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



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/9/13

   June 15th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Wednesday is my night to work at the library, and a couple hours before we closed I got an email from a coworker that just said,

I just took a picture that I think will be perfect for your blog. Ask me about it before you leave.

I had no idea what this might be, but at the end of the night, this was the picture from her phone:

patron kneeling at the Reference desk

She found this amusing because it looked to her that this patron was so desperate for help that she was willing to kneel before the desk (and pray?).

That is a funny thought, but when I explained to the rest of the evening staff what was really going on, they were even more amused.

So: around 2:30 that afternoon, a woman called in asking to reserve a study room for 7-9pm that evening, because she was proctoring a test for a student. No problem. Not 30 seconds after I hung up the phone, it rang again, this time a different woman asked to reserve a study room for her daughter, who was taking a test with a proctor.

I was quick on the uptake and asked if her daughter's name was the same one the proctor just gave me, and it was. Which, really, is just a funny little aside, and didn't really portend the communication difficulties to come.

The evening passd unremarkably. Seven o'clock rolls around and the proctor and student show up for their room.

About seven-thirty, the proctor comes out to the desk to ask if there is a way for her to print from her iPad. This perked me up a bit, because wireless printing is still new to us, and I am always happy when I can show it off. I gave her our little how-to handout, which she was satisfied with and went back to the room before I could help her with it.

About ten minutes later she was back, asking for help - and she was at the desk for the next half-hour. Here's what was going on:

  • It turns out, she was proctoring a test for a foreign exchange student from Australia. The test the girl was taking had been emailed to the proctor, as a password-protected PDF (two of them, actually)
  • She couldn't email the test to our wireless printer because it was a school iPad, and apparently could only send outgoing mail when it was connected to the school's network (this may or may not be true, but her email was definitely not working, and I wasn't going to change any of her school's settings playing around)
  • After we got the wireless printing app installed, we still couldn't print because the PDFs were password protected, and the app just kept saying it couldn't access the file (but gave no provision to enter a password)
  • She couldn't log into her school email from any other computer, because she couldn't remember her webmail password, and had left her school laptop at school

Sometime during our conversation, she also relayed that the test this girl was taking was some kind of Australian standardized test, which all Australian students must take - and must take at the same time. Which, of course, is Australia time, hence why they were in the library so late. Of course, the clock had already started, and we still hadn't even managed to print it yet.

The proctor was frazzled, the student was frustrated, and I, being functionally illiterate when it comes to Apple products, was running out of ideas.

But I know that if you start tapping things on an iPad other things happen, so this became my new strategy. When we just opened the PDF, it launched it Adobe Reader, which had limited export options*. However, at some point one of us noticed that her email had the option to move the PDF to iBooks, so we tried that.

Playing with it in iBooks, we found an option to email it with her personal (non-school) account, which miraculously did work. She emailed it to my library email, I opened the file at the desk, she entered the password, and thank goodness it printed okay. Repeat for part two of the test, and the girl was quickly to work - by about 8:20 pm.

All of this really was an ordeal to get through, compounded by the fact that the longer we screwed around, the less time the student had to take her test. My coworkers all appreciated this, and one remarked that she now understood why the woman was kneeling at the desk.

But no, that's not the reason. The proctor's shirt happened to have a very loose and floopy neckline, and if she leaned over towards the desk in the slightest, she'd be putting on quite a show. So, the entire time I was working with her, she kept using one hand to hold her shirt closed. And I don't know if you've tried it, but it is very difficult to try to operate an iPad while one hand is preventing a wardrobe malfunction.

Eventually, she just gave up and knelt in front of the desk, because at least that meant she didn't have to lean over. That was the point at which my coworker walked by.

So, amusing yes, but the story isn't quite over. At 8:55 pm I went to the study room to let them know the library was closing. Since I knew the student got a late start, I was going to offer to stay a bit past 9:00, if she needed just another ten or fifteen minutes to finish up.

The proctor said she appreciated that, but the test had another three hours(!) to go. Holy smokes. This town pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 9pm, so I really have no idea where they were going to go to finish this test. I felt bad for them, but they were just happy to have the printed tests and said they'd figure something out.

And speaking of figuring something out, here's something I can't figure out: so, foreign exchange students usually go to the host country by themselves, right? So, when this student's mother called to reserve a room, she must have been calling from Australia. Huh.

 


*One option I never ruled out was opening the test on the iPad and just photocopying the screen. Luckily, we never had to implement this.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/26/13

   June 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Quote: You've really got to start hitting the books because it's no joke out here.  -Spike LeeIn case you missed the discussion or the post on LISNews, there have been a flurry of great "library one-liners" on the publib email list. Nothing I could come up with can top these, to please check them out. A few of my favorites were:

I need a photograph, not a painting, of the meteor hitting the earth and killing off the dinosaurs.
~ Dusty Snipes Grès – Ohoopee Regional Library – GA

I once had a patron complain because our color copier wouldn’t make color copies of his black and white Resume. I never did figure out exactly what he was expecting.
~ Michael Gregory – Campbell County Public Library – KY

Patron - I'm looking for information on the Sultana Indians
Me (after a long and fruitless search) - where did you get this reference?
Patron - I dreamed about them.
~ Lisa Richland – Floyd Memorial Library – NY

The problem is that, while reading through the submissions, I immediately started thinking of resources that might be used to answer them. Oh well.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/19/13

   May 25th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Even the most rotten weeks can have bright spots - and here's a spectacularly shining example of why working with the public can be rewarding.

Just opposite my library's Reference Desk are doors leading out to our courtyard. While I was sitting at the desk, a mom and her three year old daughter came in from the courtyard and walked right over to me. The mom encouraged her daughter to ask me her question, but the little girl froze and went into the hide-behind-mom's-leg defensive position.

So, the mom asked:

We were outside and noticed the bird bath was dry. Do you have a watering can so we can fill it up, because she feels bad that the birds can't get a drink.

I'm sure we have a watering can but I have no idea where it is, so I went into the staff room and grabbed a pitcher. Both of their faces lit up when I came back out to the desk, and they took it back out into the courtyard:

filling the bird bath

I was pretty happy throughout this entire exchange too, and wanted to snap a photo before the moment ended. When the mom returned the pitcher and said thanks, I showed her the pictures I took and asked if I could share them.

This is one of the best reference questions ever, and I think it was a good day all around at the library - yay, libraries!



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Help a Library, Send a Postcard

   May 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog

twine ball postcardMy library received an email last week that I thought was fun and wanted to share:

My name is Heather Gaines and I am the event coordinator for adult programs at the O'Fallon Public Library located in Illinois. Our summer reading program will be kicking off soon and I would like to recruit you as a helper! The theme this year is "Have Book-Will Travel."

I had an idea that would bring America to our patrons in a fun and colorful way. For your part I would like to ask you to do one small thing. Would you be willing to send us a postcard from your great city, state, or even a unique local spot?

Once collected, I will share them with all our patrons, with the hope that they too will see what amazing places there are to discover across America. On the back of the postcard, please write a small blurb about what location is pictured or about the state it is from.

If for any reason you do not or are not able to participate in this endeavor, please email me back so I may contact another library in your home state.

You may send more than one postcard if you so choose!

Our address is as follows:

O'Fallon Public Library
Attn: Heather Gaines
120 Civic Plaza
O'Fallon, IL 62269

Thank you and have a great day!
Heather Gaines

What a great idea - we were happy to participate, and Heather said she'd welcome everyone to send them postcards. It reminded me of my coworker's Library Card Table, which also relied on the kindness and cooperation of other libraries across the county.

And, talking about postcards is a good segue: starting tomorrow I'll be on vacation visiting family in Ohio, so no reference question until next week - see you then.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/7/13

   April 13th, 2013 Brian Herzog

9999This might surprise non-librarians, but reference staff doesn't just sit around all day answering regular questions. Sometimes, you get something like this:

A 20-something patron walked up to me at the Reference Desk one evening and said,

You know that bulletin board in your teen area that always has different stuff on it? I don't know if you take suggestions from people, but here's a puzzle kids might like to try to figure out. I say "try" because I show this to lots of people and no one has solved it - even math teachers.

With that, he takes a piece of scrap paper, writes four 9s on it (as in, just 9999), and explains the puzzle.

The goal is to use these four nines, and any mathematical symbols, and have the result equal 100. You can use any combination of symbols - +, -, /, x, ( ), etc. - but the result must work out to be exactly 100.

Just then his ride came to get him, so he flipped the paper over, wrote the answer on the back, and said he hoped the kids would have fun with it.

So there I was - it was a slow night, I've got an "unsolvable" puzzle in front of me, and the answer is also at my finger tips. Such a temptation to cheat, but I gave it my best shot, trying all kinds of different ideas over the course of the night. No matter what I tried though, I just couldn't get it, so eventually I had to look at the answer.

I'm sure this puzzle (and the solution) is on the internet somewhere, but if you're interested, give it a try. If you give up, or want to check your answer, this link will launch the solution in a new window (this is exactly what the patron wrote on the back of the scrap paper).



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Best Use for a Library Barcode Scanner

   April 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This is something every librarian should do, just because we can:

Barcode scanner laser light saber

I don't care what anyone says, libraries are endlessly entertaining.



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