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



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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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I Don’t Remember Seeing THOSE Before

   April 4th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This is a good post for April Fools week, but I swear it's a real thing.

The photo below shows the "readers advisory" shelves in my library - the books patrons can use to find more books to read. Except, one day, a set of encyclopedias - copyright 1965! - suddenly just appeared on the bottom shelf, and staff have no idea where they came from:

Library shelves with non-library books

Our best guess is a patron brought them in to donate, and when we said no, and our Friends group likewise wouldn't accept them for the booksale, the patron just snuck them into the library anyway and left them on a shelf.

This is especially weird because this particular shelf is not at all near the front door, and no staff saw anyone lugging an entire set of encyclopedias through the library.

But don't get me wrong - we've found far worse things left behind by patrons, so I don't really mind these. It's just, I don't know, odd. Like, the person wanted to donate them to the library, and even after being told the library doesn't want them - copyright 1965! - they sneakily left them there anyway. As if we wouldn't notice. Or as if just by accident some other patron would use them. More likely, the person just no longer wanted to deal with them, and dumped his problem on us instead of take them back home.

Public libraries are endlessly fascinating.



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Library Links For a Friday

   March 29th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a few unrelated bits and bobs:

  • The big news from yesterday is that Amazon bought Goodreads. This seems like a major development for the reading and library world, and Tim Spalding of LibraryThing.com has a good summary of where that leaves the reading social networking sites. The comments are also good, and this is definitely something to keep an eye on.
  • I was at a meeting last week when someone mentioned https://www.facebook.com/thebig6ebooks - a Facebook page devoted to highlighting that "Six major publishers are making it difficult, if not impossible, for libraries to purchase eBooks." It lists bestsellers, and indicated whether or not they're available to libraries - and why. Neat. Thanks Deb.
  • A helpful skill for librarians is being able to tell accurate information/resources from junk. Boing Boing recently pointed to some tips on how to tell if a photo has been faked. Good stuff, especially the tip on using Google Image Search as a reverse image search (click the little camera by the blue search button). Its like Tineye, but Google, so probably more powerful.
  • And finally, in the same "how to look smart" category, my coworker Sharon sent me a link explaining what different browser errors and codes mean. This will be very basic for some people, but will pull back the curtain for many others and show that the internet isn't run by magic, and error codes are knowable and logical. And often, even helpful.

And now back to your regularly-scheduled Friday.



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