National Library Week is here yet again. That’s the week librarians come together to celebrate the fact that we don’t have a true national library like other civilized countries. Or something like that.
Still, I tried to get excited about it. That was helped by this lovely brochure that you can print out and distribute to all and sundry. So what can you do at a library?
Visit your library for computer resources for teens and adults, help with your job search, access to subscription databases, library-recommended websites and homework help. You also can obtain information about how to become a U.S. citizen, bilingual resources and neutral financial information to help you make important decisions.
That sounded pretty nifty. I visited a friend of mine, a lawyer, and she took me to their firm’s law library. I asked for some computer resources for teens and adults. She referred me to Westlaw. Something’s not right here. I can’t imagine many adults or teens wanting to spend a lot of time with Westlaw.
Then while I was at a hospital visiting a sick friend, I dropped by the library there.
“Can you give me some information about how to become a U.S. citizen?” I asked the librarian.
“Aren’t you already one?”
“But what if I weren’t.”
“I don’t know. There’s probably a website about that somewhere. The government, maybe.”
Still frustrated, I cleverly evaded the security at a school near where I live. The librarian seemed friendly at first. I had to go and ruin it by asking a question.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you provide me with neutral financial information to help me make important decisions?”
Much less friendly now.
“I think security has an answer for that. Let me give them a call.”
Fortunately I evaded them again and escaped the building without losing my dignity. But I was no closer to my goal.
On the way home I visited a museum, which also had a library. That librarian was friendly, and didn’t try to kick me out at all. He seemed very welcoming and answered a lot of questions about the library and how it served the museum.
“Can you give me access to subscription databases?” I finally asked.
“No, we don’t have any of those. You’re welcome to search our online catalog, though. Maybe there’s a book you’d be interested in.”
Books, indeed. I want financial databases and neutral subscription information.
I wasn’t giving up that easily, though. A university was nearby, so I visited the library there. The reference librarian was rather indifferent, but it was late in the afternoon by now, so I let it slide.
“Can you provide me with some homework help?”
She just stared at me.
“You have homework?”
I guess that’s what passes for a reference interview these days.
“I don’t have homework, but I know somebody who does.”
“Is that somebody a student here?” Still staring.
“I doubt it. He’s 9.”
“I don’t think I can help him.” Still staring.
This was getting unnerving, so I left and headed to the last place I thought I could get some help, the local public library. The reference librarian here was at least friendlier than her academic counterpart.
“Excuse me, can you provide me with some bilingual resources?”
“Certainly. We have a large Spanish-language collection right over here,” she said, leading the way.
I looked through a few of the books.
“But these are all in Spanish,” I said.
“I mean, they are in all Spanish.”
“Spanish is just one language.”
She backed away ever so slightly.
“I want something bilingual, with two languages. Do you have any foreign language books with facing English translations, for example?”
“Do they make books like that?”
“They certainly do.”
“I don’t think we have any.”
“What about foreign language dictionaries? They’re bilingual. I’d like to translate some Amharic into English.”
“I don’t think we have one for Amharic. Have you tried Google Translate?”
“It doesn’t translate Amharic.”
“Oh. I don’t think we can help you then.”
“What about Oromo?”
“What about it?”
“Any Oromo-English dictionaries?”
“I can check, but I don’t think so.”
“No Amharic? No Oromo? If I were Ethiopian, I’d be out of luck here.”
“But you aren’t Ethiopian, are you?”
“Maybe I know some Ethiopians who need dictionaries.”
“Do you know any?”
Alas, foiled again. In fact, I don’t know any Ethiopians who need dictionaries.
However, I can’t help but conclude that this National Library Week isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.