Is it that people fear to be imposing? They don't want to ask too much? Whatever it is I find that people's initial parlay with me at the front desk of the library is nearly reliably opposite to what they say it is. If a patron comes to me, almost in passing, and says they just have a quick question, I know that I will still be with them 15 minutes later explaining minute details of the Peloponnesian War. If someone asks me to briefly show them how to print something on their computer I rest assured that 20 minutes later I will be down on the floor with the whole computer disassembled doing soldering work on the motherboard. And if a couple of people come to the service desk and say they just need library cards, well, they probably do just need library cards, but the use of the word "just" somehow seems all wrong because creating library cards actually ranks pretty high on the list of irksome, laborious tasks I have to do at the front desk, but only if it is treated with a lack of sufficient gravity.
This isn't just idle grousing though. It runs the other way too. If a patron comes to the desk and sheepishly admits they have a huge problem that I probably can't help with because it's hopeless, they're probably going to be asking me what the name of that movie was with Orson Welles, you know, about the rich guy and his sled. All they know is that "Citizen" is in the title. Long, apologetic preambles are usually going to lead to questions about whether or not we have a copy machine, or what time it is. And people probably don't even ask things like "Do you carry non fiction books?" out of fear of overwhelming us.
I find this dynamic particularly true with donations. The more people act as if they are giving us the crown jewels and want donation receipts, profuse thanks, and perhaps a fancy, embroidered "Library Donor" satin jacket, the more I can be sure they are donating a torn bag of old, yellow Nora Roberts paperbacks that rats have been chewing on and that smell faintly of vomit. Whereas if we are treated like some sort of gods at the front desk, receiving the patron's pathetic offering, and they act as if they are barely even worthy of talking to us directly, we'll usually be getting a complete set of Jane Austen first editions, along with maybe some old letters of hers that will be fun to look at before we sell it all off to fund our addiction to 3D printers and projectors powerful enough to cast a 40 foot high image at a distance of 50 yards in full sun while only looking sort of washed out. Those babies are expensive!
So why are people so obverse? My theory is that everyone is so used to not being properly paid attention to that they've, er, we've, adopted a lot of unconscious, attention getting devices like this dissonance, this sudden change in tempo."Quick question: What is the meaning of the universe?" Wait, what? That's not quick. You need a whole library clerking blog to answer that! But this sort of device is such old hat it doesn't work anymore. We're already rolling our eyes at "Quick question" It's overuse has left only one place to go.
Yes, I find it painful too. But, speak directly, honestly, and proportionately to me at the desk. These days it never fails to blow my mind.