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

A Couple of Minor Interesting Things

   October 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog

magnifying glassI know there are significant issues coming to light this week regarding security and privacy, but this post highlights two far less consequential items. Both are search tips from Lifehacker.

1. Searching for Lyrics
The first is that Bing Now Shows Lyrics at the Top of Your Search Results. This will actually be extremely useful, because I haven't felt comfortable about visiting a lyrics website since about 2000. I don't know why those always seem to be the most virus- and crap-prone websites, but they are.

Of course this doesn't work for every song. In fact, quite literally while I still had the Lifehacker post open, a patron walked up and asked me to print the lyrics for Anything Goes. I was librarian-excited to try out a new tool to answer a question, but this Bing trick didn't work for that song. That's a fairly well-known song - and so are God Bless America and Born In The USA. I don't know what makes Man In The Mirror special, but something apparently. Maybe it's a copyright thing, or maybe the Bing developers are just starting with their favorite artists. But it's still worth trying out when the moment arises. And, it'd good to see Bing being innovative.

2. Searching Individual Websites
The second item is how you can Search Individual Sites on Google by Searching For Their Name. This is something I've been noticing for years, but also not something I've ever really counted on. But if it's planned to be a deliberate feature, I'll try to use it more. At least, it's sure easier that using the "site:" limiter.

Again, it doesn't work for every website. It seems like mainly just big, popular, and news websites have this available, but I also found some notable exceptions.

So that's it - now back to more important things.

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Tips for New Library Employees

   September 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Advice DeskJust recently, someone who follows my blog sent me this email:

I have just started a job as a library reference assistant in a public library system in a city of over 500,000 people. I will be in one of the busier neighborhood libraries (there are around a dozen neighborhood libraries and a central library).

Any tips/advice for a new library reference assistant with only patron experience (and that, only checking out books, no reference usage) in a library?

First, I was happy to hear someone managed to get a library job, despite the "librarian shortage" the ALA is talking about (discussed at Closed Stacks and by Jessamyn, and contradicted by my library's recent experience filling an opening).

Anyway, I thought I'd put together a Top 5 list for advice for new library employees. It's tricky, as library jobs can be so different, but here's the advice (mostly reference-related) I came up with - please submit more advice in the comments:

  1. Don't be afraid to tell the patron you're new, and might not know something
  2. Don't be afraid to ask coworkers for help (this will also save the patron's time)
  3. When working on a difficult or complex question with a patron, I will get the patron started in one area (say, browsing the right Dewey section) while I go back and continue searching on my own. I find it much easier to think when a patron isn't standing there staring at me, and I think they get more out of it by being involved in the search
  4. During downtime, learn your library's policies and about what resources & tools available to you - the catalog, vertical files, information at the reference desk, etc. (this is especially true for local information, which always seems like the hardest thing to find)
  5. Practice - a little while ago I posted a couple tests used for hiring and training new staff - the more experience you have and the more familiar you are with the quirks of your tools, the more comfortable and helpful you'll be

The Librarian by Day has more good advice for library staff, new and old, in the bottom portion of her post about library skills.

And on the lighter side of interviewing for a library position, here's a classic Monty Python sketch - humorous, yes, but most of what the interviewers say is still spot on:

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Tips for Blogging

   July 15th, 2010 Brian Herzog

[Insert Exciting Blog Entry Here]This has been a busy week at the reference desk (lots of people looking for school summer reading books). I didn't have any great ideas for today's post, so I thought I'd go meta - a blog post about blogging.

Here are a whole bunch of links I've been collecting that offer tips on blogging, or blogging better, or running a blog in general. Some of them are for personal blogs, but they apply pretty well to writing for a library website.

I suppose I should read them instead of just sharing them, but it's a start:

From iLibrarian:

From Librarian in Black:

From David Lee King:

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Building Better Google Searches

   January 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog

google logo in legosSpeaking of learning things, Chris sent me a link that lists special strategies and syntax for searching Google more efficiently.

I use a couple of them all the time (especially site:), but I definitely spotted a few that will be extremely helpful:

  • +[stop word] - having the plus sign before a "stop word" (such as +not) forces the search to include that word, instead of ignoring it
  • inurl: and intitle: - similar to site:, but this limits the search to words just in the web address or title field. Very useful for increasing relevancy on obscure information
  • related: - lists websites that are "related" to the domain you search for (ie, related:swissarmylibrarian.net). This seems just oddly interesting, but there has got to be a very good application

The page also gives some great examples of how these can be combined. It's always good to learn how to search smarter, and it's certainly a conversation starter when patrons see me typing in these weird codes and getting better results than they do - always on the lookout for those teaching moments.

Thanks Chris, and to the faculty of the Valencia Community College for compiling the list. There are also other lists, too, but this one was very helpful.

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/25/08

   May 31st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Money in gas canAs I'm sure you've heard, gas prices are on the rise. Stations around here are still hovering in the $3.90 range, but $4.00/gallon can't be far away. I am sure that's what prompted this week's exchange:

Patron: Can you tell me about, gas prices... and, um... fuel economy... ?
Me: Well, maybe. What kind of information are you looking for?
Patron: C'mon, you know, gas prices, and tips, and stuff. Is it real?

After a bit more of this, I learned that the patron:

  1. received an email forward from a friend with driving tips that claim to save gas, and also a list of gas stations that sell gas made from oil from Middle Eastern countries,
  2. wanted to know if there were real driving tips that could save gas, and,
  3. wanted to see national gas prices and find the cheapest gas in town.

I've seen the gas imports email before, and lately have been seeing and hearing gas saving tips everywhere. We started searching the internet for information about driving tips, and found lots. Here's my attempt at organizing those that look reliable:

Driving Tips To Save Gas

Gas Price Listings

Other Fuel Economy Information

Of course, the best tips are to drive less (by walking, biking or riding public transportation), or buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. None of those were practical options for the patron, so he was pretty happy to get this list when I emailed it to him later that day.

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