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




How To Address An Envelope

   December 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Nicely serendipitous with last week's reference question, the library recently received this envelope in the mail:

Envelope addressed: Chelmsford P. Librarian, Chelmsford Public Library, 25 Boston Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824

I'm not sure if this was deliberately done by a person, or just a computer filling in empty fields - either way, this sort of thing can brighten my entire day.

I hope everyone has a good holiday season - I'm visiting family in Ohio for Christmas, so I'll be off until next week. Oh, and regardless of your religion or tradition, be sure to search for Festivus on Google - enjoy! (hint: look to the left, and scroll down)



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/7/12

   October 13th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Sign for The Higgins Moonlite Drive-In, still operating in TennesseeThis was funny. A patron walked up to the desk and asked,

Do you have any information on the drive-in theater that used to be in Chelmsford?

I've been here for about seven years, but had no idea there had been a Chelmsford drive-in. I told the patron this, and he relayed his story:

I've just moved to town, so I was online checking out the area and seeing what was around. I like drive-ins, so I went to this website to see if there were any nearby. I put in "Chelmsford" and it found one listed for Chelmsford. But the weird thing was that when I looked at the address, it was the same address as where I live! My condo complex was build in the early 1990's, and it turns out they tore down the drive-in to build the condos. Do you have any other information on the drive-in?

Now that's bizarre - but also the kind of thing you hear in libraries.

Unfortunately, the 1990's are the doughnut hole era when it comes to historical research. Not old enough for most archives and books, but still too far back to be in online databases. Luckily, there is always hope.

A new book on Chelmsford history was published this year, History of Chelmsford : 1910-1970, and we have a copy right at the desk in our Ready Reference collection. Even though it's supposed to only go to 1970, the editor wisely included an appendix with lots of more recent information (wisely, because he wasn't sure when the next history book would be written). In that appendix was a paragraph on the drive-in, which said it was built in 1957, torn down for the condos in 1994, and gave a little more information. But no photos.

I also suggested this patron contact the Chelmsford Historical Society, which has an extensive photo archive of the area. I gave the patron their contact information, and he was excited to get in touch with them. There are some photos on the drive-in website, but he wanted more.

And when talking about property questions, there's always the Town's tax records. I suggested that to the patron as well, but since we already knew the date range of the drive-in, we didn't think the tax records would offer much.

So, although I didn't actually help this patron very much, this is one of my favorite questions so far this year - this only happened Wednesday, and already I've told this story about ten times. Yay, libraries!



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Cloud of Survey Comments from Library Patrons

   September 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A few months ago, my library conducted a survey of our patrons. We wanted it to be short+useful, so we called it the "60 Second Survey" and limited it to five questions, on things like which services people liked/used, best way to contact them about programs and events, etc.

Of course, the last question was the open-ended "Tell us what you think" question. 255 people provided comments, which made for very interesting reading.

Last week while a coworker was talking about the Wordle cover letter cloud, we got the idea to do a cloud based on the survey comments. Here it is (larger version to see smaller words):

Library Patron Survey Comments cloud

We had read the comments so we knew it was generally positive, but the visual impact of seeing things like this made us feel pretty good. A cloud is so much more concise than 255 individual comments, and we were very happy to see things like "friendly" and "helpful" rise to the top since those are areas we strive to emphasize.

Anyway, I don't mean this as a "We're #1" gloaty post - I just wanted to share because it was so positive. And, it's also a great visual, so we're going to include it in the Town Annual Report, as well as create a poster to display in the library, post on Facebook, etc. A t-shirt might be going too far, but we'll see. I like t-shirts.

I know I'm late to the Wordle game, but now I can't help trying to come up with other things to convert to clouds.



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Library Closed Due to October Snow Storm

   October 31st, 2011 Brian Herzog

The storm that hit New England and the East Coast this weekend knocked out power to my library (like many, many other places). As a result, we're closed until further notice.

Chelmsford Public Library Closed

The "CLOSED" sign by the front door is big enough to be seen from the street. I happened to be there Monday when the mailman came, and he said he was told that anyone who is without power now shouldn't expect it back until Wednesday.

Luckily, the Somerville, MA, library is open and active, and I'm hanging out here until things get back to normal. I hope everyone else affected by the storm is finding a warm haven somewhere.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/23/11

   October 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Shadow of a witch on a treeI don't know if this question was Halloween-related or a coincidence. A patron came up to the desk, slid me a piece of paper with "manningtree" written on it, and said,

Can you tell me where this tree is? It's the tree in Chelmsford where they used to hang witches.

I've never heard of this, and it's definitely the kind of thing would have stuck with me. But, we're not too far from Salem, MA, and Chelmsford was founded forty years before the witch trial era, so I suppose it's possible.

I searched online for manning tree chelmsford, and one of the results is a downloadable book titled Trial Of Manningtree Witches In Chelmsford 1645.

At first I'm shocked that this is something I've missed, but from the description I learn that this book is about some accused witches from Manningtree, England, and their trial that took place in Chelmsford, England. Ah, now it makes sense (someone confuses us with the Chelmsford in England about once a month). I explained this to the patron, and although he was disappointed, he wanted to read about this book online, so I pulled it up on one of the public computers for him.

Interestingly, one of the other search results was for Manning Tree & Landscape in Boxborough, MA, a few towns over from Chelmsford. This is probably be Google trying to be location-aware, but I did think it was a funny coincidence. Happy Halloween, everyone.



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Amazing Library Book Inscription to Former Librarian

   October 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

The Portable Jack KerouacI think this is incredible, and apparently some of my coworkers knew about it and never told me.

I work in the library in Chelmsford, MA, which is next door to the city of Lowell, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac. As a result, we try to maintain a good Jack Kerouac collection, but one specific book in our collection is particularly special.

The book is The Portable Jack Kerouac, which was donated to the library in 1995 by the grandson of long-time Chelmsford Librarian, Edith Pickles. Just this week a coworker showed me this book - the story Edith's grandson recounts in the inscription is just stunning:

Kerouac Inscription
Kerouac Inscription

This is now my favorite story of censorship - and why it is very much the role of libraries to protect the public's right to unrestricted and unmonitored access to information. I am proud to follow in Edith Pickles' footsteps.



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