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

Cards Against Librarianship

   January 2nd, 2014 Brian Herzog

I find it a little uncomfortable having my first post of a new year be about something I don't completely understand, but I have no problem embracing ambiguity - especially to further the cause of humor.

So, have you every played Cards Against Humanity? I have, twice, and I still don't really understand it. I mean, I laugh at the funny words, but I just don't get it. But I do get that Emily at Shelf Check is working on a Cards Against Librarianship version:

Cards Against Librarianship preview card

Emily also says that she hopes to have a printable version available in a week or so, before ALA Midwinter, so keep an eye on Shelf Check.

And in case you are a Cards Against Humanity fan, they also have a research lab that lets you test out and rate new cards by playing an online version.

Thanks Sharon for sending me these links.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/22/13

   December 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog

clearing a snowblowerI was out all this week for Christmas, so this question is from last week.

In library school, I learned in my Reference courses that there are three types of questions public library staff should not answer - medical, legal, and financial - because we're not qualified to give professional advice in those areas. This patron's question adds a fourth type of question To Never Answer:

Patron: Hey Brian, do you know how to fix a snowblower?

We had gotten two snowstorms that week, and he explained that he tried to push his snowblower into an frozen snow bank, and it stopped working. This is one of our regular patrons, and, not to be mean, but, I'm honestly surprised he could even use a snowblower, let alone try to fix one.

I told him no, I didn't, which is true. The only thing I know about snowblower repair is to clear jammed snow with a stick, and not your hand, in case the blades continue to spin after the snow is cleared. I did help the patron quickly look up a few potential repair shops, and hopefully he was able to get it working again.

Speaking of snowblowers, have you ever seen how they clear railroad tracks? Just knowing that exists makes shoveling my driveway easier.

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End-Of-The-Year To-Blog-Folder Clean-Up

   December 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

It's been a busy week so far, so just in the spirit of a year-end cleaning up of loose ends, here's a few random things I haven't gotten around to posting yet:

  1. From LifeHacker, an app called "The Walk" helps motivate people to exercise by telling them a story - the further you walk, the more the plot develops. Almost awesome enough for me to want a cell phone. And, it reminds me of the "choose your own adventure" sidewalk story
  2. Also from LifeHacker, some advice on whether or not it's important to log out of websites when you're finished using them. There's a difference between personal use and what the public does on library computers, but it's always good to remind patrons of when talking about privacy and security - even with Deep Freeze or Steady State
  3. And finally, the item I've sat on the longest is an infographic looking at the roles librarians have undertaken in the digital age. Everyone likes inforgraphics, so enjoy:
infographic digital librarians
Source: USC Online Library Science

If you've made it this far, all I have left to say is happy holidays!

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/8/13

   December 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog

girl scout communication badgeHere's hoping I can crowd-source a reference question to help someone. I received the following message through the contact form on this website:

OK, this is my final attempt to research something. I'm going to pass it to you and then hopefully let it go! My mother died two years ago, Dec. 29th at the age of 91. We had a wonderful final six years together when I moved her to live in a small single floor house right across the street from me. We were great friends, always. (Well, maybe not in my tantrum throwing years) She told me of a saying she learned when she was a girl scout, of all places, that she was able to rattle-off with great speed until the day she died. If I had asked her, she could have made it the last humorous comment of her life. I am so haunted by it because I CAN'T find it anywhere on-line. I only remember bits of it. Now I'm going to see if YOU can research it! It HAD to have existed. Someone else MUST have known it, too. It was a humorous collection of "almost" cuss phrases. See what you can do with this pitiful hint: "son of a biscuit basket cheese and crackers got damp down in the (cellar overnight)" It was longer than that, and my quote may be flawed, after all, I am 67!! My memory is cruddy!! I always meant to write down this whole litany or memorize it, but never did. Do you think you can research it for me? It would help put this aggravating issue to rest in my own brain. Thanks.

I've certainly heard "naughty" rhymes like this, and when I searched online for variations of the key phrases, I did find a few that sounded familiar - though a bit ruder and not quite like what the person quoted.

I found a couple that are close, but don't seem as long as she was looking for:

So, are there any girl scouts out there that know this rhyme?

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Library Volunteers Need To Be More Detailed-Oriented Than This

   December 11th, 2013 Brian Herzog

There are two elements to this story I need to establish up front:

  1. We have a PDF teen volunteer application on our website, which interested kids can download, print, and then bring in or mail to the library to apply
  2. As I've mentioned before, people in Chelmsford, UK, occasionally contact us by mistake, thinking we're the library in England

So, the crux of this story is that these two elements collided recently. A teen, apparently in the Chelmsford in England, wanted to volunteer at the library, but downloaded our volunteer application by mistake. The teen dutifully filled it out, and mailed the envelope to the address on the application - which arrived to us like this:


Judging by the postmark (with the European date style being YYYY-MM-DD DD-MM-YY [thanks Emily!]), it took over a month to reach us - and seems to have bounced around quite a bit in England first.

But since the Royal Mail apparently (repeatedly?) tried to deliver this letter to somewhere in England, I suppose the teen can't be entirely blamed for mistaking the address as local. However, I am impressed that the Royal Mail (and the USPS) ultimately did deliver the letter to the right place - despite the insufficient postage:


It appears that a 2nd Class Stamp costs 50p, which is about $0.82. Not bad for trans-oceanic delivery.

However, when the letter arrived, our Teen Librarian emailed the applicant to let him know of his mistake. Too bad, but I hope he's able to get in touch with the other Chelmsford Library - just not to volunteer with any geography-related projects.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/1/13

   December 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog

headphones required signI've seen some weird things while helping with tech support, but this is really one of the weirdest damn things I've ever encountered.

For awhile now, we've been getting complaints about YouTube videos not working on some of our computers. The problem has been easy to reproduce, because, sure enough, the video will play for a second and then the viewer window goes black/staticy and displays a "video cannot play" error.

Usually the culprit is an out-of-date browser or plugin, but even with the latest versions the problem persisted. Searching online didn't really turn up anything useful. I got so frustrated that I had to go to my second-to-last-resort, YouTube's help suggestions - still nothing.

Finally, I went to my last resort, asking our IT person to take over the problem because I wasn't making any progress. It baffled her too for a little while, but after some more online searching, she came up with a fix: plug in the headphones.

I believe our computers automatically mute their speakers when headphones are unplugged (so as not to play sound otherwise, which may bother the patrons around them). YouTube must be looking at some sound setting in the computer and doesn't like not having available speakers, and so just doesn't play the video at all. But if you have headphones plugged in before the video starts, it works just like it should. I have no idea why YouTube videos would not play without this, but there you go.

I don't understand it, but it works, so maybe I don't need to. Just, thank goodness for smart coworkers.

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