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




Phone Book Follies

   August 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

The Phone Book ListingsSo apparently, in 34 years, I've never looked up in the phone book a business name starting with the word "The."

While looking up a phone number of someone whose name started with "Terr," I happened to glance at the rest of the page. I was surprised to notice that there were business listings filed under "the" - The Pizza Place, The Family Eye Care Center, etc.

Since listings like this in a library catalog would be an error, it caught my eye. It seems like it should be wrong for a phone book, too, but I could understand there are business where "The" is an official part of their name.

But I was amazed I'd never noticed this before. Just to make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked up some of these businesses where I would have thought they'd be - under "P" for Pizza, "F" for Family, etc. Some were listed, and some weren't. How strange.

So I checked the other phone books we have, to see if all the publishers did it that way. I found that some businesses are listed under "The," some aren't, and some are under both. And then I found something even stranger.

Test Test in the phone bookOn the "T" page of one of the books, there were listings for "Test Test." This is something I commonly do when entering junk information to test a new system, and I was thoroughly entertained to see it published in a phone book.

All of the various "Test" entries were listed at the same address, but with different phone numbers. Curiosity got the better of me, and I tried a few of the numbers - but they all just went right to a generic voicemail. These "Test" entries were listed in the other phone books, too, so I'm guessing it tracks back to whoever complied the data originally and sold their database to the publishers. Ha.

But again, this underscores the important of knowing the appropriateness and limitations of your resources.

And so, now the world knows that I can entertain myself for a good twenty minutes reading the telephone book.



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Have Phone, Will Read

   December 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Have phone, will readIn honor of the holiday season, here's a post about quality family time:

My friend Carrie lives in South Carolina, and her family lives in Ohio. One of her nephews is learning to read, and most of the time, her family tells her, he does fine. But once in awhile when someone sits down with him, he'll throw a tantrum, act up, hit the person he's supposed to be reading to, etc. - basically, act like a boy who isn't in the mood to read.

So Carrie got the idea to have him read to her over the phone.

He's always excited to talk to her on the phone anyway, so he was happy to read to her, too. Her nephew picks the book, and they each check out a copy from their local libraries so Carrie can help him.

And in the process, they found he did a much better job reading to her than when he reads to someone in person. Perhaps it's because he feels pressured when he's reading to someone in person, or perhaps tantrums and hitting have no effect over the phone. If he's not in the mood, they just hang up, and he doesn't get the attention he normally gets when he acts that way.

Carrie said that not only has his reading has improved since they started this, but they also talk more often - a few times a week. And since they use free minutes on cell phones, it doesn't cost anything.

I've heard of libraries offering storytime-by-phone, but learning-to-read-by-phone might be too time-intensive for libraries to offer. But it's a great thing for geographically-distant relatives. I fall into that category, and in a couple years I'll try it with my nephews (but I'm still not getting a cell phone).

learning, learning to read, libraries, library, phone, public, reading



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/11/07

   November 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Modified AT & T logo: Death Star with 'Your World. Delivered. To the N.S.A.A patron called in, on her cell phone, while driving*, and asked:

Can you look up and see who a phone number belongs to?

Big Brother-type questions always give me the creeps. I know there are legitimate reasons to do this, but still.

Anyway, since it wasn't a local phone number (which means I couldn't use our Polk Directory), I turned to the internet. It occurred to that I have not done a reverse phone number lookup in at least two years, so I wasn't sure if the websites I used to use were still around.

I did a general search for "reverse phone lookup" and recognized a couple domains: InfoSpace, WhitePages.com and AnyWho.

For this reference question, I typed the number into AnyWho, and it provided me with a first initial and a last name. I read this off to the patron, she said thanks, and then promptly hung up.

Still curious, I tried typing that number into the other two, to see if they all just had the first initial. WhitePages.com gave me a full first name (in addition to the last name and address), and InfoSpace found no matches. Our ReferenceUSA database also provided the complete information, but since it takes a bunch of extra steps to log in to library subscription databases, in this case the free web was easier.

This isn't a very difficult reference question, but it's good to review these tools every so often, to know how they compare to each other. Of course, I still added all three to my library's del.icio.us account.


*Interestingly, my library does not have a policy about talking to people who are driving. I personally hate it when people use cell phones while driving, but I also don't like the idea of telling a patron "no" or asking them to call back later. But, in the interest of not killing innocent people, I'd be willing to do it.

libraries, library, phone, public libraries, public library, reference question, reverse lookup, reverse phone lookup, reverse telephone lookup, review, telephone



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