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


Reference Question of the Week – 12/27/15

   January 2nd, 2016 Brian Herzog

keepingupkardashiansIf you're a reference librarian long enough, eventually you might hear every possible question - even those you'd never think someone would ask.

Due to traveling for Christmas and how New Year's Eve fell this year, this past week was a short one for me. However, that didn't stop one patron from sneaking in this phone question on Wednesday evening:

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Hi, my husband and I were watching a show last night which we liked, and then I found out it was a series, and we'd like to watch all the earlier episodes to get caught up, so I thought I'd get them from the library, so can you help me with this, I mean find those old shows for me, I don't know how many there are...
Me: [glance at the timer on the phone and see that 30 seconds has already elapsed on this call without the patron giving me the information I need to actually start helping her, so even though I hate interrupting people, I have to break in with] Oh sure, what's the name of the show?
Patron: "Keeping up with the Kardashians."
Me: Oh, okay.

I mean, how do you respond to that? I've never seen this show, but the things I'm thinking are,

  • Ugh.
  • I feel like this show was on a long time ago
  • Most libraries don't collect reality show DVDs

I don't like being snobby, but I really am surprised someone would go out of their way to track down old episodes of this show. Being timely and current was, I thought, part of the appeal, but I suppose if you get sucked into the personalities, it doesn't matter.

Of course I don't say any of this to the patron, and instead just quickly and quietly search our consortium catalog, but that came up empty. The next step for us is to search Massachusetts' statewide Commonwealth catalog - which, very surprisingly, has seasons 1-3.

Now that is impressive - to me. The patron, however, is a little disappointed there aren't more, although neither of us know how many seasons there were (another surprise for me: this show started in 2007 and is currently in it's 11th season).

So there you go. I requested the available DVDs to get the patron started, and asked her to check back after she got caught up. Perhaps by then there will be more in the system, or we can ILL from outside the state, or I'll be able to find episodes somewhere online, or she will have found a marathon or something on television.

I'm sure there are all kinds of crazy things I check out of the library that other people would never think someone would want, so yay for a public library coming through with what a patron was looking for.



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Chapter Two on Purple DVDs

   August 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog

chapter two DVDA few weeks ago, I mentioned a reference question from a patron who couldn't play a library DVD in her laptop.

The problem seemed to be that it was a purple DVD-R DVD, rather than a regular silvery shiny one, and it wouldn't play in her DVD-RW drive.

I requested the same copy of the disc, so I could experiment and see if it would play for me. The item was Chapter Two, and it was indeed purple.

But more interesting was the note on the back:

DVDnotice

Besides the "this disc is copy-protected" icon, the interesting part is the last line:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.

I don't often read the fine print on DVD containers, but I have not seen this before.

Also, none of this would be surprising if it were the regular silver disc. The fact that it's the purple is what surprises me. After I posted this question, a reader (thanks Dot!) sent me a link explaining why DVD-Rs are purple - which makes it sound like whatever operation made the DVD the library purchased is based out of some guy's garage.

I'm sure that's not the case, and although I have not contacted the production company, my guess is that it's just a small-run video house that doesn't have the large expensive equipment. They probably produce DVDs using DVD-R disc and also put DRM on them to satisfy the studios, and then sell them retail through vendors that are also used by libraries. Probably all perfectly legal, but it's just unusual.

Anyway, since I had a copy of the DVD, I tried playing it in a variety of computers and with a variety of software - and for me, it played in every single case. Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, using Windows Media Player, VLC, and PowerDVD (obviously, Macs don't exist in my world).

As a result of this testing, it seems that the problem the patron was having is with her laptop. Another reader (thanks Plutia!) suggested it might be possible to change the settings for the laptop's DVD drive so that operates as a READ-ONLY device. I didn't try this, but if the patron continues to have trouble, I will suggest it.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/30/12

   January 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Amongst White Clouds DVD coverThis has been a heck of a holiday season for some reason, and I'm still trying to get caught up. So, this is just a quickie reference question - although it's more like "readers advisory gone wrong."

One of our patrons submitted a purchase suggestion through our website for the DVD Amongst White Clouds, a documentary on Buddhism and monks. Since it wasn't already owned by any libraries from which it was easily requestable, I looked it up on Amazon to check it out, read reviews, and see if it was worth purchasing.

Most of the reviews were positive, which is good, but sometimes the bad reviews are more informative. This time though, one of them made me laugh out loud:

After reading the documentary description and several rave reviews, I was anxious to watch this movie. It provides a lesson in Buddhism, but not the one I was expecting. ... I got more wisdom from watching Kung Fu Panda with my son, than I got from this movie.

Pretty harsh, but funny. One of my favorite features of professional review journals is when a reviewer says a book isn't very good, and then provides titles that are better. But in this case, I don't think my patron would have been happy with this Amazon reviewer's alternate suggestion.

And actually, after reading about this DVD, I really want to see it now - thanks for the good suggestion, patron.



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Good Ideas, Not Easily Sold

   August 29th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A couple of totally unrelated really good ideas (I think), before I head to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend:

Good Idea #1
First, for all you DVD collection development librarians out there, here is a must-add for the library's collection:

The Red Green Show box set

A 50-DVD set of The Red Green Show! 300 episodes = ~124 hours of wisdom from Possum Lodge, plus bonus material. Of course, the $299.99 price tag made my colleague who does our DVD selection just say "no."

Good Idea #2
Apple Store genius training manualSecond, an Apple Store training manual for their Genius Bar employees was reviewed at Gizmodo. From the tl;dr write up on BoingBoing, some great training gems caught my eye:

What does a Genius do? Educates. How? "Gracefully." He also "Takes Ownership" "Empathetically," "Recommends" "Persuasively," and "Gets to 'Yes'" "Respectfully."

From the comments, it appears the existence of this manual met with a large degree of cynicism. However, swap out "Genius" for "Librarian" and this exactly sums up what our desk staff should aspire to.

Taking ownership of a problem can be difficult in a public library, because not everything is something library staff can help with. But when it is within our power - especially concerning a library resource or service - taking ownership is the best way solve a patron's problem. Because if one of our patrons can't use a library resource, then it's a library problem.

And initially I was uncomfortable with the word "persuasively," because it sounds very retail. But after I thought about it, I often actively try to persuade patrons all the time, in the sense of recommending - and leading them to - what I think is the best resource. "Yes, maybe this recently-published book on skin cancer is a better choice, even though that one from 1995 is thinner and has more pictures. Of course, you can always take both." Or, "Instead of trying to figure out how to cite Yahoo Answers in your term paper, how about I show you how to use our journal databases?" Of course librarians persuade - empathetically and respectfully - but don't force or withhold information. We certainly try to recommend the best resources possible, but it's always up to the patron to make their own decisions.

Not that I should be surprised Apple has good customer service ideas - I've certainly drawn inspiration from them before.

I hope everyone has a good long weekend - see you next week.



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What Does “Video” Mean Today?

   April 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Internet Killed the Video Store? signHere's a topic that I've heard come up multiple times recently in different contexts, and I'm curious if there is any kind of wider consensus on it. The question is, what does the word "video" mean to people?

We're redesigning our catalog, and in the process of coming up with format description, we had a discussion (and disagreement) on whether "video" means just VHS tapes, or if it refers to to DVDs and other formats as well (like "music" is a generic term for anything on CD, tape, etc). We're also redesigning our website, and in that context, we weren't sure if the word "video" means physical tapes/discs, or if people would presume it means online clips/episodes/tutorials/etc - or both.

So I thought I'd take a quick poll - please make a selection, but also leave a comment below on why, or if I've missed an option entirely.

[poll link]

And a question for another time: in light of this, does the "video" in "video game" make sense?



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