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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/3/11

   July 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Abortion protest signs: pro-life and pro-choice side-by-sideThis question was just kind of strange from start to finish.

A patron comes up to the desk with two articles photo copied from the Boston Globe - one from June 10, 2011, titled Americans conflicted on abortion issue, survey shows, and the other from July 2, 2011, titled Judge puts Kansas abortion law on hold. She slides them over to me and says,

Now this first article I know is from June 10th, but I don't know the page number. In this second article, this judge is mentioned [US District Judge Carlos Murguia] - can you tell me what President appointed him?

Okay, fair enough. For the page number question, I show her where we keep our newspaper back issues, and tell her than while she looks through them for June 10th, I'll look online about the judge. She's happy to be involved, so I walk back over to the desk (which is literally four feet away).

I know it won't take her long to find the newspaper, so I do the quickest search I can think of - just search for US District Judge Carlos Murguia, scan for the Wikipedia article (which are reliably in the top few results), scroll to the Sources section at the bottom, and click through to the Federal Judicial Center's Biographical Directory of Federal Judges entry for Judge Murguia* - which tells me he was appointed by Bill Clinton.

Just then the patron walks up and says she can't find the June 10th paper - she can find back to the 12th, but that's it. Usually, we keep old papers for a month, but really how far back we keep depends on how much space we have on the shelf, and I think the person who manages our newspaper archive just ran out of room and had to get rid of the 10th.

I ask her for the article so I can try looking it up in our Boston Globe database - but then notice the byline says it's an AP article, which aren't included in the database. I apologize for not being able to get this for her, she says she understands. A line of patrons has formed by this time, so she lets this question go and goes back to her computer.

I get busy after that, helping patrons in-person and on the phone. At one point while I'm helping a phone patron, I notice this newspaper patron walk up to the desk speaking over-loudly on a cell phone - she stands across the desk from me talking for a minute, then wanders away. I never would have guessed this patron would have a cell phone at all, let alone whip it out and use it in the library, but there you go. I continue helping people.

A little while later, when there is a break in my activity, this newspaper patron comes back up to the desk. She said she had called the Nashua Library (about 20 minutes away from us, across the border into New Hampshire), and they said they do have the June 10th paper. She slides me a piece of paper with Nashua's phone number on it, and three names - Katie, Katy, Kathy. She asks if I can call them and have them email me a copy of the newspaper, and the librarian's name is something like one of those she wrote down, but she can't remember.

I ask her if it's okay if I just ask them what page the article is on and they tell me over the phone, but she says no - she needs "documentation."

So I call Nashua, and, guessing, ask for Katie at the Reference Desk. I get transferred and when I say who I am, Katie laughs and said she had an idea why I was calling (knowing this patron, Katie probably got an earful on the phone).

Anyway, any librarian knows that photocopying a newspaper article can be difficult, not to mention trying to include the page number on the photocopy - not to mention trying to email/fax it when you're done. So Katie suggests she email me confirmation that she found the article and what page it is on, essentially providing a testament for the "documentation." This sounds good to me, and if the patron still needed more, then we could figure out a way to actually get a copy of the paper.

A few minutes later, the following email arrives:

I located the Associated Press article "Americans conflicted on abortion issue, survey shows" in the print edition of The Boston Globe for Friday, June 10, 2011 (Volume 279, Number 161). The article appears on the right hand side of page A2, and does not continue to any other page. This is the News section of the paper, and the article falls under the subsection heading "The Nation."

I print it and give it to the patron, and she is pleased and thanks me.

I can hardly take credit however - I had already given up on the question, since we didn't have that resource in the library, and there were too many other patrons waiting for me to try to track it down outside the library right then. I think it's kind of funny the patron contacted another library on her own, and I'm very grateful to Katie for being willing to provide an answer with the proper documentation.

This might be the single biggest thing I love about being a librarian - cooperation. Being able to have a short phone call with a colleague (a colleague, yes, but a complete stranger, too) in a different state, and within minutes have the exact right answer delivered to me - it really is just amazing. Sorry LinkedIn, library service desks are the single best professional network around.

 


*The Sources, References, and External Links sections alone make the entire Wikipedia project worthwhile. Even if the articles themselves didn't exist, simply compiling authoritative web links on just about any subject is the kind of topic-based bibliography directory librarians have always loved about the internet.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/6/08

   July 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Zodiac Cancer signThis question wasn't particularly hard, but the phrasing of the question took me by surprise, and the patron was funny, too. The phone rings:

Me: Reference desk, can I help you?
Patron: Do you personally take the Boston Globe?

I think it was the word "take" that threw me off. I wondered if he was asking if I took a copy of the Globe from somewhere and brought it to the Library, or if I took our copy and kept it at the reference desk.

I stuttered a bit, and then explained that yes, the Library has a subscription to the Globe. He was not impressed.

Patron: I'm sure it does, but that's not what I'm asking. I want to know if you personally take a subscription. I need to talk to someone who knows the paper. In the daily paper, there's a section called Sidekick, which has the comics and horoscope and things. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff. I've been reading it for three months now, kind of like the comics, you see. I figured I'd read it on my birthday, too, which was Sunday. This past Sunday's Globe didn't have a Sidekick section, so I want to know from someone who reads the paper where the horoscope is. I looked all through it and couldn't find it. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff.

Mind you, this is the condensed version of his question.

Anyway, I told him that no, I didn't read the paper, but I'll ask around the staff to find someone who did, and I'll look through our copy of the Sunday Globe to see if I could find the horoscopes. He was skeptical, but gave me his name and number so I could call him back.

We were short-staffed, and no one working read the Sunday Globe. Instead of spending a half hour looking through the paper, I called the Boston Globe Customer Service and explained the situation. The sales rep was very nice, and said that they had been getting calls all week about this. Apparently, for the first time in 50 years, the Globe's production department forgot to include the Sidekick section in the Sunday paper.

He offered me a week's credit, but could not send that section of last Sunday's paper to me. Since the patron was looking for that specific day, that didn't help, so I asked if he knew were the information came from and if I could find it somewhere else. This brightened him up, as he told me that the horoscope for the day was on their website.

After a bit of clicking around the Boston Globe website, I found their horoscope section and worked back from the current day to find and print the horoscope for July 6th. I called the patron, who was entertained by the rare omission, happy that I'd found it, and he said he'd be in the next day to pick it up.

It did make him nervous, though - he'd been reading horoscopes for months, and the first time there's a problem with it is on his birthday. That's got to be a bad sign.



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Boston Globe Covers Libraries

   August 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

The Boston Globe logoA pair of articles appeared in last Sunday's (7/29) Boston Globe about the state of libraries.

The first, "Good Circulation..." is summed up nicely by the article's opening paragraph:

"Library directors remember the talk, not long ago, of technology rendering libraries obsolete. But statistics show that the opposite has occurred."

The second, "...for those who can afford it," is a bit more dire in tone.

"It's the ones who need it the most that get hit the hardest," [Mary Beth Pallis, Director of the Dunstable Free Public Library] said. "Libraries are the great equalizer: Anyone can use the library no matter how much money you make. I'm worried that may be disappearing."

This is the paradoxical reality that libraries face. I bet most people would say that libraries are important to a community, yet community funding is never a guaranteed thing.

Also in the paper was a chart of with circulation details on the 34 libraries in the Globe's Northwest delivery area. It compares each library's circulation levels in 1999 and 2006.

Some stats for the Chelmsford Library:

Circulation Increase over 1999
Print 61%
Audiobook 121%
DVD 64%
All materials 69%
Loans to other libraries 607%
Loans from other libraries 1,230%

There are reasons behind these numbers: 1999 was the last year before a building project more than tripled the size of the library. Chelmsford is well funded, which means we have longer hours and more parking than some libraries. And, being part of a consortium, in Massachusetts, means that we serve anyone who comes in the door, not just our 32,000 local residents.

Of course, I really hope it's because these patrons just know the value of libraries.

boston, boston globe, chelmsford, chelmsford library, libraries, library, public libraries, public library



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