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




Assistant Director Update, April Fools Style

   April 1st, 2016 Brian Herzog

This blog has been without a new post for longer that I intended, and hopefully no one minded too much. Switching from Head of Reference to Assistant Director has been both more different and more busy than I expected, but things are starting to calm down finally.

So hopefully, that will mean more regular updates from the back office. Especially since I'll be at PLA next week, I'm sure there will be lots to talk about.

But something I always liked doing (probably more than you liked me doing it) was a traditional April 1st post. I wasn't able to get something together for this year, so hopefully you don't mind settling for this:

library bulletin boards

That's a photo of my library's lobby. And it's hard to make out, so here's the slide showing on the digital display:

Special Storytime lide

So far, no one has noticed - or at least, no one has said anything. We'll see.

By the way, the featured title is The Berenstain Bears and the blame game, but there were other options too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/14/16

   February 20th, 2016 Brian Herzog

water pumpSometimes, what would have otherwise been an ordinary, simple question, gets asked with a slight twist and I just know it's going to be the question of the week.

Last Saturday, a college-age male patron walked up to the desk carrying an empty water bottle and asked,

Where is your Brita filtered filler station?

A coworker was with me at the desk at the time, and both of us kind of paused - long enough, apparently, that the patron then said,

Well, maybe you don't have one...

We get asked regularly where the bathrooms are, and only slightly less frequently if we have a drinking fountain*. We explained to him where the drinking fountain was, and he seemed happy enough for it.

I wonder if he actually expected a Brita-filtered tap, or free-standing water cooler. Maybe that's what they exclusively use in his house or college, to the point that he's just so used to saying "Brita filter" that it's the name he uses for any water dispensing device.

Regardless, it suddenly made me feel like a 19th-century library and the best we had to offer was an old farm water pump out back. I mean, I' very happy we still offer a typewriter to patrons, but I never thought our drinking fountain would become retro too.

 


*In New England, at least this part, they call drinking fountains "bubblers," which I think is funny. They also call pop "tonic."



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/7/16

   February 13th, 2016 Brian Herzog

IIA patron walked up one afternoon and asked if I could show her if she was "typing in Roman Numeral two."

Sometimes, I figure I'll better understand the question once I see their computer screen, so I just said "sure" and got up and walked down to her computer with her.

When I get there, I see that it looks like she's started typing a term paper - heading, professor name, date. I think maybe it's an outline or something that needs Roman Numerals, so right where the cursor is blinking, I just type two capital I's and tell her that that's Roman Numeral two. It doesn't look very impressive, and I glance up onto the Word ribbons and notice the font is Calibri size 11.

The patron wasn't really impressed either, and said,

That's it? I don't know what she meant, but my teacher said we needed to type in Roman Numeral two.

Ah, now that, for some reason, made more sense. I deleted the two capital I's I just typed, Ctrl-A'd to highlight the entire page, showed the patron how to change the font to Times New Roman - while at the same time explaining that I have heard of some professors requiring a particular font, especially a serif font like Times New Roman, because supposedly it's easier to read. The patron indifferently acknowledged that I had just formed words, and said,

Well, that could be what she said. I was rushing at the end of class, but that looks fine to me.

Okay. She had her assignment sheet next to the computer she was working on, and I glanced down to hopefully see a font requirement spelled out as part of the project. I didn't see it, but noticed ironically the assignment sheet was printed in Calibri.

Towards the end of the night as the patron was leaving, she smiled and waved. Hopefully Times is what she needed, but I'm not sure I'll ever find out.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/31/16

   February 6th, 2016 Brian Herzog

The.I've said this before and I'll say it again, but I know that sometimes, some things are funny only to me. One day this week, a patron walks up to the desk and says,

Patron: Can you help me find a book? The title is, The [szuunnttz] of Murder.
Me: I'm sorry, what was that first word - "sounds" or "silence?"
Patron: "The."
Me: Um...

And then she set her phone down on the desk and spun it around so I could see the title: The silence of murder, by Dandi Daley Mackall.

Ha. I blame our cataloger for constantly drilling into me to ignore the leading article in a title when typing it into a library catalog. Unfortunately, I can apparently no longer tell the difference between typing a title into a computer and asking a real live patron what the title is. Oh well.

Th good news is that the book was in the catalog, and I showed the patron how to place a request for it, so everyone was happy. Even the patron, who perhaps now thinks I'm an idiot. Oh well. It also made me wonder if patrons have blogs where they share all their stories of crazy interactions with librarians - now that would be interesting.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/24/16

   January 31st, 2016 Brian Herzog

Unfortunately, there's been numerous times I could have easily done the same thing at the library.This was posted on Boing Boing a couple weeks ago, but I thought people might find this funny:
Actual conversations with rude or odd customers at a used book store.

Some are rude to the point of being mean, which of course is not something that would happen in a library - at least, not something library staff would say out load. Here's a couple of my favorites:

(phone call)

I found a book "---" on your web site. It was written by my Uncle. I was wondering why it is so expensive? ($50)

It was inscribed and signed by him.

Why should I have to pay for his autograph? He's my Uncle, not yours!

(sigh... and no, she didn't buy it)

 


 

(Older gentleman calls)

I see you have a book titled "---" listed on your web site for $200

Ok

I am the author.

Ok

That book originally sold for under $20

Ok

How can you justify that?

Justify what?

Charging so much!

That's what it's worth. Look it up on Bookfinder

You will make more on the book than I did

I guess I should feel bad about that! If it makes you feel better, you could adjust for inflation (30 years)

I just doesn't seem right

It's the free market at work. You shouldn't have written such a good book

I will take that as a compliment

It was

(I should add, I paid a lot more for the book than it sold for... originally. The customer I sold it to will probably donate it to his favorite charity and the cycle will continue. Makes me wonder how many profits there are in these things...)

 


 

(Customer fills out search card: 16 Chapels)

(me) Oh, you're after books on European Churches?

No, just books about the 16 Chapels.

16 Chapels?

Yea, you know the one with the big painting on the ceiling.
We will let you know what we find (once we stop convulsing).

 

Any time I see something like this in book stores, I can't help but hear them in the voice of Bernard Black - and then end up watching that entire series again.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/17/16

   January 23rd, 2016 Brian Herzog

LANGUIGE CROSSWORDAfter I published the post on Wednesday about the likelihood of this blog changing due to my new position, I forgot to mention that until we hire a new Head of Reference (which will probably take a few weeks), I'm keeping my normal desk schedule - and so should be able to keep up with Reference Questions of the Week.

Wednesday is my 1-9pm shift, and I published that post from home that morning. I decided that when I got to work that day, the very first reference question I got would be this week's post. Usually I just take notes whenever something comes up that is interesting or funny, but I thought a random "slice of reference life" might be appropriate this week.

So, here it is: I sat down at the desk and the phone rings...

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Can you tell me how to spell "language?"
Me: Oh sure, it's-
Patron: Does it have an "i" in it?
Me: No, it's spelled l-a-n-g-u-a-
Patron: Is it u-i-g-e?
Me: ... [waiting to make sure the patron has finished talking] It's l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e.
Patron: Oh, so an "a" and not an "i?"
Me: Yes, l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e.
Patron: Okay, thank you.
Me: You're welcome, good-bye.

This is one of our regular phone patrons, and most of her calls are like this. We suspect she works crossword puzzles.

Not every reference interaction is funny or interesting, but it's true that any of them can be.



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