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




Reference Question of the Week – 5/24/15

   May 30th, 2015 Brian Herzog

family feudWednesdays is my night shift, and mid-way through the evening one of our regular patrons called. He's actually one of my favorite patrons because he is extremely nice, his questions are usually interesting, and he's very passionate about whatever he's asking. This time it was Family Feud:

Patron: Brian, you've got to help me. You know how you can get TV shows on the computer, right? Can you find last night's Family Feud? I was watching it but then lost the signal, and by the time I got it back the show had just ended. But I need to see it because the lady who went first at the end got 194 points! Can you believe that?

This is actually just the abridged version of his question.

He's not very tech savvy, so I told him that it's always up to the network to put shows online, and I didn't know if Family Feud did this or not. I checked their website, but didn't see any full episodes. I checked the station's website too, but again, no luck.

The patron was getting discouraged and lamenting that he'd never see this moment, when I got the idea to try YouTube. I figured that if this was as sensational as it sounds (I've never seen someone get that many points at once before), someone may have uploaded the clip.

So I did a YouTube search for "Family Feud" limited to "Today" (since the episode just aired the night before) - but again struck out. I felt like someone must have uploaded it though, so I told the patron I'd keep looking and call him when I found it.

I tried a few different keyword combinations with the YouTube search, but still couldn't find anything. So then I switched to Google, searching for "Family Feud 194" figuring the score would be mentioned in the metadata. And low and behold, the third result was a link... to a YouTube video of that clip, uploaded less than 24 hours ago!

Why that didn't come up when I was searching YouTube directly, I don't know. Maybe it was too recent? I watched the clip quickly to make sure it looked like the right thing, and then called the patron.

He was so happy he came right down to the library. I showed him how to find it on a public computer, gave him some earphones, and he very happily watched the clip of this moment. You can enjoy it too:

The patron and I talked a bit more before he left, and it felt good to make someone that happy. Plus, The Family Feud has always been one of my favorite game shows, although I haven't watched it in years, so this was fun for me too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/10/15

   May 16th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Winston Churchill V for Victory signThis isn't a reference question I received (at least, not recently), but this Reddit thread was too good not to share here:

My mother, despite being in her mid 60's, is awesome with computers. She's a public librarian, and is often at the wrong end of users' questions. I came home for a quick Mother's Day visit and she told me this gem:

User: I can't copy this highlighted section! This mouse must be broken!

Mom: Just press the control and C keys at the same time. Yes, that'll copy it. Now hit the control and V keys at the same time.

User: V?? Why not P?

Mom: V stands for Velcro, so when you paste it, it'll stick.

User: Ooh ok! That makes sense!

TL;DR- My mom is amazing.

I never really questioned if the V stood for anything - I just thought it was chosen because it was next to C (and using P for Print makes more sense). However, one of the comments had a different explanation as to why V=paste:

ctrl+v-meaning

That is a great answer - but still, it has the feeling of creating a sensible-sounding explanation for something after-the-fact, based on context. Like saying that [sic] is really an abbreviation for "spelling isn't correct." I mean, if the V key wasn't next to the C, would they still have used it?

Either way though, associating Ctrl+V with Velcro is a great way to have that stick in a patron's mind.

And someone please help me with this: is there a word for making up a definition for something after-the-fact? Like the [sic] thing? I feel like there should be, but I can't find it. Sort of like neologism I guess, so maybe "Deflogism."

Thanks Chris.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/26/15

   May 2nd, 2015 Brian Herzog

US ConstitutionAn older gentleman came to the desk one afternoon and asked for a copy of the Constitution. Neat - I don't know that anyone has ever asked me for that.

Since he had a cane and came out of the elevator, I wasn't going to make him walk with me into the stacks, so I told him I'd be right back. I went to the 340s, figuring we'd have something there with the text of the Constitution in it - and that it would stand out on the shelf because I couldn't exactly remember the call number.

Sure enough, we had a Teen book (yay for interfiling adult and teen!) with the text as an appendix.

I took it back to the patron and showed him the text, and he didn't look at all pleased. I asked him if the text of the Constitution was what he was looking for, in case I had misunderstood him initially, but he said yes it was. Hmm.

It then occurred to me that when he asked if we had a copy of the Constitution, he may have thought we have an actual copy of it - either one of the big souvenir rolls like the Declaration of Independence from the movie National Treasure, or an actual original copy.

I didn't ask him this though, and after a second I think he realized that I was handing him a readable text of the Constitution, and he became okay with that. He thanked me and left, but I honestly can't help thinking this YA book was a pale imitation of what he might have expected.

After all, the Dallas Library has an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, so why shouldn't we have the Constitution? Well, the people who know me will point to the food stains on my pants as to why I can't have nice things.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/15

   April 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

IRS scam alertWorking at a Reference Desk isn't all about funny misunderstandings. Sometimes it's very serious, as this week's question shows. However, two things about this question:

  1. It actually happened last week morning of April 15th
  2. Wednesdays are my late shift, so I only heard about how my coworkers handled this when I came in at 1pm - but they did everything right and I thought it was worth sharing

Apparently, an older female patron came up to the desk and asked for help scanning and emailing something. One of the desk staff showed her how to get started scanning, and went back to the desk. A few minutes later, the patron came back over and asked for help emailing. After a short conversation, when the patron found out the scanner can't email things itself but instead she needs to send it from her own email account - which she didn't have - she put her head down on the table and said,

You just don't understand, you don't understand how serious this is, I'm going to be arrested!

Everyone knows library staff are not supposed to ask why when helping patrons, but they rightly did in this case.

It had been all over news outlets this tax season how there was a new kind of scam: you'd get a phone call and the person would say they were the IRS and you needed to send them money or else you'd be arrested. That was exactly what was happening with this patron - she had just deposited her money in an account in the bank across the street (which was not her bank), and had come to the library to scan and email the deposit slip to "the IRS" so they could withdraw it.

Thank goodness our staff caught on. The patron had a hard time believing she was being scammed, but staff insisted. They brought her into the office so she could sit down relax, and staff called the Police. When the officer arrived, he listened to the situation, and then left with the patron to go over to the bank.

As far as I know, we never heard back about what happened, but it sounds like the situation was derailed in time - at least, I sincerely hope so. And, there are two other comments about this interaction:

  1. My coworker who was helping the woman said the patron's cell phone kept ringing the entire time, and it was the scammer! I guess he knew he was close to getting his money, so he kept calling to find out why she hadn't sent the email yet. Finally my coworker took the woman's phone and told the scammer that they knew what was going on and exactly what she thought of him. I'm sorry I missed that.
  2. Since this was all happening in the public area, and the woman was clearly in distress, of course it caught the attention of all the other patrons in the area. As it unfolded and everyone realized she was being taken by a scammer, other patrons sitting at the computers nearby starting chiming in with their own comments - ranging from advice to criticism on her being dangerously gullible. Now that is almost as pathetic as scamming the elderly out of money.

Anyway, the whole situation seemed to be handled perfectly by the staff, so way to go to them.



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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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