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



Archives for Books:


Reference Question of the Week – 10/21/12

   October 27th, 2012 Brian Herzog

You know serendipity can be a subtle but major influence on how people find things in libraries? Here's a situation where serendipity backfired.

A patron came up to the desk and asked if we had any books on how family members can cope with someone who has a drug and alcohol addiction. I brought her to a catalog workstation and did a simple book search for "alcohol addiction" - the second result was:

MVLC result for "I hope they serve beer in hell" by Max tucker

Oops.

The patron didn't comment on it, and I quickly pressed on to find useful resources for her. I have no idea what her situation was, but still, I felt like an ass. Oh well.



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Great Job Opening: Head of Reader Services

   September 5th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Recommended Reads signThere are two job openings at my library right now: Head of Reader Services and Circulation Desk Manager.

The Circ Desk Manager will do all the circ staff scheduling, work at the desk, but also manage ILL, book club kits, museum passes, and hopefully be the lead on our Evergreen ILS.

That's all well and good, but just look at the description for the Head of Readers Services:

Do you love answering that age-old question "Can you recommend a good book?" When you sit on an airplane do you find yourself giving unsolicited reading advice to the person beside you? Do you always have a book in your car for emergencies? Are you up on the latest reading devices, social media, book blogs, websites? Do you love to talk about books, write about books, listen to books? Did you go to library school because you love to read?

How about that?

Our Head of Circulation is leaving, and instead of just hiring a straight up replacement for her, we decided to split the position to create two jobs (because the work was more than one person could handle anyway). This new Head of Readers Services will focus completely on encouraging and supporting the use of our entire collection (books, audiobooks, DVDs, etc), through social media, programs, desk coverage, a personal shopper-like reading suggestion service, and anything else we can do.

We're accepting resumes now, so check out the job listing. The Circulation Desk Manager hasn't been posted yet, but should be soon on the Massachusetts Library Job Board. General employment information is also on our website (and I still like my unofficial rules for resumes, too).



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/19/12

   August 25th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Chinese I love youWhen I came back from lunch one day, a patron was waiting for me - she wanted to play an audiobook on her Kindle.

That struck me as odd, and I wasn't even sure if it was possible, so I asked a few follow-up questions to make sure we both understood what was going on.

It turns out, she had the ebook Dreaming in Chinese already on her Kindle. However, it included a lot of Chinese words, both in Chinese characters and in the English-letter spelling. She didn't speak Chinese, and didn't know how to pronounce those words, so she wanted an audiobook version in order to hear how those words were pronounced.

That's understandable, but I still didn't know if Kindles could play audiobooks. I asked her if she knew, and at that point she pulled out an iPod, so we were in business.

But not for long. I searched our Overdrive catalog for Dreaming in Chinese, but it didn't come up - neither audiobook nor ebook. Which surprised me, until she told me the ebook copy she had wasn't a library copy, but one she purchased from Amazon.

Since it wasn't available in Overdrive, and she wasn't adverse to purchasing it, we searched Amazon for the audio version - but still no luck. I didn't even see this title available as a book on CD, so I guess it just isn't available as an audiobook. She was disappointed.

Kindle text-to-speech menuBefore we gave up, the last idea I had was to see if we could get Kindle's text-to-speech function working with this book. I've never tried it before on a Kindle, and I think it doesn't work for all ebooks, but it was worth a shot.

Surprisingly, text-to-speech wasn't difficult to find in the Kindle's menus, even though neither of us had used it before. We got it to start playing her book, then waited for a Chinese word in the text.

But again, the victory was short-lived. When Kindle got to a Chinese word, it skipped right over the Chinese characters, and pronounced the English-letter word as if it were an English word - I don't speak Chinese, but even I could tell it couldn't possibly be close to the proper pronunciation.

The patron was disappointed, but I think she appreciated that we pretty much exhausted all our options. The only other thing I could suggest is finding a Chinese person to read those words for her - she didn't like the idea because it'd be awkward to try to read the context at the same time, which is true.

I felt bad that I couldn't find what she wanted, but I think she left knowing more than she did when she came in.




Book Covers and Bathing Suits

   August 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

As seen on BoingBoing, the website http://matchbook.nu matches up bathing suits with book covers - pretty convincingly, I might add. A few of my favorites:

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and suit

The book: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The first sentence:"All this happened, more or less."
The cover designer: Carin Goldberg
The bikini: Kudeta Bikini. $45.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and suit

The book: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The first sentence: "My suffering left me sad and gloomy."
The bathing suit: Men's Swimming Trunks by EUROPANN. $49.

 

However, one it missed was for ebooks - generic, nondescript, uniform:

Kindle bathing suit

The book: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey
The first sentence: “I do not wish to remember these things.”
The cover designer: Amazon
The bathing suit: Submarine One-Piece Swimsuit from Anthropologie. $278.



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My Childhood Summer Reading Logs

   June 20th, 2012 Brian Herzog

With summer reading programs in full swing, I thought this was appropriate. While cleaning my old stuff out of my parents' house, I came across some of my childhood summer reading logs. They're from the Sandusky (OH) Library from the late seventies - I was born in 1974, so these show what was shaping my mind when I was three and four years old (click through to zoom in):

Summer Reading Log 1977

Summer Reading Log 1978

Summer Reading Certificate 1978

Summer Reading Certificate 1980

Yay for the Sandusky Library, and for my parents. I hope everyone is enjoying summer reading - it sticks.

Incidentally, I found a couple other interesting things at my parents house too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/22/12

   April 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

W.E.B. Griffin's "Under Fire" coverA friend of mine from library school, who now works in a library in Northeastern Ohio, told me about an interesting reference transaction that is worth sharing here:

On a recent Monday, a customer approached me with a stack of paperbacks from another library. We don’t carry many, preferring to stock our fiction shelves with hardcovers and replacing with paperbacks only when necessary, so I assumed he wanted to order some more. Instead, he said, “I don’t think W.E.B. Griffin really wrote these books. I would like to know who did.”

The question took me by surprise. “I’ve read all of his books,” the customer insisted, “and these aren’t like his other ones. I want you to let everyone know that he didn’t write them. Including this other library that I got them from.”

My friend knew, which I did not, that Griffin was currently writing his books with a co-author (his son, William E. Butterworth IV). The titles in question were from Griffin’s early writing career though, so she searched Fantastic Fiction and NoveList but could find no evidence that Griffin hadn't written the books himself.

Her mind went to the same place mine did: James Frey, The Last Train from Hiroshima, and the many other book hoaxes and fake memoirs that have been identified.

My friend is a writer, and she explained to the patron that the difference could be attributed to the author’s age, his style changing over time, and the influence of his son’s writing style. I thought this too, and it reminded me of an NPR story of someone applying textual analysis to Agatha Christie's books. They found that, although never acknowledged in real life, the vocabulary and writing style of her last book seems to indicate that she was suffering from Alzheimer's when she wrote it.

The patron seemed satisfied with her explanation, although he still wanted my friend to “let the other libraries know” - she felt a responsibility to the patron to do so, but just wasn't sure how.

We have had this same discussion in my library, most recently with The Last Train from Hiroshima. We discussed putting a note in the catalog record, a label on the book itself, or shelving it in fiction, but ultimately just sent it back to the publisher. In a cut-and-dry case such as that, I think it'd be okay. But in this case, with just a single patron's suspicions, I don't think there can possibly be any library responsibility here.

Finding out a non-fiction book is false is one thing - just one person suspecting an author of a fiction book didn't actually write is entirely different. My friend went on to say that if the patron had kept pushing, she would have found contact information for the author and publisher, so the patron could contact them directly. I agree - I don't think we can investigate claims like this, but we certainly can handle them once they've been proven. In this particular case, I think my friend did the right thing - made the patron happy.



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