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


How To Address An Envelope

   December 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Nicely serendipitous with last week's reference question, the library recently received this envelope in the mail:

Envelope addressed: Chelmsford P. Librarian, Chelmsford Public Library, 25 Boston Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824

I'm not sure if this was deliberately done by a person, or just a computer filling in empty fields - either way, this sort of thing can brighten my entire day.

I hope everyone has a good holiday season - I'm visiting family in Ohio for Christmas, so I'll be off until next week. Oh, and regardless of your religion or tradition, be sure to search for Festivus on Google - enjoy! (hint: look to the left, and scroll down)



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/9/12

   December 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Insufficient Address StampThis is actually a "personal experience" reference question - I liked it because it was a fun challenge, but also it made me laugh because it shows you what I get up to in my free time.

Earlier this week I received an envelope in the mail at my house, and it was obviously a Christmas card. However, it wasn't addressed to me - it had my address, but not my name, and I didn't recognize the return address.

Being a reference librarian (and very neighborly), I thought I could just find the right person and deliver it myself, instead of sending it back to the post office to be returned all the way to Texas (based on the return address) - which means it wouldn't have arrived in time for Christmas.

So, looked up the name in the phone book to get the correct address, but it wasn't listed. I also tried searching online, but couldn't find it there, either.

At the library, we have a "List of Residents" which lists people both by name and by street address - however, I don't work in the same town in which I live, so I called my own town's library to see if they had a similar list.

I explained my situation to my colleague there, and of course she was happy to help. She looked up the name I gave her, but it wasn't listed. Then, she went to the "by address" section and, starting with my address, looked at my neighbors' names to see if any matched. I live and #36, and she got all the way to #3 before she found something - but not an exact match.

The first name matched, but the last name, compared to what was written on the envelope, contained a couple extra letters. Phonetically the names probably sounded the same, and I figured that if the sender got the address wrong, she might have misspelled the last name too.

This all took place on a Wednesday, and when I drove by the house after my night shift at the library, all the lights were off in the house so I didn't stop.

However, the next morning on my way in to work I did. I rang the doorbell twice, but no one answered. Just as I was getting back into my Jeep, an older man stepped out of the doorway. I think he regarded me with a little suspicion, but when I walked up and said I lived down the street, he relaxed a little. I gave him the envelope and asked him if it was his name, and it was (although misspelled). We had a little laugh over it, he thanked me, and I continued on to work.

The funny thing is, not a single Christmas goes by that there isn't someone who comes in to look up a neighbor's last name, or a friend's street address, so they can send them a card. Our List of Residents is one of my favorite resources - hyper-local, authoritative, and there is nothing else like it that is as exhaustive.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/27/11

   March 5th, 2011 Brian Herzog

KDOC logoAbout once or twice a year, we get reference questions via USPS from a prison inmate somewhere in the US. One came in a week or so ago - the question itself wasn't difficult, but I laughed when I addressed the return envelope:

[inmate name] #[number]
Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex
200 Road to Justice
West Liberty, KY 41472

Good job, Kentucky Department of Corrections.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/2/08

   November 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Snow-covered mailboxOn Wednesdays I work the late shift at the library. When I came in at 1pm this past Wednesday, my coworker who covers the desk in the morning had a good story for me:

An elderly woman walked up to the desk and asked:

Do you have Sarah Palin's street address?

Keep in mind that this was Wed., Nov. 5th, 2008, the day after she and John McCain lost the 2008 presidential election. My coworker kind of joked, "what, do you want to send her a sympathy card?" The patron's response?

Well, yes.

The patron went on to explain how she thought Palin did a great job in the campaign, and that she didn't want her to feel bad about not winning. But above all, the patron wanted to encourage Palin to try again in 2012. After such a negative and protracted election season, it's kind of refreshing to know there is someone with this much earnest concern for public officials.

But back to the question: what followed was a quick search in a few of the popular people search resources, including ReferenceUSA. Interestingly, the street address was available in some, but was listed as "unlisted" in others. ReferenceUSA provided the phone number, but said the address was "Not Provided."

However, being a state Governor and Vice Presidential candidate, there are other ways to contact her, too. The mailing address for the McCain/Palin campaign headquarters was listed on the campaign website, and so was the address for the Massachusetts office. Her mailing address at the Governor's office was on the Alaska State website, but it also included this note:

Alaska law prohibits use of state equipment or resources for campaign or partisan political purposes. Please do not send any messages to these addresses or make calls to these telephone numbers concerning campaign or partisan political activities. Information about elections and candidates can be found by calling, writing, or e-mailing a campaign office for that particular candidate.

Which I found interesting, but which also rules out the Governor's office as an address to send a sympathy card.

My coworker said the patron took down the various mailing addresses, and said thank you, and went home to start composing her letter.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/07

   June 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't like using reference questions where I don't actually help the patron, but this one was kind of funny.

Here at my library in Massachusetts, the phone rings...

Me: Reference Desk, can I help you?
Patron: Hello, this is Margery. I live in Westminster, Maryland, and I'm hoping you can help me with something.
Me: Okay, I can try.
Patron: I used to be pretty friendly with some people that live in Chelmsford, but I've lost their telephone number. Their name is D_____.
Me: Sure, let me check the phone book…
   [looks in phone books]
No, I'm sorry, I don't see them listed. Sometimes people have unlisted numbers or cell phones, which means they won't be in the phone book, so I'll check a couple other resources, too...
   [looks in List of Town Residents and Property Tax Assessments by Owner]
No, this family isn't showing up as living in or owning property in town. Is it possible they could have moved recently?
Patron: Well, I suppose that's possible. It's been about twenty-five years since I last spoke with them.
   [pause]
Did they by chance give you their forwarding address?

Unfortunately, very few people who move think to leave their forwarding address with the library. The post office does keep this information, but does not provide it to the public.

The patron decided that she was going to have another look around for the number, and then maybe call some mutual friends that might be more in touch with them.

address, addresses, forwarding address, libraries, library, moving, public libraries, public library, reference question



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