January 25th, 2014 Brian Herzog
Here's something nice about librarians: we know that one of the best ways to self-medicate is with information. One of my co-workers told me this story - it could have happened to anyone, but since she approached it in a librarian way, I figured other people would enjoy it too.
My coworker was talking to her sister recently, who had hurt her arm and was required to sleep with her arm propped up. Which sounds normal enough, but this idea struck terror into the heart of my coworker.
One of her childhood fears, that has stuck with her all her life, is sleeping with her arms propped up. It stemmed from reading a book of Christian stories in her dentist's waiting room - the story was about how Jesus knew you were dead and ready to be taken to Heaven if you were in bed with your arms propped up.
She decided to search to see if she could re-locate whatever story this was - because no one else remembered reading it. She searched for various combinations of keywords (jesus dead holding up hand childrens story), and eventually she found it!
It's called Jesus Understood, and I agree with her that the whole thing comes across now as pretty creepy. I had never heard of this propped hand = Heaven idea, but I can see why the last sentence might stay with a child:
It's a short story (just three pages), so read it and see what you think.
Anyway, I thought this was a very librarian way to face a childhood terror - go back and find the source, and see how it reads as an adult. Hopefully my coworker can now sleep peacefully.
January 18th, 2014 Brian Herzog
I don't like applying the label "victim mentality" to people, but sometimes, it really fits. In this case, it seemed like this patron delighted in being "subversive," and all the government-sponsored persecution it might entail.
Late one afternoon, a patron walked up and said something about big brother. I didn't catch it all, partly because some of it was nonsense. I asked if I could help, and she said she didn't think so, because the powers didn't like what she was doing on the internet.
Still a bit at sea, I asked if she was having trouble with one of our computers. She said she was having trouble with all of our computers, because They didn't want her hearing the message. Because the powers don't like it.
We had a little back-and-forth for a few minutes. Sometimes I wish my library had security cameras, just so I could replay for people conversations like this - because there is just no way an after-the-fact description can do them justice.
Eventually I figured out this patron was watching videos on the Michael Savage website. But when she did, our computers would shut down. According to the patron, she had tried multiple computers over the course of a week or so, and all of them did the same thing. The video would start, then the computer would shut down. I see this as a technical issue, but she was convinced the government didn't want her hearing Michael Savage's message, and so was turning off the computers deliberately.
Ironically, perhaps, I believe she was coming to me for help, despite me being a government worker and possibly part of the conspiracy to keep her down.
Anyway, I tried to approach this from a technical "videos sometimes crash browsers" aspect (like I do many times a week because that's just how the internet is), but she refused to hear any explanation that didn't involve black ops. I kept asking questions, trying to diagnose the problem - did it happen on other websites, were there popups, did it happen right away or after a bit of time, etc.
Finally, she let slip some actual information that helped: the videos would play for about ten minutes, and then the computer would restart. She figured this was how long it took for the government censors to catch on, but I knew ten minutes is actually how long we have Deep Freeze's inactivity limit set for.
So now this should be an easy fix - and it's not actually uncommon. Since our computers are public and we want them to reboot automatically if someone walks away and forgets to end their session, we have Deep Freeze do this reboot after ten minutes of inactivity. If someone is watching a video, usually they're not typing or moving the mouse or anything. The computer interprets this as inactivity=patron walked away, so it reboots.
I tell the patron all she needs to do is move the mouse every so often when watching a long video, to let the computer know she's still there, and it won't reboot.
Simple! Problem solved? Nope!
See, this answer didn't involve President Obama, so I think it was difficult for her to accept. After a few more minutes of explaining though, I think I convinced her it was worth a try next time she came in.
She hasn't come back up to the desk since then though, so either it worked, or the government stopped its monitoring.
January 11th, 2014 Brian Herzog
One of my favorite things about working at a Reference Desk is encountering things I probably would never have found in my normal life. This question wasn't at all challenging, but it's something I probably never would have known had this patron not called.
So, a patron calls and asks if we have a encyclopedia of music theory. I said we didn't, which is true, but I told her we have lots of music books, which is also true, and I figured we could find in one of them whatever she was looking for. She seemed skeptical, but was willing to let me try. So then she asks her question:
In regards to music theory, can you tell me what a licorice stick is?
Now, even though I grew up in Ohio and speak like a Midwesterner (which is to say, proper American English), I usually have no trouble deciphering the New England accent here in Massachusetts. However, I had no idea what this woman just said, so I asked her to repeat it. Twice. When I asked her to spell it, she finally she said, "licorice, you know, like the candy."
I could feel her skepticism growing, but now at least I knew the question.
And we're already a minute or two into this call, so in the interest of speed, I do a quick search online for "licorice stick" music theory - and it turns out that was enough. From skimming the first page of results, the consensus was that "licorice stick" is what jazz musicians call a clarinet.
I relayed this the patron, and her response was,
Oh yes, that makes sense, now can you tell me Benny Goodman's first name? Have you heard of him? Was his first name really Benjamin, or something else?
Again, a quick web search and Wikipedia told me his full name is Benjamin David "Benny" Goodman. The patron thanked me and hung up.
I knew jazz people have words and jargon unto themselves, but this was a term I'd never heard - and not being a jazz person myself, may never hear again. But if I do, I'm hep, daddy-o.
January 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog
So, here's an odd question that came in twice - once to my coworker and then later to me.
When I answered the phone, the patron asks,
Can you tell me the phone number for 1-800-Go-FedEx?
At first it sounds like a prank phone call, but this is actually a good example (ie, trick question) for a reference services class. This particular patron is blind, and so can't easily correlate the letters of "Go FedEx" to numbers on her phone's keypad.
I'm not an expert on accessible equipment, so maybe there are phones that do have the letters indicated too, but this seems like a perpetual problem for low-vision people.
Anyway, instead of manually figuring this out with our desk phone, which would have taken more time, I just did a quick search for "800-go-fedex" and found it listed on FedEx's Customer Support Phone Menu webpage as 1.800.463.3339.
And my call was the second time. Earlier that evening, my coworker had told me she got this call (and that it initially struck her as odd until she recognized the patron's voice) - but I guess the patron had forgotten the digits in the meantime.
Tags: 800-go-fedex, blind, fedex, letters, libraries, Library, low-vision, numbers, phone, phone number, public, Reference Question
December 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I was out all this week for Christmas, so this question is from last week.
In library school, I learned in my Reference courses that there are three types of questions public library staff should not answer - medical, legal, and financial - because we're not qualified to give professional advice in those areas. This patron's question adds a fourth type of question To Never Answer:
Patron: Hey Brian, do you know how to fix a snowblower?
We had gotten two snowstorms that week, and he explained that he tried to push his snowblower into an frozen snow bank, and it stopped working. This is one of our regular patrons, and, not to be mean, but, I'm honestly surprised he could even use a snowblower, let alone try to fix one.
I told him no, I didn't, which is true. The only thing I know about snowblower repair is to clear jammed snow with a stick, and not your hand, in case the blades continue to spin after the snow is cleared. I did help the patron quickly look up a few potential repair shops, and hopefully he was able to get it working again.
Speaking of snowblowers, have you ever seen how they clear railroad tracks? Just knowing that exists makes shoveling my driveway easier.
December 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's hoping I can crowd-source a reference question to help someone. I received the following message through the contact form on this website:
OK, this is my final attempt to research something. I'm going to pass it to you and then hopefully let it go! My mother died two years ago, Dec. 29th at the age of 91. We had a wonderful final six years together when I moved her to live in a small single floor house right across the street from me. We were great friends, always. (Well, maybe not in my tantrum throwing years) She told me of a saying she learned when she was a girl scout, of all places, that she was able to rattle-off with great speed until the day she died. If I had asked her, she could have made it the last humorous comment of her life. I am so haunted by it because I CAN'T find it anywhere on-line. I only remember bits of it. Now I'm going to see if YOU can research it! It HAD to have existed. Someone else MUST have known it, too. It was a humorous collection of "almost" cuss phrases. See what you can do with this pitiful hint: "son of a biscuit basket cheese and crackers got damp down in the (cellar overnight)" It was longer than that, and my quote may be flawed, after all, I am 67!! My memory is cruddy!! I always meant to write down this whole litany or memorize it, but never did. Do you think you can research it for me? It would help put this aggravating issue to rest in my own brain. Thanks.
I've certainly heard "naughty" rhymes like this, and when I searched online for variations of the key phrases, I did find a few that sounded familiar - though a bit ruder and not quite like what the person quoted.
I found a couple that are close, but don't seem as long as she was looking for:
So, are there any girl scouts out there that know this rhyme?