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


Reference Question of the Week – 6/21/15

   June 27th, 2015 Brian Herzog

there was a little girl coverThis question actually happened in February - I had forgotten about it, but I think it's still interesting:

A patron called in and asked for the large print edition of There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me. We didn't have that in our catalog, so I checked Amazon, which said it was being published on March 11th (over a month away at the time).

I told him we'd be happy to order the large print edition for him, but then he asked something surprising:

Patron: I've noticed that different publishers have different size large print, and sometimes it's not that much larger than regular print. If it's not going to be much bigger than regular print, then I don't want to wait a whole moth for it. Can you see how big the type will be in that book?

Uhh... that is something I've never been asked before. I have noticed over the years that some "large print" books definitely have larger type than others, but never thought much about it. And certainly have never considered trying to find out how large the print will be before a book is published.

However, being Amazon, they do have the "Look Inside" feature - unfortunately in this case, a message said, "This view is of the Kindle book. A preview of the print book (Hardcover edition) is currently not available."

Well, since size varies by publisher, I offered to go to our large print room and grab some other books also published by Thorndike Press Large Print, and try to describe to him how large the type was. Or pull those as well as a book he'd read recently and relate the size of the two, but the patron felt it wasn't worth it. He said to put him on hold for the regular print copy, and when it came in if it was too small, he'd call back.

He never did, at least not to me, so hopefully he enjoyed the regular print edition comfortably.

After we hung up, I looked a little further and did find some large print publishing standards listed conveniently on Wikipedia:

The National Association for Visually Handicapped (NAVH) provides the NAVH Seal of Approval to commercial publishers for books that meet their large print standards.[3] (Lighthouse International acquired NAVH in 2010).[4]

The standards[5] call for:

  • Maximum limits on size, thickness, and weight
  • Minimum limits on margins
  • Type size at least 16 point, preferably 18 point
  • Sans serif or modified serif font recommended
  • Adequate letter and word spacing
  • Flexible binding recommended to allow open book to lie flat

It's remarkable that I've worked in libraries for almost 15 years now and don't think I've ever seen these standards. I suppose I always knew there must be some, but never went beyond that. And I know the publishers want a balance between the comfort of low-vision readers and keeping printing costs low, but even 16pt seems a little small to me.

However, I suppose this is the single greatest advantage of ereaders - sure they can hold a lot of books, but being able to adjust the type size depending on your reading conditions is something print book just can't do. Large Print audiobooks, though, are a different story.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/15/15

   June 20th, 2015 Brian Herzog

colonial ninjaI know I tend to be overly-paranoid, but sometimes reference questions are so unusual that I think they just have to be some "secret shopper" type test to see if I'll take them seriously. One such question came in via email last week:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, June 09, 2015 5:11 PM
To: askus@mvlc.org; bherzog@mvlc.org
Subject: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

patron_name: [---------------------]
patron_email_address: [---------------------]
patron_card_number: [---------------------]

Comments: Do you have reference/source documents on trade of goods/ideas from Asia to Europe during the 18th Century? I am a French & Indian War re-enactor, and I am looking to doing some research on whether certain items, bamboo training sword and stuff like that, as well as knowledge of martial arts would have been traded during this time period.

Thank you for your assistance.

What the heck? It sounds both plausible and ridiculous at the same time. However, since that's the kind of criteria that interests me, I looked around to see what could be found.

My coworkers had already pulled the few books we had on the French and Indian War, but they weren't much help. And we didn't have any resources on Europe-Asia trade in the 18th Century, so I continued looking online. The best I could find were references to European colonization of Asia, but not much specifically about the trade of bamboo swords or martial arts training.

So, I replied to the patron with what I could find:

From: "Chelmsford Library Reference"
Sent: 6/10/2015 7:20:00 PM
Subject: RE: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

Hi-

Unfortunately, we don't have very many resources on the French and Indian war, and for those we do we haven't been able to find any mention of bamboo or martial arts, or any trade with Asia.

I checked some of the history databases we subscribe to, as well as two books that seemed most relevant:
- The war that made America : a short history of the French and Indian War, by Fred Anderson (call number 973.26/Ande)
- Empires at war : the French and Indian War and the struggle for North America, 1754-1763, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (call number 973.26/Fowl)

Since we didn't have any luck with library resources, I tried to find other organizations with more expertise in the French and Indian War. Here are a few groups that might have the information you're looking for:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has an extensive list of online resources:
http://www.clpgh.org/research/pittsburgh/history/frenchindianwar.html

Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George, NY, has an extensive exhibit and a Contact Us form for questions:
http://www.fwhmuseum.com/contact.html

Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, PA, also has an extensive museum and a contact form:
http://fortligonier.org/visit/contact-us/

Lastly, the website http://www.warforempire.org/visit/site_listing.aspx?state=massachusetts&c=visit lists sites in MA that might be of use, including the Boston National History Park which can be contacted at http://www.nps.gov/bost/contacts.htm

I did find a reference stating that the French and Indian War was the name of just the North American theater of the Seven Years War, which took place in other parts of the world simultaneously, including Asia. It looks like France, England, and Spain had various battles in Asia, mostly in India and the Philippines. Although fighting happened at the same time as the French and Indian War in North America, I wasn't able to find any cross-over between the two areas.

I'm sorry we can't provide more direct help, but we will keep looking at let you know if we find anything with the connection you're looking for. Thanks.

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library

Very shortly the patron replied:

Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 7:38 PM
To: Chelmsford Library Reference
Subject: Re[2]: Chelmsford Library Reference Question

Mr. Herzog,

I thank you very much for your assistance, and I must especially thank you for going several steps beyond what I expected, it is greatly appreciated!

Many thanks,

I always feel a little guilty when a patron thanks me even though I don't feel I helped very much, but perhaps one of the museums will provide the information he's seeking. And I've been mostly out of the library since this question came in, but now that I'm back I can continue looking - I still have the patron's email address, and who knows what further research might find.

Still, though - I will admit to looking this patron up in the catalog to make sure he was real before I started working on the question.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/7/15

   June 13th, 2015 Brian Herzog

questio nmark signSo, Monday was a odd day. All three of these (slightly odd) reference interactions happened in the space of a few hours:

1. A patron, who had been sitting at a table near the Reference Desk for a couple hours, walked up and asked,

Could I have a minute of your time?

Which I immediately thought was suspicious - it felt like he was going to try to sell me something. Then he starts this three minute ramble that his dog just died, and he just buried him, it was a Pomeranian, he was sad, he'll miss him, and it was cremated and he buried the urn.

All the while I was listening and starting to feel sad for the guy, but on the other hand was still skeptical and expecting him to ask me for money or something. Or at least get to the end and ask me a reference question.

When he finally did pause, I said something like, "I'm very sorry, that is terrible" - and then he just said "thanks for listening" and went back to his table!

Now I felt terrible - he was upset and just needed to talk to somebody, and here I was expecting a scam. I don't think he noticed though, because later when he left he smiled and said goodbye.


2. A little while after that, one of the volunteers who leads an English Conversation Circle came to the desk and said she wanted to ask me about proof of residency. She said many of her attendees have only recently come to this country and are living with their kids (who are adults). They don't have driver's licenses or any ID with their local address, and she wanted to know what they could use for proof of residency.

My initial thought was that it all depends on who they are trying to prove it to - the library, for example, will accept pretty much any mail (but preferably a bill) with their name and address on it. But she specifically said they weren't applying for library cards - she just wanted to talk about the concept of "proof of residency" in the next conversation.

I know Massachusetts issues non-driver's license ID cards, through the RMV, so I checked their website. Their requirements to get that ID don't seem to include any kind of proof of residency, and people with certain kinds of Visas are allowed to get one too.

I've never really thought about it before, and although it does seem kind of odd that you'd just walk in and tell them where you live, I guess you have to start somewhere. This might just be me being security-paranoid again.


3. And then, almost at the very end of my shift, a patron who had been in one of our study rooms for a couple hours comes up to the desk. He's got his bag, some books, a small box, and a lot of loose papers.

He asks to use the stapler and tape, which is no problem.

Then he asks if he can hang a flyer on our bulletin board, which he hands to me. It's for a fundraising road race for a non-profit, so I tell him that is also no problem.

Then, THEN, he asks me if I can hang it up right then, and if he can video record me while I hang it, because he's producing a promotional video for their Facebook page.

Well, that feels a little weird, but not so weird that I say no. So we go upstairs to the community bulletin boards right by the front entrance. It's kind of a big sign, so I need to make some room for it as he's getting his phone ready. I ask him for any last minute directorial suggestions, to which he said, "um, just pin it to the board is fine."

So I do, and we pull it off in one take. What professionalism!

I may have hesitated more for another group, but this fundraiser benefits a charity in the name of a local kid who was injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, so it certainly is a good cause. I haven't seen the video posted yet, so keep checking.


These may not have been real reference questions, but the Reference Desk certainly is not a boring place.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/31/15

   June 6th, 2015 Brian Herzog

This is, hands down, one of the saddest reference interactions I've ever had.

One evening a couple weeks ago, a young girl came up to the desk with a stack of pages she had just picked up off the color printer. She said the photo was coming out too dark, and she handed me one to show me what it was:

Lost pet notice

See, that's sad. She wasn't exactly crying, but you could tell that the too-dark picture was just the latest in her series of unfortunate events.

It was easy enough to go back to her computer, save the file onto a flash drive, and then print it to the staff printer at the Reference Desk. For whatever reason, those copies came out just fine, and she was happy.

While we were waiting for the copies to print, I asked her a bit about her cat. She was hopefully he'd be found, so I wished her luck and then she left.

I debated leaving her contact information on the sheet - after all, you'd need it to contact her. However, I was just not comfortable putting a little girl's personal information online, so if you happen to be in the Chelmsford area and spot this cat, please contact me and I'll forward it to her. But since this was a couple weeks ago, hopefully he is found by now.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/24/15

   May 30th, 2015 Brian Herzog

family feudWednesdays is my night shift, and mid-way through the evening one of our regular patrons called. He's actually one of my favorite patrons because he is extremely nice, his questions are usually interesting, and he's very passionate about whatever he's asking. This time it was Family Feud:

Patron: Brian, you've got to help me. You know how you can get TV shows on the computer, right? Can you find last night's Family Feud? I was watching it but then lost the signal, and by the time I got it back the show had just ended. But I need to see it because the lady who went first at the end got 194 points! Can you believe that?

This is actually just the abridged version of his question.

He's not very tech savvy, so I told him that it's always up to the network to put shows online, and I didn't know if Family Feud did this or not. I checked their website, but didn't see any full episodes. I checked the station's website too, but again, no luck.

The patron was getting discouraged and lamenting that he'd never see this moment, when I got the idea to try YouTube. I figured that if this was as sensational as it sounds (I've never seen someone get that many points at once before), someone may have uploaded the clip.

So I did a YouTube search for "Family Feud" limited to "Today" (since the episode just aired the night before) - but again struck out. I felt like someone must have uploaded it though, so I told the patron I'd keep looking and call him when I found it.

I tried a few different keyword combinations with the YouTube search, but still couldn't find anything. So then I switched to Google, searching for "Family Feud 194" figuring the score would be mentioned in the metadata. And low and behold, the third result was a link... to a YouTube video of that clip, uploaded less than 24 hours ago!

Why that didn't come up when I was searching YouTube directly, I don't know. Maybe it was too recent? I watched the clip quickly to make sure it looked like the right thing, and then called the patron.

He was so happy he came right down to the library. I showed him how to find it on a public computer, gave him some earphones, and he very happily watched the clip of this moment. You can enjoy it too:

The patron and I talked a bit more before he left, and it felt good to make someone that happy. Plus, The Family Feud has always been one of my favorite game shows, although I haven't watched it in years, so this was fun for me too.



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Libraries Circulating Wi-Fi Hotspots: Now That’s Cool

   May 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

internet access here signI've been quiet lately because I've been just flat-out busy at both work and home, but here's something that has me excited: patrons checking out wi-fi hotspots from their public library.

Last month's article about the NYPL's circulating wi-fi got me interested. I brought it up at a recent meeting, and a colleague (thanks Anna!) sent me some more background info:

The idea is simple enough: have a mobile hotspot for patrons to check out, that can create a local wi-fi signal using a 4G data plan. And surprisingly, not very expensive for non-profits: $15 per hotspot device, and then $10 per month for the 4G service. Cheap!

I'm going to be exploring this for my library over the coming year. This community is pretty good about mostly being able to afford their own internet access, but there are still plenty of patrons in the library every day to use our computers and wi-fi. A service like this would be critical in rural or poorly-covered areas, but will still be a benefit here.

Not to mention, staff could take it with them to the farmer's market to provide wi-fi on the common, and also so we can have a live ILS connection and check out cookbooks and gardening books on the spot.

If you have any experience with these, please leave a comment. And I'll post again once we make some progress.



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