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



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/26/13

   June 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Quote: You've really got to start hitting the books because it's no joke out here.  -Spike LeeIn case you missed the discussion or the post on LISNews, there have been a flurry of great "library one-liners" on the publib email list. Nothing I could come up with can top these, to please check them out. A few of my favorites were:

I need a photograph, not a painting, of the meteor hitting the earth and killing off the dinosaurs.
~ Dusty Snipes Grès – Ohoopee Regional Library – GA

I once had a patron complain because our color copier wouldn’t make color copies of his black and white Resume. I never did figure out exactly what he was expecting.
~ Michael Gregory – Campbell County Public Library – KY

Patron - I'm looking for information on the Sultana Indians
Me (after a long and fruitless search) - where did you get this reference?
Patron - I dreamed about them.
~ Lisa Richland – Floyd Memorial Library – NY

The problem is that, while reading through the submissions, I immediately started thinking of resources that might be used to answer them. Oh well.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/19/13

   May 25th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Even the most rotten weeks can have bright spots - and here's a spectacularly shining example of why working with the public can be rewarding.

Just opposite my library's Reference Desk are doors leading out to our courtyard. While I was sitting at the desk, a mom and her three year old daughter came in from the courtyard and walked right over to me. The mom encouraged her daughter to ask me her question, but the little girl froze and went into the hide-behind-mom's-leg defensive position.

So, the mom asked:

We were outside and noticed the bird bath was dry. Do you have a watering can so we can fill it up, because she feels bad that the birds can't get a drink.

I'm sure we have a watering can but I have no idea where it is, so I went into the staff room and grabbed a pitcher. Both of their faces lit up when I came back out to the desk, and they took it back out into the courtyard:

filling the bird bath

I was pretty happy throughout this entire exchange too, and wanted to snap a photo before the moment ended. When the mom returned the pitcher and said thanks, I showed her the pictures I took and asked if I could share them.

This is one of the best reference questions ever, and I think it was a good day all around at the library - yay, libraries!



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/12/13

   May 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Juicing with Kids book coverMy library tracks desk statistics only one week each quarter, putting tick marks on a tally sheet whenever people ask desk staff a question.

We also use these sheets to create a "no list" - a record of any time we have to tell a patron "no" for any reason (to help improve our yes-based policy). Usually, the reasons are "no, we don't have that book/subject," but also things like "no scanner" or "no jumper cables" show up.

Last time we did this, one staff person wrote down, "no juicing books." To me, "juicing" has always meant taking steroids, but in this case I guessed they meant making your own fruit and vegetable juices at home. So, I wanted to fill this hole in our collection by ordering a few juicing books.

My first stop for topics like this - popular topics I want to purchase quickly - is to search Amazon. I always use the Advanced Search so I can limit to new printed books, in this case published after 1/1/13 - there are quite a few.

But I was surprised, as I started to click into titles that looked good, just how many were CreateSpace books. It's not unusual to see them on Amazon of course, but they generally don't make up 80-90% of new books on a topic. But in this case, that was easily the percentage.

I found a few non-self-published books to purchase, but also ordered the CreateSpace title Juicing Recipes From Fitlife.TV Star Drew Canole For Vitality and Health. Our Selection policy specifically mentioned we don't buy self-published books, but in this case it was by far the most highly-reviewed book on the topic, so I figured our patrons would like it too.

With the rise of ebooks, I suspect lots of libraries will have to amend their "no self-pubs" policies, as self-published books - and quality self-published ebooks - become more prevalent. We'll still need to apply some selection criteria, but at the same time, I suppose the risk is lower - hopefully these ebooks will be cheaper, and we won't have to worry about them falling apart quickly.

Regardless, I think I will always consider "juicing" an undesirable activity, so I can't help but do a double-take on a title like Juicing with Kids. Not entirely unlike my perennial favorite bit of irony, Homeschooling for Dummies.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/28/13

   May 4th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Movie set signI have no idea how many patrons librarians help over the course of a day or year, but it's true that every single one of them has a unique story.

A few months ago a patron asked for help uploading photos of himself to a website. It turned out it was an actor's auditioning website, and the photos were head shots and full body shots for casting agents to pick from for extras in movies. Uploading the photos wasn't too difficult, but it took some doing to get them right-side-up and sorted correctly. I helped the patron for maybe ten minutes, he thanked me and left, and I didn't think any more about it.

This past Wednesday the patron came back in to thank me. He was excited, saying he got the part in the movie, filmed three scenes, and it was a magical experience. I don't know if he came straight from the set or what, but he was clearly still on cloud nine.

The film is American Hustle - there's not much information on IMBD, other than it has a bunch of big names in it and it's due to be a Christmas blockbuster. Apparently it was filming in Philadelphia but had to find a new location, so they came up to Boston and Worcester - hence the need for more local extras.

The patron said he shot scenes with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. The film is loaded with stars, but I can't wait to see it just to try to spot this patron.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/21/13

   April 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

emailreceiptA patron came up to the desk, saying she had an email question.

After a bit of a convoluted story, it boiled down to this: she was applying for a job, and emailed her information to their HR person. But she never got called for an interview, because the HR person said she had never received the patron's information. The patron wanted to know if there was a way to prove that the HR person did get it, because she knows she sent it.

The patron seemed to be fairly knowledgeable about computers and email, but I explained anyway that it is certainly possible for something not to get delivered, or get blocked for whatever reason, or go into a spam folder, etc.

Having a message in her own Sent folder would indicate when it was sent. That can probably be manipulated so I don't know if it'd be admissible in court, but in this case it might be good enough if the HR person was willing to listen.

But what the patron really wanted was confirmation that the HR person received the email. I didn't know how to find out after-the-fact (other than subpoenaing their server logs), so I told her about delivery receipts and read receipts. These are the little confirmation messages that come back to let you know someone got and opened your message.

Since it was the closest thing to what she wanted, we went into her email account so I could show her how to use them. However I explained that these aren't foolproof either - not all email clients will honor them. In fact, the email client I use offers a setting to ignore them.

receiptoptionhorde

She had both a Gmail and a Yahoo account, and it turns out - much to my surprise - neither one lets you request receipts.

I did some quick checking online, and it seems like Yahoo doesn't offer receipts at all, and Gmail only with their business accounts (not the free version).

Well, like I said, I was surprised. I tried searching for ways to make it happen anyway, and it looks like there are only two options: use an email client like Thunderbird or Outlook (which, for a patron using a library's public computer, isn't actually an option), or use one of the many email receipt services out there. Another website I found had some trickier solutions, but were too complicated for our purposes. There's also Boomerang for Gmail, but since that needs to be installed in the browser, it likewise wasn't appropriate.

Until this day I didn't even know these existed, so I have no idea how well they work. The patron was interested in the free web-based services, but only future-tense. Unfortunately, it looked like she was out of luck with her original question. I think she knew that before she even asked, but hoped librarians had some magic we could work - I hate disappointing patrons.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/14/13

   April 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This week I have almost nothing to say. First, everyone here has been focused on the bombings in Boston and the ensuing manhunt, which thankfully ended with an arrest Friday night. Secondly, this week was also school vacation week in Massachusetts, which always makes for a slow time at the Reference Desk.

No Tax SignAs a result, the most notable question of the week was actually the lack of a particular question. Friday, April 19th, was the first day since January that not one person asked me for tax forms. Now that is a milestone worth celebrating.

Hopefully next week things will return to normal, and I'll get back on track with library stuff - and put away our tax form display for another year.



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