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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/30/07

   October 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog
Love in the Time of Cholera coverOn Friday, Oprah Winfrey's announced her next book club book.

An elderly female patron called the desk and said:

I'd like to request a book called Love in the Time of Collars. You probably don't have it. Oprah just announced on television that it's the next book for her book club, and I wanted to call you right up to request it. Since she just announced it I figure you haven't had a chance to buy it yet, but can I be first on the list?

She was surprised to learn that, 1) we actually had three copies ("oh, does she notify libraries before she says it on television?" [we only wish]), and, 2) there were already four people on the request list ahead of her.

I didn't have the heart to correct her on the title, but she'll figure it out (or be disappointed that it's not a story about that kind of love triangle).

Search for reviews of Love in the Time of Cholera using the Online Book Review Search:
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book club, book review search, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gabriel Garciá Maŕquez, libraries, library, love in the time of cholera, oprah, oprah's book culb, public libraries, public library, reference question

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The Dangers of Secondhand Flash Drives

   October 4th, 2007 Brian Herzog

See No Evil monkeyHere's a humorous story from Ohio (in fact, one town over from where I grew up). It's short, so read it before continuing...

...Okay, so it's funny for a couple reasons:

  • It happened at all
  • It happened to a politician, in a high school*
  • It happened because of something given to him by a librarian
  • A very similar thing happened to me

People leave/lose a lot of stuff in the library. The valuable things we collect up and keep in a "lost and found" at the desk. A lot of it is reclaimed, but some things have been here for years.

One of these long-term items happened to be a flash drive.

One day, I was asked to join a meeting at the last minute. They wanted me to demonstrate uploading images to our web server. The computer they were using was not connected to our staff network, but was using our public wireless to ftp to our web server.

I wanted to come prepared with images to upload, so I grabbed that flash drive from the lost and found, transferred a few library images to it, and went into the meeting (this is before my library provided flash drives).

When it was my turn, I plugged the flash drive into the laptop. It turns out that the person who owned the laptop had it set so that, when Windows automatically detected a flash drive, it would launch a picture viewer and display the images on the flash drive.

Guess what happened next.

My co-workers got an eye-full. Luckily it was all staff in the meeting, and no one was offended or called the police.

Potential morals of the story:

  • Always run through your presentation on the equipment you will use for your presentation before you give your presentation
  • Don't use things from the lost and found
  • If you're going to reuse a strange disk, format it first
  • If you save porn on a disk, don't lose it
  • Never save your porn in a root directory

Take your pick.

*I vaguely remember a similar story from awhile ago, but it ended differently. I couldn't find it on the interweb, but it went something like this: a school librarian (or teacher) was showing her class something on the internet. She accidentally clicked a wrong link, and opened a website that had porn popup windows. It didn't phase the kids, but when the parents found out, they got this person fired. I wish I could find an update to this, to see why a librarian (or teacher) lost their job but a politician didn't.

libraries, library, porn, pornography, public libraries, public library

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China’s Library on the Lake

   October 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

This is a nice new library building in China. It's good to hear that that, despite all the censorship news, China is still sees the value in libraries.

Oddly, though, I didn't see any bookshelves until the last picture (use the "next" button, not the "Photo Gallery" link).

via LISnews.org

building, china, libraries, library, new building, public libraries, public library

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/23/07

   September 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog
The Simpsons Movie cover The Brink's Job cover

A patron called in with this question:

Can you tell me the box office grosses for two movies? I need to know how much The Simpsons Movie and The Brink's Job each made.

While he was talking, I quickly went to the Internet Movie Database and searched for The Simpsons Movie. I had never looked up box office figures there before, but it sounded like something they would have.

And they did - clicking on the Box Office/Business link under "Other Info" on the left side shows an extensive breakdown of box office grosses.

Unfortunately, The Brink's Job did not have this link, so I told the patron I'd keep looking and call him when I found it.

I next went to the general internet, trying various searches like "the brinks job +gross," "movie grosses," etc., but didn't have much luck. I did find a few useful websites to remember (some with pop-up ads):

But none of them had The Brink's Job - either it was too old (it came out in 1978), or it didn't gross enough to be noteworthy. I also tried all of our print film encyclopedias, but couldn't find this figure anywhere.

I called the patron back to let him know, and he said it was okay. It turns out these movies are his daughter's and mother's favorite movies, and he was just curious to compare their grosses.

But still - it bothers me not to be able to find an answer. Bleh. I'm going to be looking for this all week.

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Patron Book Reviews Tool

   September 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chili Fresh logoI was asked by a company called Chili Fresh to take a look at a new tool they're creating. It is designed to allow book reviews written by patrons to display right in the catalog (similar to reviews on Amazon.com showing up right on the item details page).

I agreed, and have spent some time on this, because I really like the concept - integrating useful data right into the library catalog. One of the biggest problems with library resources is that they're too complicated to use. The databases we subscribe to are great, but if using them requires patrons to jump through hoops, then the patrons are not going to use them.

As an example: NoveList is one of the best databases libraries can offer. Its readers advisory information is unmatched. But, because it's a stand-alone tool (the proverbial "information silo"), it's just that much more difficult for patrons to use.

Counter to this is LibraryThing for Libraries, which provides readers advisory information right in the catalog - you know, where our patrons already are. I don't think the suggestions provided by LTfL are as good as NoveList (yet), but its ease of utility makes it a far more practical tool.

And this is what caught my eye with Chili Fresh. Patrons-created book information, right along side the library's book information. That's great. Just like comments on a weblog, getting patrons involved and interacting with the library is going to enrich both the tool and the experience.

I've spent a few hours this week playing with the Chili Fresh tool (my test page), and sending emails back and forth to the developers. They readily admit this tool is still in beta, and has a ways to go, but they are open to comments and have already incorporated a few of my suggestions. I encourage anyone interested to set up an account and play too, and let them know what you think. The more input provided by libraries, the more this will be shaped into a useful tool.

It seems a bit clunky right now, because the examples are all outside of a library catalog. But they're definitely on the right track, and the idea is worth some attention. You can sign up on their website for a test account, or contact them Scott Johnson (jscott [at] chilifresh.com) for more information.

A note about their website: you'll notice that many of the pages are blank. I asked about this and was told that, since the product is still in beta and is changing, they are limiting the amount of information available.

book review, book reviews, chili fresh, chilifresh, libraries, library, patron, public libraries, public library, readers advisory

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Library Happenings Out of Context

   September 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Lakewood Library LogoWow - a reader of Cleveland Scene sent in a letter about the Director of the Lakewood (OH) Library, and it is worth reading.

I know of time management software for public computers that have, as a secondary feature, the ability for staff to see what is on any particular computer's screen. This feature is certainly not the main focus of the software, and I never even thought of it as "spy" software before.

It certainly could be used that way, though; just like every car can be used to kill people. So what produces guilt: ability, intent or deed?

I would take this person's letter a lot more seriously if he didn't characterize the police presence in the library as "a Lakewood police officer, carrying a gun, stationed in both libraries, to shoot people. Why else do they carry guns?"

I seriously doubt that a police officer would be allowed to preform his/her duty without the standard-issue sidearm. It's not like the library has a choice in whether or not they carry guns.

Anyway, this was just a humorous article. I can't tell if it is sincere or a parody, but it shows how the simplest things can be twisted into something sinister with very little effort. "Knowledge Illuminates Opportunity" indeed.

Via LibraryStuff

lakewood, lakewood library, lakewood oh, lakewood ohio, lakewood public library, libraries, library, misconception, public libraries, public library, spying

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