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




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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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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