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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/12/15

   April 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Willy Wonka meme: Oh you can get Russian girls?  Tell me your secret.This week's question is really only funny because of an amazing coincidence, and for the ensuing internal embarrassment.

On Thursday this week, a young woman with an Eastern European accent came up to the desk and said she had something she needed to print. She could see it in the email on her phone, but not when she logged into her Yahoo account online - so what could she do?

Our Print from Anywhere service allows people to submit print jobs by email, so I explained how to do that. It's kind of a long email address to type, and when I pulled out our brochure which has the email on it, she said thanks and took it over to a nearby table to actually send the message.

A few minutes later she came up and said the email was sent. I logged into the web print queue and scanned the list to find an email job (by far most of the jobs come through the web interface, so the emailed ones stand out). I saw one, saw it hadn't been printed yet, and released it.

As I picked it up off the printer, I glanced at the front to make sure it printed okay, with no smudges or anything. There weren't, but what I did notice (which is more than I should, I know), was that it was an email from someone named Olga saying she was from Russia and found me attractive. In fact, this is what it was*.

What? I blushed and just handed it to the patron. I thought, well, maybe she doesn't speak English well, and was more comfortable taking time to type all of this out instead of saying it to me. I thought maybe if I just handed it to her we'd avoid that awkward yet common patron-hitting-on-librarian situation. We've all been there, right?

So she took it from me, and then immediately said,

My name's not Olga. This isn't mine.


I took the print back from her, and went back to the print queue. I refreshed it, but no other email print job was listed. Hmm.

We looked at her phone, and sure enough, she hadn't actually sent her message yet. So she did, it showed up, I released it, and she was happy.

Two more comments about this:

  1. I know this is a common type of spam, but sending it to a library's print queue and letting it lie in wait for a single male librarian to accidentally print it is impressively strategic thinking.
  2. I don't think the patron picked up on any of this, because she just wanted her print job. I, on the other hand, immediately started looking forward to sharing my ridiculous ego with you.


*I blacked out our web print email address, just in the hopes of cutting down on any future spam sent to it.

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A Library By Any Other Name

   March 4th, 2015 Brian Herzog

baby change station signThis is not at all important or relevant, but it amused me.

I heard that a patron had complained about our book donation situation* on Facebook, and when I had a few spare minutes one day, I thought I'd do a quick search to see if I could find it. The problem was that I had no idea who said it, where it was posted, or what keywords to search for.

So, more out of idle optimism than anything else, I did a Google search for chelmsford library donate facebook, and much to my surprise, one of the results was:

nappy library search results

Since I'm looking for a patron complaint, I'm already in a negative mindset, and "nappy" struck me with the negative connotation that word can carry.

So, immediately I was like, holy smokes, someone not only complained about us, but even set up a Facebook hate page because we're a real nappy library. Wow.

But of course, reading the description or clicking through the link (which I did before reading) makes it clear that not everything in the world revolves around the Chelmsford Library in which I work. In fact, this Facebook page was about a diaper exchange program in Chelmsford, England - in which land the phrase "real nappy" has an entirely different meaning.

I don't have kids, but this seems like another example of a great non-traditional collection for libraries. I would not want to deal with dirty diapers, but it's one of those temporary-need items that might make for good community sharing.

And speaking of cloth diapers, a friend of mine once had a very similar idea, except that it would be a cloth diaper pickup and delivery service based out of a truck with a mobile washing station. Pretty good idea (again, except for the dirty diaper part), except that instead of just a non-traditional library collection, it would be a non-traditional bookmobile.


*We temporarily have nowhere to store donated books, so we're asking patrons to hold donations until the Spring. The problem was that this message wasn't communicated very well to the patron.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/2/12

   September 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Library events calendarI only heard about this third-hand, but I still found it funny.

A patron walked up to one of our male circulation desk assistants with a copy of the library's event calendar in hand. She pointed to an event on one of the days and asked,

How does this gynecology program work? Does a doctor come in and give people free exams?

Confused (because we have never offered free gynecological exams [and I can't imagine a public library ever doing that]), he looked at the calendar and replied,

Oh, no, that's our Genealogy Group.

Not quite the same thing. A very simple misunderstanding, but I am easily amused.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/4/11

   September 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog

This week's question is one we get asked many times a day - it's not difficult at all, but this time had a sort of heart-wrenching twist.

A woman in her early twenties walked up to the desk. Very politely, and with a little hesitation, she asked:

I just printed something for my school, but I don't know where to pick it up. Can you please help me?

For public printing in my library, we use Envisionware's LPT:One, which works well for us. All the print jobs from our public computers go to a central print release station, where patrons pay for their job before it actually gets printed. So that patrons know which print job is theirs, when they print they get prompted to name their job:

Envisionware Print Box

Once a patron goes through this once, they understand how it works. But the first time isn't totally intuitive, so we do get asked for help in printing frequently.

My personal rule is this: if someone asks me where they pick up their print job, I take that to mean they've never printed here before, so I go with them over to the print station and walk them through the steps to pay for and release their print job.

That's what I did in this case, and while walking over to the printer, I asked the patron if she had entered a name for her job. She replied,

Well, a little box asked me to name my job, so I typed in "waitress."

I don't know why this struck me as so sweet and sad - maybe her innocence and naivety, maybe the idea of someone working their way through college. Maybe I'm just getting sentimental in my old age. She didn't mean anything by it though, so when we got to the print station, I showed her how to select the job named "waitress" and print it out. She thanked me and left.

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