Valentine’s Day is always one of my favorite days to be a Victoria’s Secret employee. Even on a Monday like today, our stores are filled with clueless yet oddly intent shoppers desperate to get the thing that the other person vaguely (or worse, specifically but incomprehensibly) indicated they wanted. It’s eerily akin to the reference desk the week before final exams.
For Valentine’s Day, blinking, apprehensive men wander into our rooms full of pink confections looking for “well it’s kind of a soft material? and I think it’s pretty stretchy?” or “well I just want something that goes together” or “she told me it’s a low-rise lace-top cheeky, but I don’t know what that is.” (Heaven help them when we tell them we actually have six different kinds of low-rise lace-top cheekies.) Every patron services librarian knows this kind of attitude. Some of our patrons (particularly our undergrads) are sure that there’s A Thing that they’re supposed to get, and hopefully they’ll know it when they see it, but if not, they depend on us, the experts, to tell them that yes, this is what your instructor wanted, and we’ll explain to you WHY it’s what you need. We’re there to help them identify the general class of Thing they’re looking for and then coax them to make their own choices.
Victoria’s Secret has a vocabulary that’s just as opaque to these kinds of customers as the language of librarianship is to a student new to research. It’s our job as customer service providers to be intrepid translators not only of the original assignment but also of the result of the searches we guide our patrons through.
So happy Valentine’s Day to all you retail workers and patron service librarians. I hope it was full of satisfied customers.