Sunday, February 5, 2017

Secret Shopper Library "Field Trip"

What an eye-opening experience this was!

I was a little excited and nervous as I headed for my secret assignment - what if they could tell I'm a librarian?  What if I come across sounding weird or unnatural?  I reminded myself to just act casual.

Well, there was no need to be concerned, the librarian certainly wasn't.  I went in and there were several people standing in line at the circulation desk while a young high school girl helped them checkout their books.  I browsed around waiting for an opportunity to approach someone.  A middle-aged woman finally appeared at the desk, so I went up and initiated my question.  I explained that I love Mary Roach's books, but I've read them all and wondered if she could suggest a similar author.  She replied, "I don't read adult books. I'm a children's librarian."  She did look it up on her computer, but I have no idea what database or site she was using.  She then said, "I don't see any listings here."  She didn't make any eye contact, and was very dismissive in her attitude.  I tried to engage her in more of a conversation, but she just started helping someone else, and said (sideways while not looking in my direction) that she'd call if she heard of anything.  She didn't even end the conversation, just sort of ignored me.  Wow.
She didn't find anything for me and I left feeling very unsatisfied.  I've been to that library once before, last year, and the people working that day were very nice, but after I left I remembered hearing from a friend that they were very rude to her.  I wonder if it was the same lady.  In any case, I've certainly learned how NOT to do Readers Advisory!  Even if she was unable to find a good suggestion for me, I think she should have taken the time to ask more about what I liked about Mary Roach's books and at least try more than one quick (30 seconds at most) search in only one place.

I did a search myself (less than 5 minutes) and found that Mary Roach is not listed on Novelist at all, but when I looked her up on Goodreads, I scrolled through her author page and found titles that she has rated and voted for.  One that sounds like fun is "Best. State. Ever." by Dave Barry.  I've read some of his other books and his humor is just the kind of wacky that I like.  This gave me the idea that if I can't find an exact match for someone, finding out what that patron's favorite authors like to read may inspire them.  Another tool for the toolbox.

A quick Google search also revealed this read-alike graphic by Waukegan Public Library (  I was interested to see the Bill Bryson book listed here as that was one I had in mind.

I generally expect that other librarians are more knowledgeable than me and have all kinds of secret library wisdom.  This was a very enlightening exercise in many ways!


  1. Hi Deirdre,

    I can completely relate to your anxious feelings heading into the Secret Shopper Assignment. I just felt like it was such a clandestine experience. Although, honestly it sounded like you had an experience of a whole other nature. I’m sorry you had to deal with that sort of If not TRY to assist you, at the very least you think she could have tried to find someone who was more knowledgeable about adult fiction, on staff. The rudeness and the ignoring you part is really the worst and most unacceptable part of all. Of all of the experiences I’ve read from classmates thus far, I apologize you had to go through one of the more concerning and disappointing ones. It is difficult to go through sometimes, although, equally as informative to experience the negative aspects of librarianship in order to become better librarians ourselves.

  2. Thanks, Jonathan. Although it was kind of upsetting at the time, I think it will make me more sympathetic to our patrons and a better librarian in the long run. It was certainly eye-opening! It kind of makes me want to find a dozen Mary Roach read-alikes and secretly drop off a note, lol. I like your description, clandestine; it really did feel a little like we were doing something sneaky didn't it? I think we would make terrible spies, lol.

  3. UGH! I've definitely heard the "I don't read those books" line from library staff before. In my interactions with patrons I've certainly needed to help patrons that I have NO IDEA how to help out, (typically for an academic library with difficult research topics) but I hope I'm more polite than the librarian that you spoke with. I don't want patrons to leave me totally discouraged so even if my meager attempts suck, I make sure they walk away with contact information of a librarian that I know that can help them. In most cases though, I can usually figure out how to search for what the patron is looking for. That librarian clearly didn't want to deal with anyone outside of children's areas, and that's not how it works, especially in a small location. Where I work, the building is so huge that I sometimes have to send patrons to ask staff on different floors because I just simply don't know the area well enough - but that is more reasonable than just being "too busy".

    1. Yeah, I wouldn't have minded that she couldn't find what I was looking for; what I minded was that she just turned away and didn't finish helping me. I was left hanging, and that's kind of rude. I generally find that most people are nice, so it's always a little shock to me when they're not.

  4. Eye contact is definitely important, I'm sorry she seemed so rude. You're right though, at least now you know what NOT to do!