August 2nd, 2014 Brian Herzog
This is a question from when my website is down - I only mention that because of the postscript at the end.
I haven't gotten this type of question in awhile, and finding the answer has never come this easily.
A young girl came up to me at the desk asked for "a blue book with fish bowl on cover." She couldn't remember the title except thought it was something like "one at a time." I asked her if she knew the author, and she said it was a blue book with fish bowl on cover. I asked her what the book was about, and she didn't know - she said her teacher was reading it to the class and she liked it.
So, I did a web search for blue book with fish bowl on cover, and the very first image in the results was exactly what she was looking for. Incredible.
I searched our catalog for Out of My Mind, only to find our copy was checked out. I offered to request it for her, but she declined. I hate that.
So the postscript is that this question is from May, apparently when this book (or at least, searches for this book) was more popular. It really was the first search result, and that's what shocked me and made me think it was a post-worthy reference question. I mean, how often does that happen?
While typing up this post though, I had to really look for the cover image in the results, as it had been bumped way down. Maybe I just got lucky, or that library serendipity was strong with me that day. Or maybe Google's search algorithms really are effective in making zeitgeisty things more prominent.
In any case, I could just have easily been asked this question this week, and the process of finding the answer would have been different - which I find interesting.
A reader sent in this tip, which had not occurred to me: instead of including the word "blue" as a search term
, try leaving it out and using Google color search tool
. Much better results - thanks, Jessica!
July 26th, 2014 Brian Herzog
A patron asked for help using our public scanner. She had forms from a court in Rhode Island that she needed to scan, fill in the information, and then print to bring to court. No problem, right?
We scanned it, OCR'd to Word, and she spent time filling them in. I then showed her how to save a copy by sending it to herself in email. She said she knew how to print, so I went back to the desk.
A few minutes later she came over and said her document wasn't printing. I walked over and saw the printer was asking for legal paper in tray 1. Since the forms we scanned were legal size, I should have anticipated this, but I got some legal paper for her, put it in the tray, and waited with her to make sure it printed okay.
When it came out, I picked it up off the printer and was happy to see everything was formatted correctly on the legal paper and the print job looked fine. Except, the patron was not happy - when she saw how long her document was on legal size paper, she said,
That's no good; the court will never accept that weird long paper.
I honestly didn't know if it would or not, but since it is legal paper, and the same size as the forms they gave her, I thought it was a pretty safe bet that they would. But she insisted on reformatting the document to print on 8.5x11 paper.
Luckily she had sent it to herself in email, because she had already deleted the new Word file. So we downloaded and opened it, I showed her to how change the page size, and then she went through comparing the text to make sure everything was there before printing on regular paper.
She asked me to shred the legal size copy - which I did, but not until after asking her if she was sure she didn't want to take both to court just in case. She did not.
July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog
Here's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.
A patron called with this complaint:
I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?
Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.
So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.
I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).
Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:
"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.
So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:
"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.
Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.
Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.
Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.
July 12th, 2014 Brian Herzog
Questions like this are the reason I keep coming to work. The phone rings...
Me: Reference Desk, can I help you?
Patron: Can you ask Wicked Peter what his real name is?
Patron: H.R. Pufnstuf
Patron: What is H.R. Pufnstuf's real name? What does the H.R. stand for?
Holy smokes. I search Google for just "h.r. pufnstuf" and the first first result was a Wikipedia entry (ah-ha, Wicked Peter = Wikipedia, so that's one mystery solved).
That article, along with a few other websites I checked, said the H.R. stands for "Royal Highness" (backwards - or "His Royalness"), according to the shows creator, or "hand rolled" (a pot reference), according to its fans.
I never watched this show, so I don't know about the pot reference. But since this was about the same time as Puff the Magic Dragon, I guess people making that sort of connection isn't surprising.
Anyway, I told the patron that it stood for His Royalness, but other people thought it stood for other things. That must have been enough, and the patron said thanks and hung up.
July 5th, 2014 Brian Herzog
I like to have somewhat topical posts around holidays, and I just had this exchange with a patron on Thursday that seemed vaguely Patriotic (at least, Government-related).
A patron called and asked if we could hold Hillary Clinton's new book Hard Choices for her. I looked it up in the catalog, and asked for her library card number so I could place the hold.
After I did, she asked me what time we were open until that night, so she could come pick it up.
Me: Oh no, I'm sorry but there's a waiting list.
Patron: Okay, so I can pick it up on Monday?
Me: No - all system copies are checked out, and there are 100 people ahead of you on the wait list for it.
Patron: A hundred? Sheesh, she'll be President by that time.
I thought that was funny, but also funny is that 100 holds isn't very many. Still, it's frustrating to see us wiped out of a resource.
August 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog
Because this is Labor Day weekend and I want to be outside instead of in front of a computer, this week's reference question is going to be a little different so I can hurry things along.
In fact, it's not a question at all - it's answers to questions I truly hope someone asks me about at the Reference Desk. Part of being a librarian is having the information ready to go for when someone comes looking, but the problem is that people don't always ask about the really cool stuff. To wit:
- A couple years ago a huge earthquake hit New Zealand, and among the damaged buildings was the cathedral in the city of Christchurch. While they wait for a new cathedral to be built, the constructed a temporary one out of cardboard:
Read more here and see construction photos in the Christchurch City Library's flicker set.
- Speaking of cathedrals, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, has a stained glass window called the "Space Window." Its imagery depicts planets and stars, but best of all, at the center of one image is an actual moon rock:
- And finally, out in the plains and deserts of the American west, there are huge concrete arrows on the ground. Why? To guide early airmail pilots:
At one point the arrows stretched from New York City to San Francisco - now that is cool. Read more at Snopes.
If anyone ever gets asked about one of these things, please let me know. Or if you have some trivia you're just waiting to be asked about, share it in the comments. Happy Labor Day.
Tags: air mail, arrow, cardboard, cathedral, libraries, Library, moon rock, national, new zealand, public, Reference Question, space window