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



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/17/13

   February 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Ebay listing for 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws CHARTER American ADULTERY Leather BOSTONThis isn't a reference question, but I think it is by far the most interesting email the library received this week. The message below was sent to my Director, and was then forwarded to our cataloger and me to look into:

Subject: former(?) Rare Chelmsford Library Book 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws

Hello, I noticed this rare book for sale on ebay and an image shows an ownership label of your library. I'm not interested in buying it, just wanted to bring it to your attention in case this rare item had been removed from your collection. No response needed to me.

Wow. We checked out the ebay listing for this book, and sure enough, the inside cover has a old Chelmsford Library bookplate:

Adams Library bookplate

None of us ever recalled seeing this book in the collection, or even anything remotely like it. We have lots of old historical and vital records, but none leather-bound or particularly valuable.

There was no record in the catalog for this item at our library (although a nearby library does have it) - which means this item could have been weeded and discarded, sold as a fundraiser, or stolen by fiends any time in the last 100+ years.

Since we have no way to know, there's nothing we can do. I do occasionally hear about stolen library books being sold at auction (or worse, maps or color plates cut out of library books), but in this case I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It is an interesting situation though. If anyone would like to purchase it and donate it to the library, please let me know.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/20/13

   January 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Jumper cables on a car batteryIt's been really cold in this area this week, so this question is quite timely. However, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.

When I came in to work on Wednesday, a coworker related this incident from the day before:

A patron's car wouldn't start in the parking lot, so she came back in the library to ask staff for help. She asked at the circulation desk, and they sent her down to reference. Apparently she didn't have AAA or anyone she could call to help, so she was kind of stuck*. However, only one staff person in the area had jumper cables, and he said he couldn't do it for liability reasons. The patron left reference, and by the end of the night her car was gone from the parking lot, but no one is quite sure how she got it started.

The coworker who relayed this story to me was basically asking if staff handled it correctly, and should the library help someone jump start their car. It's something we've done in the past (I personally have), and I think she felt bad this patron was turned away (especially with our "getting to yes" policy).

We don't have any kind of formal jump starting policy (I mean really, who does?), but because it happened once, I thought it was worth exploring. The Director and I discussed it, and ended up posting this on our staff blog:

Patrons and Jumper Cables

Last week a patron’s car wouldn’t start in the parking lot – she didn’t have AAA or any other way to deal with it on her own, so she came into the library and asked if staff could help her.

The Town cannot accept liability for Town workers to jump cars for people (so it’s okay to say no). However, any staff person that is willing to help on their own (with their own car and jumper cables) is free to assist the patron (but they need to know that you’re doing this on your own, not as a library employee).

Instructions on how to jump start a car using jumper cables [pdf] (from Car Talk)

If this happens at closing time, and there is no way to start the patron’s car and no one else they can call for help, please call the Chelmsford Police non-emergency number 978-256-#### to let them know there is a car stranded in the library parking lot.

This seemed to be a good compromise - the Town can't be responsible for untrained staff jumping someone's car, but if a Good Samaritan staff person knows what they're doing and is willing to help, they can. I always feel a little bad when a limit to what a public library can offer is hit, because I still want libraries to be able to do anything.

Also, a note on the instructions: I know different people have different ways of jump starting a car, so I searched around online to see if there was a safe consensus among experts. The guys at Car Talk are expert enough for me, and their method was backed up by other places too.

 


*I recently had major car problems too, so I can empathize.



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Book-Related WPA Posters

   January 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This might not be new to anyone, but one of my Christmas gifts this year was a neat reproduction of a WPA poster:

Thanks Tom & Julie

I didn't know these posters were available, but apparently, since they are public domain, they are all over the place. The Library of Congress has the main archive (these are fun), and many people reuse the artwork to sell posters, bags, and just about anything else.

So, I get a fun poster out of the deal, but the real message is this: putting things into the public domain does not stifle commerce; absurdly-restrictive copyright does.

Update:
Oh yeah, I forgot to include this link: Vintage Ads for Libraries and Reading - more good stuff. Thanks again, Tommy.



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How To Address An Envelope

   December 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Nicely serendipitous with last week's reference question, the library recently received this envelope in the mail:

Envelope addressed: Chelmsford P. Librarian, Chelmsford Public Library, 25 Boston Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824

I'm not sure if this was deliberately done by a person, or just a computer filling in empty fields - either way, this sort of thing can brighten my entire day.

I hope everyone has a good holiday season - I'm visiting family in Ohio for Christmas, so I'll be off until next week. Oh, and regardless of your religion or tradition, be sure to search for Festivus on Google - enjoy! (hint: look to the left, and scroll down)



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/9/12

   December 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Insufficient Address StampThis is actually a "personal experience" reference question - I liked it because it was a fun challenge, but also it made me laugh because it shows you what I get up to in my free time.

Earlier this week I received an envelope in the mail at my house, and it was obviously a Christmas card. However, it wasn't addressed to me - it had my address, but not my name, and I didn't recognize the return address.

Being a reference librarian (and very neighborly), I thought I could just find the right person and deliver it myself, instead of sending it back to the post office to be returned all the way to Texas (based on the return address) - which means it wouldn't have arrived in time for Christmas.

So, looked up the name in the phone book to get the correct address, but it wasn't listed. I also tried searching online, but couldn't find it there, either.

At the library, we have a "List of Residents" which lists people both by name and by street address - however, I don't work in the same town in which I live, so I called my own town's library to see if they had a similar list.

I explained my situation to my colleague there, and of course she was happy to help. She looked up the name I gave her, but it wasn't listed. Then, she went to the "by address" section and, starting with my address, looked at my neighbors' names to see if any matched. I live and #36, and she got all the way to #3 before she found something - but not an exact match.

The first name matched, but the last name, compared to what was written on the envelope, contained a couple extra letters. Phonetically the names probably sounded the same, and I figured that if the sender got the address wrong, she might have misspelled the last name too.

This all took place on a Wednesday, and when I drove by the house after my night shift at the library, all the lights were off in the house so I didn't stop.

However, the next morning on my way in to work I did. I rang the doorbell twice, but no one answered. Just as I was getting back into my Jeep, an older man stepped out of the doorway. I think he regarded me with a little suspicion, but when I walked up and said I lived down the street, he relaxed a little. I gave him the envelope and asked him if it was his name, and it was (although misspelled). We had a little laugh over it, he thanked me, and I continued on to work.

The funny thing is, not a single Christmas goes by that there isn't someone who comes in to look up a neighbor's last name, or a friend's street address, so they can send them a card. Our List of Residents is one of my favorite resources - hyper-local, authoritative, and there is nothing else like it that is as exhaustive.



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Librarian-Related Gift Ideas

   December 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog

This time of year always brings out the "best gifts for" and "best of the year" type lists. Instead of adding my own lists to the pile, I wanted to highlight two slightly different takes on library-related gift ideas:

First, a great blog post by the Nocturnal Librarian - instead of trying to find the one right book for someone, she came up with a much better idea:

My idea of the perfect gift book is not going to be yours, and might work for your sister but not for your grandfather, your niece, or your teen. So I suggest the gift of professional reading advice.

Read the full post.

And secondly, Stephen Colbert has the best possible advice I wish everyone would gift to the librarian in their life:

Stephen Colbert's message

Via LISNews, that is the gift that can make any day Christmas Day.



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