Librarians: Breaking Your Heart, Crushing Your Dreams

Alas, it’s true. Although we library workers spend 90% of our workdays making people happy with the information we provide, there are those…awkward times when we have to tell you something you might not want to hear.

Everything’s less awkward with an image from icanhascheezburger.com

Luckily, we’re usually able to counter the bad news with better news, news that will not only guide you to the information you’re looking for, but save you from future awkward moments as well. Here are just a few of the many ways a librarian can break your heart…and then put it back together with credible information.

1. You are most likely not the grand prize winner.

You’re also probably not the dearest, most trusted confidante of a wealthy foreigner in need of some banking assistance, and that precious tot whose picture keeps popping up in your inbox most likely wasn’t really abducted. While the web’s vast trove of knowledge, and the breakneck speed of sharing it, can be beautiful things, they also make it easier than ever for scams and hoaxes to spread like wildfire. Acting on false information you receive can cost you in a variety of ways, from simple personal embarrassment all the way up to identity theft.

The Good News: There are a lot of terrific, credible sources that not only bust hoaxes, but provide you with ways to protect yourself. The fine folks at Snopes and Hoax-Slayer are joined in their efforts by the FBI, the IRS, and the Federal Trade Commission to set the record straight on matters ranging from urban legends to work-at-home scams.  Don’t forget, too, as we slouch toward the November elections, to  peruse non-profit, non-partisan websites like FactCheck and OpenSecrets for a truly fair and balanced picture of the “facts” Uncle Gordo forwards you once a week.

2. You should listen to your doctor.

Although we definitely sympathize with folks who have a tough time swallowing their doctor’s advice, librarians are not licensed to practice medicine.  Ergo, we can’t give you a second opinion, prescribe an alternative medication, or tell you what we think you should do about that horrible rash that just won’t go away. So when you press us for a diagnosis, you make us wish we were somewhere else doing something slightly less awkward (like giving a “coming out” speech at Thanksgiving dinner).

The Good News: While there are a lot of potential communication breakdowns in the doctor-patient relationship, there are plenty of consumer tools you can use to become a better advocate for your own health. Confused about a medication you’ve been prescribed? Look it up in the MedlinePlus encyclopedia of drugs, supplements, and herbs. Interested in alternatives to conventional treatments?  Research them at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Whatever medical difficulty you’re having, librarians can give you the educational materials you’ll need to read and take back to your doctor, so the two of you can have a heart-to-heart.

Not sure how to get that conversation started? Check out one of the many books on communicating with your doctor and rehearse the conversation before you go in.  Of course, if you’d like to start fresh, we can also point you to credible advice on choosing a new physician. As ever, Pittsburgh readers can check out the annual medical professional rankings published by Pittsburgh Magazine for advice on who is local top dog in their area of concern.

3. That doodad you found in the attic is probably not worth millions of dollars.

Thanks to a certain television show that will go unnamed, many of you may harbor the fond hope that, while cleaning out your attic, you will find an original copy of a Very Important Historical Document, or perhaps A Rare Fabled Painting By A Famous Eccentric.  In less dramatic, but no less fond, fashion, you may simply hope that the cherished vase that has passed through the matrilineal line since your great-great-great grandmother sailed to America from foreign parts is your ticket to early retirement. Alas, I fear it is not so–the truth of the matter is that an object is worth exactly as much as somebody will pay for it on Ebay…and to figure out a reasonable price point for your geegaw, you’re going to need a little help.

The Good News: It’s now easier than ever to research those attic and basement treasures! A phone call or in-person visit to Main Library will get you access to Artnet and ArtFact, two art research databases that contain auction records for items similar to yours, and/or produced by the same artist. The library also offers a pathfinder of subject headings to make searching for collectibles price guides a snap. Still unable to find a price, or want a professional opinion? Click here for more research tools (including some in–gasp–print!) and advice/resources on finding an art appraiser.

The bottom line? Your librarians love you.  We don’t want to see you get hurt. It’s an information jungle out there.  Believe me, when we have to break your heart, it hurts us more than it hurts you. But it’s worth squirming through a few awkward moments to be able to give you what you actually need, instead of telling you what you’d like to hear. You’re welcome.

–Leigh Anne

whose delivery probably needs a little work, but whose heart is definitely in the right place

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Librarians: Breaking Your Heart, Crushing Your Dreams

  1. Obviously these are oversimplifications of what can be complicated issues, for comic effect, and there are many more resources out there (online and otherwise) to assist you. I hope we can now have a riveting conversation about credible sources and information literacy!

    Leigh Anne

  2. The word “doodad” always makes me inexplicably amused, but I’ve never heard “geegaw” before. Will try to work that into conversation more often.

    Great post!

  3. I’m always surprised at the personal nature of some of the questions patrons will ask…and expect us to answer. I agree that’s it’s better to direct them to the professionals!

    • It’s definitely a double-edged sword – on the one hand, their trust and faith is flattering, definitely something to encourage! On the other hand, we have a responsibility to be ethical. I like to tell people that librarians don’t know everything, but we sure know where to find it…even if it isn’t here!

      Thanks for your comment!

      Leigh Anne

  4. This blog post made me laugh. Although I am not a librarian, just a frequent patron, I have seen all of these things happen to librarians at my local library at one point or another. Thanks for your comedic perspective. :)

  5. Pingback: Your Literary Diagnosis « CLPTeensburgh: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Services

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