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


Support the Stack Exchange Library Forum

   January 10th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill BarnesThe beginning of the year is apparently my favorite time for good causes - although this is one I've mentioned before.

Last year, Unshelved Answers, a Q&A site for librarians, went offline. A replacement was proposed on Stack Exchange, but to move forward it needs 894 people to support the idea.

I used Unshelved Answers a lot, to both ask questions and share knowledge (sometimes that I had to find out the hard way). If you're interested in a professional open forum (essentially, a reference desk for librarians) to communicate with each other and share tips and tricks and best practices, take a look at the proposal and consider clicking the Commit! button. Thanks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/26/11

   July 2nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Unshelved comic stripInstead of a reference question I've answered this week, I wanted to bring attention to a resource for librarians to ask questions.

In April, the very useful Unshelved Answers went off-line - it was a forum that let librarians ask professional questions of other librarians. I used it frequently, both asking and answering, and was sad when this resource went away.

But recent tweets from @codinghorror and @jessamyn reminded me of an effort to start up a replacement Libraries forum - I say "effort," because it'll take your help to make it happen.

The new home will be at stackexchange.com, which requires a critical mass of people to "commit" to a new forum before it is activated. As I write this, we've got 316 of the 894 needed committers, so we still need more librarians to get involved. But don't let the word "commit" scare you - you're not dedicating your life to anything, just showing that you support the idea of the forum and will use it (at your own level of involvement).

The idea behind this Libraries forum, and Unshelved Answers before it, is to create a "reference desk for librarians" - but the official proposal description reads:

Proposed Q&A site for librarians and library professionals where they can share their expertise about libraries and everything in them.

In other words, this will be a place where we can ask questions about working in a library, seek help on reference questions, find out how other libraries are handling a particular issue, and, yes, whether or not we need more signs in the library (no).

And who better to ask than other librarians?

So please, take a minute, visit the new Librarians forum proposal page and click the green Commit! button - together we can make this happen, and together we can help each other make libraries better. Thanks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/6/11

   March 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

ALA Library logoInstead of one of my reference questions, this week, I wanted to share this:

Through a chance email conversation with the ALA librarian Karen Muller, I learned the ALA not only maintains a library of its own, but the American Libraries magazine also posts online some of its more interesting reference questions.

They're interesting, so check it out.

Also, I was curious, so I read more about the ALA library, including its mission:

The primary mission of the ALA Library is to help the staff of the American Library Association serve ALA members, and thereafter, the needs of the members of ALA, other libraries, and members of the public seeking information on librarianship. The ALA Library is a small special library with a collection that focuses exclusively on the history of and issues within libraries and librarianship. The Library's staff will respond to reference and information requests in accordance with this mission and collection scope.

Their website deserves some exploring, and has interesting information, including

Of course, it could just be me that was in the dark about all this. They're also on Facebook and Twitter, and with 12,000+ Twitter followers, maybe I'm just the last to know.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.



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