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




Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15

   April 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Alright, this question can be filed under, how maybe not to run a scavenger hunt.

Last Saturday I came in to work for a few hours in the morning to cover for someone*. Before we opened to the public I was updating some of the computers, and was still sitting at a public workstation when, a few minutes after opening, two of my coworkers walked up on either side of me. They asked,

Coworker 1:
Brian where are the tickets? Everyone's asking for the tickets. Where are they?

Me:
[minding my own business]

Coworker 2:
Brian the Police hid tickets in the library. We don't know where they are - do you?

I had no idea what they were talking about - and to be fair, they didn't really either, because all of this was news to us.

Apparently when they unlocked the front doors at 9:30 that morning, a couple parent/kid combinations all rushed in and started looking for hidden Red Sox tickets - and of course, asking the staff where they were hidden. This was the first any of the Saturday staff was hearing about it, so they came to ask me to see if I was in on the secret. I was not.

It turned out the Chelmsford Police Athletic League has been picking a public building in town, hiding tickets to a Red Sox games somewhere in the building, and then posting on their Facebook page hints to let residents find them. They didn't let the library know beforehand though, so this was all news to us - which I don't think any patrons believed when they asked everyone on staff where the tickets were. And, my coworkers didn't believe me either.

On the one hand, what a nice thing for the CPAL to do for people. And, great that they thought to include the library - especially given the hints (more on that in a minute). But on the other hand, it really sucks to have kids crawling under tables while other patrons are working at them, and having frantic parents who promised their kids free Red Sox tickets becoming increasing intense as time goes on that They Must Find The Tickets. Basically, being in a library and not doing library stuff is really distracting to all the patrons who are there doing library stuff.

But anyway, here's the details on how everything went down. The day before, CPAL posted this photo on their Facebook page as a hint to where the tickets where hidden this time:

cpal1

Now that's a tough hint - I mean I recognize our carpet and public workstation leg, but how many patrons would? A few at least, as it turned out.

And as the people came in looking for them, this was the only clue that we had too. So it meant they were in the library, but where? Taped to the bottom of one of the public workstation tables (which is what this leg is)? That means crawling under every single computer table, and then every other table, to find out. No? Well then, where else could they be?

In case you haven't noticed, there are millions of places in a library to hid two tickets. After an hour of frantic searching, the tickets still hadn't been found - and still no one believed me that I didn't know where they were.

Then another photo was posted:

cpal2

Which brought all the searchers downstairs to the non-fiction section. But still no success, and shortly thereafter a third photo hint appeared on Facebook:

cpal3

By this time staff were all checking the Facebook page too, to learn anything we could about where these tickets might be. After refreshing the page and seeing this third photo, I looked up from the computer to see one mother who had been searching all morning making a beeline back to the 700s (which are back past the Biography sign).

A few minutes later she came out of the stacks with a tremendous relived smile on her face. She had found them! Tucked inside the displayed book. As word spread that they were discovered, and where, word spread back that apparently multiple people had already thought of this logical spot and checked this very book - but somehow had missed the tickets.

And then, as quickly as the ticket search had begun it ended, and the library immediately quieted back down to a normal Saturday morning.

So to recap: a treasure hunt in the library is a great idea for a program, and, clearly, if you have a nice enough prize, people will be highly motivated to participate. However, the better the prize, the more annoyed all the other patrons will be at the disruptive treasure hunters. And, if you're not affiliated with the library, please give them a heads-up beforehand so staff will at least know what is going on. But it really is a nice thing the CPAL is doing - maybe I just annoy easily.

And I swear, I really didn't have any idea this was happening, and didn't know where the tickets were. My coworkers still don't believe me.

 


*So in other words, I'm not even supposed to be here today.



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Overdrive App Adds Option for Dyslexic Font

   April 9th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Overdrive dyslexic font optionA coworker send me this post from the Overdrive blog:

Standard font typefaces are often difficult to read for people with dyslexia as the letters are hard to differentiate and words tend to jumble together. Dyslexic fonts provide greater contrast in letters which solves this problem.

This new font option will make reading easier for students with dyslexia as well as library patrons who struggle with the condition. Determining letters is now much easier, allowing readers to concentrate on the book’s content instead.

This seems like a great enhancement. It also seems like one of things where you say, "now why didn't someone think of this sooner?" I didn't, but it does seem obvious now. And, I think, a very easy feature to implement, since it's just a different font. So that's great - way to go, Overdrive, and way to go science!

Hopefully all devices and apps will add this in order to help the people that need it.

Thanks Jen!



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/29/15

   April 4th, 2015 Brian Herzog

2015irswhenwilliThis was an extremely timely question - and one I even personally benefited from.

A patron came to the desk and asked if he could find out if the IRS had mailed him his tax refund check yet. This year has been notorious for longer-than-usual waits for everything from the IRS, but he said he'd mailed in his paper tax returns over a month ago and in past years the IRS has had pretty quick turnaround on refunds.

Coincidentally, I also do my taxes with paper forms, and mailed them in just about a month ago, and likewise have not received my refund check yet. So this patron made me realize I had the same question he did - although I didn't know it until he came in.

Anyway, a rather tongue-in-cheek search for has my tax return been processed led us to the IRS' 2015 Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions, which in turn lead us to the appropriately-named Where's My Refund website.

On this site you have to enter your social security number, your filing status, and your exact refund amount, and it then tells you where your return stands. The patron didn't know his refund amount, but this was clearly the right tool for the job, so he wrote down the URL, thanked me, and left.

When I got home that night, I entered my own information (and although the URL is https://sa.www4.irs.gov, I still felt uncomfortable entering it online - I'm paranoid!), and was happy to see this:

2015 I.R.S. refund status

I said this was a very timely post, because I learned that my check was mailed on the very day I looked it up. So yay for that to look forward to - and also yay for discovering a tool I think might become somewhat popular in the next few weeks. And while I'm handing out the yays, yay to the IRS for making this tool available, easy to use, and very clear. I know they're being roundly maligned this tax season, but not all of it is deserved, and here's proof.



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Introducing Intergenerational Library Shelving

   April 1st, 2015 Brian Herzog

My library has implemented a few alternatives to Dewey shelving in the past, but we're rolling out something this week that I'm really excited about - we're calling it Intergenerational Shelving.

The idea originated when we noticed the difficulties some families had in using the library. Parents would bring their kids in, often of various ages, and picking up books for everyone required stopping in multiple departments. Wouldn't it be nice, we reasoned, if we didn't cordon people off by age, but instead opened up the entire library for everyone?

Yes! So our solution was to intermix all of the books in the entire library, along these guidelines: books for adults on the top shelves, and books for kids on the bottom shelves. Here's how our approach looks:

intergenerational shelving

As you can see, adult books are on the high shelves - which eliminates adults having to bend way down to the lower shelves to find things. And kids books are on the bottom shelves, so all kids books are within kid reach. The colorful border indicates the age levels.

This system has lots of other benefits too:

  • We're trying to line up adult, teen, and childrens non-fiction books, so all the books we have on a subject - say, the solar system - are right next to each other, regardless of the target age
  • It removes age-related stigmas association with books - adults who want a kids book, either for an easy-to-understand introduction to a topic, or just like reading kid stories, don't have to be embarrassed about going into the Childrens Room (or worse, get accusatory glances for not having a child chaperon)
  • Kids who are advanced readers are more likely to serendipitously encounter higher reading level books
  • Parents are less tempted to dump their kids in the unlicensed daycare that is the Childrens Room while they go off looking to the adult section - now the entire family can browse together
  • This really reenforces the Library As Community Center idea, because patrons who may not have ever mixed before now find themselves in the same aisle all the time: kids series books are shelved under large print, and our senior patrons enjoy hearing from kids what the Rainbow Fairies are up to
  • Reshelving books has been tremendously simplified - all our Pages have now been trained to shelve everything. And, the Circ staff doesn't have to pre-sort carts as items are checked in - everything is just mixed together and the Pages take care of it

This has been such a huge success so far that we've gotten inquiries from retail stores who'd like to copy the model for their own shelves. The local grocery store is considering putting boring foodstuffs on their adult-eye-level shelves, with toys and candy on the low shelves underneath. The possibilities are endless!



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/22/15

   March 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Card catalog: London - MarriageThere really was nothing to this question, other than I thought it was neat and a creative idea. This came into the general reference email inbox this week:

From:
Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
To: askus@mvlc.org
Subject: Card Catalog

Good Afternoon-

My name is [...] and I am a high school teacher in town. My fiancé, [...], is a life long resident of Chelmsford and currently teaches at the high school as well. We are getting married this fall and are hoping to include a theme of vintage school, as it was education that brought us together. We want to incorporate as much school and hometown as we can into our centerpieces and we're hoping Chelmsford Library may be able to help us. We were wondering if you had any wooden card catalog container you were willing to part with. We could clearly make a donation or pay for them. If you could let us know we would be extremely grateful.

Unfortunately, all I could really do was write her back saying that no, we don't have those anymore.

And honestly I think that if we did, we certainly wouldn't sell it and I'm not even sure we'd loan it out for a use like this. Maybe, depending on the size, but those are such a hot commodity now that they are a lot more valuable than people think.

But it did get me wondering about other sources for wedding "props" that would be either educational or of local interest. I presume they've already checked around the local schools, for desks or tables and such things. Any other group that I work with regularly - the historical society, local museums, even Town Hall - probably wouldn't lend their pieces to be used at a wedding. Beyond that, it's either local consignment shops or getting lucky knowing someone who has something.

Which is kind of too bad - a card catalog would make any wedding more interesting.



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Banned Books Inquiry, And What We Found Here

   March 26th, 2015 Brian Herzog

banned books displayWe had an interesting request from a college student who is doing a project on book challenges in libraries.

We didn't have a lot to contribute, but I thought I'd share the exchange here anyway to hopefully hear about other libraries' experiences. This student asked [edited for privacy],

Date: March 8, 2015 at 10:40:31 PM EDT
Subject: Banned Books

Currently I am attending Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH, and ... am taking a class this semester titled "Banned Books." As part of the course requirements we are reading various books that have been banned such as:
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fanny Hill by John Clelland
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Looking for Alaska by John Green

Many other texts are also touched upon within this course. After reading the texts we discuss why we believe some of these books have been banned. We also look up information about the individuals promoting the banning of these books and their beliefs and values.

As a research project for this course I am supposed to be researching if there have been any challenges towards books in my community. I am also supposed to find information about the book challenging/banning policy within the Chelmsford Public Library. It would be sincerely appreciated if you could send me some information about your library’s policies and experiences with book challenges and/or bans.

A few of us at the library looked around for the paper trail on our book challenges, and were surprised at what we didn't find. This is what interested me most. Book challenges are just a part of life in a public library, but I've never really examined the long view.

Here is the response I sent back [again, slightly edited]:

We actually haven't gotten a lot of challenges to items like what you're researching. In the ten years I've been here, I can only remember a handful of times.

Our official policy on the matter is covered in the "Censorship" section of our Materials Selection Policy (http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/library_info/policies/materials_policy.html), which states,

"The Library Director is available to review selection decisions, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the interpretation of library goals and principles with interested individuals or representatives of groups.

Formal requests for withdrawal of specific items must be submitted to the Director in writing. A copy of the form is appended. Copies of the form are available at all circulation desks and the Reference Department. If the Library Director cannot resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the citizen in question, that person may request a hearing before the Selection Committee (See: “Responsibilities for Book Selection,” above.)"

The Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form itself is available at
http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/library_info/policies/pdf/reconsideration_form.pdf.

We do have this on hand and give it to any patron who wishes to challenge an item. However, what we've found in practice is that patrons will verbally challenge an item, and usually want to speak to the director as well. But when we looked into our records to find the challenges, we determined that we've never gone beyond this stage to a patron actually submitting the challenge form in writing.

However, this doesn't mean that we've taken no action in situations like this. Here are a few examples that I hope will be helpful:

  • In one case, a mother was upset when she discovered that her 13 year old daughter had checked out the DVD "Thirteen" (http://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/record/883844), and she came in to complain about this movie. After a discussion though, she realized she wasn't objecting to the movie itself so much as that someone underage would be able to check it out (this goes into a much larger area of libraries not being able to act in place of parents, and that MPAA rating are just suggestions and not strict mandatory limits). But as a result of this patron's challenge, the library decided to start putting MPAA rating stickers on our DVD collection, to make the rating (and therefore the intended audience) easier to identify.
  • Our Childrens staff said in the last 14 years, they remember about four "informal" challenges. In those cases, like the movie Thirteen, the issue is really about age-appropriateness. They said that in three of the cases, after reviewing the item in question, they decided to recatalog the item to the Young Adult collection so it wouldn't be in the Children's Room - which is an easy way to make the patron happy yet still provide public access to the item.
  • A slightly unusual challenge was to the book "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie H. Harris (http://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/record/1200161). When staff spoke to the patron who was challenging it, we learned that the patron had never seen or read the book, but was part of a church group who were all being encouraged to challenge it (which made national news in Lewiston, ME: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2007/12/legislation/maine-librarys-its-perfectly-normal-not-obscene-police-agree/#_). I believe that after a discussion, and asking the patron to read the book before challenging it, the patron dropped the complaint.
  • In another case, the library purchased a DVD for the movie "Brown Bunny," based on reviews. After it arrived but before it was put on the shelf for patrons, a staff member watched it and was surprised at how sexually graphic it was. After further review by another staff person, the library decided not to add it to the collection after all. So this wasn't exactly a patron challenge, but more of a self-censoring once we'd seen what the item was actually like.
  • And finally, although not strictly about challenging books, occasionally parents will complain that we don't do enough to keep their kids off of social media websites or other places online, and essentially ask us to "ban" these websites. This brings up larger issues as well, and in these cases we try to address the underlying issue. The first time this happened, we held a workshop for patrons on internet safety, and we do use filtering software on the computers in the Childrens and Teen areas, but we have not changed our computer use policies.

I hope this information helps, and please let me know if you need clarification or elaboration, or just have additional questions. Thanks, and good luck with your project.

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library

How far have item challenges gotten in your library? The ALA collects information on challenges (although the deadline has passed for 2014 incidents), and I've seen compiled stats before, but it was entirely different to review specially what has happened in my library.



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