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


Reference Question of the Week – 10/26/14

   November 1st, 2014 Brian Herzog

sadieThis happened over the summer, and got lost in my "to blog" folder.

A male patron called in and asked when was the next time the girl scouts would be meeting in the library. Since lots of groups use our meeting rooms, it isn't too unusual that someone might forget their meeting time. No, this didn't get unusual until I asked him which troop he was looking for...

Patron: Oh, I don't know.

Me: There are a few different Brownie and Girl Scout troops that meet at the library, but all on different nights and times.

Patron: Well, I read about one in the paper planting trees in a park, and I wanted to give them an award for community service award.

It's the Sadie Award, which is named after my dog.

I want to come to their next meeting to give them the award.

And I want it to be a surprise, so please don't tell them I'll be coming.

It is entirely possible I am overly-sensitive to such things, but this started to sound odd. But in any case, I didn't know which troop he was talking about. So, I told him I'd look it up and give him a call back.

I had heard of the tree planting, and checked the Facebook page for the local Open Spaces Stewardship group (which organized the event) because I figured they'd mention the troop number - which they did.

Fine, but now I also want to research this Sadie Award to see what that's all about. And apparently, it's totally a real thing. I even emailed the head of the Open Space Stewards to see if he'd heard of it, and he had - he said this is an local gentleman who created this award, and goes around giving it to anyone he feels has had a positive impact on the community. And Sadie, his dog, comes too and poses for photos.

Huh - I guess that's what I miss for being cynical.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find this Girl Scout troop number on our calendar, so I didn't know when they were next meeting. I called the patron back and let him know what I had found, and gave him the contact information for the Stewards. Since they coordinated with the troop for the tree-planting, they must know who to contact there about meeting times.

The patron thanked me and was excited to be a step closer to awarding the Girl Scouts for their good work. And I was happy to learn about such a nice thing in town that it seems everyone knew about but me.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12

   April 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

No PornThis isn't exactly a reference question, but it is something reference staff deal with all the time. A patron came up to the desk and said,

That man on the last computer over there is looking at porn.

This seems to go in waves for us, but we probably average three or four porn complaints a month. The way we handle this in my library is to print out our Appropriate Library Behavior policy, and highlight the line that says,

The library is a public building and objectionable or pornographic images that can be seen by others (either intentionally or accidentally, and either on screen on in print) are not permissible.

I then give it to the patron in question, while at the same time saying something like, "another patron complained about something they saw on your screen. Since this is a public building, you must make sure that anything on your screen is appropriate for all ages."

At least, this is how we handle first-time offenders - we don't accuse them of anything, we don't kick them out, we just make it clear that anything they do must be clean enough for kids and the general public. We approach it this way because porn isn't illegal, but very subjective, and just not something we can allow at the library.

But it got me thinking: there are other things the library can't accommodate, for one reason or another: color photocopying, notary service, etc. In these cases, we have little handouts at the reference desk that list other locations in town that can accommodate those needs.

So, I thought, why don't we also make a handout for the porn people, listing other places in the area that cater to Adult Services? Here's what I came up with:

Adult Services bookmark

From now on, whenever a patron complains about someone looking at porn, in addition to giving them a copy of the official library policy, I'm also going to give them one of these handouts - that way, we're maintaining our yes-based policy and fulfilling a core library function by referring them to the most appropriate resource.

It's formatted to print three per page - feel free to download and edit one for your library [ppt], or check out the PDF version.



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Library as Selling Point

   March 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

new england real estate teamI use a couple Google Alerts to try to keep on top of websites that mentioned the Chelmsford Library or just Chelmsford, MA in general.

I set these up in the hopes of connecting to people in the community, or people talking about Chelmsford. I thought if someone mentioned the town, a local event, or the library on their blog or website, I might be able to comment and contribute on behalf of the library (but it's also an interesting way to find out what's happening in town - example).

A recent alert led me to the website of the New England Real Estate Team where I saw, big as day right on the top of their website, a photo of the library. I was kind of surprised at first, but then I was happy that a realtor is using the library as a selling point for the town. It certainly is, and it's also a nice looking building.

I think this is great, and I wonder if it would be worth it to encourage other local businesses to use the library's image to promote their services or Chelmsford. It certainly wouldn't make sense for every business, but it's nice to know that at least one feels we're worth showing off.

Now they just need to link to our website, in addition to the local schools.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/08

   July 19th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Pizza for TwoI got these two reference questions within an hour of each other - they can be filed under "All Patrons are Local" (or "Yogi Berra sayings").

First, an older couple walked up to the desk and the husband said:

Patron: We're just in town from Florida for a funeral, and don't know our way around. Can you suggest a good pizza place for lunch?

I am a big fan of pizza, so this is a question I can answer with some personal expertise. There are four pizza shops within walking distance of the library, so between the yellow pages and a local map have at the desk for patrons, they were on their way in just a couple minutes.

A little while later, the phone rings:

Different Patron: Hi, I'm one of your local patrons, and am in Florida for vacation. We don't know our way around and don't have a map, but we're looking for this particular pizza place. Can you look it up on the internet and give me directions?

Finding the pizza shop wasn't hard, and me giving her directions from where they were was a bit tricky, but we worked it out.

Before we hung up, I asked out of curiosity why her solution to this problem was to call her library in Massachusetts. She said it was because she had our phone number in her cell phone, and since we had access to the internet (and Google Maps), she felt my answer would be more reliable and safer than asking for directions from a stranger or at a gas station.

I thought that was nice, and something I hadn't though of before. Maybe libraries should encourage patrons to add us to their cell phone contact list, to make it easier for them to call us when they need to know something. Or maybe we should all install pizza ovens.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/18/08

   May 24th, 2008 Brian Herzog

UHF logoA patron called in and asked for a listing of all the public access television stations in Massachusetts. She said she had an idea for a show, and wanted to see about getting it on the air.

In our reference collection, we have the Directory of Massachusetts Broadcasters, from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, but it didn't seem to list public access stations. I called them and spoke with someone who checked with their assistant director. The word was that they do not deal with public access, and they suggested calling a local station and asking if they had a directory.

We do have a local cable station in town, Chelmsford Telemedia, but they patron said she had tried calling them but couldn't get through. We've got a pretty good relationship with them since they film lots of programs at the library, but when I called everyone was out of the office, too - those are four hard working guys.

So, continuing on, I tried the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, which is also in our reference collection. This looked like it had what the patron wanted, but also listed a lot besides public access stations and seemed difficult to sift through.

Next I tried the FCC and Massachusetts State government websites, thinking they might provide a list, but couldn't find a simple list. Then it was onto the general internet, using searches like "list of public access stations" and "public access television massachusetts," and found:

All of these listed more or less the same stations. I called the patron back to let her know what I found, and she was happy to hear about the online lists. I sent her all the urls in an email, and also said that if she comes to the library we can help her look through the Gale directory.

I never heard back, so I take that as a good sign - the online lists got her off and running on her project, and she was just too busy to reply (whereas I usually hear back right away if the information is not helpful).

I still feel like there should be an official government source for this type of listing, but I still have yet to find it through any official channels.



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