I’m very curious about the lives of certain patrons; curiosity is an occupational asset in librarianship. But I’m also very cognizant about not breaking the confidence of people who trust the library enough to bring us their personal requests, however odd or seemingly simple they might be.

So I’m fine with not knowing everything about who’s on the other end of the line. Like the real Mount Rushmore, whose presidential likenesses are famously unfinished but iconic nevertheless, the incompleteness of patrons’ stories is instrumental to their mysteries. And if there’s anything desk librarians should enjoy, it’s chasing down a mystery.

2 responses to “Refer Madness: A Patron Mount Rushmore”

  1. We have a couple (don’t know if they are mother and son or a married pair) who come into our college library almost every day. They are always attired in grey sweatshirts and sweatpants. The man spends all his time on Google Maps, looking up places named after people. The woman often seems to be doing some kind of schoolwork. Amongst ourselves, we refer to them as “The Greys” because they seem indistinct, and they never speak except to ask for a pencil.

    Amusing, too, that I got a link to this from Booklist Online, yesterday. I saw it and thought, “Could that be the Chad Comello from the Typosphere?” Well, I suppose we are often a scholarly bunch, with our eccentric writing machines and all.

    1. The very same! Didn’t realize I’d created an impression amongst typeheads, but I’m happy to find another typist librarian.


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