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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/6/15

   September 12th, 2015 Brian Herzog

girl on phoneI work with little kids every day, but it's slightly unusual for me to help a kid over the phone. On Wednesday night this week, a little girl called about 8pm, and asked to be transferred to the Children's Room. No problem.

A couple minutes later the phone rang again, and it was the same small sweet voice. She said she'd tried calling the Children's Room twice but no one answered, so asked if I could help her find a book. Again, no problem.

We looked up the two Dork Diaries books she wanted, and placed holds on them. That didn't take very long, and when we were finished I asked her if there was anything else I could do. She said,

Well, yes. I've never called the Children's Room before and they didn't answer. I'm kind of worried something happened to them, so could you check to make sure they're okay?

I tried not to laugh, and explained that there was only one staff person in the room tonight and maybe she was helping someone else on a big project and couldn't make it to the phone, but that yes, I would check. She said thanks and hung up.

It turned out the Children's Room person was just getting back from her break when I checked on her, so all was well.

Another funny thing about this call was that when I said the books were checked out, so we'd request them for her and call when they were ready to pick up, she asked if that was the only option. I thought she meant email or text instead of calling, but no, she meant could we bring them to her house or school instead of her having to come here to get them. Not unreasonable, but I've also never been asked that by a six-year-old sounding voice before.

It's hard to say no to that, but she understood and said she'd ask her mom for a ride to the library.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/15

   April 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

IRS scam alertWorking at a Reference Desk isn't all about funny misunderstandings. Sometimes it's very serious, as this week's question shows. However, two things about this question:

  1. It actually happened last week morning of April 15th
  2. Wednesdays are my late shift, so I only heard about how my coworkers handled this when I came in at 1pm - but they did everything right and I thought it was worth sharing

Apparently, an older female patron came up to the desk and asked for help scanning and emailing something. One of the desk staff showed her how to get started scanning, and went back to the desk. A few minutes later, the patron came back over and asked for help emailing. After a short conversation, when the patron found out the scanner can't email things itself but instead she needs to send it from her own email account - which she didn't have - she put her head down on the table and said,

You just don't understand, you don't understand how serious this is, I'm going to be arrested!

Everyone knows library staff are not supposed to ask why when helping patrons, but they rightly did in this case.

It had been all over news outlets this tax season how there was a new kind of scam: you'd get a phone call and the person would say they were the IRS and you needed to send them money or else you'd be arrested. That was exactly what was happening with this patron - she had just deposited her money in an account in the bank across the street (which was not her bank), and had come to the library to scan and email the deposit slip to "the IRS" so they could withdraw it.

Thank goodness our staff caught on. The patron had a hard time believing she was being scammed, but staff insisted. They brought her into the office so she could sit down relax, and staff called the Police. When the officer arrived, he listened to the situation, and then left with the patron to go over to the bank.

As far as I know, we never heard back about what happened, but it sounds like the situation was derailed in time - at least, I sincerely hope so. And, there are two other comments about this interaction:

  1. My coworker who was helping the woman said the patron's cell phone kept ringing the entire time, and it was the scammer! I guess he knew he was close to getting his money, so he kept calling to find out why she hadn't sent the email yet. Finally my coworker took the woman's phone and told the scammer that they knew what was going on and exactly what she thought of him. I'm sorry I missed that.
  2. Since this was all happening in the public area, and the woman was clearly in distress, of course it caught the attention of all the other patrons in the area. As it unfolded and everyone realized she was being taken by a scammer, other patrons sitting at the computers nearby starting chiming in with their own comments - ranging from advice to criticism on her being dangerously gullible. Now that is almost as pathetic as scamming the elderly out of money.

Anyway, the whole situation seemed to be handled perfectly by the staff, so way to go to them.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 10/19/14

   October 25th, 2014 Brian Herzog

paul revere statueThis reference question isn't difficult or new (I talked about something similar back in 2007), but I still love this idea so I thought I'd share it.

A patron called and asked if I could search for a book for her by ISBN. When the search brought back no results, she said "well I'm getting this from an eight year old so who knows." Ha.

To verify the ISBN, I searched for it on Amazon, and sure enough it was a kids book on Paul Revere - published in 1986. I'm sure we had other books on Paul Revere, so I asked if she needed just information about him, or this particular book. She said,

No, I need this book. My niece got it out from her school library in Pennsylvania, and I wanted to read it with her over the phone.

Man I love this idea. I widened my search to include all the libraries in Massachusetts, and sure enough a few libraries outside my network had it. I requested it and the patron was happy. Since it's coming from outside the system, it might take up to a couple weeks to get here, but hopefully it'll arrive before the project is due.

So, another win for interlibrary loan, and also a win for staying involved in kids' lives despite living in a different state. Go libraries!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Another Great Feature for a Library App

   September 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

mute buttonAt the risk of this blog becoming a list of things only interesting to me, here's another cool new-to-me app I just recently learned about.

It's called Mr. Silent, and it lets you auto-mute your phone based on time, location, or contact. It seems like a fairly obvious idea, but apparently this one works better than most - it integrates with your phone's calendar, contacts list, and GPS, and has a nice interface.

So now see, if I were designing the perfect library app, this feature would definitely be in there. As an opt-in thing, of course, but how nice would it be if people could set their phones to automatically go to vibrate when they were at the library? You could even gamify it by rewarding people by moving them up higher on wait lists for every time their phone ringer gets turned off by this app. Or something. I would trade all the hot dogs in the world for this to be a universal thing.

Plus, combine it with the location-based notes feature from a couple weeks ago, and you'd really have something.

Existing library apps are pretty good at covering the basics of catalog search, events calendar, and static information like hours and stuff. And Boopsie's self-check feature is also pretty awesome.

One other feature I'd like to integrate into a library app is an updatable resource map - one that library staff (or anyone I suppose) could add information to. For instance, local points of interest for a walking tour, where public bathrooms are, pay phones, free wifi, etc. Although I guess if you're already using your phone, looking for a pay phone or wifi might be irrelevant. Hmm, one of these days I'll get the hang of cell phones.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 7/14/13

   July 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Removed pay phonesI've talked about pay phones before, but I like them - and we do still get asked about them - so here's the latest pay phone question.

This week, a man came to the Reference Desk asking if we knew where any pay phones were. The phones in the shopping plaza across the street were removed earlier this year, which were the last pay phones in town I knew of.

Since the pay phone was removed from our lobby, our policy has been to let people use desk phones. I offered this to the patron, but he declined because it was going to be a long call to Worcester, MA (which would also be a long distance call). He said he preferred a pay phone, so my coworker and I and the patron brainstormed where one might be.

We thought of all the high-traffic retail centers, but couldn't definitely remember seeing one anywhere. Eventually the patron thanked us, and just sort of wandered away.

This bothered me, so that night after work, I went grocery shopping. My grocery store is in a big shopping plaza*, and I drove around slowly really looking for a pay phone. And, success! I found one right outside the entrance to Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart pay phone

At the library the next day, I relayed my find to my coworker, and also the patron who came in later. We thought this could very well be the last pay phone in town, and thought the only way to be sure was to drive around trying to spot them. Not being a digital native, you see, it took awhile before I realized that this is why Facebook was invented.

I asked on the Library's Facebook page if anyone knew where there were pay phones in town, and immediately got some responses:

Facebook pay phone post

Great! Crowd-sourcing Reference Questions is kind of fun - and certainly provided a better answer than I did for the patron. This might even motivate me to create a Custom Google Map of local pay phone locations - it would be a challenge to maintain, but there certainly is no other resource for this question.


*This plaza just got a Five Guys!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Overhearing Cell Phone Conversations, And The Annoyance Therein

   June 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Cell Phone SignA little while ago I saw an interesting post on Lifehacker about why hearing a cell phone conversation is so annoying. I'd heard this theory before, and agree with it - at least, in my own anecdotal experience, overhearing a cell phone call is way more distracting than overhearing two people having a conversation.

I'd even add one more element to their list: phone calls are more distracting than a conversation because of the pauses. When two people are having a conversation, since one or the other is constantly talking, it becomes sort of a constant background noise (which is easy for me to block out, say, while reading on a train). But overhearing just one half of a phone call, an irregular sequence of noise-pause-noise-pause, is impossible for me to filter out because each time the person starts talking again is a new distraction.

Anyway, for all these reasons, cell phones in a quiet space like a library are always going to be a problem - even in a not-necessarily-quiet library like mine. Until we can get a good white noise generator* that would drowned it out, perhaps what we really need are dedicated spaces for people to have cell phone conversations.

So, thanks to Stephanie for pointing out the cell phone phone booth:

Cell Zone Cell Phone Booth

I did a little digging and found that these are available from Salemi Industries - but according to a write up from 2006(!), they cost $2,400 to $3,500.

I'm sure a few of these would help, but if we're talking that kind of money, I'd still prefer a fountain.


*All my requests for a fountain in front of the Reference Desk have so far been denied.

Tags: , , , , , ,