July 13th, 2013 Brian Herzog
It's things like this that make me love working in public libraries.
A patron was using our public typewriter*, and came to the desk to say that the backspace key was no longer working. It's an electric typewriter, and has an automatic erase/correction tape built into the backspace key - what was happening was that when she hit backspace, the typewriter was no longer erasing the character she had just typed.
I am no typewriter repairman, but to me this sounded like the correction tape had reached its end, and needed to be replaced. My first thought was a bit of terror - there couldn't possibly be anyone that still sells correction tape for this model typewriter.
However, I remembered cleaning out some cabinets in the Reference Office a few years ago, where I found the typewriter manual, as well as some other typewriter-looking odds and ends. I threw them all in a box and left them in the cabinet.
Good thing I did (but of course I would - that's what librarians do). I checked that box**, and sure enough, we had a box of correction tape reels in there. I have no idea how long they last, but I've been here for almost eight years and don't think it's been changed in that time. It's possible the remaining three reels will last another century or more.
Anyway, I replaced the correction tape in the typewriter for the patron (which took a little bit of figuring out), and she said thank you and kept right on typing.
Usually, this is my only goal - to make sure patrons can use library resources. In this instance though, it was kind of a let-down - sure, to her of course we'd be able to do this so she could continue her work. But to me, holy smokes, not only did I just get asked to repair a typewriter, but I actually found the parts to do it, and did it successfully. Yay, libraries! Tom Hanks would be so proud.
*Yes, we still have a typewriter for people to use. It's a Canon ES20, and it gets used maybe once a month. Usually people need to fill in pre-printed forms, but a few parents also use it to show kids how a typewriter works. I love that libraries offer such a spectrum of resources for people - we have a typewriter and fax machine, as well as print-from-home and a electric car charger. In fact, while I was working on the typewriter, I could hear a coworker at the Reference Desk helping someone download an ebook to her Kindle Fire.
**Also in this box was another ink ribbon for the type writer, the manual, the manual to our Canon 400 microfilm machine, spare bulb for the microfilm machine, and manual for the Canon Fileprint 250 printer connected to the microfilm machine. Now that is what I call an Awesome Box.
June 29th, 2013 Brian Herzog
While alone at the desk one evening this week, things got very busy - patrons lining up, the printer jamming, and every time I went into the stacks I could hear the phone ringing. I knew I missed quite a few phone calls, so I was glad to answer it in a brief break between in-person patrons - until I heard the question:
Can you find me Luke Skywalker's family tree? And Han Solo too? Because they're related.
Talk about feeling exasperated. This immediately felt like one of those "photograph of Jesus" kind of questions, and because things were so busy I almost told him I'd need to just take his phone number and I'd look for it when I had time.
However, I had an internet search tab open, so I just typed "luke skywalker genealogy" in and holy smokes one of the first image results was exactly it:
click to view larger
About a half hour later the patron came in to get it printed out. I formatted it to print on legal size paper, and he was happy because now he could hang it up on his wall like a poster.
While he was here, we also looked at a family tree with pictures too:
click to view larger
But he didn't like it because he preferred a picture of Darth Vader to young Anakin. Sorry, Hayden Christensen.
June 22nd, 2013 Brian Herzog
I work in Chelmsford, MA, and the Town is in the process of establishing two "cultural districts" in two of our local historical village centers. It's similar to a historical district, but instead focuses on what makes Chelmsford culturally-distinct: art, architecture, programs & events, etc.
The group asked me to help create a map of both districts, labeling all the different locations of interest. I've played a little with custom Google Maps before, and this seemed like the perfect application to try out all the different features.
Creating the maps (check out the current working drafts) was pretty straight-forward. One of the committee members found a great site for custom map icons (which also explained how to make them work), and the text for each point of interest came from a variety of sources.
It was researching each location for a descriptive blurb for the map that produced this week's reference question. I was asked to add St. John The Evangelist Parish church to the North Chelmsford map, so I went to their website looking for something interesting to say about them. What I found was hands-down the most interesting thing I've read in a long time:
The earliest Catholic families living in Chelmsford, Dunstable, Lowell, Tyngsboro and Westford wanted a church of their own. St. Patrick's, Lowell was a five to ten mile walk. The families purchased the Meeting House of the Second Congregational Church of Chelmsford at the corner of Middlesex and Baldwin Streets, Lowell, in 1859. [...]
Men, who toiled in factory, foundry or farm, hurried to the holy work each evening. They struggled to move the building with the aid of horses and log rollers, a few yards at a time, for a distance of two miles along Middlesex Street. "Know Nothing" citizenry, a violent anti-Catholic group, made threats to burn the building and gained court injunctions to stop the building’s movement. The two mile journey was made with at least four men, armed with shotguns, and guarding the Church each night.
Holy smokes, now that is dedication. Researching local history rocks.
Tags: chelmsford, cultural, culture, custom map, district, google maps, history, libraries, Library, local history, ma, north chelmsford, public, Reference Question, st. john
June 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I'm not exactly sure why this question stuck out in my mind this week, but it did.
One of our regular patrons is a man with special needs who LOVES horror stories, superheros, movies, television, and reading. He's either in the library or calls every day, and generally all of his questions revolve around the above topics. So, it was slightly unusual one day when he called and asked,
Can you find me Stephen King's email address? I thought of a horror story about the Red Sox I want to tell him so he can write a story about it.
A perfectly reasonable request, and I actually became a little curious about what kind of horror could involve a baseball team.
Generally for these kind of celebrity-contact questions, I always turn to our copy of The Celebrity Black Book, but since I was on the phone I just did a web search.
StephenKing.com was rightly the first search result, and I clicked into the Contact Us form to see if it had an option for submitting story ideas. Not too surprisingly, the form made it clear that it did not go to Stephen King. Then I noticed an FAQ link in the site's navigation bar, so I tried that.
One FAQ was "What is your email address?" which, again, was unsurprising in that it said Stephen King has no public email address (but did refer people to the message boards, which he does apparently follow).
A little lower on the page was the question, "Do you accept story ideas," which was answered,
No, I don't. I really have enough story ideas of my own. Every now and then somebody will advance a concept the way that my foreign rights agent, Ralph Vicinanza suggested wouldn't it be fun to do a modern-day serial story. The result of that was The Green Mile which was published in installments-these little paperback books--but he never suggested what sort of story I might have written in installments and I wouldn't have accepted it if he had done that. I believe in thinking up my own ideas. I really have enough. I really think if I have two or three ideas ahead I'm in totally great shape.
I paraphrased this for my patron, which he seemed to readily accept (and that was surprising) and hung up. Later in the day I did check The Celebrity Black Book, and it does include Stephen King's agent. I briefly weighed the idea of providing this to my patron the next time I saw him, because that's what librarians do, right? Birddog the information through whatever resources possible until we can provide the patron with an answer.
In the end though, I decided against giving the patron the agent's contact info - although the patron asked contact information, the actual answer to his question is that Stephen King does not accept story ideas. Getting in touch with the agent wouldn't have done any good, and so I would have essentially been providing the wrong answer, or misinformation, to the patron. This is kind of an oddly fine line, but it gave me something to think about this week.
This particular patron has written a few stories of his own in the past, so I encouraged him to do it again. And if he does, I'll help him post it to the message board.
But the fact that Stephen King doesn't accept story ideas got me thinking. I remember from high school that Weird Al Yankovic also does not accept song ideas, with the reason given being "legal reasons" (which I've always thought meant he didn't want to get into a royalties fight with someone who thought Al was making a lot of money off an idea a they submitted). But it makes sense that prolifically-creative people have no shortage of their own ideas, and prefer to grow them into a work following their own process. I've never looked into this, but it got me wondering if any famous creator does openly accept fan submissions, and then grow them into a finished work. Has anyone heard of this happening?
June 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog
In case you missed the discussion or the post on LISNews, there have been a flurry of great "library one-liners" on the publib email list. Nothing I could come up with can top these, to please check them out. A few of my favorites were:
I need a photograph, not a painting, of the meteor hitting the earth and killing off the dinosaurs.
~ Dusty Snipes Grès – Ohoopee Regional Library – GA
I once had a patron complain because our color copier wouldn’t make color copies of his black and white Resume. I never did figure out exactly what he was expecting.
~ Michael Gregory – Campbell County Public Library – KY
Patron - I'm looking for information on the Sultana Indians
Me (after a long and fruitless search) - where did you get this reference?
Patron - I dreamed about them.
~ Lisa Richland – Floyd Memorial Library – NY
The problem is that, while reading through the submissions, I immediately started thinking of resources that might be used to answer them. Oh well.
May 25th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Even the most rotten weeks can have bright spots - and here's a spectacularly shining example of why working with the public can be rewarding.
Just opposite my library's Reference Desk are doors leading out to our courtyard. While I was sitting at the desk, a mom and her three year old daughter came in from the courtyard and walked right over to me. The mom encouraged her daughter to ask me her question, but the little girl froze and went into the hide-behind-mom's-leg defensive position.
So, the mom asked:
We were outside and noticed the bird bath was dry. Do you have a watering can so we can fill it up, because she feels bad that the birds can't get a drink.
I'm sure we have a watering can but I have no idea where it is, so I went into the staff room and grabbed a pitcher. Both of their faces lit up when I came back out to the desk, and they took it back out into the courtyard:
I was pretty happy throughout this entire exchange too, and wanted to snap a photo before the moment ended. When the mom returned the pitcher and said thanks, I showed her the pictures I took and asked if I could share them.
This is one of the best reference questions ever, and I think it was a good day all around at the library - yay, libraries!