More information please

Three questions in one day had me at a loss recently:

1.    “I am looking for a particular book about the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can’t remember the title and I don’t know the author. It was mentioned on a TV show I was watching recently but I can’t remember what show it was. Can you find it for me?”

2.    “I want to read a book I saw mentioned in a newspaper a while ago. I don’t know the title or the author. It is written by a roadie of a big rock band but I can’t remember which band.”

3.    “I want a book about living with a spinal cord injury with Australian content. I don’t have access to the internet at home and I won’t use it here at the library!”

Now I will do my best to try to help these people: I will do subject searches of the library catalogue; I will search probable TV show websites and newspaper resources; I will search Amazon and Google. I will think laterally trying to come up with some way to find what these people are looking for.

Of course I found many books about Sydney Harbour Bridge but not the one sought by this particular individual. I found many books written by roadies of rock bands but not the one the man wanted. I found many relevant and detailed websites pertinent to Australians living with spinal injury and these listed books that may have been of use, but since this person flatly refused to look at the internet this avenue of information was not an option.

It really does help to have a title or an author to begin the search. In each of these cases I sent the person away to perhaps find more information to help with the search. I felt like a failure. I continued to think and search long after they had gone trying to find the elusive book they sought. But it is really a lost cause without a little more information.

It is amazing how often someone will come in asking for a particular book saying “I don’t know the title or the author but it has a blue cover.” Or something similar. More often than not, through questions asked in the ensuing conversation, I can discover the book they mean and find it easily.

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Juggling people

Working in a public library in a coastal beach community 80 kilometres from a major city means that during the summer holidays we are inundated with people wanting all sorts of things from us. When the weather is bad the campers take refuge in the library for some amusement. When the weather is too hot they still come to once again get some respite in the air-conditioned comfort and shade.

Here is a snapshot of the questions we get every day:

“Can you find me a book with the Australian citizenship questions? I have to sit the test before they take away my pension and deport me after living here for 50 years.” pleads the 80 plus year old lady with the walking frame and a plastic aqua wallet covered in scrawled pen notes to herself.

“I need more time on the computer!” stammers a smelly long-haired and balding unkempt 30-something male who visits every day.

“Have you got information about the XXth battalion of WW2? I fought there back in 19XX and I remember…..” reminisces the elderly digger with tears in the corners of his eyes as he settles in to recall the events.

“I have a few new titles I’d like to order.” asserts the well-dressed elderly woman as she unravels a long list with beautiful handwriting.

“I want to email photos directly from my camera. Can I use a computer?” says the holidaymaker with no identification and questionable IT skills about how to do that exactly.

“Can we join the library?” choruses the family group of mother, father, and four children as they swarm the counter en masse.

“Have you got the Twilight series? I want to order the first book. And the next one, and the next one…” rambles the young girl at the end of the telephone.

“I’ve lost a book. We’ve just moved. I must have returned it….” already on the defensive, the woman on the telephone has effectively jumped the queue of four people patiently waiting for attention in front of me and now she wants to persist with her excuses before anyone can get a word in.

“Can we use ze internet please?” a backpacker politely enquires in stilted English with some divine European accent, while showing a well-worn passport.

“I want information about dioxin and the effects on humans. I’d like references to the incidents of this in Vietnam and Northern Italy. I’m worried about the proposed pulp mill planned to be built on the Tamar River in Tasmania. Can you find this for me please?” asks a polite regular with a keen curiosity and social conscience.

I try to give my full attention to each and every customer and not only help to give them what they want, but also always try to give them that little bit extra whenever I can. It can be a challenge sometimes especially during summer when the people and questions come thick and fast. But I love it.

I regularly read a light-hearted comic strip about libraries at Unshelved. At present they are loaning out ukeles to the public and I suppose this reflects some of the crazy gimmicks that we have to embrace from time to time.

Fact or fiction

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The lines can blur when categorising literature into fiction or non-fiction. There are many books in the ‘non-fiction’ section that are questionable in terms of truth and validity. I am currently reading about the Teachings of Abraham in a book by Esther and Jerry Hicks. The practical advice for living offered in the book was apparently communicated to Esther by entities not residing in this physical world.

This week I saw the movie “The curious case of Benjamin Button” starring Brad Pitt as Benjamin. It is so satisfying to go to the cinema and be treated to a fulfilling movie experience, and this movie provided that. It was so uplifting despite the topic primarily being about death. It is an improbable tale about a man who is born old and lives his life backwards, and yet it is convincingly portrayed and beautifully crafted. The make-up artists certainly had a challenge making this movie, and did it so well.

Brad Pitt was brilliant as the quirky and challenged character of Benjamin. He was also typically gorgeous during the prime years of Benjamin’s life. I swooned as Benjamin (Brad) took off on his motorbike and again when he set sail in his yacht!

This story of fiction, apparently originally an unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and made into this film by David Fincher, is an improbable work of fiction, and yet again the philosophical advice for living is clear.

Life can sometimes be stranger than fiction. Public libraries are havens for everyone everywhere and so you will see a broad cross-section of society there on any given day, seeking a diverse range of information. There are even ‘wizards’ who visit. This is a fact, although perhaps by name only and not nature – not proven anyway.

Holidaymakers being fined $113 for parking their cars in a loading zone, outside the library when the car parks are choking; now that’s a fact.