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


Ethan Zuckerman and Bridge Figures

   October 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Bridge FigureAt NELA2010 on Monday, I got to see Ethan Zuckerman speak again. I blogged his "The Internet is NOT Flat" talk two years ago, and although this year he spoke on the same theme, he is dynamic enough to always be both interesting and energizing.

His goal is to broaden people's view of the world, to get us thinking globally as well as locally. Something new in his talk this year was the concept of "bridge figures" - those people in an organization or community that serve as "bridges" between cultures, nations, people, departments, groups, ideas, etc.

These people are valuable because they can make connections others can't, and can move projects forward in new ways via collaborations. They are usually found in the "structural holes" in organizations - the positions that aren't explicitly defined, or the spots where many otherwise divergent areas overlap.

Because of their unique place, they can see things from multiple points of view, see how something will affect different groups, and see what skills each of the different groups can contribute to a situation. They are less susceptible to homophily than most of us (who tend to exist in [and not think beyond] our own social group, department, organization, etc.), and so are better able to develop solutions that address the concerns of all the stakeholders involved.

Libraries often serve this role in general. But can you think of any Bridge Figures within your library?



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/2/08

   March 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

damaged Low Clearance signFirst thing one morning, a very pleasant older couple approach me at the desk. The husband asks me (in a Irish accent, which I tremendously enjoyed and won't even try to reproduce in type):

Do you have a book that tells me all the bridge heights between here and Florida?

I felt there was more to this story. After a bit more questioning, I learned that he and his wife bought a new RV, and were leaving next week for Florida. Since buying it, though, he'd started to notice signs everywhere he drives indicating the clearance under bridges. To prepare for their road trip, he wanted a book that will help him plan a route that won't take him under any bridge that is too low for their RV.

We did not have any book that gave this information. One possibility, I thought, was to check our various road atlases to see if they might indicate this. None of them did.

I thought the best bet would be to contact AAA, but first, I tried an internet search for interstate bridge clearance site:.gov. This led us to a U.S. Dept. of Transportation Federal Highway Administration memo on vertical clearances of the Interstate System.

Although not a strict specification, the memo did state that most interstate minimum clearances are 4.9 meters, with some being 4.3 meters.

Patron: Meters? We came to America to get away from the metric system. What's that in feet?

Convert 4.9 meters to feet yields approximately 16 feet, and 4.3 meters = ~14 feet.

This made the patron happy, as his RV is 13 feet high. I still felt I needed to give him more, so I asked if they minded waiting while I called AAA. I often call outside resources who are likely to give an expert answer on something, and luckily in this case I am an AAA member.

I looked up the local AAA office in the phone book, and the first person I spoke to said enthusiastically that yes, AAA's TripTik department does have this information, and he transferred me to them. But surprisingly, when I explained what I was looking for to the TripTik operator, she said they did not have this information.

She did have some advice, though - avoid Parkways. These roads, such as the Merritt Parkway (CT) and the Garden State Parkway (NJ), are designed for smaller, non-commercial-sized vehicles, and often have lower under-structure clearances - especially toll booths. Huh.

I think this bit of information jogged her memory, because she then said that yes, AAA does publish a book with this information. It's called the AAA Truck & RV Road Atlas (Amazon is the only listing I could find), and is available at any AAA office.

I relayed this information to the patron, and he was delighted. He was a brand new AAA member, and was happy to have a reason to go use his membership. The AAA woman said the book retails at about $22.95, but is discounted for AAA members at the local offices. My library does not have one, so I might have to add it to the collection.



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Building a Bridge

   April 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Conservation Commission trail markerWhen I'm not at the library, I volunteer as a land steward with the Chelmsford Open Spaces Stewardship program. We build and maintain trails on the public lands managed by the Chelmsford Conservation Commission.

Mostly the work is small clean-up projects and just keeping the trails clear of debris. But this morning, we actually built a bridge (see photos).

Over the winter, a new green trail (indicated by the color of the letters on the trail marker signs like the one in the photo) was built at the Lime Quarry. The last step was to build a bridge to span a small stream, so a bunch of us met at 9am on a Sunday morning.

After all the materials were carried the half-mile from the parking area to the stream, it only took us about an hour to actually build the bridge. There ended up being 12 volunteers for maybe a four-person job, but between the extra help and having all the wood pre-cut, the job was a breeze.

If anyone is in Chelmsford and would like to walk these trails, let me know. Or, look around in your own communities for trails and parks, either maintained by the town or city department or by private or volunteer groups. Help maintain and preserve these public lands if you can, but by all means, go out and enjoy them.

bridge, bridge building, building, building bridge, chelmsford, chelmsford ma, chelmsfordian, conservation commission, lime quarry, ma, mass, massachusetts, public lands, town of chelmsford, trail, trailwork, volunteer, volunteering, volunteers



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