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


Reference Question of the Week – 8/17/14

   August 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

velocarYou know that saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, in this case, it was more like just having to point out to him that he had a big plate of fish sitting right in front of him.

A patron walked up and said this to me:

Can you request a book for me? I think it's a French book, I mean a book from France. I don't know the title or the author though. But it's got instructions for a velocar inside. On second thought, it might not be a book, it might be a magazine, but in French. Can you get that for me?

Well that's all fine, but what's a velocar? Apparently, it's a type of bicycle that's more like a pedal-powered three-wheeled car, and indeed from France.

After talking to the patron a bit, what I learned was that he was interested in building one of these for himself, and found some plans online. Except, the plans were pages from a book (or magazine) that someone posted on a forum - except, they were too small to read, so he wanted to find the original book (or magazine) so he could see the instructions. He said he'd already tried printing what he'd found, and indeed showed me the pages, which indeed were just too low-quality to read.

I told him the only place I could even think of to begin with this was the website where he found them - maybe, I hoped, the book (or magazine) pages would have the title and author on them which would give us a lead. But failing that, it seemed like all we could would be to try to email whoever posted them to the forum and hopefully find out the original source that way.

So we walked back to his computer so I could see the forum he was on. And sure enough, multiple pages were posted there, and the thumbnail images looked more or less like instructions for building a velocar. And of course, being thumbnails, they were too small to read, so I naturally clicked the first one in the hopes of finding information about the source.

A larger image of the page popped up, and the patron immediately stopped me by saying, in a somewhat shocked voice, "what did you just do?"

I explained that the thumbnails like this are usually linked to larger versions, and clicking them will bring up a version you can read or print. I figured he had tried this, because he had the large printed version which were poor quality.

But no, he had no idea you could click the thumbnails. What he did know how to do was right-click on the thumbnail, copy/paste it into Word, expand the image to make it fill the whole page, and print it. Of course, expanding a small thumbnail to fit a whole page will look terrible, which accounted for the low-quality prints he had.

He knew how to do all of that, but didn't know you could just click the thumbnail and see a higher-quality version.

So I showed him how to get from the forum post with the thumbnail to the larger, print-ready version, and he was happy. Sort of befuddled that it was right there in front of him the whole time, but definitely happy that he would so easily get the plans for the velocar.

I always like showing patrons new tricks and things that make their life easier, but holy smokes I didn't expect it in this case. Not only was this a new skill for a patron, but I didn't end up having to try to track down a mysterious book from France.



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How to Add Value to a Library Book

   July 16th, 2014 Brian Herzog

the bouviers book coverA few years ago, I posted about a neat inscription in one of our Jack Kerouac books. Well, this past weekend, we found another interesting inscription.

One of my coworkers was doing the weeding list, pulling and deleting books that hadn't circulated in the last three years. One of the books on the list was The Bouviers : from Waterloo to the Kennedys and beyond, by John H. Davis.

Since we're in Massachusetts, I'm always a little reluctant to get rid of Kennedy-related items, but this one just didn't seem like it would be in demand anymore.

That is, until my coworker opened the cover and found this inscription:

I would love to dedicate this book to my sexy-stud-muffin son J.F.K. jr and to his lovely daddy - Jacki Kennedy

Such a personal note from "Jacki Kennedy" - this copy must be priceless! It seems especially rare, too, since she took this single opportunity to sign her name differently than her normal signature.

Of course, we certainly don't encourage anyone to vandalize library materials - even First Ladies.



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Attractive Reading and Library Tidbits

   July 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a couple of unrelated interestingnesses this morning.

The first is a neat image my friend Chris forwarded me from something called Facebook:

Reading a book from the inside

I don't know anything about this image, other than I like it. And it would be a good image for a caption contest.

Secondly, last week on BoingBoing Cory highlighted some Dewey Decimal System jewelry, made from old catalog cards:

Dewey jewelry

There's lots of it available on Etsy. I think it'd be fun to match the Dewey subject to the function of the piece - like, a ring magnifying 395.22.

Yay for creative people.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/2/13

   June 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Stephen King with Red Sox World Series trophyI'm not exactly sure why this question stuck out in my mind this week, but it did.

One of our regular patrons is a man with special needs who LOVES horror stories, superheros, movies, television, and reading. He's either in the library or calls every day, and generally all of his questions revolve around the above topics. So, it was slightly unusual one day when he called and asked,

Can you find me Stephen King's email address? I thought of a horror story about the Red Sox I want to tell him so he can write a story about it.

A perfectly reasonable request, and I actually became a little curious about what kind of horror could involve a baseball team.

Generally for these kind of celebrity-contact questions, I always turn to our copy of The Celebrity Black Book, but since I was on the phone I just did a web search.

StephenKing.com was rightly the first search result, and I clicked into the Contact Us form to see if it had an option for submitting story ideas. Not too surprisingly, the form made it clear that it did not go to Stephen King. Then I noticed an FAQ link in the site's navigation bar, so I tried that.

One FAQ was "What is your email address?" which, again, was unsurprising in that it said Stephen King has no public email address (but did refer people to the message boards, which he does apparently follow).

A little lower on the page was the question, "Do you accept story ideas," which was answered,

No, I don't. I really have enough story ideas of my own. Every now and then somebody will advance a concept the way that my foreign rights agent, Ralph Vicinanza suggested wouldn't it be fun to do a modern-day serial story. The result of that was The Green Mile which was published in installments-these little paperback books--but he never suggested what sort of story I might have written in installments and I wouldn't have accepted it if he had done that. I believe in thinking up my own ideas. I really have enough. I really think if I have two or three ideas ahead I'm in totally great shape.

I paraphrased this for my patron, which he seemed to readily accept (and that was surprising) and hung up. Later in the day I did check The Celebrity Black Book, and it does include Stephen King's agent. I briefly weighed the idea of providing this to my patron the next time I saw him, because that's what librarians do, right? Birddog the information through whatever resources possible until we can provide the patron with an answer.

In the end though, I decided against giving the patron the agent's contact info - although the patron asked contact information, the actual answer to his question is that Stephen King does not accept story ideas. Getting in touch with the agent wouldn't have done any good, and so I would have essentially been providing the wrong answer, or misinformation, to the patron. This is kind of an oddly fine line, but it gave me something to think about this week.

This particular patron has written a few stories of his own in the past, so I encouraged him to do it again. And if he does, I'll help him post it to the message board.

But the fact that Stephen King doesn't accept story ideas got me thinking. I remember from high school that Weird Al Yankovic also does not accept song ideas, with the reason given being "legal reasons" (which I've always thought meant he didn't want to get into a royalties fight with someone who thought Al was making a lot of money off an idea a they submitted). But it makes sense that prolifically-creative people have no shortage of their own ideas, and prefer to grow them into a work following their own process. I've never looked into this, but it got me wondering if any famous creator does openly accept fan submissions, and then grow them into a finished work. Has anyone heard of this happening?



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/17/13

   February 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Ebay listing for 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws CHARTER American ADULTERY Leather BOSTONThis isn't a reference question, but I think it is by far the most interesting email the library received this week. The message below was sent to my Director, and was then forwarded to our cataloger and me to look into:

Subject: former(?) Rare Chelmsford Library Book 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws

Hello, I noticed this rare book for sale on ebay and an image shows an ownership label of your library. I'm not interested in buying it, just wanted to bring it to your attention in case this rare item had been removed from your collection. No response needed to me.

Wow. We checked out the ebay listing for this book, and sure enough, the inside cover has a old Chelmsford Library bookplate:

Adams Library bookplate

None of us ever recalled seeing this book in the collection, or even anything remotely like it. We have lots of old historical and vital records, but none leather-bound or particularly valuable.

There was no record in the catalog for this item at our library (although a nearby library does have it) - which means this item could have been weeded and discarded, sold as a fundraiser, or stolen by fiends any time in the last 100+ years.

Since we have no way to know, there's nothing we can do. I do occasionally hear about stolen library books being sold at auction (or worse, maps or color plates cut out of library books), but in this case I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It is an interesting situation though. If anyone would like to purchase it and donate it to the library, please let me know.



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Infographic: Can Print Books and Ebook Coexist?

   February 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This infographic came out earlier this month, but I thought it had some interesting statistics on the coexistence of ebooks and print books:

Print vs. Ebook infographic


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