Since the end of May, I've been volunteering at the Seattle Public Library (Central) Welcome Desk. Summer has brought a heavy flow of tourists as well as natives craving books and air-conditioning. Sometimes people just want to chat about politics or weather. Sometimes they want to know where to make photocopies or get lunch...and sometimes they want to alert me that there is a dying tree in the front of the library.
While my reference skills are largely untested (I have no computer or phone to do any research), I am the first person to make contact with many visitors and patrons. I am that friendly face that welcomes them and steers them to the right place. And frankly, SPL Central has a pretty confusing layout. So it's important to have someone directing people up escalators and elevators. However, during the course of my shift, I get a lot of unusual inquiries.
Here are three of the most interesting questions from patrons thus far, along with my real answers and potential answers:
1. "Is it pretty safe here? Could someone just walk in with a bomb?"
What I said: Well, technically, someone could walk in with a bomb. We don't have a metal detector or anything like that. But we do have security guards constantly roaming the library looking for suspicious activity...and plenty of security cameras.
What I should have said: The building is bomb-proof. Architect Rem Koolhaas used Danish-grade steel that will naturally absorb any forces and fragments from bombs up to two kilotons.
2. "Do I need to check out my book on the computer first? Or do I need to get the book first and then check it out on the computer?"
What I said: You need to go find your book first and then find a checkout station.
What I should have said: Whoah, slow down. Please state your information need clearly and concisely.
3. "I'm trying to decide on an ending to the book I'm writing (that will probably be made into a movie). So basically it's the story of me growing up in Los Angeles, and my rise from small-time drug dealer to the head of a major marijuana-growing operation. Naturally there is a lot of gang-related violence and gun battles with police. Near the end of the my story, ten members of my gang surround the DEA building with bazookas and blow it to pieces. But I'm not sure if my character should flee to Mexico for good or come back and use his drug money to help his community. What do you think? Also do you know anyone who works in Hollywood?"
What I said: Do you think it would be realistic for your character to come back to the U.S. after being pursued ruthlessly by the feds?
What I should have said: Your story has a lot of holes. And bazookas are not necessarily going to put people in the seats. Unless it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and/or it involves Optimus Prime.