October 31st, 2015 Brian Herzog
This isn't a reference question, but this whole scenario is a service provided by the Reference Desk (usually without incident) that this time ended up being a it's-funny-because-it's-true series of problems.
So, test proctoring. We do it so often that I created a little info webpage to answer general questions and make us look legit. We probably average one exam or so a week over the course of a year, which feels like a lot to me for a public library.
And of course, with this many exams, we deal with a variety of students and schools. It's mildly interesting to me how almost every school has their own process - 80% of which are totally fine and normal, 10% are oddly casual, and 10% are absurdly difficult.
In this case, the process was unnecessarily difficult. Usually, our process is to have the student tell us when they're coming in for the exam, and the school will send us the test (or login information for online tests) a week or so in advance.
Unfortunate Thing #1 with this situation is that the school's policy is to send us the exam 30-45 MINUTES in advance. That's cutting it close at the best of times, and, to me, seems entirely unnecessary. But it's their test, so okay.
However, Unfortunate Thing #2, the test was scheduled for 5:30pm. My shift ended at 5:00, which would have been no problem since the test should arrive 30-45 minutes early. But 5:00 comes, and my coworker reminds me the test hasn't arrived yet. In my library, any Reference staff person can proctor tests, but I am the primary coordinator so all tests are sent to my email or mailed to my attention.
Oh, and the student had come in about 4:45 wanting to start early, and kept hanging around the Reference Desk looking at us like we clearly were too incompetent to manage something like handing her pieces of paper. I would call this Unfortunate Thing #3, but it's a patron prerogative to come to the library whenever they want, and it's possible I was just projecting this look onto her - because she was actually very nice.
By 5:15 the exam still hadn't arrived in my email, so I call the contact I have for the school. Her phone rings and then goes to voice mail - that is not a good sign (Unfortunate Thing #4). I hang up and try calling the general number for the department - which also goes to voice mail. I look online and try to track down another number, and find a different number for the same academic department. Thankfully, someone answers that phone, and says the person who coordinates these tests has left for the day. Arrgh. But, she transfers me to someone else who she thinks can help.
That person apologizes that the test was never set, and said she'll have someone send it right over. Then, she confirms my FAX number.
Oh. Don't get me wrong, I fully support fax technology and love the fact that it is a service my library offers to the public. Because sometimes, it is the best tool for the job.
However, it is not the best tool in this case. Unfortunate Thing #5.
Regardless, I thank her, and then walk into our office and wait by the fax machine for the exam. After a few minutes, the fax machine comes to life and starts spitting out pages.
Spitting out might be overly-generous imagery - laboriously churning out pages is probably more accurate. After about five pages, at about a minute per page, I think, "okay, this must be about all of them," so I pick them up straighten them, and look at the cover sheet. It says,
Number of pages (including cover sheet): 26
Twenty-six! Holy smokes. Unfortunate Thing #6. And they faxed this to us! Emailing a PDF for me to print would have been So Much Less time. But, fax happens, and there's nothing for me to do but sit and wait it out. Meanwhile, through the office door's window, I can see the student waiting by the Reference Desk - still looking like we clearly were too incompetent to manage something like handing her pieces of paper (says I).
And then, Unfortunate Thing #7, one page later, the fax stops printing. That's suspicious, because I know it hasn't been 26 pages yet. I look at the fax's display:
Oh jeez. I don't even know if we have a backup toner cartridge for the fax machine, so I ask our office assistant if she knows where they are. She's only been here a few months, and said she has never changed one before, but goes to where we keep all our toner - and thank goodness comes back with something that looks right.
I've never replaced the fax toner either, but between the two of us, we take the old one out, put the new one in, and, again, thankfully, the fax machine picks up printing right where it left off.
It's about 5:45 by this point, so I take the first batch of pages out to the patron. At least that way she can get started, and I'll bring the rest in when they finally finish printing.
I hand them to the patron, and her response is priceless:
Me: Here's the first ten pages - the rest are still printing, but you don't need to wait until they're done to get started.
Patron: How many pages are there?
I wish I could explain the look on her face. It's really just 22 pages of test, because four of the pages were the cover sheet and exam instructions, but that didn't really help much.
So she goes off to get started, and I go back to the fax machine to wait.
Finally, just before 6pm, I take the rest of the test out to the desk and my coworkers gives it to the student in the study room.
And then, finally, I can go home - an hour late. Oh well.
Tags: exam, fax, libraries, Library, problem, problems, proctor, proctoring, public, Reference Question, student, test
October 29th, 2015 Brian Herzog
I was at the New England Library Association's annual conference earlier this week, where I learned from a colleague something amazing her library is doing.
The Bacon Free Library in Natick, MA, is having a Children's Illustrators Auction as a library fundraiser, and it runs from November 1st - 15th.
She said they have 80+ illustrators contributing over 100 prints or original artwork, which is phenomenal. Plus,
In addition, we have a children’s picture book signed by Former President Jimmy Carter and we will have a picture book personalized and signed by Former First Lady Laura Bush (did you know they both wrote picture books with their respective children?). AND we’ll have two limited edition signed poems from literacy superstar Jane Yolen!
The auction is online, with software was written by someone on their staff. They also have an online preview, as well as a reception on the first day of the auction to view the work and meet some of the illustrators.
This sounds like a huge event to manage, but one that is probably a lot of fun for both staff and patrons - and hopefully also for the generous donors.
If you're interested, check it out at http://auction.baconfreelibrary.org. Good luck, Bacon Free Library!
October 24th, 2015 Brian Herzog
Here's an email reference interaction that took place over the course of a few days this week - it had its ups and downs, but ultimately ended up being surprisingly positive.
Everything started with me getting this email from a patron (slightly edited for privacy):
I am a student at [university nearby] and I am doing my community project on Chelmsford. I was just wondering if you could give me some good information on the history of Chelmsford for my paper. I would appreciate it greatly if you could email me back or call me. Thank you so much!!
My first reaction was that this sounds like a neat project, but such a vague question that I wasn't sure how to answer it. Chelmsford was founded in 1655, and of course people lived here before that too, so it's got a long history.
So, I emailed her back with links to some history resources on the library's website and another history website we maintain. I also said that since it was so broad, to please let me know if she had more specific questions.
The next day I get this:
Thank you so much for all the help. I was just wondering if you could just answer some questions for me so I could include you in my paper?
The questions are
1. What is the most important historic event that happened in chelmsford?
2. What historic importance does chelmsford has to Massachusetts?
3. What is the most well know historic event or aspect of chelmsford?
Again thank you so much for your time I really appreciate it!!
Okay, red flag: this is what I'm always afraid of with homework help. Not, "can you help me with my homework," but instead, "can you answer my exact homework questions for me?" That sucks.
But also, these questions didn't exactly bring laser focus to what she was asking - not to mention that these questions are entirely subjective, since Chelmsford doesn't have a, "and then the UFO crashed here releasing poisonous gas killing all the cats in town" type event.
So after thinking about it a bit, and talking to coworkers (and facing a week full of non-stop meetings), I decided to ask the rest of the Reference staff to compile a list interesting things from Chelmsford's history. Then I could send that back to this patron, and it'll be up to her to both decide which are the most significant, and then to do further research (although honestly, the skeptic in me was fully expecting her next email to be, "oh, can you send me more information on event X?").
Anyway, this turned out to be the the really fun part of this question, and actually is the reason I'm sharing it here. For being a small, quiet town, Chelmsford has had an interesting history (and this is just what we came up with in a few hours of brainstorming):
- The first European settlers in the area is significant, as is the date of incorporation as a Town in the Massachusetts Colony
- The town of Chelmsford used to include the areas of Lowell and Westford, but in the mid 1800s these areas became their own distinct municipalities. However, this area is well-known for being significant during the industrial revolution in the Northeast in the early to mid-19th century - many of the structures that housed the people working in the mills were within Chelmsford's limits
- Many people come in to research the Chelmsford Ginger Ale Company and bottling plant, which has changed hands a few times and is now owned by Coca-Cola. People also research the Chelmsford Foundry, which made products from many of the natural resources found in the area such as iron ore and limestone
- The granite that formed the columns around Faneuil Hall, as well as other major government and ceremonial structures, was sourced and carved in Chelmsford by Fletcher Granite, a company established in 1880 by Herbert E. Fletcher
- The Chelmsford Glass works, an "important New England manufacturer of assorted plate glass and assorted glass products" was established on the East bank of the Merrimack river (then Chelmsford) in 1802
- Christopher Roby created the Chelmsford sword for soldiers during the Civil War, when he transitioned his work force, which previously manufactured scythes and skates, to the manufacture of the weapons during the war between 1861 and 1865, producing 32,200 cavalry sabers
- In the 1960s the opening of I-495 and the interchange with Route 3 had a huge impact on Chelmsford, doubling the population and changing the character of the town from a small rural location to a much, much larger suburban center
- In 1911, a train carrying Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, on its way to a performance in Lowell, derailed in Chelmsford. The train was carrying lost of animals, many of which escaped from the wrecked cars and had to be rounded up from the vicinity by cowboys. Since the train could not continue, the entire company, animals and all, walked through the streets of Chelmsford to Lowell to continue with the show
- There have also been significant weather events in Chelmsford - the of blizzard 1978, floods, and lightning strikes
- Chelmsford resident Joseph Spalding, who died in 1820 and is buried in Forefather's Cemetery, fired the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill (indicated by the engraving on his tombstone)
- The original portion of the Library is the model for Springfield Town Hall on The Simpsons, because one of the show's artists, Lance Wilder, is from Chelmsford
Maybe I am jaded, but I was absolutely not expecting this to be the patron's reply:
Thank you so much for this! All your answers are wonderful and will be extremely helpful for my paper. I appreciate you taking time out of your day for helping me. Thank your colleagues for me too!!
Huh. So that's great - we got to work on a fun question, and it looks like the patron took the information and ran with the research. Yay for a library win-win.
October 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog
Recently, my Library bought a Roku to start circulating to patrons. I loved this idea, because it solved a problem that has been annoying me for years.
Awhile ago, sometimes when we bought DVDs, they would come with an "ultraviolet" version in addition to the physical disc. The ultraviolet version was a digital copy - which of course the library couldn't really use, because it could only be downloaded to one device. So we'd get the codes for ultraviolet copies, and just throw them away. It wasn't really costing the library money, but I did not like that we were just throwing away a resource.
Then another nearby library got the idea to use a Roku to offer these videos to patrons. Their method was to create a Vudu library of all their ultraviolet movies, and then connect the Roku to that account. That way, patrons could check out the one Roku device, and use it on their home wi-fi network to have access to all of the movies we had ultraviolet licenses to stream. Nice.
Since they already had worked out the details, we just bought our own Roku and copied what they did. We're also adding all the ultraviolet titles to the catalog record, so the Roku shows up if someone searches for Still Alice or Paul Blart Mall Cop.
Our Roku circulates for one week, cannot be renewed, but can be requested. We're also circulating it in a padded case that comes with a remote control, various cables to connect it to the patron's television or digital projector, power supply, and instructions:
We, and a few other libraries, are only using it to stream our ultraviolet titles. But another library paid for a Netflix subscription with a gift card, so patrons can stream anything from that Netflix subscription. They've set up additional channels as well, which we haven't done (yet?).
We need to do a better job of promoting it's available, but I don't know that any patron would check this out just for the sake of watching movies on a Roku. Unlike checking out a telescope to use the telescope, I see this as more like a Playaway - patrons will check it out to get access to the content it contains, not for the experience of using this format. And at only $50 for the device, it's a great way to stop throwing away the ultraviolet titles.
Tags: libraries, Library, movie, movies, public, roku, streaming, ultraviolet, video, videos, vudu
October 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog
During the middle of a quiet day, a patron - with a remarkably booming voice - walked up to the desk to ask how he can log into one of the computers without a library card. When I gave him my standard reply to this question,
Oh, we don't take signups or require logons, so you're welcome to just start using any computer that's available.
he gave me an intensely skeptical look and said,
So, you haven't enacted that law yet?
I think I just smiled to let him know I'd answered his question and he could go use a computer. It took him a few seconds, but eventually he walked over to the public workstations - but keeps looking at me over his shoulder with a look that seemed to shift from skepticism to outright pity, as if it's my own fault that I am going to be struck down at any minute for not requiring a computer signin. It was weird.
The other odd thing about this patron is that I talked to him three more times before he left that day, and every single time he mentioned something about the law. Like, was it legal for him to check out a book, was there a law that said what time we had to close, etc.
He was very nice, but I wonder if this law fixation was an indication that he was recently released from prison. And, I haven't seen him since that day. Huh.
October 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog
So this happened at my library, and everyone got a good laugh out of it. One day in Tech Services, this array of books was delivered:
During the course of processing them to be put out for patrons, one of the Tech Services staff noticed that these books were on the, well, pornographic side.
Fifty Shades of Grey aside, my library generally doesn't buy erotica, so this got staff's attention. The question of "who bought these?" ran up the selector's chain, until they were handed to our fiction selector. She looked at them, and the content, and could not figure why she would have ordered them, or where she would have even seen them.
So she went back through various review sources, and eventually found a two-page spread in the 2015 November issue of Ingram Advance:
I did not know that "Urban Fiction" was a euphemism for erotica. The astonishing thing is that you can read the little descriptions below the books, and not once do they mention sex, strap-ons, or dripping anythings. And yet, flip just a couple pages into any of these titles, and you're already well into NSFW territory.
Of course, titles like The Panty Ripper seem to be a dead giveaway, but I really was surprised that Acclaimed Urban Fiction would be so entirely unlike my idea of what acclaimed urban fiction would be.