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


Reference Question of the Week – 6/2/13

   June 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Stephen King with Red Sox World Series trophyI'm not exactly sure why this question stuck out in my mind this week, but it did.

One of our regular patrons is a man with special needs who LOVES horror stories, superheros, movies, television, and reading. He's either in the library or calls every day, and generally all of his questions revolve around the above topics. So, it was slightly unusual one day when he called and asked,

Can you find me Stephen King's email address? I thought of a horror story about the Red Sox I want to tell him so he can write a story about it.

A perfectly reasonable request, and I actually became a little curious about what kind of horror could involve a baseball team.

Generally for these kind of celebrity-contact questions, I always turn to our copy of The Celebrity Black Book, but since I was on the phone I just did a web search.

StephenKing.com was rightly the first search result, and I clicked into the Contact Us form to see if it had an option for submitting story ideas. Not too surprisingly, the form made it clear that it did not go to Stephen King. Then I noticed an FAQ link in the site's navigation bar, so I tried that.

One FAQ was "What is your email address?" which, again, was unsurprising in that it said Stephen King has no public email address (but did refer people to the message boards, which he does apparently follow).

A little lower on the page was the question, "Do you accept story ideas," which was answered,

No, I don't. I really have enough story ideas of my own. Every now and then somebody will advance a concept the way that my foreign rights agent, Ralph Vicinanza suggested wouldn't it be fun to do a modern-day serial story. The result of that was The Green Mile which was published in installments-these little paperback books--but he never suggested what sort of story I might have written in installments and I wouldn't have accepted it if he had done that. I believe in thinking up my own ideas. I really have enough. I really think if I have two or three ideas ahead I'm in totally great shape.

I paraphrased this for my patron, which he seemed to readily accept (and that was surprising) and hung up. Later in the day I did check The Celebrity Black Book, and it does include Stephen King's agent. I briefly weighed the idea of providing this to my patron the next time I saw him, because that's what librarians do, right? Birddog the information through whatever resources possible until we can provide the patron with an answer.

In the end though, I decided against giving the patron the agent's contact info - although the patron asked contact information, the actual answer to his question is that Stephen King does not accept story ideas. Getting in touch with the agent wouldn't have done any good, and so I would have essentially been providing the wrong answer, or misinformation, to the patron. This is kind of an oddly fine line, but it gave me something to think about this week.

This particular patron has written a few stories of his own in the past, so I encouraged him to do it again. And if he does, I'll help him post it to the message board.

But the fact that Stephen King doesn't accept story ideas got me thinking. I remember from high school that Weird Al Yankovic also does not accept song ideas, with the reason given being "legal reasons" (which I've always thought meant he didn't want to get into a royalties fight with someone who thought Al was making a lot of money off an idea a they submitted). But it makes sense that prolifically-creative people have no shortage of their own ideas, and prefer to grow them into a work following their own process. I've never looked into this, but it got me wondering if any famous creator does openly accept fan submissions, and then grow them into a finished work. Has anyone heard of this happening?



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A Few Current Ideas and Trends in Libraries

   March 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog

If you haven't seen it already, please take a minute to check out Jessamyn's picture-laden post on some really great ideas currently happening in the library world.

Awesome Box: Return Awesome Stuff HereI point to her post because I had a couple of these in my to-blog folder, but, not surprisingly, she hits the important points much more concisely than I would (but I'll add my two cents anyway).

The Awesome Box
This idea circulated around my library a few weeks ago, and we all agreed it indeed is an awesome idea, and we want to make it happen here. We're in the (early) process of adding an Awesome Box to our circulation desk, and once it's there, I'll update people on patrons' reactions (which I am very curious to see).

Blind Date With a Book
Blind Date with a BookAnother good idea that was new-to-me recently (around St. Valentine's Day), was a lot of libraries doing "blind date with a book." The idea is for staff to choose good books, and then wrap them so patrons don't know what it is. Some libraries put a little information on the cover, but basically the point is for the patron to read this book blind (so to speak) - and, hopefully, enjoy something they may not have otherwise checked out. (By the way, this wasn't in Jessamyn's post, but I like it anyway.)

Non-Traditional Collections/Next Generation Libraries
Jessamyn pointed out that there is such a thing as the West Seattle Tool Library - unfortunately, I don't think there is an Awesome Box big enough for this. I like the trend of makerspaces in libraries (like in Westport, CT), and this is sort of in that same vein. Also too, I think non-traditional collections (like seed libraries) are a great idea.

I have also been collecting links about "Next Generation Libraries" - you know, the bookless type that are nothing but rows and rows of computers and the collection is all ebooks. Here's a few I've bookmarked:

On San Antonio's Bexar County Public Library:

Other varieties of new tech trends in libraries

I'm certainly not a Luddite (well...) and generally don't shy away from evolution and change, but this picture really bothered me:

Bibliotech representation

My library has rows of public computers too, but this picture makes these terminals (and the library overall) look so cold and isolating - not to mention the stools look designed to be uncomfortable and unwelcoming.

But anyone can pick out the pros and cons of a particular instance of a trend, so I decided to focus on what my library would be like if we went bookless.

I started with the obvious: maintaining access to information, which is a core library mission. The current state of ebooks is barely tolerable, primarily because not all ebooks are available to libraries. Which means we'd probably need to purchase ebooks as a consumer and load them on physical devices (which itself is not exactly a model made for libraries).

Anyway, if we were going to be providing devices, and expected to maintain our same level of service and circulation, the number of devices we'd need to purchase depended on our circulation. A one-day snapshot showed that we had 3,142 patrons with at least one item checked out.

That number is kind of sobering, and leads me to think that there is no realistic way we could afford to make this switch and still provide our patrons with access to all the titles they want to read, watch, and listen to. I'm certainly not denying the trend, nor the success that some libraries have had with a bookless model, but it doesn't seem like we'd be able to accomplish this any time soon.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/27/11

   December 3rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Cultural Road Show logoThis week's question made me laugh, and then made me think - and I wasn't the only one.

One of the programs going on at my library right now is something call the "Cultural Road Show." The idea behind it is to increase awareness of the museums and other cultural organizations in the community, by having one of them come to the library each month and give a program on their group/collection.

Essentially, get the museums to get a small exhibit "on the road" and bring it to the library (one nice side effect is that it also promotes our museum passes). We're using the bus image to reenforce the "road trip" theme, and also are scanning people's library cards as they enter (sort of like an EZPass going through a toll booth) which enters people into drawing for prizes from the museums.

Our Community/Programming Librarian has been doing a good job of organizing and promoting it, and the first few road shows have been pretty well-attended.

But this week, a patron walked up to the circulation desk and said:

I saw signs for this Cultural Road Show - what time does the bus get here, and do you have a schedule of all the places where we'll be stopping?

Of course, obvious and honest misunderstandings like this are humorous, mainly because this approach never even occurred to anyone on the staff - and we all had a good laugh.

But then we all thought, why not plan a road trip for patrons to actually visit museums? Just because the idea didn't originate with a staff person doesn't mean we can't do it. We need to look into the feasibility of that kind of program, but we all liked the sound of it.

It reminded me of Jessamyn's recent post about the trend in library programs to do new things - sometimes, the best way to come up with new ideas is to ask patrons.



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Librarian Holiday Gift Guide

   December 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Festivus PoleDo you know what I enjoy more than telling people where the bathroom is? Shopping.

In case anyone is pestering you for gift ideas, they could read How To Get Good Gifts for Librarians, or use the links below to find something for the librarian in their life.

And finally, the Washington Post's fiction critic picks special gifts for the book lover (via LISNews):



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Salem Press Great Reference Idea Contest

   December 7th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Salem PressThe following came in email from Peter W. Tobey, Director of Sales & Marketing for Salem Press. I thought it was something worth publicizing and supporting - check it out:

The Great Reference Idea Contest

Salem is tinkering with a way to learn more about the changing landscape of reference. In this particular instance, we're wondering about what new content areas (or emphasis) might be on the minds of students, patrons and librarians. So, we're asking.

We'd like librarians to suggest titles and/or subject areas for new reference. Everything is on the table. Every idea is welcome, covering any subject. Our hope is that librarians will ask for the reference their patrons and students need but can't find.

WINNERS
The first three librarians whose suggestions on any specific subject become new Salem Press reference will receive that reference free. That's it, very simple: Be among the first three with an idea and we'll give you the reference when (and if) we publish it.

SUBMISSIONS
Librarians should email ptobey@salempress.com with their ideas. Librarians may submit as many ideas as they'd like. In fact, the more the merrier.

For a press release on the program, click Press Release. Hope you enjoy this...

Peter W. Tobey
Director, Sales & Marketing
Salem Press
Voice: (201) 968-9599
Email: ptobey@salempress.com

I appreciate publishers taking an interest in the development and future direction of the library world, and this cooperative approach to identify need, rather than just pushing whatever they have to sell.

I haven't come up with any earth-shattering ideas, but I'll definitely submit something.

(Image: energy-saving light bulb by AA, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from sloth_rider's photostream)



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Library Marketing Ideas (sort of)

   February 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Marketing. There's always workshops concerning how to market libraries and services at conferences, and they are always well-attended. This past weekend seemed to be a perfect storm of marketing-related events, so I thought I'd convert-to-library a few ideas I witnessed recently.

  • Guerilla Marketing: If you live in the Boston area (like I do), you couldn't help but hear (endlessly) about the "terror scare" that gripped the city last week. If a library wrapped up books in duct tape envelopes and left them on busses and trains, they might be able to get $800,000 worth of advertising. And up to five years in prison.
  • Movie Theaters: I went to a movie this weekend, got there a bit early, and ended up sitting through a good ten minutes of advertisements. Personally, I dislike these commercials, but doesn't it make sense for a library to sponsor some kind of trivia game for all those captive teens to play while waiting for the movie to start?
  • Logo Recognition: One of the ads at the movies was for some show on the NBC network. At the end of it, they displayed this image:
    NBC.com logo
    What impressed me was that they consider their logo so recognizable that they don't even need to spell out what their web address is - just their logo+.com is enough. My library has a logo, too, but I don't think patrons would be able to make that same leap:
    Chelmsford Library.org logo
  • Water Survey KitDirect Marketing: I got this "Important!" water survey kit in the mail. Survey questions regarded water use/quality and home ownership, including space for me to fill out my name, address, phone number, etc. They also asked I fill the little bottle with tap water and return everything back to them. I did not like that this company barely identified themselves (I needed the internet to find out this is just a marketing campaign of a company that sells water systems), but could libraries do a similar direct mail campaign to find out what patrons want from libraries? It could be a good way to reach those people who don't come into the libraries, what their reading habits/tastes are, and what the quality of water around town is like.

So much to do, and so little time.

ideas, libraries, library, marketing, promotion, public libraries, public library



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