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




Reference Question of the Week – 6/6/10

   June 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

You Bet Your Life logoA middle-aged male patron approached me while I was at the desk alone and asked,

Do you know any good jokes?

In fact I do, so I told him my current favorite:

A duck walks into a bar wearing one shoe. The bartender says, "Hey duck, you lost a shoe." And the duck says, "Nope, I found one."

Awesome. Anyway, he said he liked it, but he wanted a lot of jokes. I showed him where our humor section* was, and he said he'd look around.

A little while later, he came back up to the desk and said he wanted jokes delivered by text message to his phone. We started searching the internet for "jokes by text" and "joke of the day" and found a ton of jokes people could retype and send out as text messages. There were also lots of jokes by email, and other joke sites, but most looked kind of sketchy.

Then we found Comedy Central's jokes.com. It offers signups for a joke of the day by both email and text, and they seem reputable enough to trust. The text messages were not free, and when he saw that he kind of gave up on the idea.

Before he left, he asked if I knew any other good jokes, so I told him my all-time favorite:

A hotdog walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve food."

Ah, the many required skills of a librarian.

 


*Of all the classes of the Dewey Decimal System, the 800's irritate me the most. Patrons just want to browse for poetry, but no, the books are arranged geographically by the author's country, and sometimes chronologically by publication date, which means similar books are in multiple sections. Our humor books are in 818.5 (or .6), which is something like Literature > Miscellaneous Writings > American Authors of the 20th (or 21st) Century, but could also be in the 808's, 817's, 827's, blah blah blah.



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/13/09

   December 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Customer Service ComicSince it's the season for goodwill towards men and all that, here are some exchanges that are the exact opposite. Boing Boing linked to a bookstore's website that posts funny conversations he has with his customers.

Hey, bookstores get reference questions, too. What I thought was funny was how many times a library was mentioned - and how he referred the really hopeless people to us:

[a customer calls the store and asks...]
How can you tell if a book is old?
Age is a state of mind.
OK. But what makes a book old?
It's relative kind of thing.
OK. But, hum, how do you know if it is old?
Try looking at the date.
Where's that?
Usually on the copyright page.
Where's that?
At the library.
OK, thanks.

Yeah, yeah, we have that page - it's on the same shelf as Sherlock Holmes' biography, our photographs of Socrates, and our primary sources on dinosaurs. Lots more healthy cynicism on the bookstore's website.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/8/09

   November 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Yahoo! Answers logoThis entertained me, so I thought I'd share - Huffington Post collected some funny responses to questions asked on Yahoo Answers.

I wouldn't call them the "funniest of all time" - most of them were snarky answers or just really bad questions. But the one about the sandwich did make me laugh out loud.

Occasionally I use Yahoo Answers to help with a patron's question, but like with any traditional or crowd-sourced resource, it needs to be evaluated critically (and enjoyed).



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/23/08

   March 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Seal of the Commonwealth of MassachusettsWorking with the public has good and bad aspects. Some of the best times I've had with patrons is when they take time out of their information seeking to just be a normal person. This is one of those times.

An obviously distressed woman approaches me at the desk. She says her son is a special-needs student at a school in a nearby community (she didn't feel comfortable going to her hometown library with this), but she doesn't feel like he's getting the attention he requires. She has been going around and around with various school administrators, but they haven't been cooperating with her efforts to find out just what is being provided for her son on a daily basis.

Someone told her that Chapter 766 of the State Laws addressed the public school system paying to send a special-needs kid to a private school, and she wanted me to help her find the actual text of this law.

Alright, that's pretty straight-forward.

The General Laws of Massachusetts are online, so I went to this on the desk computer. We tried searching for "chapter 766," but nothing came up. Then we tried a keyword search for "special education," and that lead us to Chapter 71b - Children with Special Needs.

After a quick skim of the table of contents, the patron felt that what she needed must be here. She jotted down the URL and went to one of the public computers to continue her search for the chapter section that addresses private special education.

About a half an hour later, I stopped by her computer to see how she was doing. She was smiling as she read, but when I asked her if she was finding what she needed, she looked at me as if I had just caught her with her hand in the cookie jar.

Apparently, she sat down at the computer and typed in the address for the laws search, but instead of searching for "special education," started searching for other things - like "blasphemy," "exhibition" and others - just to see what funny laws Massachusetts had on the books.

And it has many. She and I clicked through and read quite a few, and a had a good time speculating what the origins of the laws were, the seemingly arbitrary penalties, and what kind of news it would make if they were enforced today. Our favorites were all under Chapter 272 - Crimes against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order, and here are some highlights:

It was fun to just spontaneously enjoy something with a patron, rather than seeing her as someone to help and move on. And she seemed to really enjoy the diversion, too, as what she came in to research was fairly serious. So, yay for a good library experience.



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