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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/20/13

   January 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Jumper cables on a car batteryIt's been really cold in this area this week, so this question is quite timely. However, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.

When I came in to work on Wednesday, a coworker related this incident from the day before:

A patron's car wouldn't start in the parking lot, so she came back in the library to ask staff for help. She asked at the circulation desk, and they sent her down to reference. Apparently she didn't have AAA or anyone she could call to help, so she was kind of stuck*. However, only one staff person in the area had jumper cables, and he said he couldn't do it for liability reasons. The patron left reference, and by the end of the night her car was gone from the parking lot, but no one is quite sure how she got it started.

The coworker who relayed this story to me was basically asking if staff handled it correctly, and should the library help someone jump start their car. It's something we've done in the past (I personally have), and I think she felt bad this patron was turned away (especially with our "getting to yes" policy).

We don't have any kind of formal jump starting policy (I mean really, who does?), but because it happened once, I thought it was worth exploring. The Director and I discussed it, and ended up posting this on our staff blog:

Patrons and Jumper Cables

Last week a patron’s car wouldn’t start in the parking lot – she didn’t have AAA or any other way to deal with it on her own, so she came into the library and asked if staff could help her.

The Town cannot accept liability for Town workers to jump cars for people (so it’s okay to say no). However, any staff person that is willing to help on their own (with their own car and jumper cables) is free to assist the patron (but they need to know that you’re doing this on your own, not as a library employee).

Instructions on how to jump start a car using jumper cables [pdf] (from Car Talk)

If this happens at closing time, and there is no way to start the patron’s car and no one else they can call for help, please call the Chelmsford Police non-emergency number 978-256-#### to let them know there is a car stranded in the library parking lot.

This seemed to be a good compromise - the Town can't be responsible for untrained staff jumping someone's car, but if a Good Samaritan staff person knows what they're doing and is willing to help, they can. I always feel a little bad when a limit to what a public library can offer is hit, because I still want libraries to be able to do anything.

Also, a note on the instructions: I know different people have different ways of jump starting a car, so I searched around online to see if there was a safe consensus among experts. The guys at Car Talk are expert enough for me, and their method was backed up by other places too.

 


*I recently had major car problems too, so I can empathize.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/24/12

   June 30th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Child reading in a carSince school ended and the weather has been nice, the reference desk has been pretty slow. Most of the requests we've had have been to help kids find school summer reading books - but this one was a little different.

A woman came up to the desk carrying a couple YA books. She was obviously in a hurry, and I think because she was trying to rush, it took me a bit to actually figure out what she was asking* - it turned out, she had found on the shelf books three and four in the Rangers Apprentice series, and wanted to know if we had books one and two checked in.

I searched the catalog, but unfortunately books one and two were checked out. When I offered to place a hold on them for her, she said,

No, my son wants to read these on our vacation but we're leaving right now and the kids are in the car in the parking lot and I have to go.

And she turned and literally ran away from the desk and up the stairs to the circulation desk.

Ha. When I go on a road trip, my last stop before hitting the road is usually the gas station - awesome that that someone's point of departure is filling up on books.

 


*Initially, she asked me if we had any "earlier editions of this book." However, she didn't offer to show me what book she was talking about, and then when I tried to clarify if she actually was looking for an earlier edition of that book, or if she wanted the earlier books in the series, she seemed to take offense. I wasn't trying to be a jerk, just make sure of what she was really after - but I think she viewed me as just dead weight slowing her down at that point.



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Chelmsford Library to get Electric Car Charging Station

   August 18th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Electric car chargerWell, the fun never stops at the Chelmsford Library - I recently read in the newspaper that we'll be getting a car charger for electric cars.

What?!?, you might exclaim - I did, anyway. I was surprised to be finding out about it from the newspaper, but also the logic of placing it at the library wasn't immediately apparent to me.

According to the article, the charging station is a result of a state grant our Town Manager applied for (Chelmsford was one of 25 towns included in the grant), and it seems this project is really being driven by the Town (rather than the library).

The Town's Facilities Manager is attending an informational meeting this week, and hopefully will have more details to share after that. Right now, it's not entirely clear where the charger will be located, and therefore what kind of impact it will have on parking. I'm not sure if we'll have to dedicate a parking spot to this, how long it takes cars to charge, or if anything will be required of library staff. We've been assured that this won't be added to our electricity usage though, so that's good.

I'm pretty happy that car chargers will start popping up around the state - especially that many of the town listed on the grant are small rural towns, and not just big cities. Chelmsford makes sense because a lot of commuters go through here, so hopefully we'll be seeing more of these as electric cars become more popular (which they probably won't until chargers are widely-available, so I don't know if that makes us the egg or the chicken).

Since this was a Town project, I understand why they're placing it at a Town building, situated in the center of town. But it still does seem like an odd fit for a library - even more of a stretch than a Redbox. However, our solar panel array was also part of a Town grant, and the library was chosen in that case to help showcase the use of renewable energy, and we also built a print collection around it. Hopefully we'll be able to do the same for electric cars.

By the way, here's a Sun-eye view of the solar panels at the Chelmsford Library:

Satellite view of solar panels on the roof of the Chelmsford Library


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Potential, Interrupted

   December 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Lighting McQueen car with bootWhile with my family for Thanksgiving, my nephew Jake showed me his latest toy car - Lightning McQueen, with a boot.

He loved it, because it was something new from his favorite movie. But the more I thought about this particular toy, the more I wondered about life in general.

Whose idea was it to sell kids a toy car that is designed not to roll? Where's the fun in that? Lots of kids' toys don't do anything, I know, and rely heavily on imagination to make them fun - but this defies even that. It seems like the gratification comes not from playing with the car, but just from owning it. Personally, I think this is a Very Wrong Message to send to kids, but that's not why I'm bringing this up.

It also occurred to me was that this booted toy car is very similar to downloadable media with DRM (because I have a tendency to relate every single aspect of my life back to libraries).

Patrons can get some limited joy out of them, but the built-in handicap of DRM is contrary to how (I think) downloadable media is supposed to work. DRM doesn't render downloadable audiobooks completely useless, but it does derail their potential and makes enjoying them unnecessarily difficult.

I asked Jake why he liked this car, since it didn't roll, but being three years old, he just said he wanted it because it was Lightning McQueen. I tried to get him to play with his brother and me as we zoomed cars that did roll back and forth to each other across the floor, but he just sat on a chair holding his new car and looking at it.

As an uncle, I felt bad that the limitations of Jake's new toy kept him from playing with us. But he didn't seem upset, and I figured he'd eventually realize that looking at a car that doesn't work isn't as much fun as playing with one that does.

As a librarian, I feel like every downloadable media option available to us has a boot on it, and people are afraid to get down on the floor and start rolling cars around. We're timidly exploring "free-wheeling" options, and I am hoping libraries and Jake quickly come to the same realization.

And I know I might talk about the wrongs of DRM too much, but it just bugs me.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/25/08

   May 31st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Money in gas canAs I'm sure you've heard, gas prices are on the rise. Stations around here are still hovering in the $3.90 range, but $4.00/gallon can't be far away. I am sure that's what prompted this week's exchange:

Patron: Can you tell me about, gas prices... and, um... fuel economy... ?
Me: Well, maybe. What kind of information are you looking for?
Patron: C'mon, you know, gas prices, and tips, and stuff. Is it real?

After a bit more of this, I learned that the patron:

  1. received an email forward from a friend with driving tips that claim to save gas, and also a list of gas stations that sell gas made from oil from Middle Eastern countries,
  2. wanted to know if there were real driving tips that could save gas, and,
  3. wanted to see national gas prices and find the cheapest gas in town.

I've seen the gas imports email before, and lately have been seeing and hearing gas saving tips everywhere. We started searching the internet for information about driving tips, and found lots. Here's my attempt at organizing those that look reliable:

Driving Tips To Save Gas

Gas Price Listings

Other Fuel Economy Information

Of course, the best tips are to drive less (by walking, biking or riding public transportation), or buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. None of those were practical options for the patron, so he was pretty happy to get this list when I emailed it to him later that day.



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