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


Problems with Flickr’s Map

   May 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

flickr screenshotWhen I upload photos to flickr, I always try to place them on the map, if appropriate. When I started a flickr account for my library, I noticed that there was a problem with the map.

I work at the library in the town of Chelmsford, MA, which is situated right next door to the city of Lowell, MA. Lowell is much bigger, and if it had a "metro area," Chelmsford would be a part of it.

However, after having lived her for a couple years, I know that the two communities are very different. High school rivalries, traffic problems - heck, I even hear Chelmsford library patrons complain about Lowell patrons and the Lowell library. Community loyalty here runs as deep as the Merrimack River.

So, I was sort of startled to see flickr claiming that all the photos mapped for the library's account (which were taken in Chelmsford) were listed by flickr as "Taken in Lowell, Massachusetts" (as circled in red in the photo above).

When placing photos on their map, flickr encourages you to place it as locally as possible. Because of that, I was surprised to see their local locations that inaccurate. I wrote to flickr, explaining the situation and asking if they could be more accurate with their map. Here's the response I received (from two different flickr support techs on the same day, two days after I sent my message):

Hi Brian,

We are aware that there are some locations that might be reflecting an adjacent city or town, or an incorrect place name. In some cases a place name might reflect a town name that is no longer in use. Flickr uses map data from Yahoo! which in turn is provided by third party providers (most online maps you see are sourced this way).

We are developing methods to allow you, the knowledgeable member, to be able to contribute to local adjustments. We don't have a particular date in mind when we would be able to offer this, but please understand it is something we hope to provide in the very near future.

Regards

Not exactly the "hi, we're flickr, and we can do anything" kind of response I was hoping for, but I do understand the issue. I guess I just have to hold on until this feature becomes available, and explain to our patrons why it looks like the Chelmsford Library is actually in the city next door.
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Reference Question of the Week – 4/29

   May 5th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Ten minutes before I'm due to go home, the phone rings. The caller identifies himself as a reporter for the local newspaper and asks if I can help him find the correct spelling of the name of a bar that was in Chelmsford 10-15 years ago. He says it was called "Beer Bellies," gives me the address, and I tell him I'll see what I can find and call him back.

I've only lived here for about two years, so this bar was before my time. But since all librarians are big drinkers, I asked around the staff on duty that day to see if anyone recalled this bar. No one did, which surprised them all, since most of them have lived here all their lives.

Even when I mentioned the address I was given, all anyone could remember in that area was a gym, or a racquetball club, or something like that - which has since been torn down to build an office park. And because I had asked around, suddenly the entire library was working on the same reference question.

Since he wanted the correct spelling, I thought I'd have to find a reference in writing, but was at least hoping the staff here could give me some leads. We didn't have any phone books that old, Chelmsford doesn’t have a city directory, and the time span was far too great to skim through old newspaper microfilm hoping to get lucky.

But since this was a bar, there must be a record of ownership, and a liquor license. So I went to the Town's website and into the Tax Assessor's database. This database has helped me more than once, but rarely completely answers the question.

And it was the same in this case. I searched for the address, and found that that property was owned by the same person from 1979 to 1996, which would certainly coincide with the patron's "10-15 years ago" range. But, unfortunately, the name listed was a person's name, not "Beer Bellys" or something.

So, I got out the local phone book to look up the name. It was listed and I gave them a call, hoping to explain who I was and ask them if they used to own a bar at that address. But, the phone number was disconnected. Drat. Not wanting to give up on this particular lead, I also tried this person's name on Switchboard. There was a listing for the same number as in the phone book, but also a second phone number.

However, by now it was time for me to go home, so I had to pass this question off to the next shift. They called the other number and got a hold of the right person. After explained the situation, the man said that yes, he did own a bar at that address. But it was never called "Beer Bellies" - it was called the "Brass Racquet." They then called the reporter back, who was happy with the result; he only thought the name might have been "Beer Bellies," which is why he wasn't sure of the spelling in the first place.

brass racquet, chelmsford, chelmsford ma, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, reference questions, switchboard, tax assessor



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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.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/25

   March 31st, 2007 Brian Herzog

Seal of the Town of Chelmsford, MAA student came in working on a local history project. Part of the assignment was to find out what daily life was like for people who lived in Chelmsford long ago.

For projects like this, a great local history resource is a book called "The History of Chelmsford," written by Wilson Waters in 1917. Being as old as it is, it covers in great detail what Chelmsford was like in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is also a large book, which often intimidate kids (and adults), but it has a tremendous amount of useful information. In this case, it even has a chapter called "The Life of Long Ago," which went a long way towards answering the student's question.

However, within this chapter, there is a subsection called "Social Life." As I was skimming it, I started to laugh. The full text of this book is very graciously provided online, but there were a few paragraphs on practical jokes (noted as "a common amusement") I thought worth pulling out:

A man, after spending an evening at the tavern, might, with difficulty, get into his chaise in the dark, and find his horse apparently backing when told to go forward, some wicked boys having hitched him into the thills with his head where his tail ought to be.

On a cold winter night the boys stuffed the schoolhouse chimney with hay, and poured water down upon it, which froze solid, so that it was impossible to have a fire the next morning.

The first thing a new schoolmaster had to do was to show himself master of the biggest boys, which, sometimes, required a knock-down blow, resulting in universal respect for the school-master. In such a tussle, one poor man had his long hair rubbed full of burrs.

Parson Bridge, when courting his second wife, the Widow Abbott, in taking a short cut to her house, "the Ark," had to cross a plank over the brook. One evening it broke, and let him into the water, the boys having sawed it nearly in two in the middle.

Ah, those old tyme Chelmsfordians knew how to live.

chelmsford, chelmsford ma, history, libraries, library, practical jokes, reference question, the history of chelmsford



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