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



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Where The Good Stuff Lives

   September 4th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I just got back from an extra-long Labor Day weekend, which of course means my desk had accumulated a variety of items in my absence. Most are fairly routine to deal with, but a few - namely, donations from patrons - sometimes require special tactics.

For regular donations (like books and DVDs), we either add them to the collection or give them to our Friends group for the book sale. But other things, local history items, photographs, old newspapers, and other assorted ephemera, don't fit into an existing slot somewhere in the library, which means a Decision must be made.

In my case, all that stuff (a.k.a. Deferred Decision items) goes under my desk. It occurred to me that it's possible that the best stuff in libraries lives in places like this - and only because we don't know what else to do with it.

So, as an exercise in public shame, I thought I'd share what it looks like under my desk, and explain what's there and why. Here's what is under my desk:

Under The Desk

Now, going from left to right:

  • The tall thin boxes are unassembled acid-free archival boxes, waiting to be used
  • Next is an assembled archival box, which is my catch-all for any local history item that isn't a book. This currently includes (but is not limited to) a route map for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail bike path (the white roll on top), old and newish newspapers, unmarked photographs, random notebooks and records, loose yellowing pages from who knows what, and some duplicates of things we have in our Local History Room. Most of these things I found while cleaning out different cabinets in the library and just consolidated here - beyond that, I don't have any idea where most of it came from
  • The white box is where I keep the current year of our local newspaper - we have a "reference" subscription to the paper, which I send out to be microfilmed after the year is complete. The publisher doesn't provide microfilm copies, so this is the only way we can continue to build a clean filmed copy for our archive
  • The "tax products" box is something I keep just because it makes me laugh, although I haven't found an actual use for is yet
  • And finally on the right, this entire box was donated by a patron and is full of magazines, newspapers, and scrapbooks of clippings, all from the 1960s and relating either to the Kennedys or the moon landing

Since we're a public library and not at archive, we really don't have a way to make most of this stuff publicly-available. But I also can't bring myself to just throw it all into the recycling bin.

I've tried to find homes for some of it - I called the JFK Library to see if they'd be interested in the old Kennedy stuff, but they said they have loads of it. Everything else, I just keep telling myself that some day when it's really slow at the desk, I'll go through it all and do something with it. Some day.

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear if anyone else has a treasure trove like this under their desk (or elsewhere). I hope I'm not alone, and I suspect that I'm not.



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Another Case of Dewey Being Overly-Sophisticated

   August 28th, 2014 Brian Herzog

both way arrowsI've pointed out things like this before, and they always amuse me.

Last week, my director was looking for summer cooking books for a display and program she was doing. Of course, books about grilling were included in her search, and she was surprised - as was I when she pointed it out - that we had identical-seeming grilling books in two entirely different Dewey numbers: 641.5784 and 641.76.

When our cataloger and I looked those up in DDC23 to see which was right, we found that they both were:

641.5784:

Dewey 641.578 4 - Cooking at an outdoor grill

641.76:

Dewey 641.76 - Barbecuing, broiling, grilling

So, .76 is grilling in general, and .5784 is specifically grilling outdoors. Indeed very neat and precise, but perhaps to an unnecessary degree for our purposes.

We decided to consolidate everything into 641.76, to make it easier for patrons browsing the shelves. I'm sure there are lots more little Deweified topics like this, and I will enjoy consolidating each and every one of them as we discover them.

And finally, I thought a post about grilling was nice and Labor Day-related: I'm traveling to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend, so there's won't be a reference question of the week this week. I hope everyone enjoys the holiday.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/17/14

   August 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

velocarYou know that saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, in this case, it was more like just having to point out to him that he had a big plate of fish sitting right in front of him.

A patron walked up and said this to me:

Can you request a book for me? I think it's a French book, I mean a book from France. I don't know the title or the author though. But it's got instructions for a velocar inside. On second thought, it might not be a book, it might be a magazine, but in French. Can you get that for me?

Well that's all fine, but what's a velocar? Apparently, it's a type of bicycle that's more like a pedal-powered three-wheeled car, and indeed from France.

After talking to the patron a bit, what I learned was that he was interested in building one of these for himself, and found some plans online. Except, the plans were pages from a book (or magazine) that someone posted on a forum - except, they were too small to read, so he wanted to find the original book (or magazine) so he could see the instructions. He said he'd already tried printing what he'd found, and indeed showed me the pages, which indeed were just too low-quality to read.

I told him the only place I could even think of to begin with this was the website where he found them - maybe, I hoped, the book (or magazine) pages would have the title and author on them which would give us a lead. But failing that, it seemed like all we could would be to try to email whoever posted them to the forum and hopefully find out the original source that way.

So we walked back to his computer so I could see the forum he was on. And sure enough, multiple pages were posted there, and the thumbnail images looked more or less like instructions for building a velocar. And of course, being thumbnails, they were too small to read, so I naturally clicked the first one in the hopes of finding information about the source.

A larger image of the page popped up, and the patron immediately stopped me by saying, in a somewhat shocked voice, "what did you just do?"

I explained that the thumbnails like this are usually linked to larger versions, and clicking them will bring up a version you can read or print. I figured he had tried this, because he had the large printed version which were poor quality.

But no, he had no idea you could click the thumbnails. What he did know how to do was right-click on the thumbnail, copy/paste it into Word, expand the image to make it fill the whole page, and print it. Of course, expanding a small thumbnail to fit a whole page will look terrible, which accounted for the low-quality prints he had.

He knew how to do all of that, but didn't know you could just click the thumbnail and see a higher-quality version.

So I showed him how to get from the forum post with the thumbnail to the larger, print-ready version, and he was happy. Sort of befuddled that it was right there in front of him the whole time, but definitely happy that he would so easily get the plans for the velocar.

I always like showing patrons new tricks and things that make their life easier, but holy smokes I didn't expect it in this case. Not only was this a new skill for a patron, but I didn't end up having to try to track down a mysterious book from France.



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Leaving Location-Specific Messages Seems Like A Neat Idea

   August 21st, 2014 Brian Herzog

screen568x568People probably get tired of me saying this, but in cases like this I feel like I need to apologize for not having a cell phone but talking about apps anyway.

I read on LifeHacker last week about an app called Knit. It lets users tie a message to a specific location, so that when another user gets to that spot, they see the message.

It can't be as seamless and effortless as my imagination makes it out to be, but I think this is an awesome idea. And since libraries are all about providing contextually-relevant information, this seems like a very useful idea.

My guess is that it's not accurate enough to use in the stacks, but wouldn't it be neat that if someone walks into the local history room they'd get a message about online resources?

But even better would be to use it outside the library. Leave notes with historical information around town and create a self-guided tour; if the library has off-site events (which we sometimes do), leave notes in those places for the upcoming events; leave notes in parks and train stations about downloading ebooks or digital magazines. Like an automatic QR code people don't need to scan, or a virtual sign someone might actually read.

Of course, there's got to be some catch, because it seems this will immediately become a new form of spam advertising, with every step or highway exit being inundated with who knows what (if you can broadcast to all users, rather than picking a specific person). So it'd be neat if this functionality could be integrated into an existing library app, to provide some control over what patrons are sent. Still though, I thought this was a neat idea.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/14

   August 16th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Rolling Stone on microfilmA patron came into our branch library and told the staff that she participated in a "Reading Olympics" program at the library as a kid, in 1980 "or sometime when she was in school," and wanted to know if there a photo in the newspaper. She thought she remembered seeing one, of a group shot of all the participants. Our branch doesn't have much for local history resources, so the question was transferred to me at the main library.

We do have newspaper microfilm from those years, but I'm reluctant to start searches like that with such a vague date reference. However, the library has done a great job for decades of keeping scrapbooks of all library-related news clippings, flyers, newsletters, and things like that, so that was where I started. I flipped through the scrapbooks from 1979-1981, but sadly didn't see anything related to a Reading Olympics. Lots of other stuff though, which made me think that the Reading Olympics didn't happen at the public library.

It's possible it was a school or school library program, or with the Scouts or some other group, just not the public library. I called the branch back and gave them the news, and also that if the patron wanted to come in to use the newspaper microfilm I can help get them started.

I felt bad about not finding what they were looking for, but, as often happens with research, I found other interesting things. One was the Winter 1980 library newsletter, with an article about buying a microfilm machine and microfilm collection.

This caught my eye because we're buying a new microfilm machine this year (the second since this one in 1980, but the first I've purchased). Back then, the machine and collection cost $5000; this year the ScanPro 2000 we're getting is about $7000. Also back then, printing cost $0.10; our current price is $0.15. Inflation!

Other interesting articles just on the cover of the newsletter are:

  • the library is advertising for customers for its own print shop
  • the library serves as a carpool center

Two great ways to be a community center. Nice job, 1980 Chelmsford Library!



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Ebooks in General, Ebooks in Specific

   August 13th, 2014 Brian Herzog

library ebooksIn case you missed it, be sure to at least skim the recent Wall Street Journal article comparing Amazon's new subscription ebook service to other options, including libraries. For me, the big take-away was:

Of the Journal's 20 most recent best-selling e-books in fiction and nonfiction, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited has none—no "Fifty Shades of Grey," no "The Fault in Our Stars." Scribd and Oyster each have a paltry three. But the San Francisco library has 15, and my South Carolina library has 11.

That is great. But you know what libraries don't have? Wamesit: Life in Colonial Massachusetts in the area known today as Chelmsford, by Bill "Doc" Roberts.

Here's how I know this: a little while ago, Bill Roberts called (from Texas!) to let us know he wrote a local history book about Chelmsford. Neat. I wasn't sure if he wanted to donate a copy or have us buy one, but local history is local history, and I'm sure we would have worked something out.

However, when I went online to learn more about it, it turns out it's a Kindle-only ebook - so we basically can do nothing with it. I don't know what his connection to Chelmsford is, and it's a novel rather than non-fiction, but still - being locked out of this because of format is annoying.

So, even though the WSJ article (very rightly) shows that libraries are doing okay when it comes to ebooks, the nature of the still-growing environment still has plenty of room for improvement.



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