Beyond the Call of Duty?

The look I get when someone calling the library says they’re going to ask me something strange.

When a phone call begins with, “I’m sorry, this is probably going to be the strangest thing someone has asked you to do,” the natural reaction is mild-to-severe concern, with a hearty pinch of curiosity. What is this person about to request of me? Steal a car? Flush the toilet and tell her which direction the water goes? Let her sing Michael Bolton songs to me to gauge my emotional reaction and determine the most effective one with which to romantically serenade someone? It turned out to be none of these things, but the actual request was still plenty unusual, but totally doable and satisfying.

The caller’s situation was this: She lives in Fort Worth, but is currently in another state. She’s having a house built in yet another state, and she had previously given her builder a picture from a particular book to provide an example of how she wanted one of the rooms constructed. The builder lost the picture, which came directly from her copy of the book (she ripped it out and gave it to him, which I’m sure some view as heinous book destruction, but that’s an issue for another time), and she had no backup copy. She looked online and found that BPL owns a copy of the book, and part one of her request was for me to retrieve it from the shelf. No sweat there, but she didn’t remember exactly which page her desired picture is on, and she had several sections ripped out, so things weren’t totally narrowed down. She kindly asked if I could flip through the book and search for the picture, which she described as featuring a room with an A-frame ceiling with dark beams and an ornate design where the beams meet the walls. I luckily found one matching her description on an early page. The next step was to verify I had the correct picture. But how?

Scanning and e-mailing was an option, but a bit of a time-consuming one, especially if I ended up being wrong. She suggested a video call on Skype so that I could show her the picture, and if it wasn’t the right one, I could flip through and show other possibilities in real time. To be sure, Skyping with library patrons isn’t something I regularly do (this was the first time), but I was invested in solving this problem, Skype seemed like a sensible solution, and she was just being so nice and apologetic about the unorthodox things she was asking me to do that I really wanted to make everything work out for her. I fired up the library Skype account, and after a few connection issues, we were able to see each other in a video call. I showed her the picture, and instant excitement and promises of thank you cookies ensued. Bingo.

I scanned the picture and e-mailed it to her, and a short time later, she got back to me with a reply that effusively thanked me for doing things that were “so above and beyond anything that could possibly be in [my] job description.” While going on potential needle in a haystack-y quests for something very specific in a book and making video calls isn’t explicitly mentioned in my formal job description, it does state I’m to “assist patrons with reference and non-reference information requests,” which is admittedly a fairly Bunyan-sized umbrella. While we can’t do everything for you (for instance, at least two out of the three ridiculous things I mentioned in the opening paragraph – I won’t say which ones – are a no-go), we’re truly glad to help in any way we reasonably (and sometimes, unreasonably) can. As I told our picture-seeking caller, we’re happy when people think of the library for their information and information-adjacent needs. We’ll help if we’re able, and you don’t even have to give us cookies in return – though if you absolutely insist, we probably won’t turn you down.

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