September 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's one of those questions where I wish I had gotten the patron's contact information, because not only did I find out after the fact that I gave him bad information, but I also found a good answer later on, too.
One afternoon someone from the Circ Desk called down to Reference. She said there was a patron who wanted to donate money to an online charity, but all he had was cash and he wanted to know if we could help him.
I immediately started to mental spin through all the ways I knew of to pay for something online, and none of them originated with an actual fistful of dollars. The best idea I could come up with on the spot was some kind of prepaid credit card, which is not something the library offers (but I know there are lots out there). However, right across the street from us is a bank, so I just recommended he go over and check with them, optimistically hoping a bank product would be some kind of cash card he could use.
After work that day curiosity got the better of me, so I walked over to the bank and asked them this question myself - and I was surprised that the teller's answer was "no." She said the closest thing they had were regular debit cards, but those are tied to an account. She said they do get requests for something like a prepaid cash card, because lots of bank customers don't want to expose their account information online at all - but they just didn't offer any kind of "internet gift card."
That phrase made some connection for me, and got me wondering if PayPal offered a gift card, much like I see eBay and Amazon gift cards for sale at cash registers. Sure enough, they do! I also found Green Dot MoneyPak, CoinStar, PayNearMe.com, and CashPayment.com.
Drat that I didn't think of this when the patron was in the library. Of course, he'd still have to find a nearby participating retail location, and the charity would have to accept one of these, but at least there is a way to turn cash into an internet-friendly form.
September 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A patron came up to me at the desk one evening, when things were really slow and most of the computers were empty, and asked,
What is your average availability for computers?
After a little clarification, what he was really asking was, how often is there at least one public workstation available, versus how often are they all in use.
Anecdotally, for my library, mornings and evenings always have available computers, but during the daytime - especially lunchtime and after school - often every computer is in use. I was able to answer this just off the top of my head, which any reference staff person could.
However, the patron really wanted an actual percentage of time the computers are free, so I had to go into our stats. We use Time Limit Manager for our 22 adult computers (we have 10 other public computers also), and the usage report for July 1 2012 - June 30 2013 broke down like this:
- Sessions: 48,192
- Used Time: 1416 days, 22 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds
- Unused: 970 days, 6 hours, 34 minutes, 36 seconds
- Avg Session: 42 minutes 25 seconds
If my math is correct, that rounds to 34,006.5 + 23,286.5 = 57,293 available hours total, and 23,286 is just about 41% of the time. So, roughly, 41% of the time we have a computer available for the public to use.
Those seemed like pretty good odds to the patron, and he explained to me why he asked. He said he uses his home computer very little any more, and figured that if he dropped internet access at home, the amount of money he'd save annually could buy him an airline ticket to Europe each year - and he made it clear which of those activities he prefers.
I'd like to go to Europe every year too, but I don't know that I could do without internet at home. However, I think it's awesome that someone find the library useful and reliable enough to plan their life spending - and traveling - around it. And this might be one demographic that wasn't covered by Sarah's recap of Pew's Digital Divide report - people who choose not to have internet at home because they know they can rely on the library for it.
August 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog
Because this is Labor Day weekend and I want to be outside instead of in front of a computer, this week's reference question is going to be a little different so I can hurry things along.
In fact, it's not a question at all - it's answers to questions I truly hope someone asks me about at the Reference Desk. Part of being a librarian is having the information ready to go for when someone comes looking, but the problem is that people don't always ask about the really cool stuff. To wit:
- A couple years ago a huge earthquake hit New Zealand, and among the damaged buildings was the cathedral in the city of Christchurch. While they wait for a new cathedral to be built, the constructed a temporary one out of cardboard:
Read more here and see construction photos in the Christchurch City Library's flicker set.
- Speaking of cathedrals, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, has a stained glass window called the "Space Window." Its imagery depicts planets and stars, but best of all, at the center of one image is an actual moon rock:
- And finally, out in the plains and deserts of the American west, there are huge concrete arrows on the ground. Why? To guide early airmail pilots:
At one point the arrows stretched from New York City to San Francisco - now that is cool. Read more at Snopes.
If anyone ever gets asked about one of these things, please let me know. Or if you have some trivia you're just waiting to be asked about, share it in the comments. Happy Labor Day.
Tags: air mail, arrow, cardboard, cathedral, libraries, Library, moon rock, national, new zealand, public, Reference Question, space window
August 17th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Sometimes, patrons just miss a chance at a really great Reference Question of the Week.
A patron called and asked for information on a product called the "Parrot Talking Bible." She described it as a physical device that lets you press different buttons to hear the Bible being read to you.
Sounds straight-forward, but I couldn't find a product called the "Parrot Talking Bible." I found lots of disc-based and digital audio Bibles, and even a physical device called Talking Bible, but that wasn't what the patron was looking for.
The problem was that any time I included "parrot" as a search term, I'd either get a Parrot Bible, or Bible jokes or stories involving parrots. There were a surprising number of them, but my favorite was:
Four brothers left home for college, and they became successful doctors and lawyers.
One evening, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the 95th birthday gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who moved to Florida.
The first said, "You know I had a big house built for Mama."
The second said, "And I had a large theater built in the house."
The third said, "And I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her."
The fourth said, "You know how Mama loved reading the Bible and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well. I met this preacher who told me about a parrot who could recite the entire Bible. It took ten preachers almost 8 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $50,000 a year for five years to the church, but it was worth it. Mama only has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot will recite it."
The other brothers were impressed. After the celebration Mama sent out her "Thank You" notes.
She wrote: "Milton, the house you built is so huge that I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway."
"Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home; I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks."
"Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound and it can hold 50 people, but all of my friends are dead, I've lost my hearing, and I'm nearly blind. I'll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same."
"Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious,thank you so much."
The patron was disappointed I couldn't find what she was looking for, but also remarked that maybe she had gotten some wrong information.
See, now what would have made this a great Reference Question of the Week would have been if she had said this after I read her that joke. Oh well. Ever since this call came in I periodically re-search looking for a "Parrot Talking Bible," but so far nothing.
August 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This was a simple question with an interesting answer, but also a case of continuing after the patron had left just for my own entertainment.
A patron overheard me telling a coworker about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower this weekend, and asked me for more information. We looked up a few websites, all of which described the best way to enjoy the show (this from Sky and Telescope):
" ... find a spot with an open sky view and no late-night lights nearby. Bundle up warmly, lie back on a ground pad or reclining lawn chair, and watch the stars. ...
"Be patient, and give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the darkness. The direction to watch is not necessarily toward Perseus but wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up."
Even with there being no moon, the patron was still wasn't sure if our area would be dark enough. Chelmsford is somewhat rural, but not too far from a few large urban areas, and I really didn't know how much their lights would affect us.
I was hoping someone had done some kind of light pollution map mashup, creating a tool that let us zoom right into this area to see how much light pollution would affect us. So, I did a hopeful search for "light pollution map" and the first result was exactly what I was looking for.
The Dark Sky Finder is a Google Map superimposed with light pollution data, and we were both surprised to see how illuminated our area is. However, it gave the patron some ideas on where to go, so he was happy.
I, on the other hand, love maps so I was having a great time. I played with the Dark Sky Finder for a bit, then went back to the initial search results because it also brought up a few static maps too. But, something occurred to me while I was looking at this NOAA light pollution map:
Obviously, light pollution is concentrated around large urban areas. It reminded me of recent election results maps, with Democrats centering around urban areas, and Republicans covering rural areas:
Matching up the red areas on the light pollution map to the blue areas on the election results maps produces only one obvious conclusion: Democrats cause light pollution.
Okay, now back to work.
August 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
I just ran across this saved reference question, from the week before July 4th. It would have been a little more appropriate to post it then, and I don't know how I forgot, considering I have a memory like a steel sieve.
But anyway. So, a program we offer at my library is called "conversation circles," which are available in a few different languages. They are informal groups, lead by a volunteer, open to anyone trying to learn the same language. It's not a formal class, just a casual opportunity to practice something you're learning.
Our most well-attended conversation circle is for people learning English, and most of the attendees are recent immigrants from a variety of countries. As such, the volunteer leaders help them learn American culture in addition to English.
The week before the Fourth of July, I got an email from our volunteer coordinator:
[The volunteer leader of the English circle] is looking for some suggestions to help teach the folks in the Conversation Circle about the town's 4th of July celebration. They all currently live in Chelmsford but are from China and Russia, so I thought if she could refer to a holiday they celebrate in their countries it might help her explain our 4th of July more easily. The folks she works with have none (or very limited) English skills.
We actually have a DVD documentary about our Town's July 4th parade made by a local filmmaker, and our local cable station's website has online videos of past parades, too. Another immediately-to-mind resource is our Town's Parade Committee's website.
Those visuals should give a good portrayal of what an average American parade is like, but not exactly explain why we celebrate that particular day. The best way to answer that seemed to equate it to a comparable holiday in other countries, so the first resource I went to was our print copy of Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary.
Unfortunately it didn't give a ton of information, but I was able to get the names of some holidays to further research online - which lead to:
Neither Russia nor China really have a comparable independence day - celebrating the birth of their nation by fighting for independence from a colonial power. But these two holidays both seemed close, and the way they celebrate them are similar as well. Both are celebrated with parades, fireworks, and parties nation-wide (although I don't know if they have cookouts and hotdogs).
This wasn't an especially difficult question, and since it was just a quickie answer, I may have missed a few other options. But I thought I'd share this anyway because I really enjoyed it - not just the mental exercise of the self-reflection of July 4th in terms of what and why it is, but also looking for parallels in other nations to bridge cultural gaps. I had never heard of either of those holidays, so yay for learning something new.
Tags: 4th, american, fourth, holiday, independence day, july, libraries, Library, of, public, Reference Question, usa