or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 3/20/11

   March 26th, 2011

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse DVD coverI like this question on many levels - but mainly just because I just to use the phrase Library Win.

Round One
One afternoon, a patron called to request a movie titled, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She said she had already requested it through the library, but she got the wrong one - the one she wanted featured Glenn Ford.

It took a little bit of doing on IMDB, but eventually we identified the right one from all the others. And oddly, IMBD had it listed as The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, instead of spelling out the word "four."

I switched back to the library catalog to locate it, searching on the title with both four/4, and also searching just for Glenn Ford. But from what I could tell, it was nowhere in the consortium.

Next, for librarians in Massachusetts, is to search the statewide Virtual Catalog. I started this search for the title The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Of the five results for that search, one matched both the production studio and original release date - so even though it didn't list the actors, I was fairly confident it was the right one. I requested it for the patron, and told her that since it is coming from outside our consortium, it might take a week or two before it arrives. She had hoped to get is sooner, but was happy that we could find it at all.

Round Two
About two hours later, this same patron called back. She said she had been talking to her daughter, who said that version was available on Netflix - so could I please cancel the library request we just placed, and she'll use Netflix because that will probably be faster. No problem, and I canceled her request.

Round Three
The next morning I had a voicemail from this patron. She said she talked to her daughter again, who said the movie was on long wait in Netflix, so it might take months. In that case, waiting a couple weeks for the library sounded pretty good, so she asked me to rerequest this movie for her.

Library Win
It always makes me happy when libraries can provide better service than businesses - and really, this is the kind of situation where there will almost always be a Library Win. Businesses tend to cater to the new and the sensational, whereas libraries also retain easy access to older items, classics, and items that may only turn over once a year (or less).

This is another danger of HarperCollins' self-destructing ebook plan - it would effectively eliminate this long-tail service (or at least, put a timer on it that is controlled by the publishers, rather than the needs of our communities).

The Irony
I constantly hear about the death of libraries, yet it is a movie with an apocalyptic allusion that we can deliver better than those supposedly bringing about our demise.

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