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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/31/10

   February 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Child poetPerhaps it's just my hyperactive paranoia, but anytime someone asked me an unusual question or acts strangely, I think it's some kind of "secret shopper" evaluating my performance. Case in point, a little while ago the reference desk received the following email:

is there a contest I can use to make my kid a famous poet?

That was it - no name, no other information, just that one line. The email address seemed legitimate, so I researched it a bit and replied:

I think I'll need a little bit more information from you, but I do have some suggestions. It would be helpful to know the age of the child, and also what you're looking for in a contest: are you looking for a venue for live readings, a mail-in contest with winners and prizes, just somewhere that will print poetry from children, or something else entirely?

Our Childrens Rooms subscribes to lots of magazines that accept poetry submissions from children. They're not exactly contests, but the poetry is judged to see if it's worthy of publishing in their magazines. One magazine that publishes a lot of poetry is "New Moon" but others do as well.

The Chelmsford Library has a "poetry slam" every April, which is open to all ages. It is a contest in which winners are chosen, but as our website says, it is a gentle contest. And it's held in April because that is National Poetry Month - during that month, there are a lot of other local poetry-related events, but those usually aren't announced or publicized until closer to April.

There are also lots of online poetry contests - here are a few websites I found:

Another resource is the Massachusetts Poetry Festival website, which is building a database of both poets and venues. It doesn't seem like it's ready yet, but their website has a list of the people building the database, so they may have information on contests they could provide you with.

Lastly, I found a article on the eHow.com website that probably says a lot of what you already know, but also had a few interesting tips relating to childrens' poetry contests.

The woman here who organizes the poetry slams is out for the first part of this week, but I think she will have more ideas. I'll ask her when she comes back, and will email you with whatever else she can suggest. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, or if you can be more specific about what you are looking for. Thanks, and take care.

This was at least a month ago, and I never got a response. I'm not sure if it was real or not, but if it was, I hope it was helpful. However (and granted, I am not a parent), it always bothers me when people refer to their child as "kid" and when it seemed parents are forcing their kids* into something for their own benefit. To wit:

Bruno Parenting FAIL video:

 


*Oddly, although calling one child "kid" bothers me, referring to a group of children as "kids" is perfectly fine. "Lady" works the same way - calling one woman "lady" seems rude, but referring to a group of women as "ladies" is okay. I am a complex person.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.



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What is the Point of Reading?

   July 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

kids sharing a bookSome interesting comments on my last post got me thinking about reading, and why we encourage kids to read.

I know reading is vital for learning and personal development. But beyond that, is reading just for the benefit of the reader?

I wonder: is reading without sharing the experience akin to amassing a tremendous fortune and doing nothing with it? Society tends to paint as "greedy" people who accumulate wealth just for the sake of having more money than they know what to do with. At the same time, we reward philanthropists with awe and gratitude for "giving back" and sharing their excess wealth to benefit society.

So, should reading programs not just encourage kids to total up the number of pages and hours spent reading (which can lead to competition), but to also be "knowledge philanthropists" and share what they've learned and experienced from reading (which might lead to collaboration)? Or would that intimidate kids away from reading at all?

I'm not a children's librarian or parent, so perhaps I'm just late to the party on this.



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StoryTubes 2009

   January 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

storytubes videoLast year I learned about a video-based book review contest for students called StoryTubes. It's happening again this year, and the deadline for submissions is fast approaching.

I think this is a great idea for any librarian or teacher with creative kids and a video camera. All the details are available on their website, but basically a kid makes a video reviewing a book they've read, the video is uploaded to teachertube.com or YouTube.com, and then submissions are judged and the winner announced. But more importantly, kids are involved with creating something that is their own.

And this idea goes along with my "Information in Context" push, in that any video created can be embedded back into the library's website to showcase the kids and their reading - and hopefully encourage more kids to read and review books. If you are able, make a video and enter the contest. Or, at least keep tabs on the entries - last year's were quite entertaining.



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Reference Question of the Week – 9/28/08

   October 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Kids in the back of a carSometimes, an innocent reference question has the potential to turn into a multi-million dollar industry.

Late one evening, a man in his early-forties came up to the desk:

Patron: I'm looking for someone to drive my kids.
Me: Um... where to?
Patron: My kids get home from school about 3 o'clock, but wife and I don't get home from work until about 6 o'clock. Most of the activities they want to do (sports, dance lessons, piano lessons, etc.) are after school, but they can't do them because I can't drive them there. I'm looking for someone who can drive my kids to their activities and then bring them home afterwards. Can you give me the number of the group in town that does that?
Me: I don't know of any group that does that specifically. I think most people use nannies or babysitters, or carpools or relatives or neighbors. But I'll check around and email you what I find.

After a little more talking, I learned that he and his family had immigrated here from India a little over a year ago, and so didn't have family in the area and hadn't met many people yet. They couldn't afford to pay a babysitter, especially since the kids were old enough to be home alone, but just not old enough to drive.

I first checked with our Childrens Librarian, as the Childrens Desk usually knows about kid- or mom- or family-related resources in the area. And I was right. She told me that the middle schools in town have buses that move kids between the various schools to get them to school-related after-school activities. Also, she said that high school kids volunteer around town after school, and that perhaps he could find one of them that could drive his children around.

I next checked our Community Information database, which is a listing of social services and non-profit organizations in the area. Most of what I found were child services for low income families or at-risk kids, but there was also a listing for the Chelmsford Mother's Club.

This club is kind of like a support group for new and expectant mothers, so I didn't think it would help him directly. But I linked to the Mother's Club website from CommInfo, and found that they had put together a great resources page. I couldn't tell if any of them could help the patron, but it was a good list to start with.

I emailed these three options to the patron, but haven't yet heard back.

And after thinking about this question for a few days, this really does sound like a business that could make a fortune.



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Kid Book Reviews on StoryTubes

   June 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

StoryTubes book review video imageA librarian in Maine recently posted to MELIBS-L that one of their local patrons was a finalist for the 2008 StoryTubes contest. I had never heard of this contest, but I like projects where patrons get involved, so I checked it out. I loved it.

Kids make a video of themselves reviewing a book on a particular theme (that week's was "Facts, Fads and Phenoms") and submit it to StoryTubes. Finalists get posted on the website (via YouTube), website visitors vote, and four winner win $500 in books (and their sponsoring school or library receives $1,000 in books).

This year's contest is winding down, and I'm sorry I missed it. It's sponsored by publishers and libraries, and the finalist videos are great (my two favorite are below, and more here).

But even outside this contest, I think this would be a fun thing to do in the library. All it would take is a basic digital camera and a YouTube account, and I can see parents, kids and librarians getting really into it. It gives kids an opportunity to create, and in a public way. You always hear the phrase, "it'll be something to tell your grandkids about." This gives kids something to be proud of and tell their grandparents about.

Your Chickens: A Kids Guide to Raising and Showing

Essential Visual History of the World



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