Here's a question I may not have been able to answer successfully a few years ago - actually, luck had a lot to do with this success, because even for my community the answer would still be mixed.
A patron emailed in to ask,
Do you know who would have Lowell High School yearbooks available?
Lowell is the city next door to the town in which I work. We have a print collection of Chelmsford High School yearbooks, so my first thought (that is, my first hope) was that the Lowell Library would have the same for their high school*.
Unfortunately, when I called over, the librarian there said they do not have a yearbook collection. She suggested the Lowell Historical Society, which was a good idea. I looked up their number online, but unfortunately they weren't open right then.
However, their website did list their research collections, which didn't seem to include the yearbooks. But for whatever reason, this made me think I should search online for the yearbooks, to see if any other groups might have them.
So that was pretty happy - astounding, in fact, and it looks like only online since 2012. I emailed the information to the patron and never heard back, which I took to mean he's still poring over the online versions. Great.
And as I said, if he had been after Chelmsford High yearbooks, my answer would have been different - we have easy access to the print copies in the library, but there is no online collection (that I know of). So, this might finally prompt me to get OCI or the Boston Public Library to scan them for us. Yay for the free digitization services that can put these wonderful resources online. But oh, having enough time during the workday to actually do my job would be such a luxury.
*I'm a firm believer that public libraries should all have complete collections of the local high school yearbooks, but this is much easier said than done. The CHS yearbook advisor and I have a good working relationship, and it is still unnecessarily difficult to make this happen. The only thing more difficult is a non-student trying to get access to the school's collection of yearbooks.
This was actually a reference question I asked myself, but it's sort of summery so maybe relevant to other people - and, hopefully, helpful.
I was outside playing one day a few weeks ago and ended up with pine sap on my favorite pair of shorts. That's the worst because I don't like going shopping, and I thought that sap meant pretty much the end of clothes.
I was sad, so I put them aside in the hopes that the sap would just evaporate naturally. I came across them last week, and was able to determine that sap doesn't naturally evaporate out of shorts.
Since no laundry experts were around to ask, it occurred to me search online for "remove sap from clothes" to see if the internet had any ideas. I figured they did, but also figured it involved vinegar - which seems like the magical cure for almost anything, but is too bad because I can't stand the smell of vinegar.
So, with the optimism appropriate to any new trip on the internet, I started clicking links.
There was no shortage of tips and old school remedies, as you might suspect. The consensus seemed to be rubbing (or soaking) the spot of sap in anything from laundry detergent to cooking oil to WD-40 (surprisingly, vinegar was not mentioned).
Most of the options were either things I didn't have, like nail polish, or didn't actually trust, like peanut butter. But one that kept coming up - hand sanitizer - sounded interesting.
I don't have any at home (because, you know, super-bacteria), but it seems to be everywhere else so it was worth a try. I was especially swayed by this guy's video:
My shorts are cotton, but if it works so magically on his, why not mine, right?
And holy cow, it worked! Mine took three applications - my guess is because it was a big blob that had soaked through the cotton (and I had already washed and dried them) - but it worked. In just a couple minutes, it was as if the sap was never there. I don't know where it went, but it went away.
Besides the magic, it must be the alcohol in the hand sanitizer breaking down the sap, but I couldn't be happier to be able to wear my favorite shorts again stain-free.
I told him we'd be happy to order the large print edition for him, but then he asked something surprising:
Patron: I've noticed that different publishers have different size large print, and sometimes it's not that much larger than regular print. If it's not going to be much bigger than regular print, then I don't want to wait a whole moth for it. Can you see how big the type will be in that book?
Uhh... that is something I've never been asked before. I have noticed over the years that some "large print" books definitely have larger type than others, but never thought much about it. And certainly have never considered trying to find out how large the print will be before a book is published.
However, being Amazon, they do have the "Look Inside" feature - unfortunately in this case, a message said, "This view is of the Kindle book. A preview of the print book (Hardcover edition) is currently not available."
Well, since size varies by publisher, I offered to go to our large print room and grab some other books also published by Thorndike Press Large Print, and try to describe to him how large the type was. Or pull those as well as a book he'd read recently and relate the size of the two, but the patron felt it wasn't worth it. He said to put him on hold for the regular print copy, and when it came in if it was too small, he'd call back.
He never did, at least not to me, so hopefully he enjoyed the regular print edition comfortably.
The National Association for Visually Handicapped (NAVH) provides the NAVH Seal of Approval to commercial publishers for books that meet their large print standards. (Lighthouse International acquired NAVH in 2010).
Flexible binding recommended to allow open book to lie flat
It's remarkable that I've worked in libraries for almost 15 years now and don't think I've ever seen these standards. I suppose I always knew there must be some, but never went beyond that. And I know the publishers want a balance between the comfort of low-vision readers and keeping printing costs low, but even 16pt seems a little small to me.
However, I suppose this is the single greatest advantage of ereaders - sure they can hold a lot of books, but being able to adjust the type size depending on your reading conditions is something print book just can't do. Large Print audiobooks, though, are a different story.
I know I tend to be overly-paranoid, but sometimes reference questions are so unusual that I think they just have to be some "secret shopper" type test to see if I'll take them seriously. One such question came in via email last week:
Sent: Tuesday, June 09, 2015 5:11 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Chelmsford Library Reference Question
Comments: Do you have reference/source documents on trade of goods/ideas from Asia to Europe during the 18th Century? I am a French & Indian War re-enactor, and I am looking to doing some research on whether certain items, bamboo training sword and stuff like that, as well as knowledge of martial arts would have been traded during this time period.
Thank you for your assistance.
What the heck? It sounds both plausible and ridiculous at the same time. However, since that's the kind of criteria that interests me, I looked around to see what could be found.
My coworkers had already pulled the few books we had on the French and Indian War, but they weren't much help. And we didn't have any resources on Europe-Asia trade in the 18th Century, so I continued looking online. The best I could find were references to European colonization of Asia, but not much specifically about the trade of bamboo swords or martial arts training.
So, I replied to the patron with what I could find:
Since we didn't have any luck with library resources, I tried to find other organizations with more expertise in the French and Indian War. Here are a few groups that might have the information you're looking for:
I did find a reference stating that the French and Indian War was the name of just the North American theater of the Seven Years War, which took place in other parts of the world simultaneously, including Asia. It looks like France, England, and Spain had various battles in Asia, mostly in India and the Philippines. Although fighting happened at the same time as the French and Indian War in North America, I wasn't able to find any cross-over between the two areas.
I'm sorry we can't provide more direct help, but we will keep looking at let you know if we find anything with the connection you're looking for. Thanks.
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library
Very shortly the patron replied:
Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 7:38 PM
To: Chelmsford Library Reference
Subject: Re: Chelmsford Library Reference Question
I thank you very much for your assistance, and I must especially thank you for going several steps beyond what I expected, it is greatly appreciated!
I always feel a little guilty when a patron thanks me even though I don't feel I helped very much, but perhaps one of the museums will provide the information he's seeking. And I've been mostly out of the library since this question came in, but now that I'm back I can continue looking - I still have the patron's email address, and who knows what further research might find.
Still, though - I will admit to looking this patron up in the catalog to make sure he was real before I started working on the question.
So, Monday was a odd day. All three of these (slightly odd) reference interactions happened in the space of a few hours:
1. A patron, who had been sitting at a table near the Reference Desk for a couple hours, walked up and asked,
Could I have a minute of your time?
Which I immediately thought was suspicious - it felt like he was going to try to sell me something. Then he starts this three minute ramble that his dog just died, and he just buried him, it was a Pomeranian, he was sad, he'll miss him, and it was cremated and he buried the urn.
All the while I was listening and starting to feel sad for the guy, but on the other hand was still skeptical and expecting him to ask me for money or something. Or at least get to the end and ask me a reference question.
When he finally did pause, I said something like, "I'm very sorry, that is terrible" - and then he just said "thanks for listening" and went back to his table!
Now I felt terrible - he was upset and just needed to talk to somebody, and here I was expecting a scam. I don't think he noticed though, because later when he left he smiled and said goodbye.
2. A little while after that, one of the volunteers who leads an English Conversation Circle came to the desk and said she wanted to ask me about proof of residency. She said many of her attendees have only recently come to this country and are living with their kids (who are adults). They don't have driver's licenses or any ID with their local address, and she wanted to know what they could use for proof of residency.
My initial thought was that it all depends on who they are trying to prove it to - the library, for example, will accept pretty much any mail (but preferably a bill) with their name and address on it. But she specifically said they weren't applying for library cards - she just wanted to talk about the concept of "proof of residency" in the next conversation.
I know Massachusetts issues non-driver's license ID cards, through the RMV, so I checked their website. Their requirements to get that ID don't seem to include any kind of proof of residency, and people with certain kinds of Visas are allowed to get one too.
I've never really thought about it before, and although it does seem kind of odd that you'd just walk in and tell them where you live, I guess you have to start somewhere. This might just be me being security-paranoid again.
3. And then, almost at the very end of my shift, a patron who had been in one of our study rooms for a couple hours comes up to the desk. He's got his bag, some books, a small box, and a lot of loose papers.
He asks to use the stapler and tape, which is no problem.
Then he asks if he can hang a flyer on our bulletin board, which he hands to me. It's for a fundraising road race for a non-profit, so I tell him that is also no problem.
Then, THEN, he asks me if I can hang it up right then, and if he can video record me while I hang it, because he's producing a promotional video for their Facebook page.
Well, that feels a little weird, but not so weird that I say no. So we go upstairs to the community bulletin boards right by the front entrance. It's kind of a big sign, so I need to make some room for it as he's getting his phone ready. I ask him for any last minute directorial suggestions, to which he said, "um, just pin it to the board is fine."
So I do, and we pull it off in one take. What professionalism!
I may have hesitated more for another group, but this fundraiser benefits a charity in the name of a local kid who was injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, so it certainly is a good cause. I haven't seen the video posted yet, so keep checking.
These may not have been real reference questions, but the Reference Desk certainly is not a boring place.
This is, hands down, one of the saddest reference interactions I've ever had.
One evening a couple weeks ago, a young girl came up to the desk with a stack of pages she had just picked up off the color printer. She said the photo was coming out too dark, and she handed me one to show me what it was:
See, that's sad. She wasn't exactly crying, but you could tell that the too-dark picture was just the latest in her series of unfortunate events.
It was easy enough to go back to her computer, save the file onto a flash drive, and then print it to the staff printer at the Reference Desk. For whatever reason, those copies came out just fine, and she was happy.
While we were waiting for the copies to print, I asked her a bit about her cat. She was hopefully he'd be found, so I wished her luck and then she left.
I debated leaving her contact information on the sheet - after all, you'd need it to contact her. However, I was just not comfortable putting a little girl's personal information online, so if you happen to be in the Chelmsford area and spot this cat, please contact me and I'll forward it to her. But since this was a couple weeks ago, hopefully he is found by now.