Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No, Ask Your Librarian

My library system offers a virtual reference service called "Ask a Librarian." There are numerous systems across the country that do. What I don't understand is how at least once a week we have an email or IM question from someone using the service who is not part of our service area. Or state. Or country.
This might even be acceptable if these individuals were asking actual reference questions like "What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" but these weirdo long distance questions are almost all about their user accounts (overdue items, late fees) or books not at our library, or ones like this transaction from the other day:
chat user: I want to read "book x" which is the next book in the series I am reading, but my library doesn't own it. Your library owns it, will you send it to me?
Ask a Librarian:What you want is an interlibrary loan. You can set that up through your own library. They may not get the book directly from us, but they should be able to locate you a copy. Which library are you at?
chat user: I am in Spain. Will you send me the book?
Ask a Librarian: Our library system does not lend materials outside of the US. I recommend discussing this issue with your own local librarian who can help you.
chat user: I don't use my library. Can you mail this book to my house?
Ask a Librarian: *not responding because I'm attempting to knock myself unconscious with another book*

I understand that these people are just Googling "Ask a Librarian" and not taking the extra step to think that it might not be their own local librarian, but it is very tiresome to repeatedly tell people in Michigan and New Mexico that I cannot resolve their lost book problems, especially when they keep emailing back asking me to contact their library for them!


  1. I would love to have this batch file run:

    Please wait while I read your question.

    [wait 60 seconds]

    Which other resources have you searched?

    [wait 60 seconds]

    Is this for personal or business use?

    [wait 60 seconds]

    Have you contacted your local library for this information?

    [wait 60 seconds]

    On a scale of "1 to 10," ten being the highest, how would you rate your need for this information?

    And if the patron is still there after 4 or 5 minutes, then I would enter the chat and help them.... otherwise, they should get the message and leave me alone. Like The Wizard of Oz asking you to bring the broomstick from the wicked witch. It's a test to see if you really really really want it.

  2. Yeah, I could really use that too. I think 90% of our chat users log off after I request to help them, it's a total waste.