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


Reference Question of the Week – 2/17/13

   February 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Ebay listing for 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws CHARTER American ADULTERY Leather BOSTONThis isn't a reference question, but I think it is by far the most interesting email the library received this week. The message below was sent to my Director, and was then forwarded to our cataloger and me to look into:

Subject: former(?) Rare Chelmsford Library Book 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws

Hello, I noticed this rare book for sale on ebay and an image shows an ownership label of your library. I'm not interested in buying it, just wanted to bring it to your attention in case this rare item had been removed from your collection. No response needed to me.

Wow. We checked out the ebay listing for this book, and sure enough, the inside cover has a old Chelmsford Library bookplate:

Adams Library bookplate

None of us ever recalled seeing this book in the collection, or even anything remotely like it. We have lots of old historical and vital records, but none leather-bound or particularly valuable.

There was no record in the catalog for this item at our library (although a nearby library does have it) - which means this item could have been weeded and discarded, sold as a fundraiser, or stolen by fiends any time in the last 100+ years.

Since we have no way to know, there's nothing we can do. I do occasionally hear about stolen library books being sold at auction (or worse, maps or color plates cut out of library books), but in this case I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It is an interesting situation though. If anyone would like to purchase it and donate it to the library, please let me know.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/13/12

   May 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Gray Barn in Fall, by A. Hale JohnsonThis question wasn't difficult in the least, just kind of fun - and great because I got to give a patron very good news.

On Friday, a patron called in and asked if I could go to the website of Skinner auction house. He said he had an item that was included in their auction that day, and wanted to see how much it sold for.

Finding the website was no problem, but it took me a little while to find the right auction results. The auction went from noon to 4pm, and the patron called about 2:30. So, although I found the auction results, it turned out his item hadn't come up yet. We did learn that his item was estimated to sell for between $1,200-1,800, which sounded good. He thanked me and said he'd call back in a little bit.

About 4:30 he called back, thinking that since the auction ended at 4pm, all the results would be posted. But they weren't - they were still only about halfway through, and his lot was towards the end.

I told him we were open until 5:30, and he's welcome to call back, or I could keep checking and call him. But, he said he was leaving for the day, so he'd just stop in the next morning.

It was my Saturday to work, so I was at the desk when he came in right at 9:30. I think we were both kind of excited as we went back to the website and looked up the auction results. Everything had been posted by then, so we scrolled down to his lot number to see how it did. Amazing: $4,148.

The patron was astonished, and had to ask me a couple times if that was the actual sale value. We doubled-checked by looking at the individual item listing, and sure enough, his painting sold for $4,148. However, because of Skinner's 15% commission, he'll only receive $3,500, but he still had a big smile on his face as he walked away from the desk.

Wow, what a nice way to start a weekend.



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