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

Reference Question of the Week – 5/13

   May 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Picture of scissors and a bad haircutA woman with a bad haircut walks up to the desk and asks...

(bad haircut? Yes, bad haircut. Even worse than mine.)

"Can you find the phone number of whoever issues licenses to hair stylists?"

Since two of us were working the desk at the time, and there was nothing else going on, both of us started looking. It didn't take much time to find the answer, but I thought it was interesting that we took two different routes to get there.

My Coworker's Approach
Started with Google (which is on our desk computers' start page) by searching for "cosmetology association massachusetts." The first result was for National Cosmetology Association: Recommended Links, and under their State Cosmetology Regulatory Agencies section was a link to the Massachusetts Board of Registered Cosmetologists.

That link lead into the Mass.gov website (MA's official government website), which, after a couple more clicks, offered a telephone number.

My Approach
Figuring this must be a state agency, I went directly to Mass.gov, even though their site search is generally less than ideal. I search for "cosmetology license," and the first result was a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Board of Registration of Cosmetologists. One of the last questions was How would I contact a cosmetology association in Massachusetts?, which provided a phone number in the answer.

Also at the bottom of the page was a Contact Us link for the Office of Consumer Affairs, of which the Division of Professional Licensure is a part, and which in turn has its own Contact Information page. This is the same page my coworker ultimately found, which strangely lists four categories for Cosmetologists and Aestheticians, but all of them have the same phone number.

The Result
The patron had wandered off right after asking the question, so we wrote all the websites and phone numbers down. I found her a few minutes later, herself searching the internet, and she was happy with the information we found.

But this was one of those cases where just finding what the patron wanted didn't feel like enough. There was definitely a story here, between the way her hair looked and the question she asked. As a librarian, I am trained not to pry or ask why a patron needs certain information, but I came close here to offering to call these numbers, just so I could learn if she was trying to complain about a salon she just came from, or wanted to open her own salon, or what. There had to be something interesting there; I still think a television show set in a library would be endlessly entertaining.

association, cosmetologists, cosmetology, libraries, library, licensure, mass.gov, professional license, public libraries, public library, reference question, searching

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Search Terms Study

   March 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

A post on Slashdot today talked about an interesting visualization of search terms used between 1997 and 2001.

Interesting because of the way the data is displayed (which took a little getting used to), but also interesting in how it shows the maturation of the web, and what people use it for. The data seem to show that in 1997, sex- and chat-related searches where the most popular, but by the end of the data set, people were searching the internet for information and shopping.

I wonder what the trends will be ten years from now, or if this model of searching will even still apply.

chris harrison, search, search clock, search terms, searchclock, searching, terms, visualization

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