The phone system was down at work. Not only were there no incoming calls, but we could not phone each other within the library, nor could we use the public address system. This meant we had to use our outdoor voices to make the closing announcements ("May I have your attention please. The library will be closing in half an hour... fifteen minutes...five minutes... get out now, we're closing..."). We use the PA in times of need as well, such as needing a manager or security. The need doesn't often occur, but there is comfort in knowing help is just the press of a phone button away; there is no comfort at all in realizing it's down to my not-so-loud voice being able to summon someone - anyone - in case of emergency.
When I arrived at work on the first day the phones were down, I groaned a little to my colleagues. I was scheduled for four hours on the Dreaded Third. It's typically a quiet floor, mostly students working on papers or folks watching their tv shows online. (With headphones, of course) I have half jokingly/half seriously suggested we don't really need a library trained person up there because we never get asked librarian type questions. Never. "I did, once." one of the library trained people told me. Wow. Once, huh? Plus, I feel very isolated up there because staff never just happen to wander along, so being on the Dreaded Third is akin to a posting to Siberia. "It was so quiet up there this morning." the same library trained person reassured me. "Bring your own cell phone in case you need it. The managers' mobile numbers are printed out for you at the desk." Well, what a relief! I can use my own cell phone to call for back up if needed. Should I take this opportunity to tell you I have an ancient and temperamental non-smart phone? It takes about 35 seconds to warm up before it starts dialling a number. Perfect for emergencies.
What do you suppose happened? This was the day when I had to tell everyone on the computers at least once they had to be quiet (this is the only floor in the whole entire library where we ask people to be quiet) - even two old ladies who were learning to be good cooks by watching Youtube videos together. Some of them I had to ask twice! (Not the old ladies. They apologized profusely and promised to behave themselves ever after. Nothing like admonishing the elderly to feel really good about yourself.)
Then. Oh, and then. Dear reader, how can I help you understand what happened then? Keep these things in mind: it is a quiet floor, so quiet that we all hear someone shift in their seat; I was dreading something untoward happening; I was busy cutting out 100 monkeys for next week's storytime craft. For little children.
Scissors in hand, mountain of paper monkeys in front of me, I looked up to see two young men, dressed in black motorcycle leather, tattooed and pierced everywhere they could be tattooed and pierced. One of them opens his mouth and says, in a regular conversational tone of voice, "I'm looking for the website to find out if I'm gay."
I could feel the air being sucked out of the room as everyone in the place strained to get a look at who asked the question without obviously looking at who asked the question. I could also feel everyone waiting attentively to hear my answer.
In a rather fumbling fashion, I attempted to conduct a reference interview to determine just what precisely they were looking for. I suggested a Google search, to which they wanted to know what words to use. After tossing them a few ideas, they helped themselves to a public access computer and tapped away, seemingly with little success. After a few minutes of them arguing with each other whether they should use "gay" or "homosexual", I walked over to give them a piece of paper I'd written my own search term on, hoping that would settle them down.
Just when the room was returning to normal - everyone paying attention to their own business - one of the young men proceeded to read an article about being gay outloud. Loudly.
I sent them a discrete text message from my computer to theirs pointing out they were on the Quiet Floor and if they needed to discuss their research they were welcome to use a computer elsewhere.
A few minutes later they left. And now I can no longer say I've never been asked a librarian type question on the Dreaded Third.