I know, the last thing I wrote was how sometimes one word is enough. But sometimes, even one word is too many.
A woman came to the desk on Tuesday. “Where is the self-help section?” she asked.
“Just past the check-out desk, “ I said.
“Oh.” She frowned. “I was just over there”.
“Was there a specific kind of help you were looking for?”
“Well,” she said, “relationships.”
“Ok. Did you want parent/child relationships, male/female relationships, another kind of relationship?”
“Husband and wife,” she said immediately.
“Let me walk you over there,” I said, and off we went.
When we got to the shelf, in between the stacks, I pointed out some of the subjects to her. “Here are the books about dating, here’s marriage, divorce, widowhood….”
She hesitated, then put her hand into her pocket. “I have a title, “ she said quietly, and pulled out a folded paper.
I took it from her and unfolded it to read the title: After the Affair.
“Here is the section where that might be, “ I told her, touching the place on the shelf . “I’ll go check the computer to make sure.” She nodded and turned to the shelf.
When I came back, she was still just standing there. “We don’t have the title you’re looking for, “ I said. “Would another book on the same subject be all right?”
“Well,” she said, “there must be something else here.”
I found Back from Betrayal on the shelf. I pulled it out and handed it to her.
“Thank you, “ she said, taking the book from me and opening the front cover, instantly oblivious to me standing there.
I walked away.
There is absolutely nothing I could have said to her that would have made any difference at that point. Something personal would have been completely inappropriate and unprofessional, not to mention obviously unwanted.
In Reference Interview seminars, we are taught to end with, “Does this answer your question? Please let me know if I can help you further, “ or other wrap-up phrases. But she was so intent on getting the information from that book that I immediately ceased to exist, and those phrases served no purpose.
They don’t ever cover this in library training, but sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing.