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Librarian or Mind Reader?

Posted by Susan on May 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibraries
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Last week, I began a series of posts about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.

How are librarians like mind readers? Because we get asked questions all day long on every subject imaginable and are expected to come up with accurate answers. Here's some examples.... all are real questions I've gotten at the reference desk.

Wrinkle in Time original.jpgQuestion: What's the name of the blue book with people standing in circles on the cover? Answer: A Wrinkle in Time, first edition, cover designed by Ellen Raskin.

: What's that book where a chicken takes a plane? Answer: Olvina Flies by Grace Lin.

Come on, challenge me, people.

Now, here's a great question from a few days ago. All the quotes from the patron are real. I couldn't make them up if I tried.

Elementary school patron: I want that poetry book with a hippo on the cover.

Librarian: Hmmm.... okay, nothing springs to mind. A search on poetry and hippos yields nothing. Neither does a look through the covers of all the books by Allan Katz and Jack Prelutsky (if any poets would use hippos on their covers, it would be them.)

Patron: I think the hippo might be holding a lemon.

Librarian: After a catalog search, Google Image search, and intensive questioning of my colleagues, I'm still drawing a blank. Is there any other possible piece of information you remember about the book?

: I think it had something to do with the number five.

The librarian does a catalog search for poetry books about the number five. The patron recognizes the picture of the book in the catalog.

Monster Goose.jpgAnd the mystery book is: Monster Goose by Judy Sierra. Here's the cover. You can't help but notice that there are no hippos, lemons, or the number five anywhere on the cover. The only reason it came up in the catalog at all is because it was described as a book of "twenty-five" poems. The fact that it was the right book was completely serendipitous. (And yes, it was the right book. I asked the patron about ten times to be sure.)

Children ask for books in different ways than adults do. One of the great parts of being a children's librarian is when you figure out what the patron is really asking for and find the right book.

Come on, Google. I dare you to find Monster Goose based on that description.


Erica S. Perl writes...

Okay, Susan, I've got one. My husband's favorite children's book from his childhood allegedly involved a boy running away from home with a napsack full of peanut butter sandwiches, and a bunch of little flags to mark his route. I know a lot of books and I've been trying to figure this one out for years, so if you have any ideas, lay 'em on me...

SusanAuthor Profile Page writes...

Now there's a good challenge! It's not exactly what you described, but the book that springs immediately to mind is More Adventures of the Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. In Chapter 3: The Time Papa Got Lost, Tom (the great brain) leaves behind a series of markings such as piled up stones and notches on trees as their camping party goes deeper into the Utah countryside. These markings later help the search party find them. It was originally published in 1969. If that's not the right book, let me know and I'll ask around for the answer.

SusanAuthor Profile Page writes...

A colleague just mentioned "My Father's Dragon" by Ruth Stiles Gannett as the possible answer to your question... and I thought, of course, that's it! Let me know if it is.

Amy writes...

Those are wonderful - brings back many memories of librarians who led me to the right book time after time.

Kathy writes...

Best part of being a school librarian! Always so much fun when you come up with right answer.

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