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




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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Reference Question of the Week – 1/19/15

   January 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

I hate coming across as cynical and patron-deprecating on this blog, but I could not resist reposting this comic. I'm sure everyone who has worked at a reference desk has gone through this same thought process - for me, it was almost a GOOMHR moment and sums up much of the reference help I've given this week:

poker face tech support comic

I can even forgive the scroll wheel thing, but typing the URL into a search box and clicking "Search" instead of using the Enter key cracked me up.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/11/15

   January 17th, 2015 Brian Herzog

surgerysignI know this is going to make me sound petty, but this happened on a bad day and it made me just shake my head. A patron came up to the desk and said,

I'm looking for a book that lists all the medical tests on one page. I got it from here before, or maybe the Lowell Library, but I don't remember what it was or what it looked like. But it listed all the medical tests on one page so you could read about them, and if you just type in "medical tests" I'm sure it'll come up. Do you know what book I'm talking about? But it might be at the Lowell Library.

I didn't know the book, and for whatever reason I thought a better strategy would be to search on "medical procedure" so I did that. And sure enough, the very promising The Gale encyclopedia of surgery and medical tests : a guide for patients and caregivers came up (which does indeed also come up when searching for medical tests).

I got the call number and took the patron over to the shelf, and when we saw it was a four-volume set, he immediate said it wasn't the right book.

Which surprised me since he said he couldn't remember what it looked like, and only really remembered the inside of the book - so to disqualify this one without even looking at the inside made me think the chance of satisfying this patron was very low.

We talked a bit more in the stacks, and I learned he was actually looking for information on a specific procedure he was considering. I suggested one of the four volumes might help with that anyway, even if it wasn't the book he remembered. Reluctantly, he was willing to flip through it while I went back to the desk to keep searching.

I tried a couple different searches and found a few books that might possibly have information on medical tests, and I was making a list of call numbers to check before walking back into the stacks. However, before I even got up from the desk, the patron walk by me on his way upstairs to leave. He was carrying one of the Gale volumes, and said without breaking stride,

This has what I'm looking for.

So, that's great. I'm happy he found something helpful - at least I hope it's helpful - but I can't help being a little frustrated when patrons make helping them more difficult that it should be.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/15

   January 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

restart dialog boxA patron came up to the desk and asked for me specifically (I was in the office at the time). She said she needs help with her computer, and hoped that I could fix it for her.

The abbreviated version of the story is that her laptop was having problems, so she took it "to the shop" to have them fix it. They said they did, and she never tried it to make sure - she just put it on a shelf and didn't use the computer.

For a year.

Now, a year later, she wanted to use her computer again, but can't remember the password. And can I help?

At least she knew that she had Windows XP, which is something. She didn't have the computer with her, so she said she'd come back the next day.

Which gave me a day to research how to reset or bypass a Windows XP user password, because I had no idea - and it sounded like something that should not be an easy thing to do. However, I found all kinds of websites with all kinds of complicated methods of discovering or resetting the password, including putting password recovery software on a boot disk. Then I found this kid's video:

That seemed easy and straightforward, so I figured I'd try it first - too easy in fact, but, as much as I wanted to help the patron, I didn't think we could really offer support beyond this. Downloading hacking software to a boot disk seemed a bit drastic.

So she came in the next day, and I was shocked that the kid's technique worked flawlessly. Partly because I didn't expect it to be so easy, and partly because it doesn't seem at all safe that it is that easy. But then, this was on a very old laptop with XP.

At any rate, the patron was happy she had access to her computer again - and of course thought I was a genius. I gave her a little talk about updating the anti-virus and getting a year's worth a security updates before she use it normally online, and also told her that XP is no longer supported and maybe think about getting a new computer. She said she got along for a year without a computer at all, so she'll see how it goes.

With a little luck, she may still enjoy XP for years to come.



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