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


Reference Question of the Week – 9/7/14

   September 13th, 2014 Brian Herzog

be careful coverThis whole interaction made me laugh, but I have to call Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn't read Be careful what you wish for by Jeffrey Archer - because this question does reveal the ending (I think).

A patron called in on a cell phone (with driving noises in the background) asking if there's a book after Archer's Be careful what you wish for. While I'm checking our catalog (which has Novelist Select built into the pages to list books in series order) the patron says [and this is the spoiler],

Everybody just blew up and the book ended so there's got to be a sequel.

When I get to the record I tell him it was just released in 2014 and is the fourth book in the series, but the fifth book isn't out yet. The patron's reaction could have caused an accident:

What? You mean they're going to make me wait? I just finished the last CD and I want to find out what happens next!

I couldn't help but laugh. It's honestly a joy to hear someone so into a story.

At least I could tell him book five, Mightier than the Sword, is due out in February 2015. I haven't read any of these, but if this patron is so excited about them I think maybe I should. Any audiobook that caused someone to call the library immediately after the last disc ends has got to be good.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/31/14

   September 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog

skpeticalinquirercoverEarlier this week, a coworker at our circulation desk sent me this message:

A patron came to the desk last night and asked where the last 6 months of Skeptical Inquirer were. He said they're never there except the new one. Did we have a blip in circulation?

It turns out that this is a bi-monthly magazine, and the issue the patron wanted was checked out. All of our copies were accounted for, but since there are fewer issues than a monthly magazine, it just seemed like more were missing than actually were.

But: this patron had doubts and that led him to ask a question - do you know what makes him? A Skeptical Inquirer!

It's things like this that make being a librarian worthwhile.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/17/14

   August 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

velocarYou know that saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, in this case, it was more like just having to point out to him that he had a big plate of fish sitting right in front of him.

A patron walked up and said this to me:

Can you request a book for me? I think it's a French book, I mean a book from France. I don't know the title or the author though. But it's got instructions for a velocar inside. On second thought, it might not be a book, it might be a magazine, but in French. Can you get that for me?

Well that's all fine, but what's a velocar? Apparently, it's a type of bicycle that's more like a pedal-powered three-wheeled car, and indeed from France.

After talking to the patron a bit, what I learned was that he was interested in building one of these for himself, and found some plans online. Except, the plans were pages from a book (or magazine) that someone posted on a forum - except, they were too small to read, so he wanted to find the original book (or magazine) so he could see the instructions. He said he'd already tried printing what he'd found, and indeed showed me the pages, which indeed were just too low-quality to read.

I told him the only place I could even think of to begin with this was the website where he found them - maybe, I hoped, the book (or magazine) pages would have the title and author on them which would give us a lead. But failing that, it seemed like all we could would be to try to email whoever posted them to the forum and hopefully find out the original source that way.

So we walked back to his computer so I could see the forum he was on. And sure enough, multiple pages were posted there, and the thumbnail images looked more or less like instructions for building a velocar. And of course, being thumbnails, they were too small to read, so I naturally clicked the first one in the hopes of finding information about the source.

A larger image of the page popped up, and the patron immediately stopped me by saying, in a somewhat shocked voice, "what did you just do?"

I explained that the thumbnails like this are usually linked to larger versions, and clicking them will bring up a version you can read or print. I figured he had tried this, because he had the large printed version which were poor quality.

But no, he had no idea you could click the thumbnails. What he did know how to do was right-click on the thumbnail, copy/paste it into Word, expand the image to make it fill the whole page, and print it. Of course, expanding a small thumbnail to fit a whole page will look terrible, which accounted for the low-quality prints he had.

He knew how to do all of that, but didn't know you could just click the thumbnail and see a higher-quality version.

So I showed him how to get from the forum post with the thumbnail to the larger, print-ready version, and he was happy. Sort of befuddled that it was right there in front of him the whole time, but definitely happy that he would so easily get the plans for the velocar.

I always like showing patrons new tricks and things that make their life easier, but holy smokes I didn't expect it in this case. Not only was this a new skill for a patron, but I didn't end up having to try to track down a mysterious book from France.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/14

   August 16th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Rolling Stone on microfilmA patron came into our branch library and told the staff that she participated in a "Reading Olympics" program at the library as a kid, in 1980 "or sometime when she was in school," and wanted to know if there a photo in the newspaper. She thought she remembered seeing one, of a group shot of all the participants. Our branch doesn't have much for local history resources, so the question was transferred to me at the main library.

We do have newspaper microfilm from those years, but I'm reluctant to start searches like that with such a vague date reference. However, the library has done a great job for decades of keeping scrapbooks of all library-related news clippings, flyers, newsletters, and things like that, so that was where I started. I flipped through the scrapbooks from 1979-1981, but sadly didn't see anything related to a Reading Olympics. Lots of other stuff though, which made me think that the Reading Olympics didn't happen at the public library.

It's possible it was a school or school library program, or with the Scouts or some other group, just not the public library. I called the branch back and gave them the news, and also that if the patron wanted to come in to use the newspaper microfilm I can help get them started.

I felt bad about not finding what they were looking for, but, as often happens with research, I found other interesting things. One was the Winter 1980 library newsletter, with an article about buying a microfilm machine and microfilm collection.

This caught my eye because we're buying a new microfilm machine this year (the second since this one in 1980, but the first I've purchased). Back then, the machine and collection cost $5000; this year the ScanPro 2000 we're getting is about $7000. Also back then, printing cost $0.10; our current price is $0.15. Inflation!

Other interesting articles just on the cover of the newsletter are:

  • the library is advertising for customers for its own print shop
  • the library serves as a carpool center

Two great ways to be a community center. Nice job, 1980 Chelmsford Library!



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/3/14

   August 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Westford Farmers MarketA patron called in, wanting to know the hours of a farmers market in a neighboring town. She thought it opened at 2:30pm, and that's what the newspaper said. However, she had driven by the site earlier in the week and a sign said the hours were 3-7pm.

A quick search lead me to their website, which listed the hours as 2:30-6:30. That seemed fairly conclusive to me, but the patron was still troubled. I wish we recorded calls so I could have transcribed this verbatim, but this is my memory of how she digested this information:

Well, I don't know which time is right, or why they're posting all these different times all over creation. I don't always trust newspapers, but I suppose the internet time is probably right. I mean, it's easy to put something on the internet right? I imagine it takes time to repaint a sign, so maybe they changed the time and just haven't repainted their sign yet. So I'll just go there at 2:30 because their website says that. 2:30 is better for my schedule anyhow.

I had no advice to give one way or the other, so I agreed and we hung up. I've never known an open-air market like this to be a stickler for hours of operation, so if her concern was for being able to select items before they were sold out, she should be fine.

And for what it's worth, every other web resource I found listed 2:30 as well. Maybe they'll have their sign repainted for next year.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/27/14

   August 2nd, 2014 Brian Herzog

Out of My Mind book coverThis is a question from when my website is down - I only mention that because of the postscript at the end.

I haven't gotten this type of question in awhile, and finding the answer has never come this easily.

A young girl came up to me at the desk asked for "a blue book with fish bowl on cover." She couldn't remember the title except thought it was something like "one at a time." I asked her if she knew the author, and she said it was a blue book with fish bowl on cover. I asked her what the book was about, and she didn't know - she said her teacher was reading it to the class and she liked it.

So, I did a web search for blue book with fish bowl on cover, and the very first image in the results was exactly what she was looking for. Incredible.

I searched our catalog for Out of My Mind, only to find our copy was checked out. I offered to request it for her, but she declined. I hate that.

So the postscript is that this question is from May, apparently when this book (or at least, searches for this book) was more popular. It really was the first search result, and that's what shocked me and made me think it was a post-worthy reference question. I mean, how often does that happen?

While typing up this post though, I had to really look for the cover image in the results, as it had been bumped way down. Maybe I just got lucky, or that library serendipity was strong with me that day. Or maybe Google's search algorithms really are effective in making zeitgeisty things more prominent.

In any case, I could just have easily been asked this question this week, and the process of finding the answer would have been different - which I find interesting.

 


Update 8/27/14: A reader sent in this tip, which had not occurred to me: instead of including the word "blue" as a search term, try leaving it out and using Google color search tool. Much better results - thanks, Jessica!



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