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



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/26/15

   August 1st, 2015 Brian Herzog

monkey phonicsI think I've already done a question like this one before, but I don't mind repeating it just because this tactic delights me.

A patron called about an hour before closing on a Friday afternoon. He said,

I want to know if you have a book on the steps used in the phonics method of teaching someone how to read. I'm writing an article about how to teach writing and want to use an analogy involving the steps for teaching reading, but I want to make sure I'm using the phonics steps correctly.

I don't know anything about the phonics method for teaching reading, but the question seemed straightforward enough. I told him it'd take me a bit of time to research it and find a book with the steps, and I took down his email address to send him the answer.

I did a few different "phonics" searches in our catalog, but couldn't find a book in our library that listed the steps. However, other libraries had promising titles - namely Phonics for the new reader : step-by-step and Get back to phonics : a step by step approach : how to improve your reading skills.

Normally I'd call the the libraries that had the books, ask them to check the table of contents for the information, and then either fax or scan and email the relevant pages to me. However, since this was at the end of the day and I was pressed for time, I tried the tactic of using Amazon's Look Inside feature to read the table of contents right from my desk.

And in this case, it paid off. Instead of sending the patron the link and trying to explain how to use Look Inside and hoping he gets it, I did the extra work of:

  • open Look Inside and view as much of the first page as I could
  • hit the Print Screen key to take a screenshot
  • paste the screenshot into Paint
  • crop to just the words I wanted
  • copy/paste that cropped image into Powerpoint
  • repeat for the rest of the relevant sections of the Table of Contents
  • once everything is pasted into Powerpoint, print using CutePDF to create a PDF version of just those sections of the Table of Contents [pdf]

That's definitely a quick and dirty way to accomplish this, and probably not the best way, but it worked for me based on the software we have on our desk computers.

But since I don't know anything about these steps, I thought I'd double-check by finding some other resources too. A quick web search turned up two websites, one that I couldn't verify the expertise of, and then a Word document from the National Right to Read Foundation [doc] (which I would tend to trust).

All three were different, but I hoped between them the patron would get what he needed. I sent all of this to the patron, thinking that the PDF would be the best resource. Within a few minutes he replied,

Thank you, Brian. Very quick work. The Word doc was just what I needed. Appreciate it.

So, go figure. I'm glad it was helpful for his article - that's definitely the important thing.



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History In Job Titles

   July 22nd, 2015 Brian Herzog

I was looking at some old Town of Chelmsford annual reports recently, to research the opening of one of the High School buildings in town. Just by chance, I came across a page that stood out to me (for obvious reasons):

1917 job titles

Chelmsford was a much more agricultural community in 1917, so it makes sense that moths could be a big deal, and that the town would have someone inspecting slaughterhouses. But they still made me laugh, and double-check if these positions are still on the Town payroll (they didn't seem to be). History is fun.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/12/15

   July 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

the spindle yearbook from 1951Here's a question I may not have been able to answer successfully a few years ago - actually, luck had a lot to do with this success, because even for my community the answer would still be mixed.

A patron emailed in to ask,

Do you know who would have Lowell High School yearbooks available?

Lowell is the city next door to the town in which I work. We have a print collection of Chelmsford High School yearbooks, so my first thought (that is, my first hope) was that the Lowell Library would have the same for their high school*.

Unfortunately, when I called over, the librarian there said they do not have a yearbook collection. She suggested the Lowell Historical Society, which was a good idea. I looked up their number online, but unfortunately they weren't open right then.

However, their website did list their research collections, which didn't seem to include the yearbooks. But for whatever reason, this made me think I should search online for the yearbooks, to see if any other groups might have them.

A search for "lowell high school yearbooks" lead me to a website that did indeed have them - or at least, they were a nicer portal, with some history, to the Internet Archive's collection of them.

So that was pretty happy - astounding, in fact, and it looks like only online since 2012. I emailed the information to the patron and never heard back, which I took to mean he's still poring over the online versions. Great.

And as I said, if he had been after Chelmsford High yearbooks, my answer would have been different - we have easy access to the print copies in the library, but there is no online collection (that I know of). So, this might finally prompt me to get OCI or the Boston Public Library to scan them for us. Yay for the free digitization services that can put these wonderful resources online. But oh, having enough time during the workday to actually do my job would be such a luxury.

 


*I'm a firm believer that public libraries should all have complete collections of the local high school yearbooks, but this is much easier said than done. The CHS yearbook advisor and I have a good working relationship, and it is still unnecessarily difficult to make this happen. The only thing more difficult is a non-student trying to get access to the school's collection of yearbooks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/5/15

   July 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

pinesapThis was actually a reference question I asked myself, but it's sort of summery so maybe relevant to other people - and, hopefully, helpful.

I was outside playing one day a few weeks ago and ended up with pine sap on my favorite pair of shorts. That's the worst because I don't like going shopping, and I thought that sap meant pretty much the end of clothes.

I was sad, so I put them aside in the hopes that the sap would just evaporate naturally. I came across them last week, and was able to determine that sap doesn't naturally evaporate out of shorts.

Since no laundry experts were around to ask, it occurred to me search online for "remove sap from clothes" to see if the internet had any ideas. I figured they did, but also figured it involved vinegar - which seems like the magical cure for almost anything, but is too bad because I can't stand the smell of vinegar.

So, with the optimism appropriate to any new trip on the internet, I started clicking links.

There was no shortage of tips and old school remedies, as you might suspect. The consensus seemed to be rubbing (or soaking) the spot of sap in anything from laundry detergent to cooking oil to WD-40 (surprisingly, vinegar was not mentioned).

Most of the options were either things I didn't have, like nail polish, or didn't actually trust, like peanut butter. But one that kept coming up - hand sanitizer - sounded interesting.

I don't have any at home (because, you know, super-bacteria), but it seems to be everywhere else so it was worth a try. I was especially swayed by this guy's video:

My shorts are cotton, but if it works so magically on his, why not mine, right?

And holy cow, it worked! Mine took three applications - my guess is because it was a big blob that had soaked through the cotton (and I had already washed and dried them) - but it worked. In just a couple minutes, it was as if the sap was never there. I don't know where it went, but it went away.

Besides the magic, it must be the alcohol in the hand sanitizer breaking down the sap, but I couldn't be happier to be able to wear my favorite shorts again stain-free.

Yay for internet research.



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Cross-Branding the Library Symbol

   July 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

My pre-library background is in marketing, so branding and logos and things are never far from my mind. Over the July 4th weekend, I took the opportunity to throw together some library versions of famous logos (that is, I was too lazy to get off the couch one day so this was a way to entertain myself).

Everyone knows the traditional library symbol...

LibrarySymbol01


Here's one to get us attention during the comic book movies trend...

LibrarySymbolSuper01


And one to appeal to athletes...

LibrarySymbolAth01


The straight-backed posture above seemed too static, so here's the same thing with some forward energy (or the reader just to a good part in Fifty Shades of Grey...

LibrarySymbolAth02


And of course one for coffee drinkers...

LibrarySymbolSB01


And again for coffee drinkers who like a creepy face...

LibrarySymbolSB02


I still like my "I Library" idea too, but it never really took off. Of course, my favorite cross-branding is the one in my site's header image, but that Superman one turned out pretty well too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/15/15

   June 20th, 2015 Brian Herzog

colonial ninjaI know I tend to be overly-paranoid, but sometimes reference questions are so unusual that I think they just have to be some "secret shopper" type test to see if I'll take them seriously. One such question came in via email last week:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, June 09, 2015 5:11 PM
To: askus@mvlc.org; bherzog@mvlc.org
Subject: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

patron_name: [---------------------]
patron_email_address: [---------------------]
patron_card_number: [---------------------]

Comments: Do you have reference/source documents on trade of goods/ideas from Asia to Europe during the 18th Century? I am a French & Indian War re-enactor, and I am looking to doing some research on whether certain items, bamboo training sword and stuff like that, as well as knowledge of martial arts would have been traded during this time period.

Thank you for your assistance.

What the heck? It sounds both plausible and ridiculous at the same time. However, since that's the kind of criteria that interests me, I looked around to see what could be found.

My coworkers had already pulled the few books we had on the French and Indian War, but they weren't much help. And we didn't have any resources on Europe-Asia trade in the 18th Century, so I continued looking online. The best I could find were references to European colonization of Asia, but not much specifically about the trade of bamboo swords or martial arts training.

So, I replied to the patron with what I could find:

From: "Chelmsford Library Reference"
Sent: 6/10/2015 7:20:00 PM
Subject: RE: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

Hi-

Unfortunately, we don't have very many resources on the French and Indian war, and for those we do we haven't been able to find any mention of bamboo or martial arts, or any trade with Asia.

I checked some of the history databases we subscribe to, as well as two books that seemed most relevant:
- The war that made America : a short history of the French and Indian War, by Fred Anderson (call number 973.26/Ande)
- Empires at war : the French and Indian War and the struggle for North America, 1754-1763, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (call number 973.26/Fowl)

Since we didn't have any luck with library resources, I tried to find other organizations with more expertise in the French and Indian War. Here are a few groups that might have the information you're looking for:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has an extensive list of online resources:
http://www.clpgh.org/research/pittsburgh/history/frenchindianwar.html

Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George, NY, has an extensive exhibit and a Contact Us form for questions:
http://www.fwhmuseum.com/contact.html

Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, PA, also has an extensive museum and a contact form:
http://fortligonier.org/visit/contact-us/

Lastly, the website http://www.warforempire.org/visit/site_listing.aspx?state=massachusetts&c=visit lists sites in MA that might be of use, including the Boston National History Park which can be contacted at http://www.nps.gov/bost/contacts.htm

I did find a reference stating that the French and Indian War was the name of just the North American theater of the Seven Years War, which took place in other parts of the world simultaneously, including Asia. It looks like France, England, and Spain had various battles in Asia, mostly in India and the Philippines. Although fighting happened at the same time as the French and Indian War in North America, I wasn't able to find any cross-over between the two areas.

I'm sorry we can't provide more direct help, but we will keep looking at let you know if we find anything with the connection you're looking for. Thanks.

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library

Very shortly the patron replied:

Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 7:38 PM
To: Chelmsford Library Reference
Subject: Re[2]: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

Mr. Herzog,

I thank you very much for your assistance, and I must especially thank you for going several steps beyond what I expected, it is greatly appreciated!

Many thanks,

I always feel a little guilty when a patron thanks me even though I don't feel I helped very much, but perhaps one of the museums will provide the information he's seeking. And I've been mostly out of the library since this question came in, but now that I'm back I can continue looking - I still have the patron's email address, and who knows what further research might find.

Still, though - I will admit to looking this patron up in the catalog to make sure he was real before I started working on the question.



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