Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Secret Shopper: Well, color me blown away

My local public library is extremely tiny and limited in its holdings. Thus, I entered the library anticipating the worst, but that’s far from what I received. My “Secret Shopper” experience proved to me that at least some librarians are heading in the right direction when it comes to readers’ advisory.

The librarian at the desk had my sympathy before I even spoke to her. A young, dour-looking boy in front of me addressed her in a horribly condescending tone: “You know your computers are slow?” She replied that she understood, but that several people used their FREE Internet service at once and there was nothing she could do to speed it up. The kid rudely ranted a little longer about the library needing to buy newer computers before he rudely abandoned the desk. Ah, the youth of today.

Then it was my turn. I hesitantly asked if she could help me find a good book to read. To my surprise, she agreed to help without any hesitation, as if she was accustomed to such a request. She asked what I was looking for in general. I replied that I wasn’t picky and didn’t have many favorite authors, but that I wanted something dark and heavy-handed, and that focused on characters.

She asked if I could give her an example of a book with these characteristics that I enjoyed, and I told her that I had recently read and loved Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I couldn’t see what tool she was using, but I saw her type the author’s name, and she indicated that she was searching for the title. Whatever tool she used recommended a Joyce Carol Oates book called We Were the Mulvaneys. She read me a summary that sounded intriguing, and then checked the catalog. When she found that the library didn’t carry it, she offered to put in a request on my account.

She kept looking for other recommended titles that the library did hold so I could take one home immediately. She found a few more titles that she herself had read, and she gave me a brief summary of each off the top of her head. She even enlisted the help of the other librarian sitting at the other computer, who listed off a couple of authors that I had read and a couple that I had only heard of. Suddenly, the librarian helping me jumped up from the desk and told me to follow her to the shelves to locate some of the titles.

When we reached the shelf, we launched into a discussion of some of our favorite books and found that our tastes are rather similar. She became more and more animated as she pointed out books that she had loved and ones that had circulated frequently. I soon forgot that I was supposed to be evaluating her, and I found myself relaxing and just enjoying the conversation.

Throughout the whole interaction, I was becoming more and more impressed by how much the librarian cared about finding the perfect book for me. We found a couple of titles for me to check out, and I wrote down a few more titles to check out in the future. I left the library feeling very satisfied with the service and excited to read the recommended titles.

The only criticism I could possibly come up with is the fact that the librarian asserted her personal opinion quite a bit—she told me what she likes to read instead of focusing completely on my interests. However, since we seem to have enjoyed so many of the same authors and books, I don’t really see it as a problem in this case. In my opinion, this librarian went above and beyond the call of duty with her enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever it took to find the right book for me.

Overall, a great success!


  1. Great picture! Where would be without Borat Sagdiev?

  2. Love Borat- we need more Borats in this world.

    This is one for the win column. I sense the librarian is a young cool person like yourself and probably really enjoyed her time with you - unlike the time spent with the rude ill-manner teen tormenting.

    Being a public servant is not easy- got to have thick skin and loads of compassion for your fellow human beings.