Thursday, May 6, 2010

Research in Richmond

It was as if the Pillsbury Doughboy had been left in the oven a little too long.  Extra puffy in some places, slack in others, a strange mix of variations of white and cream, her off white sweater folding into her pinkish skin, blending into her yellow-grey hair.  I might not have noticed if she’d been nicer.  But she was in no mood to be nice.

“That’s not me; I’m just the person they pay to sit behind a desk,” she said to some poor caller who certainly didn’t get the help they were seeking.  “That’s not how things work here,” she glumly told her friend on a later call, after explaining that she can’t just tell people to read something because too many of them refuse to try, “they’d rather pick your brain,” she explained.

I made the mistake of asking her for help shortly after my arrival at the Public Law Library in Richmond.  “The website said there’s wifi…?”  “That’s not here; that’s Martinez.”  I’d soon learn, “That’s Martinez,” is her general answer for almost everything. 
Then I asked for the login for Westlaw or Lexis.  The sign clearly said both services were free for library patrons.  She looked at me as if I just asked her what number came after one.  “What do you mean a login?  You just click enter, everything’s populated.”  “There’s no information on the screen.”

Begrudgingly, she extradited herself from her chair and waddled over to the lone computer terminal with it’s empty login boxes on the screen.  “Oh. It must have gotten removed.”  I expected her to just quickly type in the user name and password and let me have the computer.  Not that easy. 

“You need to go stand on the other side of the room!”  So I wouldn’t steal the password she claimed.  Five minutes later, after I had perused every aisle of books, up and down, F. Supp., Cal. Reporter, Supreme Court Reporter, Shepard’s, Real Estate Forms, she called me back to the little terminal.

She left several times during the afternoon, each time locking the door behind her.  I don’t know if I was locked in or not.  I assume not since that would violate the fire code and there were no other exits.  But then, this is Richmond, so who knows.

At 4pm, she warned me the library would be closing soon.  The sign says it’s open ‘til 4:30, but I could see she was anxious to leave.  I finished up a few things and packed up my bags.  As I headed out the door, I turned back to say goodbye.  She smiled at me for the first time.

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