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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/14/13

   July 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Removed pay phonesI've talked about pay phones before, but I like them - and we do still get asked about them - so here's the latest pay phone question.

This week, a man came to the Reference Desk asking if we knew where any pay phones were. The phones in the shopping plaza across the street were removed earlier this year, which were the last pay phones in town I knew of.

Since the pay phone was removed from our lobby, our policy has been to let people use desk phones. I offered this to the patron, but he declined because it was going to be a long call to Worcester, MA (which would also be a long distance call). He said he preferred a pay phone, so my coworker and I and the patron brainstormed where one might be.

We thought of all the high-traffic retail centers, but couldn't definitely remember seeing one anywhere. Eventually the patron thanked us, and just sort of wandered away.

This bothered me, so that night after work, I went grocery shopping. My grocery store is in a big shopping plaza*, and I drove around slowly really looking for a pay phone. And, success! I found one right outside the entrance to Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart pay phone

At the library the next day, I relayed my find to my coworker, and also the patron who came in later. We thought this could very well be the last pay phone in town, and thought the only way to be sure was to drive around trying to spot them. Not being a digital native, you see, it took awhile before I realized that this is why Facebook was invented.

I asked on the Library's Facebook page if anyone knew where there were pay phones in town, and immediately got some responses:

Facebook pay phone post

Great! Crowd-sourcing Reference Questions is kind of fun - and certainly provided a better answer than I did for the patron. This might even motivate me to create a Custom Google Map of local pay phone locations - it would be a challenge to maintain, but there certainly is no other resource for this question.

 


*This plaza just got a Five Guys!



Tags: , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 11/28/10

   December 4th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Pay PhoneThis reference question has actually been in the works for a couple weeks, and isn't officially closed. But I don't expect to get any better answer than what has already been found, so I thought I'd share it.

Before I got into work one day, a patron asked if she could use the phone. Since our pay phone was removed from the lobby, we've been more permissive about letting patrons use our desk phones. However, when the patron said she was going to call India, staff told her she'd need to use a pay phone. So of course she asked,

Where is the nearest pay phone?

They were pretty sure there was one across the street, but just to be sure they also searched online to see if there were any pay phone listings or directories. They found three, but each seemed incomplete or out-of-date:

When I got in, I also searched and found the same thing. I thought the best way to get a listing of pay phones in town was to contact the Verizon rep who handled our old pay phone - if anyone had a current list, it'd be them, right? So I called our Town Hall and spoke to the woman who handles the pay phone contracts for Town buildings. She said all of the Town-run phones had been removed to save money, and that dealing with our Verizon rep was a pain. She didn't have his phone number handy, but said she'd look and call me back (I still haven't heard from her, which is why this question isn't officially "closed").

In the meantime, I thought I'd just call Verizon and see how far I could get. I found a list of Verizon contact phone numbers, and called the Massachusetts support line.

After going through their menu options and waiting on hold for a few minutes, I finally got a nice guy in the billing department. I explained that I was looking for a list of pay phones in my town, and he laughed and said he didn't even know if they even still had a pay phone division. Eventually he found a "coin phone department" on his department list, and transferred me there. But he also gave me the number: 800-782-8355.

After waiting on hold for a long while, I spoke to a woman who didn't seem to like the idea of me asking for this list. First she said I had to go through Town Hall, so I explained that the Town pulled out their phones, which is why I was looking for a list of the rest of the phones in town. Then she put me on hold to confer with someone, and when she came back she said,

I can't give you that list, because a list of where all our phones are is proprietary information.

Yes, "proprietary information." She suggested I just walk around town and look for Verizon signs, because, "they're all well marked."

The good news is that there is indeed a pay phone across the street from the library, so we can just refer people there when necessary. And the woman was correct, it is well-marked.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 9/26/10

   October 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Can-and-string telephoneEarlier this year we got rid of the pay phone in our lobby (too expensive), so we've become more permissive with letting people (especially kids) use the desk phones to make calls.

I always ask people beforehand if it's a local call, because historically, local calls are no problem, but long distance calls are limited.

This isn't really a reference question, but I get asked this all the time and I'm honestly curious about it - here's a typical exchange (keep in mind I work at the library in Chelmsford, MA, which is in area code 978):

Patron: Can I use the phone?
Me: Sure, is it a local call?
Patron: Uh, I just need to call my mom.
Me: Okay, what's the number? [I always dial for them, to make sure they get an outside line and don't dial 911 accidentally, which does happen with our phone system]
Patron: It's 603-423...

As I get older (and as kids get younger), I've been noticing that fewer and fewer kids have any idea what you're talking about when you say "local call."

When they say "603" (New Hampshire) or "617" (Boston), I will sometimes say something to the effect of, "hey, a different area code is not a local call," and the response from kids is invariably, "we live in Chelmsford, it's my mom's cell phone."

I don't have a cell phone, so I don't know if there is such a thing as local and long distance calls on them, or if everything is charged the same (or just depends on time of day). But wow, the whole local/long distance thing was a big part of my childhood, so it's kind of stunning to think of kids growing up with no concept of that. Depending on how often people move around, a kid's friends could all have cell phones with different area code numbers, and have no idea why*.

But then again, I guess people don't really dial numbers any more anyway - it's just scrolling through the contacts list and clicking a name. Which means the reasoning behind area codes is destined to become historical trivia like the interstate numbering system, or an anachronistic relic like the phrase, "don't touch that dial."

 


*Tangentially, an old rant of mine is how the FCC dropped the ball when they started issuing phone numbers for cell phones. Instead of issuing cell phone numbers with area code where the phone was registered, and thus running out of numbers and having to slice up area codes and develop new codes (giving rise to situations where the "area" codes make no geographic logic, like 440 in Ohio), they should have created new area codes just for mobile phones. Which would have also helped out with making sure cell phones were always on the Do Not Call List, as they could just forbid those area codes from being called.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 11/11/07

   November 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Modified AT & T logo: Death Star with 'Your World. Delivered. To the N.S.A.A patron called in, on her cell phone, while driving*, and asked:

Can you look up and see who a phone number belongs to?

Big Brother-type questions always give me the creeps. I know there are legitimate reasons to do this, but still.

Anyway, since it wasn't a local phone number (which means I couldn't use our Polk Directory), I turned to the internet. It occurred to that I have not done a reverse phone number lookup in at least two years, so I wasn't sure if the websites I used to use were still around.

I did a general search for "reverse phone lookup" and recognized a couple domains: InfoSpace, WhitePages.com and AnyWho.

For this reference question, I typed the number into AnyWho, and it provided me with a first initial and a last name. I read this off to the patron, she said thanks, and then promptly hung up.

Still curious, I tried typing that number into the other two, to see if they all just had the first initial. WhitePages.com gave me a full first name (in addition to the last name and address), and InfoSpace found no matches. Our ReferenceUSA database also provided the complete information, but since it takes a bunch of extra steps to log in to library subscription databases, in this case the free web was easier.

This isn't a very difficult reference question, but it's good to review these tools every so often, to know how they compare to each other. Of course, I still added all three to my library's del.icio.us account.


*Interestingly, my library does not have a policy about talking to people who are driving. I personally hate it when people use cell phones while driving, but I also don't like the idea of telling a patron "no" or asking them to call back later. But, in the interest of not killing innocent people, I'd be willing to do it.

libraries, library, phone, public libraries, public library, reference question, reverse lookup, reverse phone lookup, reverse telephone lookup, review, telephone



Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,