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



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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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IRS Accounting Thoroughness

   March 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

I know the IRS prides itself on keeping track of assets, but it makes me laugh every time I see the packing lists that come in tax forms shipments from the IRS:

IRS packing lists

The first line on the top packing list (1 Z Shrink Wrap) accounts for the shrink wrap used to seal the forms, and the first line on the lower list (1 E 182 W) accounts for the one Envelope used. Now that is some fine-tuned accounting, and I can appreciate that.



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Things You Don’t Learn in Library School

   February 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Outside Shoveling - Be Back SoonDuring a library meeting yesterday, someone used the phrase, "and that's not something I learned in library school," in reference to something they frequently do at the library - which reminded me that I had this in my to-blog folder.

I'm sure every librarian could easily make a list of similar tasks - something you have to deal with on a regular basis or a part of the job you take for granted now, but was never even hinted at during your LIS coursework.

The iLibrarian blog points to two such lists - one for Academic Librarians, and this list of things Public Librarians deal face, ready or not:

  1. Janitorial Work
  2. Mental Illness
  3. Public Health
  4. Activism
  5. Complaints
  6. Exorbitant Fines
  7. Sexual Situations
  8. Vandalism
  9. Parent/Child Discipline
  10. Violence

Be sure to click through and read the descriptions. It's definitely worth it for new librarians - experienced libraries will see some that are familiar, and should give thanks for those that aren't.



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