Thursday, April 1, 2010

Successful Secret Shopper!

I feel like I’ve been absent all week from the great discussions everyone has been having. I’ve been reading them, just too exhausted to participate. We closed on our house on Tuesday and have been packing and painting and lifting heavy objects. That did not, however, prevent me from doing my secret shopper last week; it just kept me from writing about it. I apologize in advance if I sound a bit loopy – I think I have achieved the permanent high all those dead white guys were looking for in the 60s, and it’s as easy as continuously inhaling paint fumes and bleach except for when you are being told by people in suits to sign papers and eating too much Jimmy Johns because it’s the only place you have a menu for in the neighborhood. I’m kidding. There’s no such thing as too much Jimmy Johns.

For my secret shopper I decided to be a liar and pretend that I hadn’t really read much since high school – that way I would know right away if my librarian was making good choices or not. Now, I am a terrible liar, I get all nervous and never know what to say. Fortunately, that must have made me seem like an average 30-something who doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing in the library, because my sweet librarian didn’t bat an eye at my shifty and neurotic demeanor.

I had never been to the library at which I secret shopped, and the first thing I noticed was that they had vending machines. This made me happy, because that is what snacks do. But I eventually found my way to the information desk. There were two women staffing it, one of whom was working with a patron and the other was putting stickers in books. There was a patron holding a book hovering in front of the desk and, thinking she was waiting in line, I hovered behind her. The young woman stickering immediately looked up and asked if she could help me, so I guess the other woman had a different reason to hover.

I walked to the desk, nervously, and asked her if she could help me find something to read. She brightened. She looked like this picture I have of my friend Katie taken at the exact moment my mom told her she had made oatmeal cookies. The picture is currently in my camera at the other house, but I will someday edit this post to include it. She said she would be happy to help me, and that they had tools to help her find something even if she didn’t know anything I might like off of the top of her head.

That sounded really promising, so I sat down and blurted out that I hadn’t read much since high school. Getting that lie out was not easy. First of all, I am one of those annoying people who does not like asking for help. Secondly, as my grandmother used to tell me, I am full of pride and vanity and don’t really like pretending that I don’t know something that I do. I am completely ignorant about say, physics and chemistry and American Idol contestants, but I generally know how to find something to read. Thirdly, this girl was so sweet and helpful and nice and I felt like I was deceiving her. Theoretically I agree with the need to secret shop, and perhaps I would be happy to lie my face off to a librarian with a bad toupee and who thinks ladies don’t like beer, I don’t know. But I felt bad lying to her and hoped I didn’t have to say anything bad about her.

So she asked me what had I read in high school. I told her that I had really liked Dragonlance and wanted to know if there was anything like Dragonlance for adults. She said that she didn’t know much about fantasy but one author she liked was Margaret Atwood and asked had I ever read her. I lied and said no. She told me to start with the Handmaid’s Tale and wrote that down for me and put in a request for it in the library system. Then she said she really wasn’t sure if that was like Dragonlance or not, and did I want to look for some more choices. This made me feel better, because Margaret Atwood is nothing like Dragonlance, though I could definitely see why she would pick her as a good speculative fiction for adults author.

I told her that I would love a couple more choices and she told me that she had this great tool called NoveList. She said I could access it myself from the library’s website and turned her computer screen to where I could see it to show me how. She told me about several of Novelists’ features, and then proceeded to find an annotated list of fantasy series somewhere and scrolled through it, asking if any looked interesting. So really, the only thing she could have done here was asked me what I liked about Dragonlance to narrow down the search. Everything else she did was perfect.

I liked her so I quickly pointed to Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as one that looked interesting, telling her I had studied folklore in college. She looked it up to see if they had the first one and put in a request for me when she saw they did not. She then asked if I would like to go to the stacks and see if anything caught my eye. I said sure, and she got up and led me to the fantasy section, where she brightened again when she saw an apparently familiar patron. She greeted him and asked him if he would know of a series that was like Dragonlance for adults. He immediately said The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, which I agree is pretty much spot on. It’s got more complexity than Dragonlance but is still pretty much brain candy. She looked to see if it was on the shelf and, finding it, asked him if he knew what the first book was, which he did, which was there. Perfection!

She handed me the book and asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I told her no, I had lots of choices and was happy. She reminded me about NoveList but also said not to be afraid to ask them for help again. I thanked her and she went back to the desk.

I checked that stupid book out even though I literally own three copies because they are so thick the paperbacks always fall apart so I buy new ones whenever I see them at used bookstores. I have probably read that book, the first one, at least 10 times because you have to read the dumb things again every time a new one comes out if you want to have any clue as to what’s going on. This is a series that I have been reading out loud to my husband for about two years now, and we are on book 9, Winter’s Heart, which is the worst one. In case you can’t tell, I have a love-hate relationship with this series. Regardless, I checked it out because I didn’t want the librarian to wonder why I hadn’t, so it is in the passenger seat of my car, waiting for me to remember to grab the DVD I have to return as well so as not to waste a trip.

All in all my librarian did a great job. She was welcoming, knowledgeable, and used several different means of finding the right book for me. She taught me how to find the knowledge on my own but made sure I knew it was ok to ask for help too. Success!


  1. Good deal! And, yeah, I thought Margaret Atwood was a very odd readalike for Dragonlance!

  2. Such a pleasure to read your post - great fun. But also you provide a wonderful example of what can happen in library with good RA services. Librarians and patrons making connections through the discussion of what to read next!

  3. I too have a love-hate relationship with the Wheel of Time series. I loved the books initially, especially since they could actually keep me in a book for more than a couple of days, but the series kept going on and on and nothing much was really being accomplished. I couldn't help but thinking that Robert Jordan was going to die before completing this series, and what do you know, I think he did.