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


Free As in Libraries, But Libraries Are Not Free

   July 7th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Free as in Library signI have less and less time to keep up with reading RSS feeds these days, but a fantastic post by Carrie Straka, a contributor at Tame the Web, reminded me why it's worth it to keep current on blogs.

She attacks the myth that everything in the library is free, and explains why "a library card isn’t a 100% off coupon." Library materials aren't free - we make them freely accessible, because they have already been paid for. It's like the food in your refrigerator - it was purchased at one point, to be consumed at your leisure (or not used and wasted).

Many users believe that the services and materials we provide are free. As all library staff knows, this is a misconception. The services and materials we provide are not free. In fact, they are far from it. Librarians work within a budget and use all money provided to us through taxes, tuition, or other means.

The comments are also interesting.

And something else I'd like to add, in terms of patrons having misconceptions about ownership of library resources: I've heard some patrons say that they're not returning some item, because their tax dollars have paid for it and they want to keep it - and besides, their tax dollars pay my salary so they can tell me what to do.

This too is a misconception. In libraries, there is no translation between one person's tax share and possessive ownership over a portion of the collection. The entire community's taxes are pooled to build a shared community resource, and library staff are paid to maintain a useful collection and ensure all the materials remain available for the entire community.

It seems a little contrary to the library spirit, but I do tend to err on the side of serving the community rather than the individual. It's a fine line to walk, and my library's yes-based policy means we are accommodating in individual situations - but when push comes to shove (which is thankfully rare), I do consider the library a community resource, not a private one.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/17/10

   October 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Volunteer facts bookmarkThis week's question is actually one I needed to answer myself - it's a little bit random, so bear with me.

My library just held our annual thank-you dinner for all of our adult volunteers. To illustrate "the value of volunteers" (in other words, how much money volunteers save us) my director and I came up with a "volunteer stats" bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] to hand out.

We had 241 volunteers last year, with a total of 5804 volunteer hours. We figured if we paid them each $15/hour, their labor would have cost the library $87,060. Just to add another little fact to the bookmark, I wanted to figure out just how tall $87,060 was in $100 bills.

So of course, I turned to the internet. I did a search for something like how tall is a stack of money, and after clicking on a few results, I found a forum posting that provided the Excel formulas needed to calculate not just the height of a stack of bills, but also the cubic volume and value of different denominations. Neat.

I copy/pasted the formulas into an Excel spreadsheet* [xls], and after a little tweaking, had my answer. And just to double-check it, I went back to the internet to find a "known value" (in this case, the height of $1 million in $100's). It checked out, so I had my fact for the bookmark, and a job well done, right?

Well, not so fast: being me, I thought, "hey, wouldn't it be awesome to turn this Excel spreadsheet into a web form that other people could play with? After all, that was so popular the last time."

Volunteer bookmark front

But this was all happening late in the day on Thursday, and I didn't have time to figure out how to convert the Excel formulas into javascript. So once again, I turn to the internet, thinking, "I just bet there's some easy spreadsheet-to-javascript converter out there."

And it turns out, there is: I found SpreadsheetConverter.com, which does exactly that. After you download the software, it converts spreadsheets to a web-ready format with just a click of a button - pretty neat.

But even better was their free demo offer, where you email them your spreadsheet and they convert it for you. Within 24 hours they sent back the converted webpage, and it works great - just enter the height** of your money stack below, and the spreadsheet tells you the value of various denominations, for both a single stack and a cubic block of bills.

One condition of the free demo is that it is for evaluation purposes only, so evaluate away and keep this tool in mind if you ever need to throw a spreadsheet up on your website - it can save you a lot of time. Too bad I didn't know about it when I was coding the Library Use Value Calculator.

The thank-you dinner went well, and the bookmarks were a big hit. Yay for volunteers.

 


*Feel free to download, edit and reuse our volunteer bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] or the Excel spreadsheet* [xls] if you like.

**This was designed to figure out height in inches - to use different measurements, the form below will convert those values into inches:





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Libraries to Start Lending Money

   March 17th, 2009 Brian Herzog

cash on shelfConsidering the current economic times, this might actually be a good idea - but I think they should've waited until April 1st to announce it.

...From today, customers borrowing books will also be able to take out financial loans for a period of three weeks, though it may be possible to renew the terms of these agreements provided no other customer is waiting to borrow the cash...

Read more here. Thanks, VAT.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/9/08

   March 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Stock ticker in Hong KongA patron walked up to the desk and asks for a resource that tells him how the world financial markets are doing.

At first, this seemed like an easy question. But after I thought about it a minute, I realized we don't have any print resources in the library devoted to world financial markets - just the domestic markets.

So, we tried a few different internet searches, and "global market index" seemed to yield the greatest number of reputable websites, such as:

Plenty of other websites referenced international indices, but I couldn't tell how reliable they were. Also, some only did currency exchange, but that wasn't what the patron was after.

The patron was happy with this list of urls, so he jotted them down to bookmark when he got home.

The financial world is still mostly a foggy mystery to me, so every time I do get a question about it, I try to poke around and keep looking until I learn something.

In this case, I soon found myself at the About.com page for Foreign Stock Exchange Quotes. Listed as one of the links on this page was Google Finance, and since I use Yahoo Finance for various things, I thought I'd check out how Google compared.

While searching here, I think it was me using the term "world" that led me to the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.'s financial statements. Of course I was curious, so I took a look, and here are some interesting facts from their 2007 annual data:

  • revenues: $485.65 million
  • expenses: $417.22 million
  • net income: $52.14 million
  • they paid $24.33 million in taxes
  • they also had a line item for "Research & Development" but no monies charged to it

Sadly, the reports weren't very detailed, so I couldn't tell how that $417.22 million was spent. Also sadly was their lack of research and development - but at least they had a line item for it. Now this was worth learning, wasn't it?



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