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

Archives for Resources:

Web Tool for Filling in PDF Forms

   February 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

FillAnyPDF.com logoFile this web tool under "why didn't someone think of this before?" FillAnyPDF.com lets you upload any pdf or image file (such as a blank form), type on it, and then save the completed form as a new pdf file.

It's not perfect, but it's easier than a typewriter. I'll use this both for patrons and myself, and I'm still surprised there aren't tons of these sites out there.

via LibraryStuff

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Reference Question of the Week – 1/24/10

   January 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Raggedy AndyPatron comes to the desk and asks,

Are you Andy?

I say no, and he looks a little puzzled, but then continues:

Oh. We can't make the projector work for our meeting, and when I asked for help and the desk upstairs, they said come down here and ask for someone. I forget what name they said, but they said look for the redhead, so I just figured your name must be Andy.

And yes, he was serious, but he did apologize when I said my name is Brian.

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Resources for Free Images and More

   November 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

squirrelSometimes, being a librarian equates to being a packrat. At least in the virtual world, I can collect as many links as I want and it doesn't take up any room. However, to be useful, it does take organization.

For awhile now I've been bookmarking posts about free resources for clipart, photographs and other artwork. I use them for library publications, and also for my posts here. But just this week I got my act together and started transferring those links from my Bloglines account to my Delicious account, and thought I'd share them.

If you're curious how to do this with Delicious, check out my how-two post for creating library subject guides.

And just for good measure, here are a few web design tools I had bookmarked, too:

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Free Access to Ancestry.com’s Military Resources

   November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ancestry.com logoIn honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.

An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including

...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.

Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.

via LibraryStuff

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What’s In Your Ready Ref?

   September 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ready Reference CollectionI've been working on an answer to Debbie's comment about a guide to ready reference, but am sorry to say I haven't been able to find one.

Searches on the web found a lot of great ready reference lists of websites, but not print books. Amazon lists some, but I don't have them to review. I remember having such lists in my library school text books, so maybe that's the best place to look.

But as I thought about this, and looked at what's on the ready reference shelf at my library, I concluded two things:

  1. To be effective, the ready reference collection needs to be tailored to the library and its patrons. My current ready reference collection is very different from the one we had behind the desk of the Kent State University Library when I worked there, but they are equally appropriate
  2. The best thing to do might just be to ask other librarians which print ready reference resources they like and use

So in the spirit of the second one, here's an overview of resources on the ready reference shelf in my library. If you're so inclined, please share what you've got on your shelf - I'd really be curious to know.

For staff to help answer computer questions:

Things that don't really get used but I feel we should have:

Quick Facts & Referencey books (for annual resources, we keep the current year in ready reference and move past years to the reference collection):

Government Information:

Business Directories:

Local Information:

Shelved right next to the desk

Granted, many of these only get used once or twice a year, if that, and almost all have online versions (or equivalents). But I really like being able to answer a question just by grabbing a book within reach, showing a patron how to look it up, and then let them sit at a table absorbing the information. I don't know, it feels more tangible and satisfying than relying on Google for everything.

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Library Day in the Life Project 2009

   July 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Today, July 27th, 2009, I'm participating in "Library Day in the Life Project" (more here) I'll be live-blogging what I do during my 9-5pm shift at the reference desk. And today might be more interesting, since my coworker called in sick.

Today's To-Do Pile (so far)9:00 am: - Get to Library

  • sort mail, make "to-do" pile for the day
  • find out catalog is down, put out-of-order signs on lookup stations
  • check Reference Desk email, respond to 2 emails
  • start pulling books requested by patrons over the weekend (we call this the "pull list")

9:30 am: - Library opens to public

  • grab cordless phone and keep pulling books
  • field lots of phone calls from people requesting museum passes
  • 9:50 am - catalog comes back up; can start placing requests for books that I'd been keeping on note paper so far this morning
  • Update events listing on homepage, and book sale drop-off schedule


  • help someone locate a lawyer in the area; make note to improve "find a lawyer" section of our website
  • 10:40 am - all public computers are in use
  • assorted reference questions
  • take recently-returned books off shelving cart from circ desk to put on sorting shelves; put pull list books on cart to take up to circ desk

Mysterious Box from Ebsco11:00-12:00

  • sudden rush of in-person patrons and calls, need to IM director to come to the desk for backup
  • date and shelve latest Banker's & Trademan, Morningstar, CQ Research, Central Register and Goods and Services Bulletin to collection (which arrived in the mail this morning)
  • patron calls: "what was that Glenn Close movie from the 90's where she died and came back in someone else's body?" I didn't know, so went to IMDb and read her all the titles from the 90's, and then 80's, before she recognized "Maxie" (from 1985)
  • open mysterious "fragile - glass" box from Ebsco - hey, we won an award (more on this soon)
  • trying to help patrons and type about helping them at the same time is really difficult


  • try to coordinate lunch breaks, so ref desk is covered while I'm eating
  • patron asks: "if I give you someone's name and social security number, can you tell me their address?"
  • show a student how to log into databases to research the science of attraction
  • finally finish placing requests for all the items on my note paper from this morning
  • well into the lunchtime lull - slow enough to spend a few minutes straightening the 520's, which I noticed were a mess while doing the pull list this morning
  • too bad today isn't one of the days we track stats (by counting the number of questions asked) - it was a busy morning, but not with questions significant or interesting enough to type here
  • print 1 and 0 to participate in Library 101 video


  • working my way through to-do pile - all mail and catalogs dealt with, now on to magazines
  • just extricated myself from one of our chatty regulars - 10 minutes of monologue; I just listened, but I'm exhausted
  • 1:30 pm - time for lunch (my first break of the day) - yay


  • back from lunch (turkey, lettuce and tomato on wheat from Subway)
  • the August BookPage arrived - two patrons asked for one while I was taking them out of the box
  • Patron called to ask for the phone number of Sotheby's, Christie's, Leslie and Leigh Keno, and Skinner's. After I gave them to her, she asked if I thought they would auction something she was going to send to them as a photo from her camera phone
  • Circ desk called to tell me there's a pizza delivery guy here with three pizzas, and do I know anything about it. Turns out, some kids called and wanted them delivered to the front steps for a study break on the library lawn


  • today must be spring-cleaning day; I've had three calls from people asking how they can donate books to the library - why, on our drop-off days or using our new drop box, of course
  • quiet afternoon means I was able to add a big stack of new magazines to the catalog with only two interruptions (usually Tech Services adds items to the catalog, but I'm filling in while someone else is out sick)
  • scan some recipes for a coworker to email to her mother
  • while adding magazines to our catalog, I noticed a couple not listed on our website's periodicals listing. So, I printed the webpage to compare to our latest Ebsco list


  • trying to find empty carts - some of our pages have been off on family vacations, and we've had so many books returned in the last couple days that we're running out of room
  • started creating a Legal Information Resources subject guide webpage - needs much more work, and isn't linked-to from our website yet, but it does have a feed in from our Delicious account
  • just did an Abbott and Costello routine with phone patron on reserving museum pass: "you'd like the pass for the twentieth? No, the twenty-eighth. Okay, the twenty-eighth. No, not the twentieth the twenty-eighth. Yes, the twenty-eighth. No, not the twentieth..."

5:00- - Bonus Time (staying over to cover for someone to take her dinner break, because she's been here since 11am and is working to 9pm)

  • Things I have not done today that I wanted to do: read rss feeds in Bloglines, do selection (via rss and journals), sort donated genealogy books to see if they should be added to collection
  • patron: the computer I'm on isn't playing sound. me (after walking over to the patron's computer): oh yes, I'm sorry, the sound card on this computer isn't working (I say this as I casually point to the hot pink sign taped to the computer). patron: so that applies to me, too?
  • actually getting some selection done - made it halfway through 7/09 Library Journal
  • 5:30 - time to go
  • last job of the day: check & empty the new book sale donation box on the way through the parking lot

Thanks to Bobbi Newman, aka Librarian by Day, for this great idea. I don't think I could possibly do an entire week, but this may be a more-than-once-a-year project for me.

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