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


Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15

   April 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Alright, this question can be filed under, how maybe not to run a scavenger hunt.

Last Saturday I came in to work for a few hours in the morning to cover for someone*. Before we opened to the public I was updating some of the computers, and was still sitting at a public workstation when, a few minutes after opening, two of my coworkers walked up on either side of me. They asked,

Coworker 1:
Brian where are the tickets? Everyone's asking for the tickets. Where are they?

Me:
[minding my own business]

Coworker 2:
Brian the Police hid tickets in the library. We don't know where they are - do you?

I had no idea what they were talking about - and to be fair, they didn't really either, because all of this was news to us.

Apparently when they unlocked the front doors at 9:30 that morning, a couple parent/kid combinations all rushed in and started looking for hidden Red Sox tickets - and of course, asking the staff where they were hidden. This was the first any of the Saturday staff was hearing about it, so they came to ask me to see if I was in on the secret. I was not.

It turned out the Chelmsford Police Athletic League has been picking a public building in town, hiding tickets to a Red Sox games somewhere in the building, and then posting on their Facebook page hints to let residents find them. They didn't let the library know beforehand though, so this was all news to us - which I don't think any patrons believed when they asked everyone on staff where the tickets were. And, my coworkers didn't believe me either.

On the one hand, what a nice thing for the CPAL to do for people. And, great that they thought to include the library - especially given the hints (more on that in a minute). But on the other hand, it really sucks to have kids crawling under tables while other patrons are working at them, and having frantic parents who promised their kids free Red Sox tickets becoming increasing intense as time goes on that They Must Find The Tickets. Basically, being in a library and not doing library stuff is really distracting to all the patrons who are there doing library stuff.

But anyway, here's the details on how everything went down. The day before, CPAL posted this photo on their Facebook page as a hint to where the tickets where hidden this time:

cpal1

Now that's a tough hint - I mean I recognize our carpet and public workstation leg, but how many patrons would? A few at least, as it turned out.

And as the people came in looking for them, this was the only clue that we had too. So it meant they were in the library, but where? Taped to the bottom of one of the public workstation tables (which is what this leg is)? That means crawling under every single computer table, and then every other table, to find out. No? Well then, where else could they be?

In case you haven't noticed, there are millions of places in a library to hid two tickets. After an hour of frantic searching, the tickets still hadn't been found - and still no one believed me that I didn't know where they were.

Then another photo was posted:

cpal2

Which brought all the searchers downstairs to the non-fiction section. But still no success, and shortly thereafter a third photo hint appeared on Facebook:

cpal3

By this time staff were all checking the Facebook page too, to learn anything we could about where these tickets might be. After refreshing the page and seeing this third photo, I looked up from the computer to see one mother who had been searching all morning making a beeline back to the 700s (which are back past the Biography sign).

A few minutes later she came out of the stacks with a tremendous relived smile on her face. She had found them! Tucked inside the displayed book. As word spread that they were discovered, and where, word spread back that apparently multiple people had already thought of this logical spot and checked this very book - but somehow had missed the tickets.

And then, as quickly as the ticket search had begun it ended, and the library immediately quieted back down to a normal Saturday morning.

So to recap: a treasure hunt in the library is a great idea for a program, and, clearly, if you have a nice enough prize, people will be highly motivated to participate. However, the better the prize, the more annoyed all the other patrons will be at the disruptive treasure hunters. And, if you're not affiliated with the library, please give them a heads-up beforehand so staff will at least know what is going on. But it really is a nice thing the CPAL is doing - maybe I just annoy easily.

And I swear, I really didn't have any idea this was happening, and didn't know where the tickets were. My coworkers still don't believe me.

 


*So in other words, I'm not even supposed to be here today.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/8/15

   March 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog

One afternoon, an older Asian women came up to the desk. In this case, I'm only pointing out the age and ethnicity to illustrate that she and I did not share a common native language.

Usually I'm pretty good at hearing what people are saying, even with heavy accents on their English. However, with this women, I was struggling. And she knew it. Eventually I got that she was asking me to look up three books for her, and after having her repeat the first one four times, I finally got it.

We owned it and it was on the shelf, so things were looking up. But when we moved on to the next titles, the two of us just couldn't connect - I think she had repeated them four or five times when I finally asked her to write them down for me. She did, and slid me the note:

book titles note

When I looked down at it, I had to laugh (to myself) - I couldn't read her writing any better than I could understand her speech.

But after studying it for a minute, and listing to her say the titles again, I was able to pick up most of them. The second one suddenly became evident - Fresh off the Boat - and I could get "Man on" in the first one, but then she had to spell that third word: m-a-o.

I still couldn't get the last word, but searching for "man on mao's" was enough - the book she was looking for was Man on Mao's Right.

These two were also in the system, and I was able to request them for her. She thanked me and left, and I kept the note to hang by my desk on my wall of "things that amuse me and probably no one else."



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/1/15

   March 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

powerpoint-printanimationsThis question wasn't all that difficult to answer, but I thought it was interesting in that, it's something I didn't know before and for some reason feel a little bit better for knowing now, kind of way.

A grad student patron had been at one of our computers for awhile, working on a Powerpoint presentation for a group project. She'd asked me a few various questions over the course of maybe an hour, but then came up very frantic.

It turned out one of her team members had added a bunch of animations to their presentation, and now that she was finished adding her part and was playing the slideshow to see how it all looked, none of the animations were working. She said they had worked for her at home, but our computer was not displaying them.

I don't know if Powerpoint has a setting that would block animations - or if there was one, that our computers set that way - but then in the course of talking about it with her Powerpoint suddenly crashed.

She was surprisingly calm about that. I knew she had it saved so there was no danger of losing anything, but usually when something isn't going well, anything out of the ordinary escalates stress quickly. However, she saw the crash as a positive thing - her logic was that Powerpoint on this computer must be glitchy, which would account for both the crash and not playing animations (as opposed to the idea that something was wrong with the presentaiton and that's what caused the crash). Now this is my kind of patron.

Anyway, here comes the reference question:

At this point she said she no longer cared about playing the slideshow, and all she wanted to do was print a copy for her professor to have during their presentation. However, how do you print slides with animations? Good question (and much more reasonable than the patron who asked how to print a YouTube video).

Apparently her team member created one slide where the animation was four different graphs replacing each other (instead of just creating four separate slides). Only one showed at a time during the actual presentation, but looking at it in normal edit mode, all of them were superimposed over top each other.

It seemed logical that Powerpoint would have a "Print Animations" option, so I went online to look for the solution.

From what I gather, Powerpoint 2007 (which we have on our workstations) does not. However, you can still do it, but it's a bit of a manual process. The answer I found was this:

  • click on the "home" tab
  • go to the far right and click on "select" (it is located in the "editing" box on the far right)
  • (for me, a dropdown box opened and I chose Selection Pane)
  • the "visibility panel" will open up showing you the animations for the [slide] you are on
  • just hide each [animation layer] at a time and print them out

See the image above for this Powerpoint pane (or try it yourself!).

Although a manual process, this worked extremely well. You can show or hide whichever layers you want by clicking the little eye icon, so the patron was able to always show the slide title, and toggle off/on each chart and print them pretty quickly.

She was extremely happy with me - although still annoyed at her team member for making all this necessary.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/15

   February 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Blackbeard statueA senior citizen patron came in for a one-on-one session, and had a couple things he wanted help with. I took one the library's laptops and went into a study room with the patron - so far so good.

His first question was replying to an ad on Craigslist. This was fairly straightforward, although I don't know that the patron entirely understood the process. But that's fine - we can go through it again next time, so we moved on to his second request.

He said a friend of his in Florida suggested he go to Blackbeard's Resort, but he didn't know anything about it so he wanted to learn more. Okay, I type google.com into the browser's address bar and hit Enter - and nothing happens.

Google doesn't load, which is unusual. So I try Yahoo.com, but that likewise doesn't load. So I figure this laptop has lost the wi-fi connection, so I try to reconnect. Again, that doesn't work.

Now, this whole process is taking me a few minutes. While I'm messing around, the patron has been talking, and I am just absorbing this all without comment:

Yeah, my friend said this was a good place. He likes that sort of thing. I asked my travel agent about it, and he said I shouldn't go. It's apparently cash only, do you think that's why he didn't like it? What do you think? My friend's a bit odd, and this is his kind of place. He said it's for swingers, whatever that is.

At this point, I have to leave the room. Partly because the wi-fi seems down completely, and partly because... swingers? I don't think I could have responded to that with a straight face.

So I go to the Reference Desk, and it turns out our entire internet connection was down - wi-fi, public workstations, and staff computers. Our IT person is working on it, and it doesn't seem like it'll be back up any time soon.

I go back to the study room to let the patron know we're kind of out of luck as far as his one-on-one session goes, but that we can reschedule for another time. He takes it in stride, reschedules, and leaves without further comment. I feel bad about our network going down, but at least it gives me a bit of time to strategize how to respond before our next appointment.

And for what it's worth, Blackbeards Adult Resort does indeed take credit cards - but they have a 20% surcharge on credit cards so they recommend using cash for all of their services. Their slogan is One visit and you will be "Hooked" - bravo for the triple entendre. Also bravo to them for including the library on their "fun community" map - maybe ALA should plan a conference here.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/8/15

   February 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Bible acronym: basic instructions before leaving EarthSometimes I think my ability to be easily amused is what makes me enjoy my job so much.

This week a patron walked up to the desk - he was a middle-aged guy, and he walked somewhat quickly up to the desk. He had that focused-yet-distracted look that tells you he was intently thinking about something and wanted immediate and fast help. When he got within a few feet of the desk, he said,

What's it called when there's a term for a word that everyone knows? Like "standard penetration test" is called S.P.T.. There's a word for that.

Here's when though my head - simultaneously:

  • I think he means "acronym"
  • Except the example he gave is more of an abbreviation, and not actually an acronym
  • It'd be kind of jerky to point that out to him
  • I certainly wouldn't consider S.P.T. meaning "standard penetration test" to fall under the category of "something everyone knows"
  • But perhaps it will after 50 Shades of Grey opens this weekend
  • Man my job is funny
  • I can't wait to post this on my blog
  • Oh, the patron is still waiting for an answer

Of course all this happened in a split second, and when I said, "Do you mean 'acronym?'" the patron was pleased and relived, thanked me, and walked away. I never actually saw him again after that, but the whole situation still put me in a good mood.

By the way, my favorite acronyms are NASA and SCUBA. My most pet-peevily-misused acronym is PIN - as in, "PIN number." Ugh, that makes me cringe every time.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/25/15

   January 31st, 2015 Brian Herzog

I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about New England snow storms by now (I certainly am), but by far the most common question I heard this week was, "Brian, how much snow did you get at your house?"

Well, this is how much:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick

Which is to say, more than a lot, but I stopped counting. Granted, this is next to my driveway so some of it is piled up from shoveling, but still a lot. And more coming this weekend.

And for the fun of it, I tried to make the yardstick as close to actual size as I could:

2015-01-blizzard-yardstick-actual

So, if you'd like to get the full Brian's Driveway Experience, just print out that image and hold it up next to you. Or, I am accepting volunteers to help come shovel after the next storm.



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