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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/11/15

   October 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

spock with raised eyebrowDuring 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.

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Not Your Grandmother’s Acclaimed Urban Fiction

   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.

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/4/15

   October 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

mr zipHere's an answer to a question that I haven't been able to use yet. It's a question I've gotten numerous times, but only just recently looked up the answer.

For whatever reason, it is not at all uncommon for patrons (or staff who is helping one of these patrons) to ask me,

Why can't I open my resume here? I need to make changes and email it to someone.

and when I look at their file, it is named something like "resume.pages" - bleh. One patron said they got it from the Career Center, so maybe that's why it always seems to be resumes saved this way.

"Pages" is (I think) the latest format for Mac word processing, which does not, naturally, open on our Windows computers with Microsoft Office. My go-to solution in these cases is to use Zamzar or some other online converter, which always works well enough (except for patrons having to wait for the email to get to their converted file).

In the back of my mind I kept meaning to search for some converter plugin that might let Word open these files directly. I finally had a chance this week to look for such a thing, and ended up finding a different solution entirely.

More than one website gave these steps:

  1. Save a copy of the .pages file to the Desktop (or somewhere easily accessible)
  2. Right-click on the .pages file and choose "Rename"
  3. Replace the ".pages" extension with ".zip"
  4. Open the newly renamed .zip file, and it will contain a file you'll be able to open with Microsoft Word or WordPad

That's a neat bit of a trickery that I'm sure will confuse many patrons, but I'm also sure they will be delighted to see their resume open on the screen at the end of it.

I haven't been able to try this trick myself yet, but now I am looking forward to the next time someone has a .pages file. Hopefully today!

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/27/15

   October 3rd, 2015 Brian Herzog

no help dialog boxThis interaction actually happened a couple months ago, but I just now found that I had saved it as a draft.

A patron called in one day saying he needed help opening an ebook. Of course I was thinking Overdrive, but after a bit of a discussion, I learned the real story.

He had bought an ebook directly from some self-publishing website (not Amazon), and was trying to open it on his Samsung Android tablet using the Kindle app. And it wasn't working. He had downloaded it on his PC and was trying to transfer via USB to his tablet, but the computer wouldn't recognize the device.

The patron gave me the URL so at least I could see what he was talking about, and learned it was a .mobi ebook. I had hoped the website would have some instructions on opening their ebook, but no such luck. Since I wasn't getting anywhere over the phone, I told him to stop by the Reference Desk next time he came to the library and we'd figure it out.

Please Note: I say this to people all the time. I truly mean it and want to help them, but at the same time, often I need time to research whatever the problem is because I just have no idea. Generally it gives me a couple days to a week to prepare for them, so I look much smarter when they do finally come in.

There happened to be a lull at the desk right then, so I did a quick search on how to open .mobi files on Android and found a very helpful website. Nice, now I'd be ready if this patron ever does come in.

Which was good, because not fifteen minutes later this patron walks up to the desk.

The first thing we did was redownload the ebook directly to the device, instead of using the PC > USB > device route. Next, we followed the steps outlined on the website I found - and it worked perfectly.

The patron was thoroughly impressed - and of course happy. So that's all well and good, a librarian job well done. But, it's what the patron said next that really made my day:

Thanks. Now I can call the company and tell them how to do it. Ha, I would have thought they'd have known this if they are selling these ebooks.


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Reference Question of the Week – 9/20/15

   September 26th, 2015 Brian Herzog

This didn't need to occur in a library, and I am very happy this question went to one of my coworkers and not me:

Do you know your elevator smells like fish?

No possible good can come of being involved with any aspect of that situation. Except for this:

How do you stop a fish from smelling?  Cut its nose off!

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/15

   September 19th, 2015 Brian Herzog

jerkSince the public library serves the entire community, we see patrons on both ends of every spectrum. Last week there was a nice litte girl, and this week I encountered these two people:

Patron 1
On Monday , five girl scouts came in to help with a project. And because girl scouts are shorter than me, part of the project required a ladder. After we were all finished and I was cleaning up, I was walking through the Reference Area to return the ladder to the back room - now, keep in mind, I am carrying a ladder at this point - when I was stopped by a patron who asked,

Do you work here? Are you busy right now? Can you help me with the computer?

I looked at the ladder, looked back to the patron, and said sure. So I carried the ladder over to his workstation, held onto it with one had while I pointed at the screen showing them where to click with the other, and then proceeded on my way back to the office to return the ladder.

Patron 2
Then the next day, a patron called in to have her account's PIN reset. As she was reading her barcode to me, I could hear a cell phone start ringing in the background. She hurriedly finished reading her number, said "can you wait just a minute," and then I could hear her answer her cell phone.

You might ask, "Brian, what did you do while you were waiting for that patron to finish her cell phone call?" Well, I started typing this blog post.

Her other call only took a minute, and when she came back I reset her PIN for her, made sure she could log in, and both of us happily hung up. I've seen stores with a "if you're using your cell phone in line we will serve the customers behind you until you're finished" sign at the cash register, and I've even been helping someone at the desk when their phone would ring and they'd go somewhere else to take the call, but I've never been asked to wait while helping someone. I suppose it's no different than call waiting, but I was still annoyed.

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