The Reference Interview

Millie looked up from her desk to see a library patron storming into the library, and Millie knew immediately that this was Carla, the mother of a high school junior whom Millie had helped yesterday.  Millie wanted to bolt into the back room, but Carla spotted her before she could get out of her chair at the reference desk.  Millie put on what she thought was a welcoming smile, but in fact Millie looked like a scared rabbit caught in a car’s headlights.  Carla stormed over and proceeded to stand at the reference desk delivering her tirade about the books she found in her daughter’s room.


Millie wisely decided that it was best to let Carla rant until she ran out of steam, so Mille quietly listened to all the complaints.  After about five minutes, which seemed like an eternity to Millie, Carla realized that the other library patrons were starting to listen in and that a scene was developing so Carla stopped and looked at Millie for a response.  Millie was so grateful for her training at Rosary College’s School of Library Science, especially for Dr. Hornbecker’s reference class where Millie had been instructed in the intricases of the reference interview.  She remembered Dr. Hornbecker’s statement that most patrons don’t ask for what they really need unless it is where is the restroom or how do you use the copier.  It is up to the professional librarian to conduct the interview so that the patron’s true needs are met.


In this case Millie knew it would be very tricky since yesterday she had helped Carla’s daughter, Jane, with her request for lesbian fiction.  Millie also knew that Carla’s ranting was really not directed at the library.  So very gently Millie asked Carla to sit down at her desk so they could discuss this.  Then she asked Carla if she had talked with Jane.  Carla broke down.  She hadn’t.  She had just found the books and been terrified since she had suspected for a number of years that her daughter might be lesbian but figured if she didn’t ask then Jane would simply grow out of it as if it were a phase.  Carla then said that since Jane was only 17, the library shouldn’t allow her to check out lesbian books.


Millie smiled and pointed out that Carla had never put any restrictions on Jane’s library card and that in fact Carla was extremely proud of Jane’s academic success and she had always encouraged Jane to take full advantage of the library.  Legally, Carla could now impose restrictions on what Jane could check out, but mightn’t that cause more harm.  Millie asked if it was possible that Jane had deliberately left those books in a place where her mother would find them so that a dialogue could be opened as Jane and Carla had always been close.


Carla thought for a few minutes and realized that she had been driven to the library because of her fears for her daughter.  Carla asked Millie if it was true that gay teens have a much higher rate of suicide, and Millie agreed that being gay in our country is a very difficult path and that it is especially hard for teens, but those who have supportive families usually do just fine.  Millie showed Carla where the books for parents of GLBTQ youth were and suggested that Carla might find something helpful there.


Millie returned to her desk hoping that the rest of the day would be much much quieter, but also very glad that she was in a profession designed to help others.  After about an hour she noticed Carla leaving with a selection of books under her arm, and Millie smiled.  She hoped that both Carla and Jane would be back in.  She was glad that she hadn’t been able to bolt when Carla first walked in and she said to herself, this is why I’m a young adult librarian


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