Monday, June 30, 2008

The differences between us

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!


Sandy said...

We were in the library last week and I watched with amazement two high school aged girls and an adult, she looked like an aunt or maybe the grandmother, come in to get books required for school. The girl had a list (so far, so good), but she had no idea how to go about locating the book. The librarian tried to show her how to use the computer, telling her that if she entered the name of the book, the computer would show her to book's location. I was there about another half an hour and when I left she still didn't have her book and there was another librarian trying to (literally) point her in the right direction. I sat there a little stunned that two teenagers and an adult could not find two books that they had th title and author for right in their hands. It was a little sad. My kids meanwhile, where taking their overstuffed backpacks ("you may not check out more than you can carry") to the self-checkout machines. I found myself wondering how this girl was going to function in the world when she couldn't even use the library.

Mrs. Darling said...

Yep I just told some freinds the other day how to use the library! Its amazing!

kerri @ gladoil said...

It's funny when you have those moments. When something that is so routine and obvious to you is completely 'greek' to someone else. Sometimes I feel like I inhabit a different planet...