February 2nd, 2013 Brian Herzog
A patron came up to me at the desk and asked,
I'm looking for information on writing and books about getting published. - you know, like Writer's Market, but modern.
That puzzled me for a second, since Writer's Market is updated every year. I walked with her down to the 808 section and showed her our 2013 edition of Writer's Market*, and some other books on the shelve. She said thank you, and then followed it up with,
I want to publish crossword puzzles - do you have any books on that?
Huh. I didn't remember ever seeing any books specifically about publishing crosswords. We skimmed the shelves and nothing obviously stood out, so I left her there to look through what we did have and I went back to the desk to search the catalog. Nothing came up, so I tried searched online.
One of the first results I came across was an Ask MetaFiler post titled Crossword Publishing help. It had only two responses to the original post, but both seemed (to me) to be very helpful. I didn't really find much else online, so I quickly reviewed the website cruciverb.com which one of the responses recommended. It seemed to be exactly what the patron wanted - it listed publications that publish crosswords, contact information and other details for submitting puzzles, and lots of other resources (including a listserv, forum, and social networking) for creating and publishing crossword puzzles. How perfect is that?
However, when I went back to the 800's to find the patron, she had left. I looked around, and even ran up to the Circulation Desk to see if I could catch her on her way out. I hadn't been searching at the reference desk very long, but she was nowhere to be found. I hate it when patrons slip away like that.
I was curious though, so I went back to the 808's to looked at the shelf. From the empty spaces between books (that weren't there before), I could tell that she had taken the 2013 Writer's Market and also a couple other books. That's good, and hopefully she found what she's looking for.
This question really intrigued me for some reason. I had seen (and really enjoyed) Wordplay, but never thought much about that actual process of publishing crosswords. Oh well - I think I'll stick to word finds.
Link to library word finds.
As with most of our most recent editions of traditional reference titles, our 2013edition of Writer's Market
is a 7 Day Loan item
, instead of in-library reference only. Even though it's been almost two years since we eliminated our "reference" collection, it still makes me happy every time a patron is able to take home and really use something they previously wouldn't have been able to check out.
January 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog
It's been really cold in this area this week, so this question is quite timely. However, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.
When I came in to work on Wednesday, a coworker related this incident from the day before:
A patron's car wouldn't start in the parking lot, so she came back in the library to ask staff for help. She asked at the circulation desk, and they sent her down to reference. Apparently she didn't have AAA or anyone she could call to help, so she was kind of stuck*. However, only one staff person in the area had jumper cables, and he said he couldn't do it for liability reasons. The patron left reference, and by the end of the night her car was gone from the parking lot, but no one is quite sure how she got it started.
The coworker who relayed this story to me was basically asking if staff handled it correctly, and should the library help someone jump start their car. It's something we've done in the past (I personally have), and I think she felt bad this patron was turned away (especially with our "getting to yes" policy).
We don't have any kind of formal jump starting policy (I mean really, who does?), but because it happened once, I thought it was worth exploring. The Director and I discussed it, and ended up posting this on our staff blog:
Patrons and Jumper Cables
Last week a patron’s car wouldn’t start in the parking lot – she didn’t have AAA or any other way to deal with it on her own, so she came into the library and asked if staff could help her.
The Town cannot accept liability for Town workers to jump cars for people (so it’s okay to say no). However, any staff person that is willing to help on their own (with their own car and jumper cables) is free to assist the patron (but they need to know that you’re doing this on your own, not as a library employee).
Instructions on how to jump start a car using jumper cables [pdf] (from Car Talk)
If this happens at closing time, and there is no way to start the patron’s car and no one else they can call for help, please call the Chelmsford Police non-emergency number 978-256-#### to let them know there is a car stranded in the library parking lot.
This seemed to be a good compromise - the Town can't be responsible for untrained staff jumping someone's car, but if a Good Samaritan staff person knows what they're doing and is willing to help, they can. I always feel a little bad when a limit to what a public library can offer is hit, because I still want libraries to be able to do anything.
Also, a note on the instructions: I know different people have different ways of jump starting a car, so I searched around online to see if there was a safe consensus among experts. The guys at Car Talk are expert enough for me, and their method was backed up by other places too.
*I recently had major car problems too, so I can empathize.
Tags: battery, cable, cables, car, dead, jump, jumper, libraries, Library, public, Reference Question, start
January 19th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's my own reference question this week - why are so many of our magazines arriving in the mail torn and mangled?
The damage is worse than the photograph shows - most of those rips are 20+ pages deep, and these were just three damaged issues we got in the mail delivery in one day. We've been getting them like this (or other variations, from minor tears to just a cover with no pages inside at all) almost daily now for a couple weeks, whereas before it seemed like maybe once a month, if that, a magazine would get damaged in the mail.
The first few I claimed through EBSCO, our magazine subscription aggregator. But finally it seemed like the problem must lie with the Post Office, so I decided to register a complaint there.
I went to USPS.com, and spent probably too much time looking for a "make a complaint" or "ask a question" email form. Eventually I found their Customer Service page, and submitted an email explaining that more and more of my library's magazines were getting damaged during delivery.
Not five minutes after I clicked send - and I'm not kidding, it was like five minutes - the phone rings and it's the local Postmaster for Chelmsford. Holy smokes, now that is impressive.
He said this is happening all through the USPS right now. The problem is that they've been using sorting machine with letters and envelopes for years, and it worked so well (as in, saved money and sped up the mail) that the USPS decided to use it for magazines, too.
However, the machines have not yet been calibrated for magazines, and routinely rip the crap out of them. He apologized, of course, and said they're working on it, but that it will continue until they figure the machines out. I hate answers like that, but I'm sure in this case they're highly motivated - he said they get daily calls from residential customers who are also getting badly damaged magazines delivered.
Anyway, I wanted to share this experience, in case other libraries have also seen their number of damaged magazines jump. And also to commend the USPS for such amazingly prompt customer service. Now just stop ripping up the magazines.
Postscript: something else the USPS could stop is their ridiculous (I felt) "How are we doing?" post-contact survey. It came into my email a couple days after I submitted the form on their website - which, in and of itself, was fine. But I think surveys like that should be five questions long, tops, and take less than a couple minutes. This one just kept going on and on - it even repeated questions, but varied them slightly, as if they wanted to see if I answered consistently. Seriously, this survey was probably 20+ questions and took more than seven minutes to complete. I could have quit at any time, of course, but I went through to the end because I was so fascinated by its complexity. Also, they seemed to know exactly the point at which I got annoyed, because after that point they no longer provided an open text comment box, so I couldn't tell them how much I disliked the survey itself. Oh well.
January 12th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This reference question happened before Christmas. As I came into work one afternoon to start my evening shift, the staff person I was replacing had to pass off to me a patron she had already been helping for a little while.
The patron was looking for an article she had read in the Lowell Sun (a local daily newspaper) within the last couple months - she couldn't remember the title, author, or date, but knew it had something to do with with how changes in Social Security will affect the pension the spouse of a state employee will receive.
The patron had called the newspaper and they told her they didn't know exactly which article it was, but it probably would have run on a Thursday.
When I came in, the patron was going through a stack of newspapers, looking at Thursdays issue-by-issue, working backwards. My coworker had already spent time searching our Lowell Sun subscription database, but neither approach was succeeding.
After my coworker left, and since the patron was still using the physical newspapers, I thought I'd try again with the database. Different people use different search techniques, so perhaps (and hopefully) I'd find something my coworker missed.
I started with just keyword searches for combinations of "social security" "pension" "spouse" and a few other things, limited to the last 3 months, but none of the results really seemed to fit the patron's description. I opened it up to six months, then removed the date limiter all together, and still nothing. Then I stopped combining keywords, and just searched the individually - still nothing.
I knew the database wouldn't contain AP stories or articles from other sources, but the patron was pretty sure it was a regular column of a local writer. She knew what he looked like too (from his headshot running along side each column), so she was hoping that she could at least find one of his columns and then we could get his name.
Since I wasn't having any luck in the subscription database, I thought I'd try their website's searchable archive - it's not full-text, but an index of authors and titles could still be helpful. However, the only thing coming up were the same articles I'd already seen - and the website said "Generally, the material is current 24 hours after publication," so it should have been up-to-date with no embargo.
Just then, the patron came over very excited - she recognized the columnist's picture in one of the papers. It wasn't the right article, but at least we now had his name: John Spoto.
While she was looking over my shoulder, I searched the database for author/byline=John Spoto, and oddly, only two matches came up. Odd because there were so few for a regular columnist, and because they were both dated July 2012. I did a keyword search instead of an author search for his name, and then got 55 results - much better (however, slightly annoying).
But we still had a catch, because the most recent was dated September 9th. The patron was sure the article she read was more recent than that, but no matter what I tried I couldn't find any other articles by this person in the database (nor on the website, which indicated it was current).
However, when I started reading the dates - September 9th, August 26th, July 29 - I noticed that most were Sundays. Because the paper had told her this column ran on Thursdays, she had only been looking at Thursday's papers. So, the patron went back to check the Sunday editions, and hit the jackpot on Dec 2nd.
The column was titled "Public pensions do affect Social Security benefits," by John Stopo. We both thought it was odd this didn't come up in the database, so I tried searching by the title - guess what? No luck.
It looks like the database hasn't been updated in awhile, at least for this writer's columns.
Regardless, I helped the patron photocopy the column*, and while we were doing that she talked about the importance of perseverance and how you can do great things by taking only little steps at a time. It seemed to me that, in this case, the work the patron put into finding the article made it that much better when she did find it - if she came in and found it right away, it would have been a whole different experience.
Not that things need to be difficult, but it's nice to appreciate the results of extra effort.
*Helping patrons photocopy odd-sized newspaper articles, that don't readily fit on legal-size paper, is a reference question unto itself.
January 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This has been a heck of a holiday season for some reason, and I'm still trying to get caught up. So, this is just a quickie reference question - although it's more like "readers advisory gone wrong."
One of our patrons submitted a purchase suggestion through our website for the DVD Amongst White Clouds, a documentary on Buddhism and monks. Since it wasn't already owned by any libraries from which it was easily requestable, I looked it up on Amazon to check it out, read reviews, and see if it was worth purchasing.
Most of the reviews were positive, which is good, but sometimes the bad reviews are more informative. This time though, one of them made me laugh out loud:
After reading the documentary description and several rave reviews, I was anxious to watch this movie. It provides a lesson in Buddhism, but not the one I was expecting. ... I got more wisdom from watching Kung Fu Panda with my son, than I got from this movie.
Pretty harsh, but funny. One of my favorite features of professional review journals is when a reviewer says a book isn't very good, and then provides titles that are better. But in this case, I don't think my patron would have been happy with this Amazon reviewer's alternate suggestion.
And actually, after reading about this DVD, I really want to see it now - thanks for the good suggestion, patron.
December 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This is actually a "personal experience" reference question - I liked it because it was a fun challenge, but also it made me laugh because it shows you what I get up to in my free time.
Earlier this week I received an envelope in the mail at my house, and it was obviously a Christmas card. However, it wasn't addressed to me - it had my address, but not my name, and I didn't recognize the return address.
Being a reference librarian (and very neighborly), I thought I could just find the right person and deliver it myself, instead of sending it back to the post office to be returned all the way to Texas (based on the return address) - which means it wouldn't have arrived in time for Christmas.
So, looked up the name in the phone book to get the correct address, but it wasn't listed. I also tried searching online, but couldn't find it there, either.
At the library, we have a "List of Residents" which lists people both by name and by street address - however, I don't work in the same town in which I live, so I called my own town's library to see if they had a similar list.
I explained my situation to my colleague there, and of course she was happy to help. She looked up the name I gave her, but it wasn't listed. Then, she went to the "by address" section and, starting with my address, looked at my neighbors' names to see if any matched. I live and #36, and she got all the way to #3 before she found something - but not an exact match.
The first name matched, but the last name, compared to what was written on the envelope, contained a couple extra letters. Phonetically the names probably sounded the same, and I figured that if the sender got the address wrong, she might have misspelled the last name too.
This all took place on a Wednesday, and when I drove by the house after my night shift at the library, all the lights were off in the house so I didn't stop.
However, the next morning on my way in to work I did. I rang the doorbell twice, but no one answered. Just as I was getting back into my Jeep, an older man stepped out of the doorway. I think he regarded me with a little suspicion, but when I walked up and said I lived down the street, he relaxed a little. I gave him the envelope and asked him if it was his name, and it was (although misspelled). We had a little laugh over it, he thanked me, and I continued on to work.
The funny thing is, not a single Christmas goes by that there isn't someone who comes in to look up a neighbor's last name, or a friend's street address, so they can send them a card. Our List of Residents is one of my favorite resources - hyper-local, authoritative, and there is nothing else like it that is as exhaustive.