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



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/15

   February 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

3.5 inch driveA patron came up to the desk this week with a 3-1/2" disk, asking for a computer that can read it.

I had to stop and think - I was pretty sure we had a computer somewhere in the building that still had an a: drive, but wasn't positive. I told him I would walk around and check, but then we got into about a ten minute discussion about different storage options - USB flash drives, CD, DVD, SD cards, etc. He seemed really interested in the pros and cons of each, so I told him as much as I knew. He just wanted to store and carry regular files, as far as I could tell, so I was surprised when he decided by the end of the conversation that a micro SD card was his best option. I mean, I'm sure it would work, but I don't associate those and all with handy access to your resume and stuff. Huh.

Anyway, eventually I went on my quest for a computer with a 3-1/2" drive. I looked everywhere, checking every PC in the building - even digging through old donated laptops - but I couldn't find an a: drive anywhere. Nor could I find an external drive that I thought we purchased just for this situation (although I did find some external CD drives).

I felt bad that I let the patron down, but even worse that it was at that moment that I realized that this format really is dead - at least, it's dead to my library.



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A Better Way To Measure Library Use?

   February 5th, 2015 Brian Herzog

MeasureTheFutureHeader2I saw a post on LISNews today about a new Measure the Future initiative to build hardware sensors to better track how people use libraries. They say,

Imagine having a Google-Analytics-style dashboard for your library building: number of visits, what patrons browsed, what parts of the library were busy during which parts of the day, and more. Measure the Future is going to make that happen by using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage that is now invisible. Making these invisible occurrences explicit will allow librarians to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for their patrons.

On the one hand, I love this idea, because actual data can reveal amazing things. However at the same time, the idea of sensors all over the building tracking patrons sets off my privacy alarms. I'm sure it'll all be anonymous data, but Big Brother (even when it's Big Library) will still be in the back of my mind.

I didn't see too much technical detail on what the sensors will look like or how they will be integrated in libraries. But I think this is a great idea, and am looking forward to seeing their progress.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/25/15

   January 31st, 2015 Brian Herzog

I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about New England snow storms by now (I certainly am), but by far the most common question I heard this week was, "Brian, how much snow did you get at your house?"

Well, this is how much:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick

Which is to say, more than a lot, but I stopped counting. Granted, this is next to my driveway so some of it is piled up from shoveling, but still a lot. And more coming this weekend.

And for the fun of it, I tried to make the yardstick as close to actual size as I could:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick-actual

So, if you'd like to get the full Brian's Driveway Experience, just print out that image and hold it up next to you. Or, I am accepting volunteers to help come shovel after the next storm.



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Today is Look Above The Bathroom Ceiling Day

   January 29th, 2015 Brian Herzog

It's not, actually, but perhaps it should be. We had a plumber in the library today fixing one of our men's restrooms. In the course of his repair work, he had to go into the drop-ceiling in the bathroom, and this is what he found:

ceilingbooks

I've heard of library bathroom ceilings being used as dead-drops for drug deals - which at least has a logical utility - but I don't understand why these books would have ended up in the bathroom ceiling.

They all seem like old travel books, had been part of our branch library's collection, and have all been withdrawn and deleted. Not just lost and deleted, but actually stamped by staff as withdrawn.

I have no idea how they went from deleted from the branch to above the men's room of the main library. Plus, it's a ten foot ceiling too, so it's not like it'd be an easy place to store reading material.

So, if you get a chance today, pop your head up into the bathroom ceiling - who knows what interesting things you may find (I for one can't wait to check the rest of our bathrooms).



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/19/15

   January 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

I hate coming across as cynical and patron-deprecating on this blog, but I could not resist reposting this comic. I'm sure everyone who has worked at a reference desk has gone through this same thought process - for me, it was almost a GOOMHR moment and sums up much of the reference help I've given this week:

poker face tech support comic

I can even forgive the scroll wheel thing, but typing the URL into a search box and clicking "Search" instead of using the Enter key cracked me up.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/11/15

   January 17th, 2015 Brian Herzog

surgerysignI know this is going to make me sound petty, but this happened on a bad day and it made me just shake my head. A patron came up to the desk and said,

I'm looking for a book that lists all the medical tests on one page. I got it from here before, or maybe the Lowell Library, but I don't remember what it was or what it looked like. But it listed all the medical tests on one page so you could read about them, and if you just type in "medical tests" I'm sure it'll come up. Do you know what book I'm talking about? But it might be at the Lowell Library.

I didn't know the book, and for whatever reason I thought a better strategy would be to search on "medical procedure" so I did that. And sure enough, the very promising The Gale encyclopedia of surgery and medical tests : a guide for patients and caregivers came up (which does indeed also come up when searching for medical tests).

I got the call number and took the patron over to the shelf, and when we saw it was a four-volume set, he immediate said it wasn't the right book.

Which surprised me since he said he couldn't remember what it looked like, and only really remembered the inside of the book - so to disqualify this one without even looking at the inside made me think the chance of satisfying this patron was very low.

We talked a bit more in the stacks, and I learned he was actually looking for information on a specific procedure he was considering. I suggested one of the four volumes might help with that anyway, even if it wasn't the book he remembered. Reluctantly, he was willing to flip through it while I went back to the desk to keep searching.

I tried a couple different searches and found a few books that might possibly have information on medical tests, and I was making a list of call numbers to check before walking back into the stacks. However, before I even got up from the desk, the patron walk by me on his way upstairs to leave. He was carrying one of the Gale volumes, and said without breaking stride,

This has what I'm looking for.

So, that's great. I'm happy he found something helpful - at least I hope it's helpful - but I can't help being a little frustrated when patrons make helping them more difficult that it should be.



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