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



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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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Reference Question of the Week – 11/25/12

   December 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

This isn't a reference question, but it is something desk staff face on a daily basis.

The clip below comes from an episode of Family Guy from a few weeks ago - initially I cringed at negatively portraying public libraries, but then I realized just how amazingly accurate it was. The librarian could be nicer though:

I'm sure every library has its "regulars," but I was struck by how well the writers captured a typical interaction - how, no matter what, it's almost impossible for staff to extricate themselves. Now that is a skill I would love to learn.

I've asked if we could have some kind of button installed under the desk that would just make the phone ring, so we could use that as a reason to break off the aimless and never-ending conversations. No progress yet on a button, so I need to come up with other ideas.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/11/12

   November 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Knitted diceI've said before that one of my favorite types of reference questions are those I can answer from personal experience. This time, unfortunately, I fell short of living up to my reputation.

A women I had worked with at another library emailed me this question:

...Have you got a pattern for a whistle cozy? ...I need one. And saw your dice pattern on ravelry...so... Got one?

She's referring to a pattern I created to knit a set of Yahtzee die for my brother. That actually wasn't far off from a whistle, but without getting myself a whistle and figuring it out, I had no idea how to modify the pattern to accommodate it.

So, I hoped I could find one online. But when I searched for "knit whistle cozy" (and variations), I kept getting patterns for cozys for penny whistles:

Super Simple whistle case pattern

That pattern is basically a thin sock (with no foot), so it shouldn't be too hard to make. However, when she said "whistle," I was thinking more of a referee whistle - and now I wasn't sure what she wanted.

So, before I emailed her back, I kept looking to see if I could find a referee whistle cozy. I searched through Ravelry, a lot of other websites, and checked the index of all the library's knitting books, but I couldn't find one.

Inhaler Sock to the Rescue!However, I did find something close (if you sort of squint your eyes and hold your tongue just right) - a pattern for an asthma inhaler sock.

That seemed shaped more or less like a whistle (and as the creator also noted, more or less like a small foot), so again the pattern is more or less a very small sock pattern. And the best part is that she came up with the pattern herself.

I wasn't sure if either of these patterns would help my friend though, so I put them both into an email, said I wasn't sure about the penny whistle/referee whistle thing, and sent it off.

Shortly thereafter, she wrote back to say it was indeed a referee whistle she was talking about. It turns out a friend of hers is a security guard, who could use something to keep the duty whistle warm and clean. Awesome.

The success of this answer really depends on my friends knitting skills, but hopefully one of these will work. If I were to try it, I think I might just go with the dice pattern and put a little spout on one end - but thankfully, I don't have to. Good luck, E.



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