The other day, I had a patron approach me and ask for help in a mildly terrifying, heretofore-unexperienced way: as I was seated at the Information Desk with my focus on my computer screen, she soundlessly materialized behind me, Mr. Deeds’ butler-style, and dramatically whispered, “I need your help.” Startled, I turned around to see a living woman and thankfully not a ghost with unfinished library business, and she just needed help with the copier, not a droid delivered to Alderaan or something of similarly pressure-packed, grave import, as her tone conveyed. As somewhat unsettling as this was, it decidedly wasn’t my least favorite way a library patron has gone about getting my attention. Here are some commonly experienced categories of library help seekers:
-Arm Flailers – These people try to grab your eyeballs (figuratively, not literally, though that would be as hilarious as it would be blindingly painful) rather than your ears by gesticulating with their arms like some kind of wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men. It’s pretty effective at getting you noticed, but it’s not terribly polite. Some people DO practice a polite variation of this by simply raising their hand, as if in a classroom, which I find charming.
-Psst-ers – Rather than approaching a staff member and asking for help, members of this group stay seated (or standing, in some cases) where they are and let out a classic, attention-grabbing “Psst!” I assume it’s meant to be quiet and low-key, but it’s done at stage whisper (i.e., not really a whisper) volume, so it’s neither of those things.
-Sit ‘n’ Shouters – Just like the Psst-ers, these folks stay put while making an audible play for attention, but rather than the faux-quiet and faux-respectful “psst,” they let loose with a more blunt and loud “Excuse me?!”, “Hey!”, or “Come here a minute.” Depending on tone, this can be gear-grinding, but I find it oddly less annoying than being psst-ed at.
-Frustrated Non-Askers – The members of this group get so fed up by what they’re doing or attempting to do that before they can compose themselves to come ask for help, they stay in place and agitatedly groan, sigh, and/or exclaim the kinds of things that TV censors would sanitize by changing them to “sunny beaches” or “melon farmer.” Often, this is a way to plea for help without directly asking, and by my assessment, it’s sometimes totally calculated and sometimes totally genuine and without ulterior motive (sometimes the person doesn’t actually want help and is just venting). These situations are no fun for anyone, but it’s best to tread lightly and gently engage ready to diffuse and assist.
-Polite ‘n’ Direct Approachers – As the name implies, these people approach staff members directly and politely ask for help, with no accompanying scariness, annoyances, or nonsense. They are the all-stars of help seeking and thankfully are the most prevalent type of BPL users.