Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mass-Energy Equivalence

Yesterday, Arms and I were having a conversation at the reference desk, and either because his broken leg is still sore or just out of temptation to sit in the big chair, he came around my desk and sat at the reference desk with me, logging into the unused computer. We chatted for a bit, and then he put his nose to the monitor to work on a project.

Patrons approached, and though I was sitting there with a warm smile to welcome them to the reference desk while Arms was madly typing away at the computer, patrons looked at me, smiled, and then moved to their right to speak with him. This happened repeatedly. I would even ask if I could help them, and they’d start speaking to Arms instead. It ticked me off, particularly considering he’s security and can’t really help them like I can, nor is he a familiar face at the reference desk, so why were they choosing him? They were picking, in this case, the weakest link. In fact, once, a woman walked up with the title of a book written on a piece of paper, which she handed to him while ignoring me. Without even looking up from his computer and making eye contact or any giving any kind of indication of acknowledgment, he slid the paper across the desk to me, leaving the patron standing there staring at him while I looked up the book. Seriously, even when he handed things off to me, they awaited the answer from him.


When Marina came out to relieve me, I told her about this phenomenon. Smart girl that she is, she asked if they were all women who approached the desk. I thought about it, and yes, they were. She smiled and nodded, suggesting that Arms was a good-looking man and they were inclined toward the person they were most attracted to. I smirked, figured that there might be a nugget of truth to that, and shrugged it off. Okay, fine, the deprived women of this community might prefer to be helped by the big, strong blonde guy. Would I react so differently if I were the patron? I can’t say.

But today, Marina was working at the desk with another male coworker, and though he had his back to the approaching patrons, they would walk past Marina’s warm welcome and start immediately talking to her male coworker. Many of these patrons were men.

Now, without jumping to any conclusions about sexual preferences or who is a better looking guy, I just have to assume that no matter what everyone looks like or whom they’re attracted to, people in general are going to ask a man for information before a woman.

And that’s depressing.

There are no other generalities here. Arms is much younger than me, but they chose him, so it’s not an age = wisdom assumption. Marina and I were both smiley and open to the patrons approaching, while the guys were actually being interrupted by the questions, so it wasn’t a question of politeness. The only conclusion one can comfortably draw from this is that no matter how far we think we’ve come, no matter how much we understand that men can be morons and women can be geniuses, when presented with a choice of a man or a woman at the reference desk, people are going to gravitate toward the man.


* * *

A man using the computer today printed an article from a website that had a huge sidebar which cut the right side of the entire article off, so I suggested he highlight the article and print the selection or copy and paste it into a document.

He responded with a very articulate, “Huh?” so I walked over to show him how to do this.

At his computer, the article copied with a black background and white font, so I was desperately looking for the tool on the toolbar to change the shading color, mumbling under my breath about stupid Word and stupid toolbars, etc. I was sure it existed though I couldn’t find it, and finally I had to go into Format and Shading to take away the black background. All of this was way over his head and I told him to ignore what I was doing. Then I had to remove the web formatting of the document so that it fit on the page correctly, and I adjusted the margins so that it fit neatly on two pages to print instead of three.

When I finished, I let out a, “Yeah!” that was a little too loud for the very quiet library, and I added, “Oops, sorry,” for the benefit of the folks around us.

The man I was helping said, “Oh, baby, louder!”

I laughed so hard I almost fell over from the squatting position I was in, and I patted him on the back for delivering the perfect line.

Then, of course, I got a little creeped out and thought maybe he thought I was flirting with him, and ick, no, I wasn’t flirting, and now what do I do? But he was cool and didn’t say or do anything inappropriate.

It’s so nice when someone can say a slightly dirty joke, make you laugh, and not think you’re engaged to him now.

In my library, these are rare moments.

* * *

My brother wanted me to get a book for him and he emailed me the following:

The book is called Why Does E=MC(I just realized I cant use exponents on a keyboard)2?
by Brian Cox

The parenthetical portion has made this is my new favorite title to a book.


Lummox said...

About the whole picking men thing. I'm not sure I entirely agree. I always ask a woman if I can. They generally know more in a library than the men working there. Of course, it depends who is sitting at the info desk. I'll ask whoever is there. :D

Kate P said...

It's not only a title, it's a commentary on our love/hate relationship with technology!

Shy said...

I've also noticed patrons will often ask the man if they can (even if it's maintenance, a shelver, security or a former incompetent male reference staff member). They will also prefer to deal with whomever is the prettiest one (male or female). It's some combo of social conditioning and human nature.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've noticed this too. One time an older man came up to the desk to ask for help on his computer. I was telling him that yes, I could help with that when he looked off to the side and said, "Maybe he can help me." He gestured toward our shelver who is autistic. He's a great shelver, but has communication difficulties. The customer just seemed to assume that a man would be the better one to help him. I think it some cases, it is a generational thing.

I'm a female Branch Manager, and I've also noticed that unhappy customers sometimes keep asking to speak to someone "higher up" until they get to a man. They are uncomfortable with a woman in a position of authority.

Rachel said...

They seem to have an age issue at my branch, some even refusing to believe that a young woman can be an actual Librarian, insisting on talking to an older page. I've not noticed any gender bias yet.
And why on earth do you have cute security guards?? We have two very old and overweight male guards who are not good looking, and two females who think that they're librarians and insist on helping patrons even if they have no clue what the patron needs o_O
(oh and one of them is a little 'touched'... she mumbles to herself a lot and makes off the wall comments to people)
One of the dayporters I guess is cute, if you're a pedophile... ^.^