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



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Assistant Director Update, April Fools Style

   April 1st, 2016 Brian Herzog

This blog has been without a new post for longer that I intended, and hopefully no one minded too much. Switching from Head of Reference to Assistant Director has been both more different and more busy than I expected, but things are starting to calm down finally.

So hopefully, that will mean more regular updates from the back office. Especially since I'll be at PLA next week, I'm sure there will be lots to talk about.

But something I always liked doing (probably more than you liked me doing it) was a traditional April 1st post. I wasn't able to get something together for this year, so hopefully you don't mind settling for this:

library bulletin boards

That's a photo of my library's lobby. And it's hard to make out, so here's the slide showing on the digital display:

Special Storytime lide

So far, no one has noticed - or at least, no one has said anything. We'll see.

By the way, the featured title is The Berenstain Bears and the blame game, but there were other options too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/14/16

   February 20th, 2016 Brian Herzog

water pumpSometimes, what would have otherwise been an ordinary, simple question, gets asked with a slight twist and I just know it's going to be the question of the week.

Last Saturday, a college-age male patron walked up to the desk carrying an empty water bottle and asked,

Where is your Brita filtered filler station?

A coworker was with me at the desk at the time, and both of us kind of paused - long enough, apparently, that the patron then said,

Well, maybe you don't have one...

We get asked regularly where the bathrooms are, and only slightly less frequently if we have a drinking fountain*. We explained to him where the drinking fountain was, and he seemed happy enough for it.

I wonder if he actually expected a Brita-filtered tap, or free-standing water cooler. Maybe that's what they exclusively use in his house or college, to the point that he's just so used to saying "Brita filter" that it's the name he uses for any water dispensing device.

Regardless, it suddenly made me feel like a 19th-century library and the best we had to offer was an old farm water pump out back. I mean, I' very happy we still offer a typewriter to patrons, but I never thought our drinking fountain would become retro too.

 


*In New England, at least this part, they call drinking fountains "bubblers," which I think is funny. They also call pop "tonic."



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/31/16

   February 6th, 2016 Brian Herzog

The.I've said this before and I'll say it again, but I know that sometimes, some things are funny only to me. One day this week, a patron walks up to the desk and says,

Patron: Can you help me find a book? The title is, The [szuunnttz] of Murder.
Me: I'm sorry, what was that first word - "sounds" or "silence?"
Patron: "The."
Me: Um...

And then she set her phone down on the desk and spun it around so I could see the title: The silence of murder, by Dandi Daley Mackall.

Ha. I blame our cataloger for constantly drilling into me to ignore the leading article in a title when typing it into a library catalog. Unfortunately, I can apparently no longer tell the difference between typing a title into a computer and asking a real live patron what the title is. Oh well.

Th good news is that the book was in the catalog, and I showed the patron how to place a request for it, so everyone was happy. Even the patron, who perhaps now thinks I'm an idiot. Oh well. It also made me wonder if patrons have blogs where they share all their stories of crazy interactions with librarians - now that would be interesting.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/24/16

   January 31st, 2016 Brian Herzog

Unfortunately, there's been numerous times I could have easily done the same thing at the library.This was posted on Boing Boing a couple weeks ago, but I thought people might find this funny:
Actual conversations with rude or odd customers at a used book store.

Some are rude to the point of being mean, which of course is not something that would happen in a library - at least, not something library staff would say out load. Here's a couple of my favorites:

(phone call)

I found a book "---" on your web site. It was written by my Uncle. I was wondering why it is so expensive? ($50)

It was inscribed and signed by him.

Why should I have to pay for his autograph? He's my Uncle, not yours!

(sigh... and no, she didn't buy it)

 


 

(Older gentleman calls)

I see you have a book titled "---" listed on your web site for $200

Ok

I am the author.

Ok

That book originally sold for under $20

Ok

How can you justify that?

Justify what?

Charging so much!

That's what it's worth. Look it up on Bookfinder

You will make more on the book than I did

I guess I should feel bad about that! If it makes you feel better, you could adjust for inflation (30 years)

I just doesn't seem right

It's the free market at work. You shouldn't have written such a good book

I will take that as a compliment

It was

(I should add, I paid a lot more for the book than it sold for... originally. The customer I sold it to will probably donate it to his favorite charity and the cycle will continue. Makes me wonder how many profits there are in these things...)

 


 

(Customer fills out search card: 16 Chapels)

(me) Oh, you're after books on European Churches?

No, just books about the 16 Chapels.

16 Chapels?

Yea, you know the one with the big painting on the ceiling.
We will let you know what we find (once we stop convulsing).

 

Any time I see something like this in book stores, I can't help but hear them in the voice of Bernard Black - and then end up watching that entire series again.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/3/16

   January 9th, 2016 Brian Herzog

alphabetical mish-mashMaybe it's not the best way to start off a new year by having someone question the very fabric of your everyday life.

This week, the first full week after the New Year's holiday, someone did just that - and for a few seconds, what he said made enough sense that I doubted that what I thought I knew was true, and underwent an instantaneous reevaluation of my career as a librarian. But luckily, it passed.

In my library, the non-fiction stacks start right next to the Reference Desk - so on the first shelf closest to us are the 000-152s. This, of course, includes the computer books, which is good because this is a section we get asked about a lot.

Such was the case this Wednesday night. A patron walked up and asked where the programming books were, and without a second thought I walked with him the few steps to the first shelf.

As I was giving my normal spiel about, "here are the programming books, and next come applications and then web stuff," the patron interrupted me by saying,

These books are out of order.

Oh. Well, that's actually not uncommon in the computer books - partly because it's a frequently-used collection, and partly, I think, because we have so many books with the exact same Dewey number that people don't always get them in the right order by Cutter.

I started to apologize to the patron and say something to this effect, when he stepped up to the shelf, took a book off, moved it over a couple books and replaced it on the shelf, then took a step back and said,

It's a common mistake, that's a silent "D."

I looked more closely at the book he moved and saw,

Drupal, Drupal, Django, Joomla...

He said it so matter-of-factly that it was at this point that I wondered if I missed a day in library school and have subsequently been shelving books incorrectly my entire career. What other words have common silent letters? Should books about Czars be in the "Zs?" And wherever should we be shelving phone books?

However, rather than get into it with him, I went back to the desk and left him to browse the books. I saw him leave a few minutes later with three or four, so that was great.

And after he left I went back over to look at the books, and sure enough, these were still like that. I'd recovered my own confidence by this point, and reshelved the books so that they were correct again. Take that, patron of anarchy!



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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.



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