Arriving on the Mayflower

AT THE LIBRARY

It was a relatively quiet day at the Mifflin County Library when my phone buzzed. A staff member working at the service desk said, “Dr. Kinney.”

Uh oh.

Dr. K is code for “there is a problem.”

Usually it’s a customer who is upset, angry or wants me to reinterpret policy because they are so special they shouldn’t have to follow the rules. “Could you please help this patron?” Hmmm, now I wasn’t so sure what to expect and told the staff member to bring the person into my office.

The staff ushered in an unassuming looking but unsmiling woman who didn’t seem upset. She dropped a grocery bag of papers on the floor. The lady plopped (sorry, but there is no other term to describe it) into the chair across the desk from me and before I could introduce myself or ask how I could help her, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I need to know if I came over in the Mayflower.” Oh boy, THE REFERENCE QUESTION, not angry or upset.

Now you have to understand something about librarians. We take THE REFERENCE QUESTION/REFERENCE INTERVIEW very seriously. Sometimes folks just aren’t sure how to ask the question(s) to get the information they want. I was pretty sure this woman didn’t want the literal answer to her statement/question. But in my mind I was thinking, “Honey, if you came over on the Mayflower chances are you’d be looooooooooog dead.”

I thought I knew what this woman was really asking. She wanted to know whether she is a descendent of, or had an ancestor, who arrived on the Mayflower.

So, in my best reference interview mode I asked, “I want to make sure I understand what you are asking. You want to know if you have an ancestor who was a passenger or crew member on the Mayflower?” I really did expect a “yes” or “no” response from the lady.

“Just get on that computer thing and tell me what I want to know,” was the answer I got.

Not to be deterred, and based on the grocery bag of papers, I asked the woman if she was working on her family history? I explained that if she could show me how many generations back she’d researched we could use the computer, and perhaps, find more information. Crossing her arms over her chest the lady said, “I was reading the National Enquirer and it said I could get A LOT of money if I came over on the Mayflower.”

“OK,” I thought, “now we’re getting somewhere … NOT.”

I probed a little. “Do you have the issue of the Enquirer with you? Perhaps you could show me what you read.”

“Well,” said the woman, “I wish I could but it was about four years ago when I read about it.”

I’m just sure, at that point, I must have sighed. I quickly regrouped thinking I could save this exchange somehow. Maybe I could say we were considering a subscription to the National Enquirer, or we could interlibrary loan some old issues.

Suddenly the lady reached down, picked the bag off the floor, stood up and announced loudly, “Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you very much for your help.” Stopping in the doorway, she turned back to me, “I’ll give you until after Thanksgiving to figure this out and come back then.” Waving goodbye, the woman exited the building while I simply sat at my desk staring after her, probably with my mouth wide open.

I hope you have a wonderful Turkey Day with family, friends, food and football. Don’t forget to be just a little thankful for libraries.

As for me, I’ll be trying to create a successful strategy to determine whether the woman (whose name I do not know) came over on the Mayflower.

Happy Thanksgiving from the board of directors, staff, and Friends of the Mifflin County Library.

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Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. Her favorite Thanksgiving riddle is “If the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for?” Their age. Dumb joke but I bet you laughed anyway, didn’t you?

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