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

What Do To When Authors Die

   March 13th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Terry Pratchett died this week, and I, like many people, were saddened.

I came to the Discworld books later in my life, sort of by accident (which is the best way to come across books like the Discworld books), and to say I liked them is an understatement. It was more like the worlds and characters had just been waiting for me and were happy to have me turn up.

It wasn't until later that I realized I had already read some Pratchett, without knowing it. His book, Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman, was another I had inadvertently come to on my own, on the shelf in an independent book shop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I can't say it changed my life, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was also introduced to Neil Gaiman that way. I somehow missed the introduction to Terry Pratchett, but since I got there in the end, I suppose it is okay.

Perhaps because of this, but perhaps also just because they are similar and the connection is logical, I have always linked Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in my head.

So when I came across the following line while reading Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning today (specifically in the story, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury), I couldn't help but be reminded of Terry Pratchett's death:

I sometimes imagine I would like my ashes to be scattered in a library. But then the librarians would just have to come in early the next morning to sweep them up again, before the people got there.

Very appropriate on many levels, but it also seems that there is hardly a tribute fitting enough for such a creative and prolific writer as Terry Pratchett.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/1/15

   March 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

powerpoint-printanimationsThis question wasn't all that difficult to answer, but I thought it was interesting in that, it's something I didn't know before and for some reason feel a little bit better for knowing now, kind of way.

A grad student patron had been at one of our computers for awhile, working on a Powerpoint presentation for a group project. She'd asked me a few various questions over the course of maybe an hour, but then came up very frantic.

It turned out one of her team members had added a bunch of animations to their presentation, and now that she was finished adding her part and was playing the slideshow to see how it all looked, none of the animations were working. She said they had worked for her at home, but our computer was not displaying them.

I don't know if Powerpoint has a setting that would block animations - or if there was one, that our computers set that way - but then in the course of talking about it with her Powerpoint suddenly crashed.

She was surprisingly calm about that. I knew she had it saved so there was no danger of losing anything, but usually when something isn't going well, anything out of the ordinary escalates stress quickly. However, she saw the crash as a positive thing - her logic was that Powerpoint on this computer must be glitchy, which would account for both the crash and not playing animations (as opposed to the idea that something was wrong with the presentaiton and that's what caused the crash). Now this is my kind of patron.

Anyway, here comes the reference question:

At this point she said she no longer cared about playing the slideshow, and all she wanted to do was print a copy for her professor to have during their presentation. However, how do you print slides with animations? Good question (and much more reasonable than the patron who asked how to print a YouTube video).

Apparently her team member created one slide where the animation was four different graphs replacing each other (instead of just creating four separate slides). Only one showed at a time during the actual presentation, but looking at it in normal edit mode, all of them were superimposed over top each other.

It seemed logical that Powerpoint would have a "Print Animations" option, so I went online to look for the solution.

From what I gather, Powerpoint 2007 (which we have on our workstations) does not. However, you can still do it, but it's a bit of a manual process. The answer I found was this:

  • click on the "home" tab
  • go to the far right and click on "select" (it is located in the "editing" box on the far right)
  • (for me, a dropdown box opened and I chose Selection Pane)
  • the "visibility panel" will open up showing you the animations for the [slide] you are on
  • just hide each [animation layer] at a time and print them out

See the image above for this Powerpoint pane (or try it yourself!).

Although a manual process, this worked extremely well. You can show or hide whichever layers you want by clicking the little eye icon, so the patron was able to always show the slide title, and toggle off/on each chart and print them pretty quickly.

She was extremely happy with me - although still annoyed at her team member for making all this necessary.

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A Library By Any Other Name

   March 4th, 2015 Brian Herzog

baby change station signThis is not at all important or relevant, but it amused me.

I heard that a patron had complained about our book donation situation* on Facebook, and when I had a few spare minutes one day, I thought I'd do a quick search to see if I could find it. The problem was that I had no idea who said it, where it was posted, or what keywords to search for.

So, more out of idle optimism than anything else, I did a Google search for chelmsford library donate facebook, and much to my surprise, one of the results was:

nappy library search results

Since I'm looking for a patron complaint, I'm already in a negative mindset, and "nappy" struck me with the negative connotation that word can carry.

So, immediately I was like, holy smokes, someone not only complained about us, but even set up a Facebook hate page because we're a real nappy library. Wow.

But of course, reading the description or clicking through the link (which I did before reading) makes it clear that not everything in the world revolves around the Chelmsford Library in which I work. In fact, this Facebook page was about a diaper exchange program in Chelmsford, England - in which land the phrase "real nappy" has an entirely different meaning.

I don't have kids, but this seems like another example of a great non-traditional collection for libraries. I would not want to deal with dirty diapers, but it's one of those temporary-need items that might make for good community sharing.

And speaking of cloth diapers, a friend of mine once had a very similar idea, except that it would be a cloth diaper pickup and delivery service based out of a truck with a mobile washing station. Pretty good idea (again, except for the dirty diaper part), except that instead of just a non-traditional library collection, it would be a non-traditional bookmobile.


*We temporarily have nowhere to store donated books, so we're asking patrons to hold donations until the Spring. The problem was that this message wasn't communicated very well to the patron.

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Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/15

   February 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Blackbeard statueA senior citizen patron came in for a one-on-one session, and had a couple things he wanted help with. I took one the library's laptops and went into a study room with the patron - so far so good.

His first question was replying to an ad on Craigslist. This was fairly straightforward, although I don't know that the patron entirely understood the process. But that's fine - we can go through it again next time, so we moved on to his second request.

He said a friend of his in Florida suggested he go to Blackbeard's Resort, but he didn't know anything about it so he wanted to learn more. Okay, I type google.com into the browser's address bar and hit Enter - and nothing happens.

Google doesn't load, which is unusual. So I try Yahoo.com, but that likewise doesn't load. So I figure this laptop has lost the wi-fi connection, so I try to reconnect. Again, that doesn't work.

Now, this whole process is taking me a few minutes. While I'm messing around, the patron has been talking, and I am just absorbing this all without comment:

Yeah, my friend said this was a good place. He likes that sort of thing. I asked my travel agent about it, and he said I shouldn't go. It's apparently cash only, do you think that's why he didn't like it? What do you think? My friend's a bit odd, and this is his kind of place. He said it's for swingers, whatever that is.

At this point, I have to leave the room. Partly because the wi-fi seems down completely, and partly because... swingers? I don't think I could have responded to that with a straight face.

So I go to the Reference Desk, and it turns out our entire internet connection was down - wi-fi, public workstations, and staff computers. Our IT person is working on it, and it doesn't seem like it'll be back up any time soon.

I go back to the study room to let the patron know we're kind of out of luck as far as his one-on-one session goes, but that we can reschedule for another time. He takes it in stride, reschedules, and leaves without further comment. I feel bad about our network going down, but at least it gives me a bit of time to strategize how to respond before our next appointment.

And for what it's worth, Blackbeards Adult Resort does indeed take credit cards - but they have a 20% surcharge on credit cards so they recommend using cash for all of their services. Their slogan is One visit and you will be "Hooked" - bravo for the triple entendre. Also bravo to them for including the library on their "fun community" map - maybe ALA should plan a conference here.

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Author John Green, Copyright Violator

   February 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

I meant to post this last week, but hopefully it's still new to some people - it's definitely still interesting to me.

The Copyfight blog highlighted a story on how author John Green came to the realization that a quote that had been widely attributed to him - which he didn't remember writing but accepted because the entire internet said it was his - wasn't actually his. He explains:

My takeaways from this are:

  • Not fact-checking is one thing. But even if you did fact-check and find every source available attributes something to the same source, you can still be wrong. The internet certainly allows for the wild propagation of sources, but it's nice to know that there still is an objective truth that lies beyond the internet zeitgeist.
  • Fact-checking has become exceeding difficult when the author of a novel has to illegally download a copy of his own book to search it. Maybe this is an indication that there is a problem with our copyright system.
  • John Green is a really nice guy.

Also, if you don't follow the CrashCourse YouTube channel, keep an eye out for their upcoming Intellectual Property episode (here's the preview):

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Reference Question of the Week – 2/15/2015

   February 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

shoveled drivewayThis question just happened this morning, and my coworker asked me about it before she gave the patron an answer.

Perhaps you've heard that New England is getting an unusually large amount of snow this year? This patron called in and said that her driveway had been clear, but some plow truck went by and now a large pile of snow was blocking both her driveway and mailbox. She was out at the time, and by the time she got home it was frozen and she couldn't pull into her driveway.

My coworker said she sounded like an older woman, and apparently her husband normally clears the driveway, but he's away this weekend. So, she left her car on the extra-narrow-because-of-the-snow street, climb over the pile, got into her house, and called us. My coworker took down her phone number and asked me what we could do for her.

I'm always happy when people think to call the library, but some of the things people call us about surprises me.

In this case, I think the best we could do was:

  • Give her the non-emergency phone number for the Police Department, to let them know her car was on the street. Hopefully this would prevent any kind of ticket, and perhaps the Police had additional ways to help her
  • Give her the number for the Highway Department, who is responsible for clearing the streets. They don't have office hours on the weekends, but if she needed to complain about street snow being pushed where it shouldn't be, they are the people to notify

Unfortunately, I don't think there's much else to do. Notifying the Police should help, but I don't think the Town is going to make a special trip to clear her driveway. Being blocked in by the plow is just part of winter, but perhaps her situation was particularly unnecessary.

I've noticed quite a few impromptu "call us to shovel" signs nailed to utility poles around Town, so between those and the kindness of neighbors, hopefully she can get her driveway clear again - until the next storm hits, anyway.

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