We all make assumptions. We base many of them on appearance: clothing and age, and the mannerisms that make up first impressions. We use this split-second information to make assumptions about education and experience, assumptions about personality and interests.
For example, I would assume someone wearing a NASCAR jacket to be interested in racing. However, a local tire company donates those jackets to the Homeless Shelter in the winter time and most of the homeless people wearing them are more interested in warmth than in laps. There goes that connection.
A man in a business suit comes in at lunch, asking for information on Australia. I assume it’s a business trip and give travel information and business data. He says he’s doing his fourth graders homework. Have you tried the encyclopedia?
It’s part of our training not to assume, but it’s human nature, so we have to short-circuit the brain-to-mouth connection. When someone asks for information on STDs, I want to assume it’s for a school report, but I never ask. What if it isn’t? They are embarrassed, I feel stupid - and I have way more information than I want.
Patrons assume things, too. They assume because one of my colleagues had extra time on a slow night, that everyone can spend a half hour helping them establish a presence on Yahoo personals.
They also assume that if they ask for a certain resource, the answer they want will be in there. This is ok, as long as the patron knows the book they ask for. A patron asked me for a set of encyclopedias in Spanish. My department doesn’t have them, so on the way to the other department, I asked what type of information was needed. It turned out the actual question was, “Does the Bible say it’s ok to drink beer?” We located a Bible dictionary and I left him with it, and a few instructions.
A tall student who asks a question at my desk, I assume to be in high school and able to use the adult level reading materials in my department. After handing him a thick biography and getting a blank look, I ask what grade. Fifth. He’s six feet tall, for goodness sake!
I leave you with the same advice I give myself after these kinds of experiences: When you ASSUME, it makes an ASS of U and ME.
I hate being proof that old proverbs are right.