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




Reference Question of the Week – 6/30/13

   July 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

EDU test prep booksWe have lots of tutors that use the study rooms in the library. One of them emailed me for help looking for a test prep book for a particular exam:

Hello,
I am trying to search for a practice book for the PRANCE exam- no luck.

If possible, please reserve one for me.
Thank you

I searched the catalog, and sure enough there were no books for this test. I had never heard of this particular exam before, so I turn to the internet to find out more about it. However, my search for PRANCE exam turned up unexpected results.

You see, I was so focused on exam books that I was totally taken by surprise when the first search result was a YouTube video of two girls taking a prancing exam in a ballet school.

[Note: normally I'd embed the video here, but I don't want people to think I'm making fun of the girls. Of course, most graceful movements looks odd out of context - even Pranercising - but what I found humorous here was my own tunnel vision.]

Anyway, after watching an enjoying the video, I got back to work. None of the results looked like a test the tutor would be looking for, so I figured PRANCE must be a typo. The Google search results page helpfully listed some Did You Mean suggestions for both PRINCE exam and PANCE exam, so I checked them both out.

PRINCE looks like a project management technique used in the UK - probably not the right thing. But PANCE is a physician assistant certification test, which sounds much more appropriate.

I emailed the patron my results, but later that same day she came up to the desk. I explained the confusion, and she confirmed it was PANCE her student needed help with. We didn't have any PANCE prep books in the catalog, but that is one of the exams covered by the LearningExpress Library database, to which we subscribed. I showed her how to access the database and drill down to that exam, and she was very happy.

It wasn't until after she left that I realized my tunnel vision had struck again, also with - when coupled with my juvenile sense of humor - humor results. If you don't see why it's funny, try asking people if they'd like help preparing for their PANCE exam. Just, not in the library - you'll probably get thrown out for violating the Appropriate Library Behavior policy.



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Does Customer Service Go Both Ways

   July 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a quickie pre-4th of July post. This picture surfaced on Reddit awhile ago, but I still find it interesting:

sign with different prices for being polite

On the surface this sign is great, and almost makes it worth it to charge for library materials just so we could do this. But then it also implies that we would treat people differently, which I don't like. It's tough to politely serve some* library patrons, but that's what we're there for. I wonder if rewarding polite patron behavior actually increases it, or would it breed obstinacy in patrons who otherwise would be perfectly fine but don't like being told what to do.

Not to mention that this sign kind of punishes shy and anti-social people, through no fault of their own. I think stores and restaurants where the workers shout "Good morning!" or "One in the door!" from across the room should have to charge less when it makes customers uncomfortable.

 


*Threatening or insulting behavior is a whole different topic



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/23/13

   June 29th, 2013 Brian Herzog

darthvaderaskWhile alone at the desk one evening this week, things got very busy - patrons lining up, the printer jamming, and every time I went into the stacks I could hear the phone ringing. I knew I missed quite a few phone calls, so I was glad to answer it in a brief break between in-person patrons - until I heard the question:

Can you find me Luke Skywalker's family tree? And Han Solo too? Because they're related.

Talk about feeling exasperated. This immediately felt like one of those "photograph of Jesus" kind of questions, and because things were so busy I almost told him I'd need to just take his phone number and I'd look for it when I had time.

However, I had an internet search tab open, so I just typed "luke skywalker genealogy" in and holy smokes one of the first image results was exactly it:

Skywalker family tree

click to view larger

About a half hour later the patron came in to get it printed out. I formatted it to print on legal size paper, and he was happy because now he could hang it up on his wall like a poster.

While he was here, we also looked at a family tree with pictures too:

Skywalker family tree with pictures

click to view larger

But he didn't like it because he preferred a picture of Darth Vader to young Anakin. Sorry, Hayden Christensen.



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What Other People Think About Reading And Libraries

   June 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Thumb clip to keep book held openThe links below were posted a week or so ago on Lifehacker, but I waited a bit to mention them in order to give time for the comments to build up.

The three posts all have to do with libraries and reading. However, because the questions are being asked and answered by non-librarians, it feels so much more real and interesting than the results of a survey a library may conduct. It also reminds me that librarians aren't alone in advocating for and caring about libraries.

Anyway, for your reading pleasure:

The third one was particularly interesting to me: I talk to a lot of people about books, but very few people about reading (except for occasionally asking a stranger, "how do you like your ereader?"). It made me wonder if this would be a good idea for a library program: sort of a "reading tips" workshop. I imagine most people are comfortable with what they do, but I'd be very curious to hear about other peoples' reading habits, how they track what they read, where they hear about books, etc.

Then again, that could also be painfully dull.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/16/13

   June 22nd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Nuns with gunsI work in Chelmsford, MA, and the Town is in the process of establishing two "cultural districts" in two of our local historical village centers. It's similar to a historical district, but instead focuses on what makes Chelmsford culturally-distinct: art, architecture, programs & events, etc.

The group asked me to help create a map of both districts, labeling all the different locations of interest. I've played a little with custom Google Maps before, and this seemed like the perfect application to try out all the different features.

Creating the maps (check out the current working drafts) was pretty straight-forward. One of the committee members found a great site for custom map icons (which also explained how to make them work), and the text for each point of interest came from a variety of sources.

It was researching each location for a descriptive blurb for the map that produced this week's reference question. I was asked to add St. John The Evangelist Parish church to the North Chelmsford map, so I went to their website looking for something interesting to say about them. What I found was hands-down the most interesting thing I've read in a long time:

The earliest Catholic families living in Chelmsford, Dunstable, Lowell, Tyngsboro and Westford wanted a church of their own. St. Patrick's, Lowell was a five to ten mile walk. The families purchased the Meeting House of the Second Congregational Church of Chelmsford at the corner of Middlesex and Baldwin Streets, Lowell, in 1859. [...]

Men, who toiled in factory, foundry or farm, hurried to the holy work each evening. They struggled to move the building with the aid of horses and log rollers, a few yards at a time, for a distance of two miles along Middlesex Street. "Know Nothing" citizenry, a violent anti-Catholic group, made threats to burn the building and gained court injunctions to stop the building’s movement. The two mile journey was made with at least four men, armed with shotguns, and guarding the Church each night.

Holy smokes, now that is dedication. Researching local history rocks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/9/13

   June 15th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Wednesday is my night to work at the library, and a couple hours before we closed I got an email from a coworker that just said,

I just took a picture that I think will be perfect for your blog. Ask me about it before you leave.

I had no idea what this might be, but at the end of the night, this was the picture from her phone:

patron kneeling at the Reference desk

She found this amusing because it looked to her that this patron was so desperate for help that she was willing to kneel before the desk (and pray?).

That is a funny thought, but when I explained to the rest of the evening staff what was really going on, they were even more amused.

So: around 2:30 that afternoon, a woman called in asking to reserve a study room for 7-9pm that evening, because she was proctoring a test for a student. No problem. Not 30 seconds after I hung up the phone, it rang again, this time a different woman asked to reserve a study room for her daughter, who was taking a test with a proctor.

I was quick on the uptake and asked if her daughter's name was the same one the proctor just gave me, and it was. Which, really, is just a funny little aside, and didn't really portend the communication difficulties to come.

The evening passd unremarkably. Seven o'clock rolls around and the proctor and student show up for their room.

About seven-thirty, the proctor comes out to the desk to ask if there is a way for her to print from her iPad. This perked me up a bit, because wireless printing is still new to us, and I am always happy when I can show it off. I gave her our little how-to handout, which she was satisfied with and went back to the room before I could help her with it.

About ten minutes later she was back, asking for help - and she was at the desk for the next half-hour. Here's what was going on:

  • It turns out, she was proctoring a test for a foreign exchange student from Australia. The test the girl was taking had been emailed to the proctor, as a password-protected PDF (two of them, actually)
  • She couldn't email the test to our wireless printer because it was a school iPad, and apparently could only send outgoing mail when it was connected to the school's network (this may or may not be true, but her email was definitely not working, and I wasn't going to change any of her school's settings playing around)
  • After we got the wireless printing app installed, we still couldn't print because the PDFs were password protected, and the app just kept saying it couldn't access the file (but gave no provision to enter a password)
  • She couldn't log into her school email from any other computer, because she couldn't remember her webmail password, and had left her school laptop at school

Sometime during our conversation, she also relayed that the test this girl was taking was some kind of Australian standardized test, which all Australian students must take - and must take at the same time. Which, of course, is Australia time, hence why they were in the library so late. Of course, the clock had already started, and we still hadn't even managed to print it yet.

The proctor was frazzled, the student was frustrated, and I, being functionally illiterate when it comes to Apple products, was running out of ideas.

But I know that if you start tapping things on an iPad other things happen, so this became my new strategy. When we just opened the PDF, it launched it Adobe Reader, which had limited export options*. However, at some point one of us noticed that her email had the option to move the PDF to iBooks, so we tried that.

Playing with it in iBooks, we found an option to email it with her personal (non-school) account, which miraculously did work. She emailed it to my library email, I opened the file at the desk, she entered the password, and thank goodness it printed okay. Repeat for part two of the test, and the girl was quickly to work - by about 8:20 pm.

All of this really was an ordeal to get through, compounded by the fact that the longer we screwed around, the less time the student had to take her test. My coworkers all appreciated this, and one remarked that she now understood why the woman was kneeling at the desk.

But no, that's not the reason. The proctor's shirt happened to have a very loose and floopy neckline, and if she leaned over towards the desk in the slightest, she'd be putting on quite a show. So, the entire time I was working with her, she kept using one hand to hold her shirt closed. And I don't know if you've tried it, but it is very difficult to try to operate an iPad while one hand is preventing a wardrobe malfunction.

Eventually, she just gave up and knelt in front of the desk, because at least that meant she didn't have to lean over. That was the point at which my coworker walked by.

So, amusing yes, but the story isn't quite over. At 8:55 pm I went to the study room to let them know the library was closing. Since I knew the student got a late start, I was going to offer to stay a bit past 9:00, if she needed just another ten or fifteen minutes to finish up.

The proctor said she appreciated that, but the test had another three hours(!) to go. Holy smokes. This town pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 9pm, so I really have no idea where they were going to go to finish this test. I felt bad for them, but they were just happy to have the printed tests and said they'd figure something out.

And speaking of figuring something out, here's something I can't figure out: so, foreign exchange students usually go to the host country by themselves, right? So, when this student's mother called to reserve a room, she must have been calling from Australia. Huh.

 


*One option I never ruled out was opening the test on the iPad and just photocopying the screen. Luckily, we never had to implement this.



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