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


Reference Question of the Week – 5/20/12

   May 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Kindness of Strangers signIt's been a very slow week in the library (school winding down + beautiful weather), so this week's question isn't an actual reference question - but it is something I recently learned.

Did you know Wikipedia has a reference desk?

The Wikipedia reference desk works like a library reference desk. Users leave questions on the reference desk and Wikipedia volunteers work to help you find the information you need.

Questions/answers are broken up into categories, and are both interesting and sophisticated. I also like the format of crowdsourcing answers - even when someone had given what I thought was a great answer, subsequent responders added new information or aspects that were useful.

Actually, it reminded me of any other online forum, which I use all the time for answering questions (especially for coding problems or frustrating technology issues). No one response provides a complete answer, but putting all the bits and pieces together often solves the problem.

Not that using the internet as a big Help archive is anything new - I was just happy to find another source to search when I get a real stumper. But if nothing else, the Wikipedia Reference Desk Guidelines does make for interesting reading.



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Digital Picture Frames as Informational Signs

   July 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Digital picture frame at the Childrens DeskUsually I'm pretty good at math, but in this case it took me awhile to put two and two together.

Awhile ago, our Childrens Department put a digital picture frame on their desk, using it to display photos of their various programs*. I'd seen and heard of other libraries using digital picture frame like this, and for in-building informational signs (like upcoming events), but I never thought of an application for it at the Reference Desk.

Until a couple weeks ago, when I was in the Apple Store in Boston. I'm not at all an Apple fanboy, but I admit that once in awhile, they come up with a good idea.

A friend of mine was having trouble with her Mac laptop, so we took it to the genius bar to having someone help us with it. I still really like the idea of the genius bar in and of itself, but what got my attention was that, behind the genius bar were great big screens scrolling through tips and information. The messages were all about using or fixing Apple products, which were perfectly targeted at the captive audience of people waiting for the genius bar.

I didn't get any photos myself (Apple is funny about taking pictures in their store), but here are some from the interweb:

Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar

You get the idea.

When I saw that, it finally dawned on me - this would be an easy thing for libraries to do at service desks, using a simple digital picture frame. As soon as I can get approval (and funding) to purchase one, I'd like to try one with rotating tips on topics like:

  • how to renew books
  • how to book museum passes
  • using online resources and databases
  • where the bathrooms are
  • online events calendar
  • how to find summer reading books

Really, good topics are anything that might be interesting to someone waiting in line at the Reference Desk.

The "photos" will just be slides created in PowerPoint, and hopefully, having something interesting to look will give patrons waiting in line something to do (in addition to teaching them something they may not have known).

I bet other libraries have already thought of this, so if you're doing it, please comment with how it's working. When I get ours up and running, I'll post an update with how it went.

 


*They decided to use a digital picture frame rather than flickr or other online service, because they were reluctant to post photos of kids on the internet. Keeping the photos offline and in the Childrens Room was a good compromise (between online or not at all), and it might be more likely for the kids to see themselves, too.



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How Trustworthy Am I?

   November 16th, 2006 Brian Herzog

From Where I SitAs a reference librarian, I help people will all kinds of questions. I have an MLIS degree, which essentially is a degree in how to location and evaluate information - not in the information itself. Meaning, I'm not an expert on every subject. I don't know the answer to every question; I just know how to find it.

So it surprises me the level of trust patrons give to me, just based on my sitting behind a public library reference desk. Although my profession's ethics forbid it, it seems people would be willing to believe pretty much any advice I would care to give them on medical, legal or tax questions.

However, I find that this level of trust does not extend to the location of our photocopier. The picture above is the view from behind our reference desk (click it for a bigger view). The photocopier, although it cannot be seen from the desk, is located around the corner to the left of the stairs, next to the print station, under the clock.

Quite often, someone comes down the steps and asks if we have a copier. It almost never fails that, when I tell them, "yes, we do; you can't see it from here, but it's around the corner to the left of the steps," they will turn and then stand, staring off into that general direction. Not moving, as if they distrust me to such a degree that even though it would take only two steps for them to see the copier, they are unwilling to risk it.

ethics, library, patrons, reference desk, trust



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