November 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This reference question can be filed under "just one more thing a librarian may be asked to do sometime." A patron came in one day this week and asked if I could write him a letter so he could get into the library at Harvard.
He said he had found two books in WorldCat that he wanted to use, but he needed a letter to be allowed to use them in their reading room. I've never been in Harvard's Widener Library myself, and have heard that anyone who isn't affiliated with Harvard needed special (and hard to get) permission to use their collection.
I'd never been asked to assist a patron in gaining access, so while he got to work on his laptop, I went to work figuring out what I could do to help.
A quick search turned up a webpage for Harvard's Library Privileges Office (the existence of which amused me but someone's got to do it), on which I found the criteria for Independent Researchers not Affiliated with Harvard:
Necessary Documentation: A valid photo ID card AND a letter from the reference librarian of your university or public library stating that the specific library materials needed are not available elsewhere.
Free of charge:
Application for a Visiting Researcher Card should be made in person at the Library Privileges Office.
Before writing the letter, I looked up in WorldCat the two book titles the patron had given me. Both were indeed at Harvard, however: one was also available at Boston University (just across the Charles River from Harvard), and the other was at Amherst College (about 70 miles away).
I don't know how strict the Library Privileges Office is about "materials needed are not available elsewhere." Although, even though each book was available in another MA college, only Harvard had both, so gaining this access would save time for the patron - who did tell me he had a deadline.
So I typed up a letter [pdf], which I hope is good enough to help the patron. I wasn't sure if there was a proper format or anything, but I really do hope this works. The patron thanked me, took the letter, and I think immediately left to go present it in person at Harvard. I hope the he lets me know how he makes out.
November 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's another great take-away from the NELA conference a couple weeks ago - this awesome comic:
Thanks to Meena Jain for including this in her Ebooks as an Adaptive Technology, and to Gerbil with a Jetpack for coming up with this in the first place. Oh, hipsters.
Tags: comic, ebook, funny, gerbil with a jetpack, hipster, humor, kindle, libraries, Library, nela, nelib, public
November 2nd, 2013 Brian Herzog
A big thank you to everyone who sent in your best reference question - there were 28 submissions, and 395 total votes for the four finalists. At the end, it was close - the winner got 30% of the vote, and second place got 27%.
And the winner is: Erin Apostolos!
Here's her winning entry again:
I had a genealogy question from a patron who lives locally. She has an alabaster stone on her property that says "Mary E." born 1910 died (date is lost) wife of Peter E. Hadley. She wanted to know when Mary had died and what her story was. I was able to find their marriage info and find them on the census in Goffstown, NH but Mary disappeared by 1870 so I assumed she died between 1860-1870. I poured through our genealogy books at the library but did not find her or her husband.
After exhausting our genealogy databases, I googled Mary and Peter. After looking around a bit I found this link: http://www.hadleyfamily.us/album/album.html If you scroll about halfway down, you will find a picture of Mary Cochran Hadley, dead in her coffin with her date of birth and death! My jaw just dropped when I found this. In all my years of doing genealogy, I have never found a subject in such a state! What a find. The patron was absolutely thrilled. I was able to connect her with the man who had created the family's Website.
This was by far my favorite reference question and answer!
If you're interested, be sure to read all 28 contest entries.
For her prize, Erin wins a custom-imprinted six-pack of Jones Soda, with the Swiss Army Librarian logo on the label. She, and the other three finalists, also each get a cool Swiss Army Librarian sticker.
Thank you again to everyone who participated, and especially for reading my website. I hope everyone has as much fun with this as I do.
October 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog
There were 28 submissions for the Best Reference Question Contest, and the panel of judges narrowed it down to the top four (it was a four-way tie, so there are four finalists instead of three).
Please use the link below to read all four and vote for your favorite - voting will be open until October 31st, and then the winner will be announced on November 2nd:
Thank you to everyone who submitted an entry - they were really fun to read. After the contest is over, I'll post all of the questions so everyone can enjoy them. Thanks also to the judges for helping out - it's much easier for me not having to be subjective.
Go vote already!
October 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Instead of a single reference question this week, I wanted to detail a series of unusual things that all happened on Friday - none of which had ever happened before.
- A patron walked up with with a stack of about five books, and asked if she could leave them on the desk for a minute. Of course that was fine, and a couple minutes later she came back with another big stack. She then asked if she could put one of the stacks on hold, so she could pick them up tomorrow. That sounded odd, but then she explained that she had walked to the library and couldn't carry them all home in one trip. I suppose this is no different than someone placing items on hold from home, but I have never had a walk-up hold request like this before. But the best part was at the end - ask she was leaving, the patron said,
My daughter always tells me I have too many books, and I say you can never have too many books. I'm not going to tell her that she's right, but sometimes, you can have too many books... to carry.
- A patron came up and asked for help using a flash drive on the computer. She said she wanted to work on a Word file that was on her drive, but when she plugged it in the drive was blank, and she was worried our computer erased all her files. When we got back to her workstation, initially I didn't see her flash drive even plugged into the computer, but then noticed it plugged into the USB ports built into the monitor. Those have never been hooked up, and in five years no one has tried to use them (or at least asked me about it). We moved her flash drive to one in the CPU, and everything was fine.
- We recently added a public scanning station, which is just a regular flatbed scanner hooked to a computer. When we put it out, we decided we'd have a "scanner first" policy, meaning that if someone was using the computer but not the scanner, and another patron needed to use the scanner, we'd ask the non-scanning patron to move to a different computer. Today was the first time I had to do this.
- A patron came in and said that her car was hit in the parking lot yesterday. It turns out, the library's truck was also hit in the parking lot yesterday, but was parked about as far away from the patron's car as you could get. We've never had a hit-and-run in our parking lot, so two in the same day is either a coincidence or one very bad driver careening all over the place. In neither case was the damage very bad, but still - bad driving and library parking lots is a bad combination.
- Circ staff called me to the circ desk because a patron asked for help signing up for a SafeLink cell phone - but by the time I got there, the patron was gone. It turned out he only spoke Hindi, and one of our Hindi-speaking staff members was helping him. I checked on them at a computer, but they were doing fine - it's not often I'm dismissed from a reference interaction, especially a tech-support one, but I was absolutely irrelevant to this patron's need. Luckily, my co-worker wasn't.
- Near the end of the day, the same patron from #2 came back up to the desk. She had been working on her Word document all day, and said her computer restarted and she lost everything, because it turned out she'd been saving her updated document to the computer, not to the flash drive. She had printed a draft shortly before the computer restarted, so she had most of it, but had to retype the whole thing, and ask me to show her how to save to her flash drive to make sure she didn't lose it again. However, scanner to the rescue! We took her printed draft to the scanner, which has a "scan to Word" OCR function, and in less than a minute had a new Word document for her (and saved on her flash drive). I can not tell you how happy this made her - scanner win!
- And finally, the weirdest thing of all came when I checked my personal email right before I went home. In there, sent to my Swiss Army Librarian email address, was this message:
Hello, I am writing in an unusual case ... Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!!
Now this seemed like spam, but just to be on the safe side, I looked the "from" email up in our catalog, and got no hits. I know spam is inexplicable much of the time, but this was just bizarre. And pointless.
So those were the highlights of my day on Friday. I guess this is more like a Library Day in the Life post than a reference question of the week, but it was an odd day.
October 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I was at the New England Library Association's annual conference this past weekend, and had a great time meeting people and finding out what's going on around the region. This year's conference had a very complete website with links to handouts and notes, as well as an ongoing blog of notes from attendees, and the hashtag #nelaconf13 was interesting too.
I blogged the sessions I attended, below, and am looking forward to reading the posts from other sessions too:
A few of my favorite moments from NELA didn't make it into the notes:
- While addressing concerns of data privacy and security when using cloud-based library services, Michael York, State Librarian of New Hampshire, simply said: that ship has sailed - no one should expect any privacy or security anymore.
- Also, Michael drives the state delivery van whenever the primary driver is off on vacation - how cool is that?
- Overheard: "we're doing R&D, which in the library world means 'rip-off and duplicate'"
- Based on what I learned from the feng shui program, we need more plants in the library
- The 3M Cloud Library integrated into the Polaris ILS is amazing - checkout of ebooks is seamless, and holds and checkouts show up right in the patron's account, along side other library items. And, 3M handles Adobe Digital Editions at the vendor level, which means patrons never need to mess with it - this is how all ebook vendors should operate
- An amazing true story: a couple years ago in New Hampshire, a patron requested an item through early one morning. The library that owned it got the request shortly thereafter and pulled the book. Shortly after that, the delivery van arrived, picking up the request. And, it just so happened that the next stop on the route was the library where the patron's item was to be delivered - when they got it, the patron was notified his item was ready to be picked up. So, due to the coincidence of timing, this patron got his request in a matter of hours - and reacted by calling for funding cuts to libraries, because he felt they didn't need to be spending so much money on this gold-plated delivery system.
It really was a good three days (not to mention good nights in Portland, too), and I'm looking forward to going to next year's conference in
Marlborough Boxborough, MA - see you there.