October 13th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This was funny. A patron walked up to the desk and asked,
Do you have any information on the drive-in theater that used to be in Chelmsford?
I've been here for about seven years, but had no idea there had been a Chelmsford drive-in. I told the patron this, and he relayed his story:
I've just moved to town, so I was online checking out the area and seeing what was around. I like drive-ins, so I went to this website to see if there were any nearby. I put in "Chelmsford" and it found one listed for Chelmsford. But the weird thing was that when I looked at the address, it was the same address as where I live! My condo complex was build in the early 1990's, and it turns out they tore down the drive-in to build the condos. Do you have any other information on the drive-in?
Now that's bizarre - but also the kind of thing you hear in libraries.
Unfortunately, the 1990's are the doughnut hole era when it comes to historical research. Not old enough for most archives and books, but still too far back to be in online databases. Luckily, there is always hope.
A new book on Chelmsford history was published this year, History of Chelmsford : 1910-1970, and we have a copy right at the desk in our Ready Reference collection. Even though it's supposed to only go to 1970, the editor wisely included an appendix with lots of more recent information (wisely, because he wasn't sure when the next history book would be written). In that appendix was a paragraph on the drive-in, which said it was built in 1957, torn down for the condos in 1994, and gave a little more information. But no photos.
I also suggested this patron contact the Chelmsford Historical Society, which has an extensive photo archive of the area. I gave the patron their contact information, and he was excited to get in touch with them. There are some photos on the drive-in website, but he wanted more.
And when talking about property questions, there's always the Town's tax records. I suggested that to the patron as well, but since we already knew the date range of the drive-in, we didn't think the tax records would offer much.
So, although I didn't actually help this patron very much, this is one of my favorite questions so far this year - this only happened Wednesday, and already I've told this story about ten times. Yay, libraries!
Tags: chelmsford, drive, drive-in, drive-ins, history, in, ins, libraries, Library, public, Reference Question, theater
October 6th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This might be one of the strangest questions I've ever been asked.
A patron called to ask what information we could find out about the business her husband worked for in Chelmsford in the 1990's. She gave me the name and address of their office from that time, and just said that she had recently been contacted by the IRS concerning his pay and benefits from his time there.
Whew. I told her it might take me some time to research it, and she gave me her name and phone number to contact her when I found something. Interestingly (to me), the phone number she gave me had a California area code.
So anyway, the first step was just to search online for "Financial Applications Consulting Services, Inc." (the name of the company, which unfortunately is also a common description of this type of business) to see if they were still around. I also checked local phone directories and ReferenceUSA, but from what I could tell, they were no longer in business. If that's the case, I'm not sure what I could possibly find to offer this woman, but now it became a personal challenge to find anything at all.
I thought the Town Clerk would have information on businesses in town, when they filed for permits or paid taxes or whatever. However, when I called over there, the Clerk said they had no record of this business - which, she said, isn't unusual, because only certain kinds of businesses need to be on record with them.
Next, since I had the business' old address, I thought I'd try to track down the owner of that building (since it was sort of a strip mall of office suites). I hoped the business would have left some kind of forwarding address when they moved, or at least I'd get the date they closed. I called the current tenants of the same address and explained that I was looking for the building owner to find a previous tenant, and they were happy to give me his name and number. However, they also cautioned that he's difficult to get a hold of because he travels a lot.
So I noted this to pass on the patron, but didn't try contact him myself.
Instead, I went back to web searching, looking more for information about the company than the company itself. This turned up an interesting history:
...Financial Applications Consulting Services Inc., which does business under the name Fastech. It is based in Livonia, Mich. ...
...On July 25, 2003, FASTECH filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. On Nov. 18, 2003, the court ordered the granting of FASTECH's motion to sell certain assets, including its customer base, to Kronos....
Kronos happens to be one of the larger companies based in Chelmsford*, but I don't know if it's a coincidence that a Michigan-based company had a small office here, or if there had been some connection to Kronos all along.
Regardless, I think this gave me the information I was looking for - since Kronos was involved with taking ownership of the company the patron where the patron's husband worked, their legal or human resources department is probably the best resource to answer her questions regarding whatever questions the IRS is asking her.
So I gathered contact information for Kronos, Fastech, the building landlord, and also the URLs for the articles I had found online, and called the patron back. No answer - bummer. I left a message, saying that I had made some progress and asked her to call me back.
A couple days later, the patron's daughter called. She explained that after her father retired, her parents left Chelmsford and moved to California. Recently, her father had died, and in the course of finalizing his estate, the IRS contacted them about outstanding benefits from the time he was employed at this company in Chelmsford. She didn't know what it was about, but really appreciated the information I was able to provide.
That's great, and I was happy to help - but this is one of those questions that still feels opened-ended, because I have no idea how it was ultimately resolved. Of course, it's not about me - I hope the family was able to accomplish whatever they needed to do.
*Kronos has been extremely generous to the Chelmsford Library, donating laptops and other equipment - thank you very much!
September 29th, 2012 Brian Herzog
Wednesday is my night to close the library, so I work until 9pm. Usually the 8-9pm hour can be slow, allowing me to get off-desk-type work done. However, one particular patron made the last hour of this past Wednesday more interesting than usual.
The phone rings, and when I answer it, she opens with this question:
Do you have that very famous book about Lincoln and World War Two?
I had no idea how to take that. She had a very gravelly voice, and at first I wasn't even sure if was a real call or a prank of some kind.
But to be on the safe side, I said I didn't know the book, and asked if she knew the author. She replied that he was a famous poet, and after a minute or so, came up with Carl Sandburg.
Searching for keyword:Abraham Lincoln author:Carl Sandburg brought up Abraham Lincoln: the prairie years and the war years, and when I read the title to the patron, she said it was the right book. I put it on hold for her and we hung up.
I didn't immediately see the WWII connection, so I did a web search for "Abraham Lincoln" "carl sandburg" +wwii and found an article from the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association stating:
Maybe enough time has passed for us to see The Prairie Years and The War Years in historical perspective, to historicize it against the background of American history between the world wars. Sand-burg began writing The Prairie Years in 1922, less than five years after the World War I Armistice, and he completed The War Years in 1939 as the world was sliding inexorably into the holocaust of World War II; the ambiguity of his title did not escape him. Read as a timeless masterpiece, Sandburg's Lincoln does not hold up; read as a timely response to a series of national crises that recalled the Civil War, the book still carries much of its original power.
Okay, I can see why the patron conflated Lincoln and WWII. About two minutes after I found this, the same patron called back and asked:
Can you tell me who designed the Greek army uniforms?
Are you kidding me?
She went on to say she didn't mean the regular uniforms - what she was interested in where the clown uniforms, the ones with balloon pants that they blow air into. Oh, well, then in that case, no problem.
I told her I'd have to research this and I would call her back.
A quickie search for Greek army uniforms actually lead to a Wikipedia article devoted to them, which was handy. It didn't talk about balloon pants, but one of the images was of some Evzones, whose uniforms, while not including balloon pants, were nonetheless remarkable.
But while I was searching for that, it occurred to me that she might actually mean the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. I looked up their uniform too (and the designer), and their pants are more balloonish than the Greek's leggings.
I called the patron back with what I found, and she was very interested. She agreed that she must have been thinking of the Swiss Guard, but that only slowed her down for a second. She immediately followed-up with,
So then who designed the Beafeaters' uniforms?
A quick web search found two websites talking about uniform origin, which basically date, unchanged, to Tudor times in 1552.
These were all quick and superficial answers. I then searched our catalog to see if we had a book about military uniforms, but none of ours included these types of historical dress uniforms. Other libraries in our consortium appeared to have more historical books, but then the patron changed her mind - she was just curious, so the websites were good enough and she didn't need to read more about it.
So we hung up, and for the rest of the night I kept waiting for her to call back asking for the number of fry cooks on Venus or something - but she never did.
September 22nd, 2012 Brian Herzog
This question... well, this question is one of those that I dread. All too easy to answer, but the easy answer comes with a moral dilemma for librarians.
One afternoon my director came out to the Reference Desk to talk to me about something. While she was out there, a patron walked up and with this question:
Patron: There's a famous painting by an artist named C. A. Gilbert - it's of a women looking in a mirror, but it's an optical illusion that looks like a skull. Do you have a book with it in it?
Me: I don't know, but let's check.
Patron: It's a great painting - I want to photocopy it so I can put it on a t-shirt.
Okay, that last comment is what caused the warning bells to go off. I don't like giving patrons the "COPYRIGHT! DON'T STEAL!" talk, but I respect intellectual property enough to always work it in somehow. Each patron, and each potential copyright violation, is different, so I usual wait and try to either casually mention it in the course of the search, or make a very blatant parting statement after we find whatever we're looking for. But it's something no one ever wants to hear, most people don't care about, and makes me feel like a dork and a prude for pointing out. But I am a librarian, and I wear my dorkishness and prudishness on my sleeve.
My director, for her part, knew exactly what I was thinking (and dreading) copyright-wise, so she just kind of laughed and walked away, leaving me to it.
In this case, the patron was really excited about how neat this painting was, so we got right into the search. The first thing I did was search for "c a gilbert woman skull" online, to make sure we got the right painting and the artist's full name.
The first result was a Wikipedia entry for Charles Allan Gilbert, and when we clicked into it, the painting he was looking for was right at the top of the page. Great. Also great is that Wikipedia provided the name of the painting, All is Vanity.
Unfortunately, searches in our catalog for his name or the name of the painting were unsuccessful. There's always the option of going to our general books of American artwork and flipping through the tables of contents and indexes looking for these entries, but I could tell this patron wouldn't be happy with that.
So, I showed him how you could click the image on Wikipedia to see a larger version, and also how to use Google to search for high-resolution images (there weren't a lot of high-res versions, but tons of low-res images on all sorts of websites). That way, I said, he could just print from the computer right onto iron-on paper, to make his t-shirt.
He readily agreed, and it seemed like the time was right for The Copyright Talk (coincidentally, my director happened to choose just this moment to make her way back over to the desk).
Me: Oh and remember, not everything on the internet is always free to use. Some things are still under copyright, and you usually need to get permission before you use them or make things out of them.
I thought that was kind of smooth. But the patron turn to me straight on and just looked at me.
Patron (kind of offended): That painting is a hundred years old and the artist is probably dead, so it's not copyrighted any more. Besides, I'm not going to sell t-shirts, I'm just making one for myself.
I didn't want this to turn confrontational, accusatory, or preachy, but I wanted to persevere too (especially with my boss within earshot), so I just wrapped it up with,
Me: I think copyright can extend beyond the artist's life, depending on how the estate handles it. And even making a shirt for yourself might be a violation, because making one means you're not buying an officially-licensed one, which could impact their revenue. In this case you're probably all right because there were so many other copies of this painting on all sorts of websites, but it's a good thing to check into if you really want to be safe.
The patron agreed, but I think it was more to shut me up than because he was going to look into copyright.
Regardless, he thanked me, especially for showing how to find the high resolution image online, because that was something he hadn't tried. This was actually a couple weeks ago, and I haven't seen the patron around town wearing a new t-shirt, so hopefully he did the right thing.
September 16th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This seemed like it was going to be an easy question, but it ended up taking me almost an entire day before I found the answer. A patron asked,
Can you tell me where Lowell, MA, ranks among other Massachusetts towns and cities in teen pregnancy rates?
That seemed straight-forward, but I was pretty sure none of our ready reference books would include that. National statistics books probably wouldn't do in-state rankings, and the state books (at least those we have) don't do social statistics like this.
So, instead of spending too much time myself looking for a resource, I just thought I'd call the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services. On their contact page, I narrowed it down to their Office of Children, Youth and Family Services, Department of Children and Families - but when I explained what I was after, they referred me to the local Lowell office. The person who answered the phone didn't know, so she transferred me to the manager, whose voicemail said she was on vacation this week.
This might be the right place, but I didn't want to wait that long, so I tried again with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services... who transferred me to the statistics office... who transferred me to the budget office.
I think you're getting the picture of how my day went. By the way, the last transfer (to the budget office) was because I had kept web searching while I was waiting on hold, and had found a line item in the Massachusetts budget specifically for Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Services, referencing "funding shall be expended on those communities with the highest teen birth rates according to an annual statistical estimate." When I mentioned this statistical estimate to the person at the statistics office, and mentioned I saw it in the budget, it seemed like she used that as an out to pass the buck to someone else. I was getting frustrated.
I tried again, this time with the Department of Public Health. Again, the first person I talked to didn't know, but gave me the number of someone who he thought might be able to help. But the difference this time is that this new referral was to the Chief Demographer and Epidemiologist in the Center for Health and Information, Statistics, and Evaluation. Impressive title, and totally relevant to my question, so I called him - he was out.
I called back a few hours later and spoke to him, and he couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. When I described what I was looking for, he knew exactly where the data was, looked up the report and gave me the info. He also gave me the report's web address [pdf], so I could print the cover page and data table for the patron's bibliography.
Which I did, and brought it to the patron - about five hours after she initially asked me for it. She was working on a major class paper and was still in the library, and even though the latest data was from 2009, she was delighted I was able to find it.
For the record, Lowell ranked #10 in teen pregnancy rates (and is #4 in overall population) - here's a portion of the table:
Tags: libraries, Library, lowell, ma, mass, massachusetts, pregnancy, public, rate, Reference Question, teen, teenage
August 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog
Here's a story about why follow-up questions are important in the reference interview.
An older patron walked up to my coworker at the Reference Desk and asked if we had a list of Massachusetts radio stations.
Instantly I felt a sense of dread - we used to have a book exactly like that, but I think I weeded it when we eliminated our reference collection. I remember thinking, "no one will ever come looking for this - besides, I'm sure it's on the internet."
My coworker also remembered the book, and of course set about searching for it in the catalog. When it didn't come up, she got up to check our Ready Reference collection behind the desk.
At this point I told her I think it had been weeded. We also get a "list of lists" book about the top 10 of everything in Boston, which - I hoped - would also list the top 10 radio stations. So while she continued to search the catalog at the desk, I walked down to our oversized shelves to grab a copy and check - no luck.
By the time I got back to the desk, my coworker was searching online for a list of Massachusetts radio stations. Before she got very far though, the patron - who had been waiting patiently this entire time - said,
Well, all I really want to know is the dial numbers for WODS.
Ha. In a few seconds my coworker located that and gave it to the patron, who left happy, talking about how he likes listening to the oldies.
But it took us about five minutes to get here, and both of us felt a little bad about wasting his time. We let ourselves get sidetracked by focusing on a resource we thought the patron wanted, instead of making sure we actually understood what answer the patron wanted. A good reminder why initial follow-up questions are important.
However, feeling bad about that was quickly curtailed, when few minutes later my coworker recalled this radio station had recently switched formats. The patron was already gone at this point, but I'm sure it won't take him long to figure out - and probably lament - this change.