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




Reference Question of the Week – 2/15/2015

   February 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

shoveled drivewayThis question just happened this morning, and my coworker asked me about it before she gave the patron an answer.

Perhaps you've heard that New England is getting an unusually large amount of snow this year? This patron called in and said that her driveway had been clear, but some plow truck went by and now a large pile of snow was blocking both her driveway and mailbox. She was out at the time, and by the time she got home it was frozen and she couldn't pull into her driveway.

My coworker said she sounded like an older woman, and apparently her husband normally clears the driveway, but he's away this weekend. So, she left her car on the extra-narrow-because-of-the-snow street, climb over the pile, got into her house, and called us. My coworker took down her phone number and asked me what we could do for her.

I'm always happy when people think to call the library, but some of the things people call us about surprises me.

In this case, I think the best we could do was:

  • Give her the non-emergency phone number for the Police Department, to let them know her car was on the street. Hopefully this would prevent any kind of ticket, and perhaps the Police had additional ways to help her
  • Give her the number for the Highway Department, who is responsible for clearing the streets. They don't have office hours on the weekends, but if she needed to complain about street snow being pushed where it shouldn't be, they are the people to notify

Unfortunately, I don't think there's much else to do. Notifying the Police should help, but I don't think the Town is going to make a special trip to clear her driveway. Being blocked in by the plow is just part of winter, but perhaps her situation was particularly unnecessary.

I've noticed quite a few impromptu "call us to shovel" signs nailed to utility poles around Town, so between those and the kindness of neighbors, hopefully she can get her driveway clear again - until the next storm hits, anyway.



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Sadly I guessed cafeteria.

   February 19th, 2015 Brian Herzog

My brother sent me this image, which I believe is from the Sandusky Register. The title of this post was his only comment, and the funny thing is that it was my first thought too:

Answer: Libraries

Regardless, great job to the Sandusky Library for running this in the local paper (I presume it was them, anyway). Interesting and engaging, and anyone who reads the paper can't help but be reminded of the library.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/8/15

   February 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Bible acronym: basic instructions before leaving EarthSometimes I think my ability to be easily amused is what makes me enjoy my job so much.

This week a patron walked up to the desk - he was a middle-aged guy, and he walked somewhat quickly up to the desk. He had that focused-yet-distracted look that tells you he was intently thinking about something and wanted immediate and fast help. When he got within a few feet of the desk, he said,

What's it called when there's a term for a word that everyone knows? Like "standard penetration test" is called S.P.T.. There's a word for that.

Here's when though my head - simultaneously:

  • I think he means "acronym"
  • Except the example he gave is more of an abbreviation, and not actually an acronym
  • It'd be kind of jerky to point that out to him
  • I certainly wouldn't consider S.P.T. meaning "standard penetration test" to fall under the category of "something everyone knows"
  • But perhaps it will after 50 Shades of Grey opens this weekend
  • Man my job is funny
  • I can't wait to post this on my blog
  • Oh, the patron is still waiting for an answer

Of course all this happened in a split second, and when I said, "Do you mean 'acronym?'" the patron was pleased and relived, thanked me, and walked away. I never actually saw him again after that, but the whole situation still put me in a good mood.

By the way, my favorite acronyms are NASA and SCUBA. My most pet-peevily-misused acronym is PIN - as in, "PIN number." Ugh, that makes me cringe every time.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/15

   February 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

3.5 inch driveA patron came up to the desk this week with a 3-1/2" disk, asking for a computer that can read it.

I had to stop and think - I was pretty sure we had a computer somewhere in the building that still had an a: drive, but wasn't positive. I told him I would walk around and check, but then we got into about a ten minute discussion about different storage options - USB flash drives, CD, DVD, SD cards, etc. He seemed really interested in the pros and cons of each, so I told him as much as I knew. He just wanted to store and carry regular files, as far as I could tell, so I was surprised when he decided by the end of the conversation that a micro SD card was his best option. I mean, I'm sure it would work, but I don't associate those and all with handy access to your resume and stuff. Huh.

Anyway, eventually I went on my quest for a computer with a 3-1/2" drive. I looked everywhere, checking every PC in the building - even digging through old donated laptops - but I couldn't find an a: drive anywhere. Nor could I find an external drive that I thought we purchased just for this situation (although I did find some external CD drives).

I felt bad that I let the patron down, but even worse that it was at that moment that I realized that this format really is dead - at least, it's dead to my library.



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A Better Way To Measure Library Use?

   February 5th, 2015 Brian Herzog

MeasureTheFutureHeader2I saw a post on LISNews today about a new Measure the Future initiative to build hardware sensors to better track how people use libraries. They say,

Imagine having a Google-Analytics-style dashboard for your library building: number of visits, what patrons browsed, what parts of the library were busy during which parts of the day, and more. Measure the Future is going to make that happen by using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage that is now invisible. Making these invisible occurrences explicit will allow librarians to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for their patrons.

On the one hand, I love this idea, because actual data can reveal amazing things. However at the same time, the idea of sensors all over the building tracking patrons sets off my privacy alarms. I'm sure it'll all be anonymous data, but Big Brother (even when it's Big Library) will still be in the back of my mind.

I didn't see too much technical detail on what the sensors will look like or how they will be integrated in libraries. But I think this is a great idea, and am looking forward to seeing their progress.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/25/15

   January 31st, 2015 Brian Herzog

I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about New England snow storms by now (I certainly am), but by far the most common question I heard this week was, "Brian, how much snow did you get at your house?"

Well, this is how much:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick

Which is to say, more than a lot, but I stopped counting. Granted, this is next to my driveway so some of it is piled up from shoveling, but still a lot. And more coming this weekend.

And for the fun of it, I tried to make the yardstick as close to actual size as I could:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick-actual

So, if you'd like to get the full Brian's Driveway Experience, just print out that image and hold it up next to you. Or, I am accepting volunteers to help come shovel after the next storm.



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