Archives for Reference Question:
August 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This was a simple question with an interesting answer, but also a case of continuing after the patron had left just for my own entertainment.
A patron overheard me telling a coworker about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower this weekend, and asked me for more information. We looked up a few websites, all of which described the best way to enjoy the show (this from Sky and Telescope):
" ... find a spot with an open sky view and no late-night lights nearby. Bundle up warmly, lie back on a ground pad or reclining lawn chair, and watch the stars. ...
"Be patient, and give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the darkness. The direction to watch is not necessarily toward Perseus but wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up."
Even with there being no moon, the patron was still wasn't sure if our area would be dark enough. Chelmsford is somewhat rural, but not too far from a few large urban areas, and I really didn't know how much their lights would affect us.
I was hoping someone had done some kind of light pollution map mashup, creating a tool that let us zoom right into this area to see how much light pollution would affect us. So, I did a hopeful search for "light pollution map" and the first result was exactly what I was looking for.
The Dark Sky Finder is a Google Map superimposed with light pollution data, and we were both surprised to see how illuminated our area is. However, it gave the patron some ideas on where to go, so he was happy.
I, on the other hand, love maps so I was having a great time. I played with the Dark Sky Finder for a bit, then went back to the initial search results because it also brought up a few static maps too. But, something occurred to me while I was looking at this NOAA light pollution map:
Obviously, light pollution is concentrated around large urban areas. It reminded me of recent election results maps, with Democrats centering around urban areas, and Republicans covering rural areas:
Matching up the red areas on the light pollution map to the blue areas on the election results maps produces only one obvious conclusion: Democrats cause light pollution.
Okay, now back to work.
August 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
I just ran across this saved reference question, from the week before July 4th. It would have been a little more appropriate to post it then, and I don't know how I forgot, considering I have a memory like a steel sieve.
But anyway. So, a program we offer at my library is called "conversation circles," which are available in a few different languages. They are informal groups, lead by a volunteer, open to anyone trying to learn the same language. It's not a formal class, just a casual opportunity to practice something you're learning.
Our most well-attended conversation circle is for people learning English, and most of the attendees are recent immigrants from a variety of countries. As such, the volunteer leaders help them learn American culture in addition to English.
The week before the Fourth of July, I got an email from our volunteer coordinator:
[The volunteer leader of the English circle] is looking for some suggestions to help teach the folks in the Conversation Circle about the town's 4th of July celebration. They all currently live in Chelmsford but are from China and Russia, so I thought if she could refer to a holiday they celebrate in their countries it might help her explain our 4th of July more easily. The folks she works with have none (or very limited) English skills.
We actually have a DVD documentary about our Town's July 4th parade made by a local filmmaker, and our local cable station's website has online videos of past parades, too. Another immediately-to-mind resource is our Town's Parade Committee's website.
Those visuals should give a good portrayal of what an average American parade is like, but not exactly explain why we celebrate that particular day. The best way to answer that seemed to equate it to a comparable holiday in other countries, so the first resource I went to was our print copy of Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary.
Unfortunately it didn't give a ton of information, but I was able to get the names of some holidays to further research online - which lead to:
Neither Russia nor China really have a comparable independence day - celebrating the birth of their nation by fighting for independence from a colonial power. But these two holidays both seemed close, and the way they celebrate them are similar as well. Both are celebrated with parades, fireworks, and parties nation-wide (although I don't know if they have cookouts and hotdogs).
This wasn't an especially difficult question, and since it was just a quickie answer, I may have missed a few other options. But I thought I'd share this anyway because I really enjoyed it - not just the mental exercise of the self-reflection of July 4th in terms of what and why it is, but also looking for parallels in other nations to bridge cultural gaps. I had never heard of either of those holidays, so yay for learning something new.
Tags: 4th, american, fourth, holiday, independence day, july, libraries, Library, of, public, Reference Question, usa
July 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Remember in library school, during the reference course, how they taught that the reference interview is important? The example I heard more than once was, if someone asked for a book on "whales," do they mean whales or Wales?
Obviously, a little of the mystery is lost when you see it typed out instead of hearing it, but I think you get the idea. However, with that in mind, I'll type out a question I got this week, spelling the important word phonetically.
Two men in their early fifties walked up to the desk on Friday afternoon, and one of them asked me,
Where are your "say-uhl" books?
Now, I immediately start running through the options:
- Books on sailing, or sailboats, or rigging a sail?
- Books on sales, and being a salesman?
- Books on selling things on eBay?
I really had no idea, and had to ask him to clarify. However, before I tell you the answer, take a guess on what you think he was after.
Give up? He was looking for the books we had for sale. Our Friends group maintains a book sale cart of books, and after the reference interview got us on the same page, I happily directed him to it - and the two men happily walked off toward it.
I don't know why, but it's little things like this that entertain me during the day. And trying to come up with a phonetic spelling for "sale."
July 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I've talked about pay phones before, but I like them - and we do still get asked about them - so here's the latest pay phone question.
This week, a man came to the Reference Desk asking if we knew where any pay phones were. The phones in the shopping plaza across the street were removed earlier this year, which were the last pay phones in town I knew of.
Since the pay phone was removed from our lobby, our policy has been to let people use desk phones. I offered this to the patron, but he declined because it was going to be a long call to Worcester, MA (which would also be a long distance call). He said he preferred a pay phone, so my coworker and I and the patron brainstormed where one might be.
We thought of all the high-traffic retail centers, but couldn't definitely remember seeing one anywhere. Eventually the patron thanked us, and just sort of wandered away.
This bothered me, so that night after work, I went grocery shopping. My grocery store is in a big shopping plaza*, and I drove around slowly really looking for a pay phone. And, success! I found one right outside the entrance to Wal-Mart:
At the library the next day, I relayed my find to my coworker, and also the patron who came in later. We thought this could very well be the last pay phone in town, and thought the only way to be sure was to drive around trying to spot them. Not being a digital native, you see, it took awhile before I realized that this is why Facebook was invented.
I asked on the Library's Facebook page if anyone knew where there were pay phones in town, and immediately got some responses:
Great! Crowd-sourcing Reference Questions is kind of fun - and certainly provided a better answer than I did for the patron. This might even motivate me to create a Custom Google Map of local pay phone locations - it would be a challenge to maintain, but there certainly is no other resource for this question.
*This plaza just got a Five Guys!
July 13th, 2013 Brian Herzog
It's things like this that make me love working in public libraries.
A patron was using our public typewriter*, and came to the desk to say that the backspace key was no longer working. It's an electric typewriter, and has an automatic erase/correction tape built into the backspace key - what was happening was that when she hit backspace, the typewriter was no longer erasing the character she had just typed.
I am no typewriter repairman, but to me this sounded like the correction tape had reached its end, and needed to be replaced. My first thought was a bit of terror - there couldn't possibly be anyone that still sells correction tape for this model typewriter.
However, I remembered cleaning out some cabinets in the Reference Office a few years ago, where I found the typewriter manual, as well as some other typewriter-looking odds and ends. I threw them all in a box and left them in the cabinet.
Good thing I did (but of course I would - that's what librarians do). I checked that box**, and sure enough, we had a box of correction tape reels in there. I have no idea how long they last, but I've been here for almost eight years and don't think it's been changed in that time. It's possible the remaining three reels will last another century or more.
Anyway, I replaced the correction tape in the typewriter for the patron (which took a little bit of figuring out), and she said thank you and kept right on typing.
Usually, this is my only goal - to make sure patrons can use library resources. In this instance though, it was kind of a let-down - sure, to her of course we'd be able to do this so she could continue her work. But to me, holy smokes, not only did I just get asked to repair a typewriter, but I actually found the parts to do it, and did it successfully. Yay, libraries! Tom Hanks would be so proud.
*Yes, we still have a typewriter for people to use. It's a Canon ES20, and it gets used maybe once a month. Usually people need to fill in pre-printed forms, but a few parents also use it to show kids how a typewriter works. I love that libraries offer such a spectrum of resources for people - we have a typewriter and fax machine, as well as print-from-home and a electric car charger. In fact, while I was working on the typewriter, I could hear a coworker at the Reference Desk helping someone download an ebook to her Kindle Fire.
**Also in this box was another ink ribbon for the type writer, the manual, the manual to our Canon 400 microfilm machine, spare bulb for the microfilm machine, and manual for the Canon Fileprint 250 printer connected to the microfilm machine. Now that is what I call an Awesome Box.
July 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
We have lots of tutors that use the study rooms in the library. One of them emailed me for help looking for a test prep book for a particular exam:
I am trying to search for a practice book for the PRANCE exam- no luck.
If possible, please reserve one for me.
I searched the catalog, and sure enough there were no books for this test. I had never heard of this particular exam before, so I turn to the internet to find out more about it. However, my search for PRANCE exam turned up unexpected results.
You see, I was so focused on exam books that I was totally taken by surprise when the first search result was a YouTube video of two girls taking a prancing exam in a ballet school.
[Note: normally I'd embed the video here, but I don't want people to think I'm making fun of the girls. Of course, most graceful movements looks odd out of context - even Pranercising - but what I found humorous here was my own tunnel vision.]
Anyway, after watching an enjoying the video, I got back to work. None of the results looked like a test the tutor would be looking for, so I figured PRANCE must be a typo. The Google search results page helpfully listed some Did You Mean suggestions for both PRINCE exam and PANCE exam, so I checked them both out.
PRINCE looks like a project management technique used in the UK - probably not the right thing. But PANCE is a physician assistant certification test, which sounds much more appropriate.
I emailed the patron my results, but later that same day she came up to the desk. I explained the confusion, and she confirmed it was PANCE her student needed help with. We didn't have any PANCE prep books in the catalog, but that is one of the exams covered by the LearningExpress Library database, to which we subscribed. I showed her how to access the database and drill down to that exam, and she was very happy.
It wasn't until after she left that I realized my tunnel vision had struck again, also with - when coupled with my juvenile sense of humor - humor results. If you don't see why it's funny, try asking people if they'd like help preparing for their PANCE exam. Just, not in the library - you'll probably get thrown out for violating the Appropriate Library Behavior policy.