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



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/15

   April 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

IRS scam alertWorking at a Reference Desk isn't all about funny misunderstandings. Sometimes it's very serious, as this week's question shows. However, two things about this question:

  1. It actually happened last week morning of April 15th
  2. Wednesdays are my late shift, so I only heard about how my coworkers handled this when I came in at 1pm - but they did everything right and I thought it was worth sharing

Apparently, an older female patron came up to the desk and asked for help scanning and emailing something. One of the desk staff showed her how to get started scanning, and went back to the desk. A few minutes later, the patron came back over and asked for help emailing. After a short conversation, when the patron found out the scanner can't email things itself but instead she needs to send it from her own email account - which she didn't have - she put her head down on the table and said,

You just don't understand, you don't understand how serious this is, I'm going to be arrested!

Everyone knows library staff are not supposed to ask why when helping patrons, but they rightly did in this case.

It had been all over news outlets this tax season how there was a new kind of scam: you'd get a phone call and the person would say they were the IRS and you needed to send them money or else you'd be arrested. That was exactly what was happening with this patron - she had just deposited her money in an account in the bank across the street (which was not her bank), and had come to the library to scan and email the deposit slip to "the IRS" so they could withdraw it.

Thank goodness our staff caught on. The patron had a hard time believing she was being scammed, but staff insisted. They brought her into the office so she could sit down relax, and staff called the Police. When the officer arrived, he listened to the situation, and then left with the patron to go over to the bank.

As far as I know, we never heard back about what happened, but it sounds like the situation was derailed in time - at least, I sincerely hope so. And, there are two other comments about this interaction:

  1. My coworker who was helping the woman said the patron's cell phone kept ringing the entire time, and it was the scammer! I guess he knew he was close to getting his money, so he kept calling to find out why she hadn't sent the email yet. Finally my coworker took the woman's phone and told the scammer that they knew what was going on and exactly what she thought of him. I'm sorry I missed that.
  2. Since this was all happening in the public area, and the woman was clearly in distress, of course it caught the attention of all the other patrons in the area. As it unfolded and everyone realized she was being taken by a scammer, other patrons sitting at the computers nearby starting chiming in with their own comments - ranging from advice to criticism on her being dangerously gullible. Now that is almost as pathetic as scamming the elderly out of money.

Anyway, the whole situation seemed to be handled perfectly by the staff, so way to go to them.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/12/15

   April 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Willy Wonka meme: Oh you can get Russian girls?  Tell me your secret.This week's question is really only funny because of an amazing coincidence, and for the ensuing internal embarrassment.

On Thursday this week, a young woman with an Eastern European accent came up to the desk and said she had something she needed to print. She could see it in the email on her phone, but not when she logged into her Yahoo account online - so what could she do?

Our Print from Anywhere service allows people to submit print jobs by email, so I explained how to do that. It's kind of a long email address to type, and when I pulled out our brochure which has the email on it, she said thanks and took it over to a nearby table to actually send the message.

A few minutes later she came up and said the email was sent. I logged into the web print queue and scanned the list to find an email job (by far most of the jobs come through the web interface, so the emailed ones stand out). I saw one, saw it hadn't been printed yet, and released it.

As I picked it up off the printer, I glanced at the front to make sure it printed okay, with no smudges or anything. There weren't, but what I did notice (which is more than I should, I know), was that it was an email from someone named Olga saying she was from Russia and found me attractive. In fact, this is what it was*.

What? I blushed and just handed it to the patron. I thought, well, maybe she doesn't speak English well, and was more comfortable taking time to type all of this out instead of saying it to me. I thought maybe if I just handed it to her we'd avoid that awkward yet common patron-hitting-on-librarian situation. We've all been there, right?

So she took it from me, and then immediately said,

My name's not Olga. This isn't mine.

Oh.

I took the print back from her, and went back to the print queue. I refreshed it, but no other email print job was listed. Hmm.

We looked at her phone, and sure enough, she hadn't actually sent her message yet. So she did, it showed up, I released it, and she was happy.

Two more comments about this:

  1. I know this is a common type of spam, but sending it to a library's print queue and letting it lie in wait for a single male librarian to accidentally print it is impressively strategic thinking.
  2. I don't think the patron picked up on any of this, because she just wanted her print job. I, on the other hand, immediately started looking forward to sharing my ridiculous ego with you.

 


*I blacked out our web print email address, just in the hopes of cutting down on any future spam sent to it.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15

   April 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Alright, this question can be filed under, how maybe not to run a scavenger hunt.

Last Saturday I came in to work for a few hours in the morning to cover for someone*. Before we opened to the public I was updating some of the computers, and was still sitting at a public workstation when, a few minutes after opening, two of my coworkers walked up on either side of me. They asked,

Coworker 1:
Brian where are the tickets? Everyone's asking for the tickets. Where are they?

Me:
[minding my own business]

Coworker 2:
Brian the Police hid tickets in the library. We don't know where they are - do you?

I had no idea what they were talking about - and to be fair, they didn't really either, because all of this was news to us.

Apparently when they unlocked the front doors at 9:30 that morning, a couple parent/kid combinations all rushed in and started looking for hidden Red Sox tickets - and of course, asking the staff where they were hidden. This was the first any of the Saturday staff was hearing about it, so they came to ask me to see if I was in on the secret. I was not.

It turned out the Chelmsford Police Athletic League has been picking a public building in town, hiding tickets to a Red Sox games somewhere in the building, and then posting on their Facebook page hints to let residents find them. They didn't let the library know beforehand though, so this was all news to us - which I don't think any patrons believed when they asked everyone on staff where the tickets were. And, my coworkers didn't believe me either.

On the one hand, what a nice thing for the CPAL to do for people. And, great that they thought to include the library - especially given the hints (more on that in a minute). But on the other hand, it really sucks to have kids crawling under tables while other patrons are working at them, and having frantic parents who promised their kids free Red Sox tickets becoming increasing intense as time goes on that They Must Find The Tickets. Basically, being in a library and not doing library stuff is really distracting to all the patrons who are there doing library stuff.

But anyway, here's the details on how everything went down. The day before, CPAL posted this photo on their Facebook page as a hint to where the tickets where hidden this time:

cpal1

Now that's a tough hint - I mean I recognize our carpet and public workstation leg, but how many patrons would? A few at least, as it turned out.

And as the people came in looking for them, this was the only clue that we had too. So it meant they were in the library, but where? Taped to the bottom of one of the public workstation tables (which is what this leg is)? That means crawling under every single computer table, and then every other table, to find out. No? Well then, where else could they be?

In case you haven't noticed, there are millions of places in a library to hid two tickets. After an hour of frantic searching, the tickets still hadn't been found - and still no one believed me that I didn't know where they were.

Then another photo was posted:

cpal2

Which brought all the searchers downstairs to the non-fiction section. But still no success, and shortly thereafter a third photo hint appeared on Facebook:

cpal3

By this time staff were all checking the Facebook page too, to learn anything we could about where these tickets might be. After refreshing the page and seeing this third photo, I looked up from the computer to see one mother who had been searching all morning making a beeline back to the 700s (which are back past the Biography sign).

A few minutes later she came out of the stacks with a tremendous relived smile on her face. She had found them! Tucked inside the displayed book. As word spread that they were discovered, and where, word spread back that apparently multiple people had already thought of this logical spot and checked this very book - but somehow had missed the tickets.

And then, as quickly as the ticket search had begun it ended, and the library immediately quieted back down to a normal Saturday morning.

So to recap: a treasure hunt in the library is a great idea for a program, and, clearly, if you have a nice enough prize, people will be highly motivated to participate. However, the better the prize, the more annoyed all the other patrons will be at the disruptive treasure hunters. And, if you're not affiliated with the library, please give them a heads-up beforehand so staff will at least know what is going on. But it really is a nice thing the CPAL is doing - maybe I just annoy easily.

And I swear, I really didn't have any idea this was happening, and didn't know where the tickets were. My coworkers still don't believe me.

 


*So in other words, I'm not even supposed to be here today.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/29/15

   April 4th, 2015 Brian Herzog

2015irswhenwilliThis was an extremely timely question - and one I even personally benefited from.

A patron came to the desk and asked if he could find out if the IRS had mailed him his tax refund check yet. This year has been notorious for longer-than-usual waits for everything from the IRS, but he said he'd mailed in his paper tax returns over a month ago and in past years the IRS has had pretty quick turnaround on refunds.

Coincidentally, I also do my taxes with paper forms, and mailed them in just about a month ago, and likewise have not received my refund check yet. So this patron made me realize I had the same question he did - although I didn't know it until he came in.

Anyway, a rather tongue-in-cheek search for has my tax return been processed led us to the IRS' 2015 Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions, which in turn lead us to the appropriately-named Where's My Refund website.

On this site you have to enter your social security number, your filing status, and your exact refund amount, and it then tells you where your return stands. The patron didn't know his refund amount, but this was clearly the right tool for the job, so he wrote down the URL, thanked me, and left.

When I got home that night, I entered my own information (and although the URL is https://sa.www4.irs.gov, I still felt uncomfortable entering it online - I'm paranoid!), and was happy to see this:

2015 I.R.S. refund status

I said this was a very timely post, because I learned that my check was mailed on the very day I looked it up. So yay for that to look forward to - and also yay for discovering a tool I think might become somewhat popular in the next few weeks. And while I'm handing out the yays, yay to the IRS for making this tool available, easy to use, and very clear. I know they're being roundly maligned this tax season, but not all of it is deserved, and here's proof.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/22/15

   March 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Card catalog: London - MarriageThere really was nothing to this question, other than I thought it was neat and a creative idea. This came into the general reference email inbox this week:

From:
Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
To: askus@mvlc.org
Subject: Card Catalog

Good Afternoon-

My name is [...] and I am a high school teacher in town. My fiancé, [...], is a life long resident of Chelmsford and currently teaches at the high school as well. We are getting married this fall and are hoping to include a theme of vintage school, as it was education that brought us together. We want to incorporate as much school and hometown as we can into our centerpieces and we're hoping Chelmsford Library may be able to help us. We were wondering if you had any wooden card catalog container you were willing to part with. We could clearly make a donation or pay for them. If you could let us know we would be extremely grateful.

Unfortunately, all I could really do was write her back saying that no, we don't have those anymore.

And honestly I think that if we did, we certainly wouldn't sell it and I'm not even sure we'd loan it out for a use like this. Maybe, depending on the size, but those are such a hot commodity now that they are a lot more valuable than people think.

But it did get me wondering about other sources for wedding "props" that would be either educational or of local interest. I presume they've already checked around the local schools, for desks or tables and such things. Any other group that I work with regularly - the historical society, local museums, even Town Hall - probably wouldn't lend their pieces to be used at a wedding. Beyond that, it's either local consignment shops or getting lucky knowing someone who has something.

Which is kind of too bad - a card catalog would make any wedding more interesting.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/15/15

   March 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

artwalklogo175I had to wait to post this one until the event had passed, because I didn't want to skew the results. And also as a caveat emptor right up front, this might be one of those "you had to be there" moments, because the set up is long so the punch line may be anti-climatic. But it's the second day of Spring and it's snowing again, so here we go anyway.

Every year since 1993, Chelmsford has had a town-wide Winterfest celebration during February. That's fun. A couple years ago, the organizers also started an ArtWalk - artists created work around the same theme, and these were displayed in business' front windows in the town center. This gave people another reason to be outside and walk around Town, and also drew people to the shops.

This year, an element of competition was added - people could cast votes for their favorite display.

I was asked to help figure out a way to allow online voting for the ArtWalk displays. SurveyMonkey seemed easiest, so the organizers took photos of the displays, I added them to a poll, and we promoted the URL around town so people could vote (this, by the way, is why I waited on this post - I wanted the voting closed so that spambots wouldn't link from here and ruin the poll).

Okay, so there's the set up. The displays were going up on Saturday, February 7th, and the voting would open on Sunday the 8th. And of course, we were promoting the ArtWalk beforehand, and I think some of the artists had been talking it up too.

So now the punchline (I wanted to warn you it was coming so you didn't miss it): on the Wednesday before, an older gentleman came up to me at the desk and said,

I'd like to cast my vote for the Winterfest artwork. I saw the one I liked. Do I do that here?

I was a little puzzled, and told him that no, voting doesn't start until Sunday, and the displays themselves don't go up until Saturday. To which he replied,

Oh, I don't know anything about it. My wife just told me to come down here and vote for hers.

Ha. See, that was totally worth it. As a reward, take a look at the 2015 Chelmsford Winterfest ArtWalk displays. The photos don't really do them justice, but it's a fun program anyway.



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