The Expert

I wrote this article in 1990 and was reminded of it recently when I read Kelly Jensen's post, Five Great Questions I Was Asked as a Reference Librarian. 26 years later I can still see that 12 year old girl's face as she asked me the hardest question of my career.

There is one occupational hazard in being a teacher librarian that I have never heard discussed in all the in-services I’ve attended since taking on this role six years ago. It’s this. Everybody expects you to know everything.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked in my job as a junior high school librarian. I am NOT making these up.

“Do you have a book on spontaneous human combustion?”

“What’s the title of that book about the girl who goes back in time and meets her mom when she was a kid? I think it has a pink cover.”

“Somebody told me that Tchaikovsky was gay. Is that true?”

“What bus do you take to get to Southgate?”

And, of course, my personal favorite, “I’m doing research for Human Sexuality. What does ‘interruptus’ mean?”

Teachers can come up with some doozies too, like, “The film I ordered didn’t come in. Can you do a book talk next period on Victorian era literature?”

I used to take this question business for granted until one day I sat down next to a girl who was working in the library and she asked, “Mrs. Peterson, if you kill yourself, do you still go to heaven?”

See what I mean about occupational hazard?

I think I answered that question correctly, thanks to the help I got from the school psychologist. But the next time you ask your friendly neighborhood librarian a question, and she stops to think, be patient with her. Being the expert can be terrifying.