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

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/25/13

   August 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Because this is Labor Day weekend and I want to be outside instead of in front of a computer, this week's reference question is going to be a little different so I can hurry things along.

In fact, it's not a question at all - it's answers to questions I truly hope someone asks me about at the Reference Desk. Part of being a librarian is having the information ready to go for when someone comes looking, but the problem is that people don't always ask about the really cool stuff. To wit:

  • A couple years ago a huge earthquake hit New Zealand, and among the damaged buildings was the cathedral in the city of Christchurch. While they wait for a new cathedral to be built, the constructed a temporary one out of cardboard:
    cardboard cathedral

    Read more here and see construction photos in the Christchurch City Library's flicker set.

  • Speaking of cathedrals, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, has a stained glass window called the "Space Window." Its imagery depicts planets and stars, but best of all, at the center of one image is an actual moon rock:
    space window
  • And finally, out in the plains and deserts of the American west, there are huge concrete arrows on the ground. Why? To guide early airmail pilots:
    air mail arrow

    At one point the arrows stretched from New York City to San Francisco - now that is cool. Read more at Snopes.

If anyone ever gets asked about one of these things, please let me know. Or if you have some trivia you're just waiting to be asked about, share it in the comments. Happy Labor Day.

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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 – 7/21/13

   July 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Save the Wales t-shirtRemember in library school, during the reference course, how they taught that the reference interview is important? The example I heard more than once was, if someone asked for a book on "whales," do they mean whales or Wales?

Obviously, a little of the mystery is lost when you see it typed out instead of hearing it, but I think you get the idea. However, with that in mind, I'll type out a question I got this week, spelling the important word phonetically.

Two men in their early fifties walked up to the desk on Friday afternoon, and one of them asked me,

Where are your "say-uhl" books?

Now, I immediately start running through the options:

  • Books on sailing, or sailboats, or rigging a sail?
  • Books on sales, and being a salesman?
  • Books on selling things on eBay?

I really had no idea, and had to ask him to clarify. However, before I tell you the answer, take a guess on what you think he was after.

Give up? He was looking for the books we had for sale. Our Friends group maintains a book sale cart of books, and after the reference interview got us on the same page, I happily directed him to it - and the two men happily walked off toward it.

I don't know why, but it's little things like this that entertain me during the day. And trying to come up with a phonetic spelling for "sale."

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Attractive Reading and Library Tidbits

   July 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a couple of unrelated interestingnesses this morning.

The first is a neat image my friend Chris forwarded me from something called Facebook:

Reading a book from the inside

I don't know anything about this image, other than I like it. And it would be a good image for a caption contest.

Secondly, last week on BoingBoing Cory highlighted some Dewey Decimal System jewelry, made from old catalog cards:

Dewey jewelry

There's lots of it available on Etsy. I think it'd be fun to match the Dewey subject to the function of the piece - like, a ring magnifying 395.22.

Yay for creative people.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/30/13

   July 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

EDU test prep booksWe have lots of tutors that use the study rooms in the library. One of them emailed me for help looking for a test prep book for a particular exam:

I am trying to search for a practice book for the PRANCE exam- no luck.

If possible, please reserve one for me.
Thank you

I searched the catalog, and sure enough there were no books for this test. I had never heard of this particular exam before, so I turn to the internet to find out more about it. However, my search for PRANCE exam turned up unexpected results.

You see, I was so focused on exam books that I was totally taken by surprise when the first search result was a YouTube video of two girls taking a prancing exam in a ballet school.

[Note: normally I'd embed the video here, but I don't want people to think I'm making fun of the girls. Of course, most graceful movements looks odd out of context - even Pranercising - but what I found humorous here was my own tunnel vision.]

Anyway, after watching an enjoying the video, I got back to work. None of the results looked like a test the tutor would be looking for, so I figured PRANCE must be a typo. The Google search results page helpfully listed some Did You Mean suggestions for both PRINCE exam and PANCE exam, so I checked them both out.

PRINCE looks like a project management technique used in the UK - probably not the right thing. But PANCE is a physician assistant certification test, which sounds much more appropriate.

I emailed the patron my results, but later that same day she came up to the desk. I explained the confusion, and she confirmed it was PANCE her student needed help with. We didn't have any PANCE prep books in the catalog, but that is one of the exams covered by the LearningExpress Library database, to which we subscribed. I showed her how to access the database and drill down to that exam, and she was very happy.

It wasn't until after she left that I realized my tunnel vision had struck again, also with - when coupled with my juvenile sense of humor - humor results. If you don't see why it's funny, try asking people if they'd like help preparing for their PANCE exam. Just, not in the library - you'll probably get thrown out for violating the Appropriate Library Behavior policy.

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Does Customer Service Go Both Ways

   July 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a quickie pre-4th of July post. This picture surfaced on Reddit awhile ago, but I still find it interesting:

sign with different prices for being polite

On the surface this sign is great, and almost makes it worth it to charge for library materials just so we could do this. But then it also implies that we would treat people differently, which I don't like. It's tough to politely serve some* library patrons, but that's what we're there for. I wonder if rewarding polite patron behavior actually increases it, or would it breed obstinacy in patrons who otherwise would be perfectly fine but don't like being told what to do.

Not to mention that this sign kind of punishes shy and anti-social people, through no fault of their own. I think stores and restaurants where the workers shout "Good morning!" or "One in the door!" from across the room should have to charge less when it makes customers uncomfortable.


*Threatening or insulting behavior is a whole different topic

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