Every now and then I am reminded of how different we are from other people. I had one of those experiences at the library the other day.
In front of me in line at the circulation desk was a nodding acquaintance of mine and her high-school age kids. They were looking for a book for one of the kids - assigned summer reading for (public) school. The child didn't know the name of the book needed - the librarian had to go look it up on the list the high school had provided them. (So I guess this one was not the first student to walk into the library looking for they-don't-know-what.) When it was determined that all copies of the book were checked out of that branch, the mother said they would check back for it another time. Of course the librarian suggested they put in a request for it so they could just come in and pick it up and not stop back at some random time when the book may or may not be on the shelf. The family looked at one another with puzzlement. The librarian went on to explain that it was available at several other branches and she could get it for them. The family still had no clue what she was talking about. She mentioned the names of some of the branches in the county-wide system that had the book on the shelf. The mother said "Oh, I can't drive all the way out there..." The librarian very calmly (much more calmly than I felt at the moment) explained the method for requesting books to be transferred from branch to branch. The family all looked stunned that such a thing is possible.
I didn't hear the end of it because the other desk opened up and I was able to pick up my requested books and get out of there. But I was stunned too. These kids attend the public high school that is across the street from the library. How can they not know how to use it? I see kids in there during after-school hours all the time - mostly using the computers, but searching the stacks too. Walking in and out with books. Real books in their hands. How can this entire family have no clue how to use the library? At least one of them had a card so presumably it was not their first experience there. That's one good thing, at least.
OK, I am sure I felt at least a twinge of superiority over this. My kids know how to use the library. They understand they can get a book from any branch in this library system. They don't know about inter-library loan yet as I have never had reason to use it. But I don't guess it would mystify them. I think if they went to school they would know, or I would teach them, not to walk in for a book without knowing the name of it and relying on the librarian to have a copy of the school's list.
So once again I am reminded that we are not like other people. I thought the public library was a near-universal experience for middle-class Americans. Wrong again!