Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reference 101: What to do when...

So this is a new little feature I'm going to start throwing in every once in awhile, for new librarians on the reference desk. As a new reference librarian, I have come across a variety of different situations, some more extreme than others, that I have had to learn first-hand how to deal with. Here are a few more recent ones:

What to do when...

A patron calls and says they've been mugged and all their library books were in their bag.

Answer: Tell them to bring in the police report with a description of what was stolen. At that point the branch manager will most likely discharge the fines.


A patron calls in on Friday and says they returned 2 DVDs on Wednesday, but when they looked at their account today, it says one of the DVDs is still charged out to them and is now overdue.

Answer: First, look up their patron record to see which DVD title is still overdue. If it is from your own branch, look for said DVD first to see if it's on the shelf or if it got put somewhere else. Clerks come in handy here. If you can't find it or it is from another branch, place a claims return on the DVD. This will basically freeze that overdue item so that no more fines are added on, while also flagging the item to be looked for. Let the patron know you placed a claims return, meaning we know they called to report they had returned the book but it's still on their account, and tell them the system will have the library look up to 5 times (or whatever the policy is in your system) for the item. Once found, the fines will be removed. Also, try to "gently" ask the patron to keep their eyes out for the DVD, in case it accidentally was not returned...

If the DVD was from another branch, also let the patron know that the DVD probably was never discharged after he returned it, but it is most likely still in transit back to the original branch. Explain what the claims hold does, and in the meantime, tell him to wait patiently for a week, keep an eye on his account, and call back at the end of next week if the overdue item in question has not been removed yet.


A patron calls in and says they checked out a book and they want to renew it because they misplaced it, and they want more time to look for it. You go into the patron's account to renew it, but realize they've run out of renewals and the due date can't be pushed back any further. The patron demands you do something about it.

Answer: Tricky one. Explain to the patron that once the book is checked out to them, it is their responsibility to return it on time, and there is nothing else we can do from our end because they have exceeded the number of renewals for that book. Unfortunately, this is not going to make them happy, so if they're still giving you a hard time, refer them to the branch manager, or let them know when the branch manager will be in next. Try to stay polite-- but don't abjectly apologize, because it's not your fault they can't keep tract of their books!


You're sitting at the reference desk and out of the corner of your eye, you see some guy in the stacks masturbating.

Answer: Call the police immediately! If the branch manager is there, let them know what's going on. If you're on your own, alert the clerks or whoever you're there with, but don't approach the culprit unless you're OK doing so. Yeah, this is always a fun situation to deal with...


These are all situations that I've had to deal with in my year as a substitute reference librarian for the public libraries. Of course, the way you do things for your branch libraries may be somewhat different, but I think that in general, these are valid solutions to scenarios you may run into.


  1. Lea~I cannot believe you have had to deal with the masturbation situation! I've worked in one academic library that had a flasher, but luckily I didn't have to deal with it. Just when I think I've heard it all...I quickly realize the public will always surprise you! LoL

  2. Jessica~ Yep, haha, never know what you're going to have to deal with at the public libraries-- especially the city ones! Honestly though, I do love me job there, getting to work at all the different branches. It has been a good experience so far, even though sometimes there are some less-than-desirable situations!!

  3. Nice read… its interesting even if I am not a librarian.

  4. My husband worked in a public library for 5 years. Oh, the stories he had to tell. It's one of the reasons I chose to be an academic librarian. ;)

  5. Jeff~ Glad you find it interesting! Our jobs definitely involve a lot more than just books haha

    Jennifer~ Yep, there are definitely stories! But that is actually why I like working in the public libraries so much-- just need to not take certain things too seriously :) I do enjoy aspects of working in both worlds though, both public and academic...