When I am at the front desk of the library I am confidant in my ability to handle the great majority of things that come my way. I know the library, its mechanics, its policies, human nature in the context of libraries, and a lot of the Jeopardy Question portions of human knowledge. I also have my trusty computer, portal to a surprisingly tiny fraction of everything, but a surprisingly large portion of everything people are inclined to ask one about at a service desk. Also, I find that when people approach me at the front desk they have usually thought about things, organized their needs, and made a very specific decision to get in line and seek formal help. So when a patron approaches me at the front desk I quail not.
But my experience when I am shelving is very different. I am approached there far more infrequently, and I am as keen to help people as ever, but the requests tend to be less focused, far more spontaneous, and can come from an unwieldy variety of directions. I have no computer, no desk to hide behind, and I need to shift gears abruptly into a whole different mindset from the ruminative, traveling through space and time one that I shelve under. So I do quail a bit when I am approached for help while I am shelving. I quail mostly because I hate not being able to help someone to my satisfaction, and that happens far more often when I am out shelving than it does when I am at the desk.
So among the sweetest parts of my job is when I am out shelving and some patron brings me a nice, soft, lob of a pitch of a request for help, and I have all the time in the world to line it up and see how far I can hit it over the fence, how profoundly I can be of assistance. This is the kind of pitch, or question, that leaves merely the question of how far I will hit it over the fence. I have, out shelving in the past, been forced to swing at wild pitches, I have had pitches thrown at my head, I have been fake pitched to, and, yes, I have swung madly and missed at pitches coming right over the plate. That perfect lob pitch has so much to make up for. I have so much to redeem, exculpate, and discharge in my swing here.
And here it is. A young man comes to me while I am shelving Mysteries. First he wants to know how to get a library card. We work out that he has all he needs with his identification and such, and I take him to the glass wall that hangs up high over the service desk and show him where to go to get the card. No, that's not it. That's not the pitch. That's nothing, really, just passing, every day help. But then he says "I need a good historical book about Indians to read."
I freeze up for just a second, like when the curtain goes up on the stage, the lights are on and one is in front of a crowd of thousands. This is the moment! Can one sing or can't one?
My mind starts to race over fiction, historical American Indian Fiction. I can think of at least three excellent modern American Indian Fictions, but on historical ones I am a bit blank. Then it occurs to me. He probably doesn't want fiction! I hope and hope he doesn't want fiction!
"Fiction?" I ask. "Or Non Fiction?"
"Non Fiction." He says.
It is right there that I know I have the lob, I know I have the soft soft sweet ball to hit as far as I can. I know the book. I know the book and quickly ascertain that he has not read it. Not giving too much away, to open the discussion, I mention some of my backups on historical Indian Non Fiction. It turns out that he has read Black Elk Speaks. This only makes it better. It shows that he is committed, interested, serious. It shows that I have the most perfect, mind blowing, fabulous book in the world for him. I don't even doubt our library on this. We will have copies on the shelf. I know it.
I type into the catalog search engine "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"
Three copies, on the shelf, waiting just for him.
I give him the call number of one of my all time favorite books, a book I firmly believe that he will love and that will break his heart, and I send him on his way.
It is surprising what small joys there can be in a job. This, this odd little thing, tempered by a usual small threat of looming disaster and failure, is, for me, heaven.