Friday, March 5, 2010

A Success! My Secret Shopper Experience

I’m not the type to ask questions at the reference desk, and I’ve certainly never needed help finding my own books to read.  I approached the desk uncertainly, and the librarian seemed to pick up on my hesitancy.  He was very friendly and approachable.  When I asked if he could help me find a good book to read, he looked a little uneasy, but then he smiled, nodded, and answered: “I might be able to help you with that.”

He asked me some of the standard questions:  What are you looking for?  What have you read in the past?  Do you want something newer or older?  Do you want a series or a stand alone? Because I was asking for science fiction—something I’ve read very little of—I volunteered my favorite sci-fi television shows as well. The librarian was familiar with Firefly, so we talked a little about what I liked about that show.  I mentioned that I wanted something ‘accessible’ and not a lot of ‘technobabble.’  It felt like we were having a conversation instead of an interview.

There was a line forming behind me, and the librarian said he’d need a little time to do the searching.  He showed me to the Science Fiction shelves so I could browse.  I watched him as I browsed for 10 minutes, and he was kept occupied by other patrons’ questions.  It was a Sunday afternoon, so there was a rush to pay for printing and get computers.

I happened to find a really promising book as I was browsing.  It was a novel about colonizing Mars.  When the librarian came to get me, one of the books he said fit my description was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles – a series of short stories about colonizing Mars. In the interview, he’d clearly grasped exactly the kind of book I was looking for.  (For you cynics out there – no, he could not see which books I was browsing.)

Since I was browsing and the librarian was at the desk, I don’t know what tools he used to find the book.  When I asked for a description, though, he pulled up Wikipedia for me to read.  After I said I thought that book sounded promising, we had a short discussion about science fiction.  Apparently, he recommended the book because he had read it before and liked it for the same reasons I said I liked Firefly.

In our textbook, Saricks wrote that librarians fear the dreaded question of science fiction recommendations more than most other genres, but even reading a few titles makes the process easier.  This librarian is proof of that.  He said he’s not a science fiction fan, but I could tell he had clearly read enough to have some grasp of the genre.

The librarian was friendly and helpful, even though he was alone at the desk on a busy afternoon.  He found a book that matched what I asked for with a plot I think is interesting.  Whether I actually enjoy the book or not (I do plan to read it!), I consider this secret shopper assignment a success, and I grade the librarian well for his work.

And here’s something interesting:

When I was checking out the book, I mentioned to the clerks how helpful the librarian was.  They told me he had just graduated from library school at IUPUI!  Since we have a common college, I need to introduce myself properly sometime.  I dread telling someone they were “secret shopped” so I might just mention the book was for a class.