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


Traveling, and World Book in Chinese

   April 16th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chinese world book encyclopediaI'm going to Ohio for a week, and so won't be posting for awhile. But here's something:

In preparation for being away, I was trying to clear off my desk at work. A few layers of papers down, I found a scrap with "to blog" ideas scribbled on it. The only one still interesting is that, at the end of last year, our Children's Room purchased the Chinese version of the World Book Encyclopedia.

We have a large Chinese-speaking population, with varying mastery of English, so this will likely be useful to many of our patrons.

But being curious, and lacking a Chinese-speaking staff person, we asked one of the library's regular patrons, originally from Taiwan, to compare a few articles related to China in both editions. Her impression was that, despite the 2007 date on the cover, the information inside seemed to reflect the China of the mid-1980's. This opinion didn't come from an in-depth reading, but she felt that the last 20 years of political change was missing from the Chinese edition.

She also, of course, took great interest in the Taiwan article. Here she felt it was almost identical to the English edition, with only one significant difference. The very end of the article had an extra statement, indicating that Taiwan, as a whole, was looking forward to unification with mainland China.

I would have loved to have this patron (and others) do additional detailed comparisons, but her child was already using one volume to work on her homework, and needed her mother's help. I'm happy this is a resource my library can offer our patrons, and although I'd like to have a better understanding of what patrons are getting out of it, I believe it is playing an important role in our Children's Room.

Have a nice week - I'm off to play with my nieces and nephews.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/20/08

   July 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Beijing 2008 Stamp mockupThis reference question is just funny. A coworker and I were sitting at the desk when the phone rang. She answered it, so I only heard her half of the conversation:

My coworker: Reference desk.
[a few seconds of silence]
My coworker: No, I'm not.
[a few seconds of silence]
My coworker: Sorry, no, I don't.
[a long time of silence]
My coworker: Well, I'm not sure. I don't think there is actually a list, that anybody keeps. Maybe you could put an ad in the paper?
[a few seconds, then the patron hangs up]

After the call, my coworker turns to me, smiling, to fill me in. Apparently, the patron first asked if she, my coworker, was going to the Olympics in China later this year. When she said no, the patron asked if she knew of anyone who was going.

With my coworker answering no to that as well, the patron explained her question. Apparently China is issuing special postage stamps for the Olympic summer games. The patron's grandson collects stamps, so the patron was looking for someone who was going to Beijing for the games and could mail him a postcard with one of the special Olympic stamps affixed.

Which is a very nice thing to do, but I'm not sure why she thought the library maintained a list of people going to the Olympics. I thought the suggestion of putting an ad in the newspaper was a pretty good one - you never know who responds to newspaper ads, but it just might work.

In looking for a picture of the stamp in question, I found a few websites that might interest philatelists:



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/16/07

   December 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Danger: Made In ChinaI got a call from a staff person in the Town of Chelmsford's Board of Health office (I'll call her Kelly). Kelly said that a mother called her in a panic, and was hoping I could help with the mother's question.

The mother found her daughter playing with a pair of Fiskars scissors, and was worried. The scissors said "Made in China" on the side, and the mother called the Town's Board of Health to find out if they had lead paint on them.

I can understand the concern, considering the numerous recent news stories concerning dangerous Chinese-made toys, but:

  • scissors are not toys, and,
  • if I found a little kid playing with scissors, "lead poisoning" wouldn't be my first safety concern

Anyway, Kelly wasn't having any luck finding information, so I gave it a try. I did a Google search for lead recall site:.gov, and along with a number of state health agencies websites, I found a couple very useful Federal lead-related product warnings/recalls:

I found these while still on the phone, and Kelly was delighted to take down these urls. I asked her tell the mother that if she needed more information, to call the library directly, and we'd keep looking. So far, she hasn't called, and as far as well could tell, Fiskars scissors are not on any of the recall lists.

Even though the library wasn't this mother's first thought for an information search, our good relationship with other Town offices allowed this question to make its way to us. I am often calling the Town Clerk or Tax Assessor or someone for help on relevant questions. When I do that, I also try to chat a bit, so they'll think of the library in a situation just like this.

Not only is it important to market ourselves to our patrons, but we also need to raise awareness with other agencies that deal directly with the public (the "information first responders"), so they will refer patrons to us if they can't themselves help.

china, lead, libraries, library, paint, public, recall, reference question, toy, toys



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China’s Library on the Lake

   October 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

This is a nice new library building in China. It's good to hear that that, despite all the censorship news, China is still sees the value in libraries.

Oddly, though, I didn't see any bookshelves until the last picture (use the "next" button, not the "Photo Gallery" link).

via LISnews.org

building, china, libraries, library, new building, public libraries, public library



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