One of the reasons that Elise set up the AkLA blog was to try to hold extended conversations that might be better suited to this format than the akla-l list. I think I might have one of those.
What is your personal or institutional policy on helping patrons who appear to be having trouble searching your catalog? Some library literature suggests trying to get to these patrons before their frustration levels ruins their day and yours. Other librarians feel that it is condescending to a patron to assume they NEED help before asking.
My personal experience in offering "preemptive help" is that a few patrons are grateful that someone has noticed their trouble, most say "I'm doing fine," but continue fruitless searching for the next five minutes, then leave with nothing; and a few patrons say something to the effect of "I'm not stupid, thank you very much!"
So what happens in your library? Do you only offer assistance if asked, and if you offer without being asked, how do you approach them and what is the reaction?
Thanks for sharing your experiences! - Daniel