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



Archives for Policies:


Reference Question of the Week – 12/13/15

   December 19th, 2015 Brian Herzog

One slow evening, a patron walked up to the desk and asked if anyone had turned in a pair of glasses.

In my library, we have two lost-and-founds - one on each floor. I try to keep the downstairs one, at the Reference Desk, limited to valuable and personally-identifiable things only, and bring things like glasses, coats, dolls, etc., up to the main lost-and-found by the Circ Desk by the front door.

However, since this doesn't always work, I checked the Reference Desk lost-and-found to see if there were any glasses, and there were:
lost and found glasses

Far more than I would have expected. I asked the patron what his looked like, and he said,

They were gray, with big frames.

I didn't see any in the pile that I would describe that way, so I spread them all out on the desk for him to look through, just in case. Sometimes with lost-and-found requests, I get the feeling people think I'm lying to them, and that their item actually is right in front of me but I'm choosing not to give it to them. I don't really understand that, but it happens all the time.

So the patron starts looking through them, and then things get odd. There is one pair with gray frames, but definitely not "big frames." He picks up this pair and says,

Patron: Mine kind of looked like this, but were bigger. Do you think these are mine?
Me: [Having no idea what his glasses look like, and being surprised he'd ask that] Oh, I don't know - do they look like your glasses?
Patron: Kind of. [Continues to turn them over and over looking at them]
Me: [Stares at patron staring at glasses, wondering if he can't tell if they're his or not because his eyesight is so bad without glasses that everything just looks fuzzy.]
Patron: [Eventually puts glasses on.] These work pretty good. I can see. But they're bifocals, and mine weren't bifocals.
Me: Oh, then maybe those aren't yours after all. I'm sorry yours don't seem to be here.
Patron: [Still wearing the glasses, looking around the room.]
Me: [Watching patron look around the room.]
Patron: [Tilts head up and down, to alternately look through and look over bifocals.]
Me: [Still watching patron, but now starting to compose this blog post in my head.]
Patron: Maybe these aren't mine. But I can see well with them, so it seems like my prescription. I don't know who else would have my prescription.
Me: I think...
Patron: Maybe I need bifocals after all. Maybe I had them and didn't realize it. At least, these will let me drive home tonight and be able to see.
Me: Okay.
Patron: Do you think these are my glasses?
Me: I don't know, but if you think they're yours, you're welcome to them.
Patron: Thanks for finding my glasses.

With that, the patron turns and walks away. He sits back down at his computer for awhile, and then maybe a half an hour later packs up and leaves.

This whole exchange was strange, but primarily due to the idea of someone "stealing" someone else's item out of the lost-and-found. But really, I have no idea if that happened here - I don't know whose glasses those were, and they very well may have been that patron's.

Lost-and-found in the library has always kind of bothered me. On the one hand, I really like the idea of making sure a lost item get back to the right person. In many cases, this is easily possible - cell phones, lost flash drives (that, 99% of the time, have a resume with the person's name, phone, and email on it), purses, wallets, photocopies of important documents, etc - anything with ID or a person's name is usually returnable, and we make the effort to notify the person and hold the item until they pick it up.

Other things though - glasses, keys, coin purses, cell phone chargers, favorite pens, jewelry, hats, coats - that don't have any kind of identification, are just lost items. In general, we hold those at the desk until the end of the day (or until the end of the next day), and then take them up to the main lost-and-found by the Circ Desk. This one is just a basket in a public area, which anyone can look through to find their stuff.

This has the sense of "well anyone could just take anything," but at the same time, I really don't like the idea of library staff being responsible for lost items. Valuable or personally-identifiable things don't get put in the public lost-and-found basket, but everything else should.

Otherwise, we might have gotten into the situation of me, since I suspected these glasses may not have actually belonged to that patron, forcing him to prove to me that they were his, otherwise I wouldn't have let him take them. That is impossible and not a position library staff should be in.

Plus, I was kind of interested in the fact that this patron really seemed to think that eye care happens serendipitously - when the universe decided he needed bifocals, it gave him a pair. If nothing else, him driving home safely is a good thing.



Tags: , , , , , ,



Closing at Night – How Does Your Library Do It?

   December 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

you don't have to go home but you can't stay here signLast week, in response to my recent Reference Question of the Week about the importance of providing good customer service right up until closing time, Emma posted this comment:

Brian, can I ask: Are your hourly people paid for some amount of time after 5:30 on your 5:30 closing days?

Something that drives me crazy at my library is that our closing time is the same as our clock out time for hourly staff. So most days we close at 9 p.m., but 9 is also when the clerks and assistants stop getting paid. Of COURSE they want to get lights turned off and money counted and everything by 9, since otherwise they are doing the closing tasks unpaid, on their own time, but it drives patrons crazy that we claim to be open until 9, but a lot of services are either worse or not available at all from about 8:45 onward. What does your library do to provide better service to last-minute patrons?

I responded with a typical, long-winded reply, below, but what I'm really curious about it what other libraries do. I know it will vary by library, because circumstances in libraries vary, but please leave your responses in the comments on how closing time is handed in your library - thanks a lot!

Brian Herzog Says:
December 5th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

@Emma: oh, wow, this comment is worth an entire management course of its own.

We’re the same as you, in that staff is scheduled until closing time at 9pm, and are only paid until then. But of course, since we’re open until 9pm, patrons have every right to be in the building right until then – so we experience the same clash of tides.

We’ve had various conflicts in the past, but right now things are pretty calm with an understanding staff that knows that good customer service might sometimes mean an extra minute or two past nine o’clock. We’ve talked in the past about scheduling and paying staff until 9:15, but 99% of the time that would mean the building would be closed and staff is just sitting around doing nothing. So instead of forcing people to stay later through scheduling and doing busywork most of the time, it has just worked itself out in an unspoken way in my library. Most of the time, that is, and we just deal with the incidents where that fails as they happen.

The only two actual policies we have regarding this are:

  • we do close the downstairs bathrooms 15 minutes before closing time. There are bathrooms right by the front door that are never closed, so people can use those on the way out, but the downstairs bathrooms are the only “library resources” that end before closing time
  • all the part-time staff scheduled to work until closing are all free to leave right when their shift ends. The full-time librarian who is the closing department head, and whichever maintenance man is working that night, are the two who will stay if something with a patron runs past closing. This happens occasionally, and some staff have no problem staying longer and some do, but the department heads always stay to take care of whatever it is even if all other desk staff has left. Once in awhile it’s some kind of horrendous checkout calamity, but more often than not it’s a kid waiting for a ride in winter, and we are not going to lock the doors and make them wait in the snow. So the department head and the maintenance guy (and sometimes other staff just hang around and chat too, and partly because people all like to walk to their cars together) all wait inside until the ride gets there.

I think we’re lucky in that good customer service is so ingrained into my library’s culture that staying over is just no big deal to us. It’s also good that the administration values good customer service, and would have no problem with someone coming in late the next day if they stayed late the night before to help a patron.

Our closing procedures aren’t too extensive, which also works in our favor – just turn computers off, really, and make sure everyone is out of the building. So there’s no routine duty that holds people up. One of my own hard-and-fast rules that I try to enforce whenever I close is to NEVER turn any lights off when there are still patrons in the building. Not only do I see this as incredibly rude, but it also seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen – staff rushing a patron out at closing when half the lights are off, and that patron trips or hurts themselves, and then it comes out during the hearing that staff had shut the lights off already. Sure there is probably still enough light to see by, but it certainly would make the entire library sound like a jackass.

We haven’t come to absolute solution for this, so it’s good that my library’s staff is just willing to make it work. I don’t know that any of this will help, but aside from scheduling people beyond closing time, I don’t really know what else can be done.



Tags: , , ,



Saying No In My Library, And How We Can Say It Less Often

   July 24th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I know I've mentioned before that my library has a strong "Get To Yes" policy for customer service - we want to do whatever we can to meet the patrons' needs.

To identify areas where we're coming up short, occasionally in the past we've kept "No Logs" at the service desks - log sheets for staff to track patron questions where we had no alternative but to answer "no." For this fiscal year, we're really trying to improve customer service even more, so we've made the Reference Desk's "No Log" a permanent thing.

Below is a snapshot of our "No" questions from July 1st until now - mostly museum passes this library doesn't offer, extended study room use, or printer/copier questions. But there's other good stuff in there that I think we can improve on, and that's what this is all about:

nologJuly2014

Nothing earth-shattering - which is good, really - but small steps are sometimes the best approach for improvements. I'm really curious to see how these things trend over time, too.

Also, slightly related to this is OCLC's Top reasons for no - the reason libraries report for interlibrary loan requests being denied. I can't remember where I saw this link posted, but I like this sort of thing.



Tags: , , , ,



What Do You Think About E-Cigarettes in Libraries?

   August 21st, 2013 Brian Herzog

e-cigaretteMassachusetts has a state-wide library email discussion list, and lately I've been following with interest a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes should be allowed in libraries.

The sentiment seems to be coming down on the "not allowed" side, which is where I am, too. I have not encountered one in my library, but other Massachusetts libraries have - one even felt the "e-smoker" (a.k.a., apparently, "vaper") was actually trying to pick a policy fight because he had a bunch of pro-e-cigarette material at the ready.

I've done some light research on this since the discussion started, and was surprised to find out the FDA's position is basically "needs more study, so in the meantime we're erring on the side of caution." The Mayo Clinic feels the same way: "Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes."

That alone is enough to sway me into the "not in libraries" camp, but I was also curious about the effectiveness of them as a smoking cessation tool. Marketing for e-cigarettes seems to be all over the map, from cessation to a healthier alternative to a method to still accommodate the smoking habit in smoke-free zones. Which is what marketing is supposed to do: appeal to everyone and anyone in order to sell sell sell.

However, WebMD had an interesting point regarding cessation and health-related side-effects:

Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users' nicotine habits, says Michael Eriksen, ScD, director of the institute of public health at Atlanta's Georgia State University and former director of CDC's office of smoking and health.

"I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products," Eriksen tells WebMD. "If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you can't smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking. We'll just be encouraging people to use more nicotine."

This might be true because of how e-cigarettes work (also from WebMD):

  • The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
  • Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
  • The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also activates a light at the "lit" end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
  • The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
  • The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
  • When the user exhales, there's a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.

And if nothing else, it's that last part that, I think, is also a problem for libraries. My library has a policy that prohibits the "use of tobacco products," which may or may not cover e-cigarettes (which actually contain no tobacco). However, I think the vapor put out by e-cigarettes would certainly fall under the "other activities which disrupt the library" part of the policy, because it looks enough like smoking that I'm sure many patrons would not be comfortable with it.

One message to the discussion list said their municipality had already banned them entirely. I'm curious if other libraries have encountered e-cigarettes, and what the library position is. Please let me know what you think in the comments (and being a non-smoker, I'm also interested in the smoker's viewpoint on this).



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Lost Item Replacement Policy, And When To Ignore It

   January 30th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Chewed bookMy library recently updated our policy for patrons replacing lost or damaged items.

The problem that arose is that patrons would check out a book (say, a non-fiction book that was five years old, with a price in the record of $30) - then they'd lose it, and eventually they'd get a bill for $30. Our previous policy said patrons could replace lost/damaged items either by paying for it or by supplying another copy of the book.

This meant that, instead of paying the $30, patrons would often find used copies of the item online, for just a few dollars, and give that to us as a replacement copy.

The problem was that often these books were in terrible condition (sometimes even discarded from another library, with their stamps and stickers still on it). Not to mention that there would often be newer versions of this item available, which we would want to get instead of the old outdated one.

So, we updated our policy to be:

Lost/Damaged item fees

  • NO REPLACEMENTS ACCEPTED FOR BOOKS
  • Book or magazine - patron is charged 100% of the full price
  • DVD, music CD, or videogame - replacement allowed only if it is new and still sealed in the original package, otherwise the charge is the same as books, 100% of full price.
  • Book on CD - $10 per CD (if the entire item is lost, then 100% of full price.)
  • Playaway, CD-ROM, kit - 100% of full price
  • Lost CD or DVD insert - $2
  • Lost CD or DVD case - $2 (so lost case & insert is $4)
  • Still not sure what to charge? Call tech svcs

What to say when patrons ask...

Why can’t the library accept replacements for lost or damaged books anymore?

There are several reasons:

  • Many of the replacements we’ve been getting are used items in poor condition.
  • Replacing the exact same isbn can mean getting an old edition of a book when a newer edition is available.
  • In some cases, we don’t wish to replace the lost item, and would rather use the fee to buy something new that we need for our collection now.

Why does a replacement DVD, music CD or videogame have to be new & still sealed in the package?

  • For similar reasons – we’ve received old and/or used items to replace things we wouldn’t have bothered to replace at all.

Why is the replacement cost 100% of the full price? I can get it for less than that on Amazon!

  • True, but sometimes the items you get from Amazon are old and used, and you might not even realize it till it arrives.
  • Also keep in mind that when we replace a book or other item, it involves staff time to get the new item, catalog it, and process it to go into circulation.

This all happened a couple months ago. Then just a couple weeks ago, we received the following note from a patron:

Replacement Book Note

My favorite part is that she drew a picture of an open book on her note. Since the replacement copy she supplied was a brand new copy, and this title is still on the school's summer reading list, we just kept it.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Guidelines for Handling Weekend Emergencies at the Library

   January 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello, I'm IN CHARGE badgeThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile, but better late than never, I suppose.

In the fall, my library was able to reopen for Sundays for the first time in like five years. This is great news for patrons, but since our seasonal Sunday hours are voluntary (with paid overtime), we sometimes have a shortage of staff willing to work them.

In my library, there needs to be a Department Head in the building at all times. Generally this isn't a problem, but if no Department Head volunteered to work a particular Sunday, other staff (with library degrees) can be acting Department Head.

Since these acting Department Heads would be in charge of the building, we created some "Sunday Department Head Guidelines" for them to refer to if something unusual happened - and also to make sure the library delivered the same level of service on Sundays as we do the rest of the week. The goal was to have all necessary information - procedure, contact information, passwords, etc. - in one place.

I really like lists like this*, so I thought I'd share. Obviously it is primarily applicable to my library, and even then primarily only on Sundays (as other times follow slightly different procedures in certain situations), but perhaps it might inspire other libraries to also document procedures like this. Feel free to download and use these however you like (names, phone numbers, and other vital information removed):

I know the staff here appreciated it, as it can be daunting to be in charge when something goes wrong.

 


*Some people say I have a love of rules, but that's not true - orderliness and answers are what I like. Take that, entropy.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,