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.


  1. I am so happy you had a good experience. Just goes to show that there are librarians who are doing a good job. And of course they were all educated at IUPUI!

  2. It sounds as though someone had a good teacher or he has taken his job to heart. Good for him! Enjoy the read.

  3. Shew! Not-so-good-service is still winning. The score 2 to 1. But at least we've got some points on the board.

    Did he invite you back if you were not happy with this choice? Did he suggest resources to help you find other titles in the future? I wonder if he recommended the book he did based on his own reading experience or did he search a database/source? My sense it was one he read. I take it he didn't use a RA resource as he cited Wikipedia - which isn't all bad - but we expect librarians to lead us to vetted sources that we can return to for future use.

    I'm a tough customer. Yes, it was good that he was approachable and followed up with you at the stacks but better would have been to cite a reputable source, provide more than title for you to consider, and teach you a bit about how you might explore science fiction titles on your own.

  4. He ended with the standard "If there's anything else ..." kind of line. He wasn't specific about this choice, but I got the impression he would help me find another book.

    True, he didn't teach me how to explore science fiction. He must have used some RA tool, though, because he suggested at least one book he hadn't read. (I guess I kind of glossed over that with my "one of the books he recommended" line).