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



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Snapshot of a Future Male Librarian

   August 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog

I saw this photo and immediately though, "hey, that's what it's like to be a male librarian":

only boy at a girls princess party

Of course it's not entirely true - I always see other guys at library conferences and things (especially tech-oriented library conferences). And I know I enjoy my job as much as any princess with a balloon. But it is not at all uncommon for me to go to meetings with reference librarians in the region and be the only guy in the room.

In fact, I thought that would be a good title for my memoirs: The Only Guy in the Room.

For a bit more on librarian gender stereotypes, check out Mr. Library Dude's post on Image, Public Perception, and Lego Librarians. The whole thing is funny, but the male fashion choices minifig especially made me laugh. However, I'm still unrepresented there: I don't drink coffee.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/3/13

   February 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Oscar the GrouchEarlier this week I mentioned something I really like about working in libraries. For the reference question this week, I'm going to talk about something I don't like about my job:ambiguity.

And, fair warning: the next few paragraphs are just me whining, so feel free to skip to the question at the end.

This week was kind of a perfect storm of annoyances for me, if you'll pardon the pun. First, it's tax season. Second, I don't know if this made the news outside of New England, but we got a bit of a storm Friday and Saturday. Most of the questions this week dealt with one of these topics.

First, the tax stuff
Tax forms were late this year, which always brings out the worst in people. When we finally started getting the ones people wanted and put them out for the public, people were happy - until they noticed we didn't have all the forms and instructions they wanted.

Now, libraries don't create the tax forms, and we have no input into the publication schedule - we just help distribute them. We put out what we can, and for the ones we know we're missing, like the 1040 Instructions, we put up a sign saying something like "1040 Instructions have not arrived yet."

Of course this prompts people to ask when they'll arrive. We have no idea. They don't know we don't know, but also rarely seem to take "we don't know" for an answer. It's a no-win situation, and one I hate to be in - I hate it when "I don't know" is really the best thing I can tell someone. It has been especially bad this year.

Second, the snow storm
This storm was predicted to be a big one, starting early on Friday and lasting into Saturday night. It was supposed to be so big, in fact, that about noon on Friday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick issued an executive order closing all the roads in the state at 4pm, with a $500 fine if you were caught out after that. So, yeah, serious.

All schools in the area were closed on Friday, and most libraries closed at noon - but not us. The way things work in my town is that it's the Town Manager's call, and his philosophy is to keep public facilities open as long as conditions allow. When we do close early, we usually only get an hour or two notice.

This can cause a bit of a problem, because while most libraries announced their early closing on Thursday, Friday at noon we were still telling patrons, "sorry, we don't know how long we'll be open." It was frustrating, because the phone was ringing constantly with people asking, "hey, are you open?" and, "are you closing early?" and, again, the best we could tell them was "we don't know."

This demoralized staff, but was also frustrating for patrons - road conditions were deteriorating, and they had to weigh if it was worth it to drive to the library to get books and DVDs for the upcoming snow-bound weekend. But then not even knowing if we'd be open once they got here was understandably irritating.

Now the question
One question I dread every winter is the "how much snow fell on X date?" We get similar weather-related questions throughout the year, but snowfall is always the toughest. The problem is there is no good local resource that provides the data the patrons want, so the best we can do is cobble together what we can find and let them draw their own conclusions.

This time, someone asked me how much snow fell on two different days in January, because the plow guy she uses billed her for $60 for plowing 4" on January 16th and $40 for 1" on the 29th. Something seemed off to her, so she wanted to double-check to make sure that's how much snow was on her driveway on those days.

Now that is hyper-local, and it's just tough. My favorite historical weather resource, which I've talked about before, is NOAA's snow data files, and they have snowfall and snow depth by month. The closest NOAA monitoring station is only the next town over, which is pretty good, but it's still far enough away to not be able to conclusively say what happened in her driveway on those days.

The other resource I've found that's good for this type of question is Accuweather's past weather table. This is great because it easily lets you scroll backward in time, and shows snowfall in addition to precipitation (most weather resources just show precipitation, which is why snowfall is more difficult than rainfall).

But a problem with consulting multiple resources is when, as in this case, the numbers don't match up. Accuweather's amounts different from NOAA's, which are themselves different from the plow guy's amounts. Not enough to dispute the bill, which I think is all this patron is looking for really. But I include this on my list of "ambiguity annoyances" because I don't like it when I can't find a solid answer for someone. I know it's the nature of research, but still - frustrating.

Anyway, in this particular case, the patron also slightly annoyed that the plow guy charged her for plowing an inch of snow - but, wisely, she decided she wasn't going to say anything to him until after the major storm this weekend.



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Damn It Feels Good To Be A Librarian

   February 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

I had thought that by doing fewer posts per week, I'd end up with higher quality overall. However, not so much, exactly.

My friend Chris emailed me a link to the image below, which showed up on failblog under the "ugliest tattoos" category. This font wouldn't be my first choice, but I don't think it's so bad (although I cropped out the worst parts - click through to full size if you dare).

LIBRARIAN tattoo

But this tattoo reminded me that, unlike my unmodified self, there are lots of librarians with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, et. al., who probably hear "you don't look like a librarian" every time they tell someone what they do for a living. I have nothing specific to say about this, other than I'm glad our profession is as diverse as our collections, from the individual to the flickr group to the The Tattooed Ladies of Texas Library Association (or just search Google Images for tattooed librarians).

Also: while reading about tattoo librarians, I found a Jessamyn post pointing to a book project: author Shelley Jackson's project for her story Ineradicable Stain: a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers.

Now that is truly lib-core. Incidentally, the title of the post comes from the Geto Boys "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta," featured in one of my favorite movies, Office Space (NSFW, literally and figuratively):

And in case someone doesn't follow my leap from this tattoo to gangsta, it's the font. Check out, homies.



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Knowing When To Say When

   January 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Reduced signSo, this post might not matter to anyone but me, but I felt like I should announce it anyway.

For the last few years, the blogging schedule I've stuck to was new posts every Tuesday and Thursday, and the Reference Question of the Week on Saturdays. Over the last couple months though, I've felt that I'm both running out of things to say and have less free time to work on posts, so I've decided to cut back to just one new post a week and the Reference Question on Saturday.

Not a major change I know, but it feels major to me because it's a schedule I've stuck to for so long. I know a schedule isn't mandatory for blogs, and most people probably just post only when they have something interesting to say. For me though, I think that if I didn't make myself stick to a schedule, I'd quickly slip into nothing at all.

So anyway, again, I don't know if anyone would have even noticed if I didn't say anything, but there you go.

But I am curious about the schedule/no schedule thing, both for personal and library communications. Does you're library have a set goal or schedule for blog posts, tweets, email newsletters, etc., or do you only do it when you've got something to say? In my library, it varies: I try to have a new blog post once a week, but Twitter is much more as-needed (in addition to automated tweets for library events). We have a main email newsletter that goes out once a week, but also sort of a childrens supplement which only goes out when the Childrens Room has something specific to communicate.

It seems like all models work in their context, but I'd be curious to hear if other libraries have had success following one path or another.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/13/11

   November 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Fanned savings bondsThis week's question is actually something I needed to find out for myself. And I'll tell you up front: once I found the answer, I ultimately just walked away because it's too difficult (which is something I see many real patrons doing).

When my siblings started having kids (ten years ago), I decided I'd give each child a savings bond for birthdays, Christmas, etc. I thought it was something nice to do for their future, and it wouldn't clutter up their house with more toys (although I also usually give a book or small something too).

This has been working great, until this week. When I went to the bank to get a savings bond for my niece Alexis' birthday, the bank teller told me they no longer do paper savings bonds as they are now only available online.

Well that's a pain. But lots of things are transitioning to online-only options, so I gave it a shot. The bank lady didn't know the website I had to go to, which actually made me skeptical of the whole thing, so I just searched for buy savings bond. The first two results were:

Individual - Buy EE Savings Bonds
www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/.../ebonds/res_e_bonds_eebuy.htm
Jul 12, 2011 – Buy EE Savings Bonds. As of January 1, 2012, paper savings bonds will no longer be sold at financial institutions. This action supports ...

Individual - Savings Bonds As Gifts
www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/planning/plan_gifts.htm
Jul 21, 2011 – You can give savings bonds for any occasion or purpose - like birthdays, weddings, or graduations. You can buy gift bonds in several ...

Those were both informative, and I've used TreasuryDirect.gov before. I opened them both in different tabs, but expected to use the second one to get the gift savings bond. A note on the top of each page read:

As of January 1, 2012, paper savings bonds will no longer be sold at financial institutions. This action supports Treasury’s goal to increase the number of electronic transactions with citizens and businesses. See the press release.

It seems my bank was jumping the gun with no longer providing them, but that's fine. If I want to keep giving savings bonds this is obviously something I'm going to need to do anyway, so step one of the online process was to create a TreasuryDirect.gov account.

I don't doubt the trustworthiness and reliability of TreasuryDirect.com, but I was surprised the new account form required me to enter my social security number. But then at the bottom, it also required my bank name, account number, routing number, and other account information - it was at this roadblock that I decided more research was necessary (I was doing this on a Saturday morning from the couch in my pajamas, and didn't have that info handy).

Any time I have a problem with a tech something (be it an error code, weird account creation requirements, etc), I always search for my problem online, figuring someone else had the problem too (and hopefully solved it). So this time I searched Google News for buy savings bond and found an article from the Sacramento Bee, specifically about giving the online-only savings bonds as gifts.

It did reaffirm everything I'd encountered, but this part was the last straw:

...recipients of gifts purchased through TreasuryDirect will require an account of their own to receive the gift bonds...*

*Children under age 18 must have a minor account linked to a parent or guardian's TreasuryDirect account.

This is when I decided the new process was too difficult and just walked away from the entire question. I'm going to look for a bank that still does paper savings bonds so I can get one for Alexis, and also stock up for the rest of the kids for Christmas. But after that, I'm going to look for another gift for them - I highly doubt that all my siblings will want to set up TreasuryDirect.gov accounts for all the kids.

Oh well - supporting the government was nice while it lasted.



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I am a Statistic, by Demetri Martin

   June 28th, 2011 Brian Herzog

This is a Book coverA friend of mine is reading This is a Book, by Demetri Martin, and shared the passage below with me.

I know it's a humor book, but I found one of the comments only marginally funny. Well, not that it was unfunny, but moreso that I have just always sort of taken it for granted.

The line I'm talking about is the fourth one up from the bottom on the page below. As a friend of mine from college used to say, "I am the norm; everyone else is just a deviation from me."

Also, the boomerang one is funny.

page from This is a Book


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