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




Reference Question of the Week – 1/31/16

   February 6th, 2016 Brian Herzog

The.I've said this before and I'll say it again, but I know that sometimes, some things are funny only to me. One day this week, a patron walks up to the desk and says,

Patron: Can you help me find a book? The title is, The [szuunnttz] of Murder.
Me: I'm sorry, what was that first word - "sounds" or "silence?"
Patron: "The."
Me: Um...

And then she set her phone down on the desk and spun it around so I could see the title: The silence of murder, by Dandi Daley Mackall.

Ha. I blame our cataloger for constantly drilling into me to ignore the leading article in a title when typing it into a library catalog. Unfortunately, I can apparently no longer tell the difference between typing a title into a computer and asking a real live patron what the title is. Oh well.

Th good news is that the book was in the catalog, and I showed the patron how to place a request for it, so everyone was happy. Even the patron, who perhaps now thinks I'm an idiot. Oh well. It also made me wonder if patrons have blogs where they share all their stories of crazy interactions with librarians - now that would be interesting.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/24/16

   January 31st, 2016 Brian Herzog

Unfortunately, there's been numerous times I could have easily done the same thing at the library.This was posted on Boing Boing a couple weeks ago, but I thought people might find this funny:
Actual conversations with rude or odd customers at a used book store.

Some are rude to the point of being mean, which of course is not something that would happen in a library - at least, not something library staff would say out load. Here's a couple of my favorites:

(phone call)

I found a book "---" on your web site. It was written by my Uncle. I was wondering why it is so expensive? ($50)

It was inscribed and signed by him.

Why should I have to pay for his autograph? He's my Uncle, not yours!

(sigh... and no, she didn't buy it)

 


 

(Older gentleman calls)

I see you have a book titled "---" listed on your web site for $200

Ok

I am the author.

Ok

That book originally sold for under $20

Ok

How can you justify that?

Justify what?

Charging so much!

That's what it's worth. Look it up on Bookfinder

You will make more on the book than I did

I guess I should feel bad about that! If it makes you feel better, you could adjust for inflation (30 years)

I just doesn't seem right

It's the free market at work. You shouldn't have written such a good book

I will take that as a compliment

It was

(I should add, I paid a lot more for the book than it sold for... originally. The customer I sold it to will probably donate it to his favorite charity and the cycle will continue. Makes me wonder how many profits there are in these things...)

 


 

(Customer fills out search card: 16 Chapels)

(me) Oh, you're after books on European Churches?

No, just books about the 16 Chapels.

16 Chapels?

Yea, you know the one with the big painting on the ceiling.
We will let you know what we find (once we stop convulsing).

 

Any time I see something like this in book stores, I can't help but hear them in the voice of Bernard Black - and then end up watching that entire series again.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/17/16

   January 23rd, 2016 Brian Herzog

LANGUIGE CROSSWORDAfter I published the post on Wednesday about the likelihood of this blog changing due to my new position, I forgot to mention that until we hire a new Head of Reference (which will probably take a few weeks), I'm keeping my normal desk schedule - and so should be able to keep up with Reference Questions of the Week.

Wednesday is my 1-9pm shift, and I published that post from home that morning. I decided that when I got to work that day, the very first reference question I got would be this week's post. Usually I just take notes whenever something comes up that is interesting or funny, but I thought a random "slice of reference life" might be appropriate this week.

So, here it is: I sat down at the desk and the phone rings...

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Can you tell me how to spell "language?"
Me: Oh sure, it's-
Patron: Does it have an "i" in it?
Me: No, it's spelled l-a-n-g-u-a-
Patron: Is it u-i-g-e?
Me: ... [waiting to make sure the patron has finished talking] It's l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e.
Patron: Oh, so an "a" and not an "i?"
Me: Yes, l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e.
Patron: Okay, thank you.
Me: You're welcome, good-bye.

This is one of our regular phone patrons, and most of her calls are like this. We suspect she works crossword puzzles.

Not every reference interaction is funny or interesting, but it's true that any of them can be.



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Hello, I’m the Swiss Army Assistant Director

   January 20th, 2016 Brian Herzog

In Mother Russia, sometimes the agent changes you.My library's long-time Assistant Director retired at the end of last year, and I am taking over that role. This means two things:

  1. My library is hiring a Head of Reference - if you're interested, check it out. It's fun.
  2. Second, since I'll no longer be a reference desk librarian, this blog will certainly change.

For whatever it's worth, I'm going to try to keep writing new posts here whenever I come across something people might find interesting. My desk hours are going to change drastically, so the Reference Question of the Week posts will be less frequent. Which is too bad, but we'll see what happens. I've done almost one of those a week for over nine years - wow.

I'm a little nervous about change. I'm sure things will be fine after all the transition, but not spending most of my time covering a service desk will certainly be an adjustment.

But really, if you're interested in being Chelmsford's new reference librarian, send in your resume. It's a nice place to work.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/10/16

   January 16th, 2016 Brian Herzog

Chrome logo crackedMy library subscribes to OCLC's QuestionPoint service, which is a 24/7 chat reference resource our patrons can use anytime. We've had this for years, and it's been great - not only being able to offer patrons 24-hour assistance, but also the quality of the answers they get is just as good or better than they would have gotten from our staff.

Every month I total up our database usage stats, and also read the transcripts of the chat questions asked. Sometimes though, when the chat librarian can't answer the question for whatever reason, the chat librarian flags it as "followup by local library" and I'm notified by email that a patron needs more help.

One of these followup notification emails was waiting for me when I got to the library this past Monday morning, after a chat session on Sunday. I logged into QuestionPoint to see what the question was, and found,

Chat transcript of patron saying a PDF on our website is blank

I had just put up the blog post in question the previous week, with the link to the contest application. I didn't have an electronic copy of the application, so I had to scan one of the print forms and make my own PDF.

So I was surprised to read the patron say it didn't work, because I remember opening it to double-check the margins of the scan looked okay.

Knowing that it worked, and thinking the patron must just be doing something wrong, I kept reading the chat transcript - confident that the chat librarian would have my back and set the patron right. But then this happened...

Chat librarian saying the PDF is blank for her too

What? Well, maybe something was actually wrong, if the chat librarian was seeing a blank page too.

So of course, I immediately go to the blog post and try the link again - and sure enough, it works just fine. So, I create a new PDF of the form, and email it directly to the patron (email is included in the chat transcript), apologizing for the problem and asking him to let me know if this one doesn't work.

The patron emailed back to say thanks, and a little more. After getting my message saying that it worked for me, the patron kept experimenting with the PDF link, and explained what he found:

Hi Brian.

OK - here's the scoop in case you get any others with this issue. This looks like a Google Chrome browser issue, and it may be unique to my computer, perhaps a settings problem. The PDF document opens fine in IE, Firefox, and Edge. It even opens fine in Chrome if I save the file first. But when I try to link to the file via the web it opens but with blank content. [...]

Thanks again for your follow up. I hope I haven't wasted too much of your time.

Wasted my time? You just did my job for me!

I'm glad it worked for him, but I was curious to see if this issue was just this one patron, or a Chrome thing. A quick search for Chrome blank PDF turned up a lot of relevant results, including some on Google forums. It seems like this is indeed a Chrome problem. And not exactly a new one at that, so I'm surprised that this is the first I was encountering it.

It also explains why the chat librarian had the same issue, while everything worked fine for me in Firefox.

It's not very often that I outsource my job, but in this one instance, I outsourced it twice - first to the chat librarian, and second to the patron.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/3/16

   January 9th, 2016 Brian Herzog

alphabetical mish-mashMaybe it's not the best way to start off a new year by having someone question the very fabric of your everyday life.

This week, the first full week after the New Year's holiday, someone did just that - and for a few seconds, what he said made enough sense that I doubted that what I thought I knew was true, and underwent an instantaneous reevaluation of my career as a librarian. But luckily, it passed.

In my library, the non-fiction stacks start right next to the Reference Desk - so on the first shelf closest to us are the 000-152s. This, of course, includes the computer books, which is good because this is a section we get asked about a lot.

Such was the case this Wednesday night. A patron walked up and asked where the programming books were, and without a second thought I walked with him the few steps to the first shelf.

As I was giving my normal spiel about, "here are the programming books, and next come applications and then web stuff," the patron interrupted me by saying,

These books are out of order.

Oh. Well, that's actually not uncommon in the computer books - partly because it's a frequently-used collection, and partly, I think, because we have so many books with the exact same Dewey number that people don't always get them in the right order by Cutter.

I started to apologize to the patron and say something to this effect, when he stepped up to the shelf, took a book off, moved it over a couple books and replaced it on the shelf, then took a step back and said,

It's a common mistake, that's a silent "D."

I looked more closely at the book he moved and saw,

Drupal, Drupal, Django, Joomla...

He said it so matter-of-factly that it was at this point that I wondered if I missed a day in library school and have subsequently been shelving books incorrectly my entire career. What other words have common silent letters? Should books about Czars be in the "Zs?" And wherever should we be shelving phone books?

However, rather than get into it with him, I went back to the desk and left him to browse the books. I saw him leave a few minutes later with three or four, so that was great.

And after he left I went back over to look at the books, and sure enough, these were still like that. I'd recovered my own confidence by this point, and reshelved the books so that they were correct again. Take that, patron of anarchy!



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