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


Guidelines for Handling Weekend Emergencies at the Library

   January 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello, I'm IN CHARGE badgeThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile, but better late than never, I suppose.

In the fall, my library was able to reopen for Sundays for the first time in like five years. This is great news for patrons, but since our seasonal Sunday hours are voluntary (with paid overtime), we sometimes have a shortage of staff willing to work them.

In my library, there needs to be a Department Head in the building at all times. Generally this isn't a problem, but if no Department Head volunteered to work a particular Sunday, other staff (with library degrees) can be acting Department Head.

Since these acting Department Heads would be in charge of the building, we created some "Sunday Department Head Guidelines" for them to refer to if something unusual happened - and also to make sure the library delivered the same level of service on Sundays as we do the rest of the week. The goal was to have all necessary information - procedure, contact information, passwords, etc. - in one place.

I really like lists like this*, so I thought I'd share. Obviously it is primarily applicable to my library, and even then primarily only on Sundays (as other times follow slightly different procedures in certain situations), but perhaps it might inspire other libraries to also document procedures like this. Feel free to download and use these however you like (names, phone numbers, and other vital information removed):

I know the staff here appreciated it, as it can be daunting to be in charge when something goes wrong.

 


*Some people say I have a love of rules, but that's not true - orderliness and answers are what I like. Take that, entropy.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Free Books, not Free Hugs

   November 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Free HugsYesterday afternoon, patrons suddenly started asking our Circulation staff why there was a man on our front steps holding a "Free Hugs" sign.

This was news to us, and since there were also a couple complaints, our Head of Circulation walked out and told the man that he can't do that on library property. The man, very nicely and politely, said okay and left.

It was a little strange, and got us thinking - why can't he do that? Our first thought was that it violated our "no soliciting" policy - but technically he was giving out hugs, not asking for them. We couldn't come up with a hard and fast rule that he was breaking, other than it was creeping out patrons and affecting their library use - which does violate our Appropriate Library Behavior policy.

But come on, hugs? I know libraries are open public buildings, and we need to make sure everyone feels comfortable using them. But when the free hugs guy gets banned, maybe dialing back the fear and restoring sanity isn't a bad idea.

But it gets better - a few hours later I saw this tweet:

All the news that's fit to tweet

Apparently he went from the library to the Town Center, where loads of people were out holding campaign signs (loitering?) - and someone called the cops on him for his "Free Hugs" sign.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



Library Overdue Policies in the News

   April 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Library Police signI'm sure most people by now have seen the story about George Washington having overdue books from the New York Society Library.

This got me thinking about overdue books. The ALA's 2010 State of American Libraries Report was just released, but one statistic it did not include was the number of American households with overdue library material. It must be a high percentage, or else this news story (via LISNews) from Solano County, CA, wouldn't be possible:

Someone has been calling residents posing as a collection agency working with the library, and demanding they provide their credit card number over the phone to pay off fines for overdue material. It sounds like an Urban Legend (but it's not), and since it's on the internet, the same scam might start cropping up in other communities.

My library doesn't charge overdue fines (though we do suspend borrowing privileges for gross offenders), but it's never a bad time to review library policies in case patrons (or staff) have questions. If we did charge fines, I would lobby to implement my favorite tactic, overdue amnesty week, with people getting their fines waived if they return library materials with a non-perishable food item. Or, we could try (passive-aggressive) anti-theft signage.



Tags: , , , , , , ,



Updating Library Policies

   September 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MacKay policiesI'm finally getting my library's updated policies online. We started revising them in April 2008, and the Trustees approved the new versions in April 2009, so I'm a bit behind.

Updating a Dreamweaver-based website is slow going, so I thought I'd share the new (footnoted) Reference policy here. The old policies are still online until I get all the new ones coded and published. Once that is done, our plan is to review them every three years (some of these hadn't been touched since 1999) to make sure they are up-to-date. I'm also trying to think of a better way to display them on our website - any ideas?

Reference Service Policy

The following guidelines should be used by Reference Department staff in providing answers and materials for ready-reference and general research questions taken in person, by telephone, by mail, or submitted electronically.

The primary role of the Reference Staff is to assist patrons with their information searches and to educate them in the location and use of all types of reference resources. While assistance will be provided, patrons should not expect Reference Staff to do their work for them. Staff should spend no more than 15 minutes assisting a patron before returning to the Reference Desk to be available to assist other patrons. Patrons are not permitted to purchase dedicated staff time for reference or research services; please see the Library's Gift and Donation Policy (4.3) for additional details.*

Confidentiality
All reference transactions should be treated with confidentiality, and the patron's right to privacy must be ensured. All information requests should be discussed only in a professional manner.

Timeliness
Patrons of all ages will be provided correct answers or referrals to their reference requests as soon as possible. If an answer cannot be provided within twenty-four hours, the patron will be informed of the status of their request.

While priority is given to walk-in patrons, telephone and electronic requests will be answered as quickly as possible. If "same day" service cannot be provided, the patron will be informed.

Locating Materials and Resources
Whenever possible, answers will first be sought using the resources available within the Chelmsford Library, whether print or electronic. The Reference Staff will also use the resources available through the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC) and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System (NMRLS). If an answer cannot be provided immediately using local resources, appropriate print or electronical materials will be requested or located on the patron's behalf.

Every effort will be made to provide patrons with a source for an answer, where appropriate. If a patron is unable to visit the Library, the staff should offer to mail, fax or email a copy of the material, or a bibliography of the resources used (reproduction and/or shipping costs may apply).

Loaning of Reference Materials
Reference material will not leave the building. Material in this area is considered to be important for ready access to patrons, or be irreplaceable local history items. Allowing References items to circulate defeats the purpose of having a separate section for reference use. Patrons are encouraged to photocopy if they need to have the printed material in hand.

Types of Questions
The Reference Staff strives to provide professional and complete answers to any type of question asked at the Reference Desk. In addition to general reference questions, the following types of questions receive special treatment:

  • Directory Information - Reference Staff will assist patrons searching for names, addresses, or other contact information in any publicly-available resource, including telephone books, city directories, and electronic resources. Reference staff will not provide personal information about other Library staff, nor information contained in their personnel files. Please contact Library Administration or the Town of Chelmsford Human Resources Department for personnel information.
  • Homework Assignments - The use of the Library for homework and research assignments is part of the educational process, and staff should strive to provide students with a positive library experience. Questions from students should be answered in the same manner as other informational requests, and additional time should be given to provide the student with informal bibliographical instruction and research techniques.**
  • Technology Questions - All Reference Staff will be proficient with the technology resources available within the library, and are responsible for assisting with electronic research resources and basic library computer and internet competencies. Technology questions beyond the scope of regular Library resources may be referred to the Head of Reference or the Library's technology administrator.
  • Medical/Legal/Financial Information - Medical, legal, tax and investing assistance is limited to directing patrons to Library resources and/or secondary referral sources such as local hospital libraries, law libraries, etc. Reference staff cannot, at any time, assist with the interpretation of medical, legal or financial information, or give patrons advice on these topics.
  • Trivia Questions - Trivia question should be considered in the same manner as other informational questions. In line with the Chelmsford Library's Public Service Policy (2.1), “The needs and requests of library patrons should always be taken seriously and treated with respect. Equal consideration should be given to all users in a non-judgmental environment.”

 


*I added this sentence to keep patrons from thinking they can "buy" reference staff time with gifts or donations, which also got included in the Gift and Donation Policy, so it would apply to all library staff

**I originally included a sentence saying that staff would focus on helping the student, and not anyone that might be accompanying them. The reason is that a lot of times, a parent brings their child in, but never lets the child speak or explain their assignment - the parents just wants to get as many books and possible and leave as quickly as possible. I'm not a parent so I can't criticize, but this bugs me to no end. However, the wording was awkward, and other department heads thought it sent a bad message, so it was cut.



Tags: , , , , , , , ,



Library policy about personal blogging

   July 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The Man Behind The CurtainA couple of weeks ago, the director of the Wadleigh Memorial Library in New Hampshire wrote me with this question (I'm paraphrasing):

We have an intern for the summer, and she's started a blog about her work at the library. However, the next thing I knew, there was a link to her blog from the library's homepage (it's since been removed). While I like the idea of the public getting a bird's eye view of what we do at the library, I have to think of worst case scenario....

I couldn't find your blog linked from CPL's website, but you do publicly announce on your blog where you work. Does CPL have any policies in place about staff blogs? Have you ever had anything you've written come back to bite the library?...

This is a very interesting question. Something I wrote once did come back to bite, and the Town, the Library and I were all threatened with a lawsuit. That prompted a discussion between my director and me about separating library and personal, although no written policy ever came of it. But in general, here are the blogging guidelines that I follow:

  • Nothing written can be unwritten - think before you publish
  • Get permission before using names, and be vague when referring to people otherwise
  • Personal website has a disclaimer disassociating the library/town from me

Which is basic, I know, but since it's a personal website done on personal time, there's not much keeping me from doing whatever I want - other than common sense, experience, and goodwill towards the library. Since most of what goes on in libraries is public record anyway, pretty much everything I do at work is fair game, so long as I don't break the law or violate patron privacy.

Even still, it might be a good idea for libraries to create some sort of guidelines for staff who publicly use the library's name online. I don't think libraries can force people to do or not do most things (aside from using library resources and time), but basic guidelines might help a well-meaning library employee avoid awkward situations they might not have otherwise considered.

A few resources for these guidelines are:

It's a great idea for library employees to share their work with the public (and other librarians). Especially if the library is going to link to that personal blog from the library's website (in which case, the library might be entitled to more control over the content of that personal blog). If no employee is doing this on their personal blog, the library's blog itself could occasionally spotlight behind-the-scenes activities in the library.

I guess the bottom line is that people are still discovering Web 2.0, so there's a lot of inexperience and new situations out there. Libraries shouldn't try to prevent their employees from participating, but instead can assist them in doing it well (remember 23 Things?).

After our email discussion and speaking with library Trustees, the Wadleigh Library decided to put the link to their intern's blog back on their homepage, which was good news. So if you're looking for a model on how to do this, check out Lexi the Intern's blog - she's doing a great job.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Open To All ~ At All Times

   April 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Open To All ~ At All Times signThe biggest oversight when my library was built was that they only put in one Quiet Study Room.

It is constantly in use, and constantly in demand. Because people want a quiet place to close the door and spread out, we do what we can to accommodate them - or they do.

When otherwise not in use, we let people use the Conference Room as a quiet study room. We also have a Local History Room, and many people decide to go in there and close the door.

And this is the root of the latest controversy in my library. Our Local History Room contains our local history resources, and, by library policy, is Open To All* patrons whenever the library is open. Which means anyone can go into this room, and if someone is already in there, they have to share.

However, we've recently had a spate of patrons closing the door and telling other patrons the room was reserved, and they couldn't come in. This confused patrons and irritated staff, so we finally had to put signs up on the Local History Room door to very clearly spell out our policy.

As you may know, I have a reputation for taking down signs, so I wanted to make sure this sign was clear and effective - and I think it is. Since it went up, we haven't had any problems. People still go in and close the door, but no more intra-patron intimidation, and that is a good thing.

Oh and by the way, I hung a sign both on the outside as well as on the inside of the door - that way when someone does close the door, they can't claim they didn't see the sign.

 


*I was inspired by the entrance to the library in Groton, MA.

 



Tags: , , , , , , , ,