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


Things You Don’t Learn in Library School

   February 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Outside Shoveling - Be Back SoonDuring a library meeting yesterday, someone used the phrase, "and that's not something I learned in library school," in reference to something they frequently do at the library - which reminded me that I had this in my to-blog folder.

I'm sure every librarian could easily make a list of similar tasks - something you have to deal with on a regular basis or a part of the job you take for granted now, but was never even hinted at during your LIS coursework.

The iLibrarian blog points to two such lists - one for Academic Librarians, and this list of things Public Librarians deal face, ready or not:

  1. Janitorial Work
  2. Mental Illness
  3. Public Health
  4. Activism
  5. Complaints
  6. Exorbitant Fines
  7. Sexual Situations
  8. Vandalism
  9. Parent/Child Discipline
  10. Violence

Be sure to click through and read the descriptions. It's definitely worth it for new librarians - experienced libraries will see some that are familiar, and should give thanks for those that aren't.



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Good Ideas, Not Easily Sold

   August 29th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A couple of totally unrelated really good ideas (I think), before I head to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend:

Good Idea #1
First, for all you DVD collection development librarians out there, here is a must-add for the library's collection:

The Red Green Show box set

A 50-DVD set of The Red Green Show! 300 episodes = ~124 hours of wisdom from Possum Lodge, plus bonus material. Of course, the $299.99 price tag made my colleague who does our DVD selection just say "no."

Good Idea #2
Apple Store genius training manualSecond, an Apple Store training manual for their Genius Bar employees was reviewed at Gizmodo. From the tl;dr write up on BoingBoing, some great training gems caught my eye:

What does a Genius do? Educates. How? "Gracefully." He also "Takes Ownership" "Empathetically," "Recommends" "Persuasively," and "Gets to 'Yes'" "Respectfully."

From the comments, it appears the existence of this manual met with a large degree of cynicism. However, swap out "Genius" for "Librarian" and this exactly sums up what our desk staff should aspire to.

Taking ownership of a problem can be difficult in a public library, because not everything is something library staff can help with. But when it is within our power - especially concerning a library resource or service - taking ownership is the best way solve a patron's problem. Because if one of our patrons can't use a library resource, then it's a library problem.

And initially I was uncomfortable with the word "persuasively," because it sounds very retail. But after I thought about it, I often actively try to persuade patrons all the time, in the sense of recommending - and leading them to - what I think is the best resource. "Yes, maybe this recently-published book on skin cancer is a better choice, even though that one from 1995 is thinner and has more pictures. Of course, you can always take both." Or, "Instead of trying to figure out how to cite Yahoo Answers in your term paper, how about I show you how to use our journal databases?" Of course librarians persuade - empathetically and respectfully - but don't force or withhold information. We certainly try to recommend the best resources possible, but it's always up to the patron to make their own decisions.

Not that I should be surprised Apple has good customer service ideas - I've certainly drawn inspiration from them before.

I hope everyone has a good long weekend - see you next week.



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Staff Technology Competencies

   May 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Thumbs UpIn addition to Email Scam Competency Testing, here's another tool for evaluating staff technology competencies.

Developed by Alicia Verno, Head of Technical Services at the Wilmington (MA) Memorial Library (who generously agreed to share with everyone), this is a nice staff technology competencies matrix [pdf], breaking down tech skills by subject/software and assigning different skill levels based on position.

The skill levels are:

  • Level 1: Basic (Circulation Staff, Tech Services Asst.)
  • Level 2: Intermediate (Department Heads, Information Desk staff, Administration)
  • Level 3: Advanced (Technology Committee members)

and the required skills are broken out into these categories:

  • Workstation Basics
  • Operating System
  • System Security
  • Printing
  • Internet
  • Email
  • CASSIE [time management software]
  • Horizon [ILS]
  • Horizon (Tech Services staff only)
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Word

I really like this fine-tuned approach. Assigning library positions to different skill levels is an easy way of being able to find help if a question is over someone's head.

I also like breaking out each skill area. It plainly lays out which skills are important for staff to know, but also shows them skills above their level, perhaps enticing them to be curious and figure things out.

We're going to modify Alicia's matrix [pdf] for use at my library, and I'd like to add:

  • Printers/Copiers: changing toner, adding paper, cleaning jams, checking print queues, deleting print jobs, overriding payment system, shutting down/starting up print server
  • Museum Passes: booking a pass, deleting a reservation, checking out a pass
  • ILL Requests: requesting through local catalog/state-wide catalog/OCLC requests, checking on a request

I'm sure it could be an endless list, and I know the point isn't to be exhaustive - nor is it to point out peoples' shortcomings or reasons why someone shouldn't be in the position they're in. Really, competencies lists should identify the areas in which staff feel uncomfortable, so supervisors can make sure they get the training they need.

Thanks again Alicia!



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Tests for Hiring and Training

   July 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Cones in the stacksOne of my coworkers and her husband run Gibson's Bookstore, in Concord, NH. When hiring new employees, each applicant is given a knowledge of literature test to see how well they'll do at reader's advisory.

Their opinion is that bookstore staff are first and foremost reading advisers, and cashiers and stockers second. The test questions cover a broad scope of literature, just like the questions of customers (and library patrons):

2) Name five characters invented by William Shakespeare.
13) What is Ender Wiggin famous for?
14) James and the Giant ________ by Roald _______.
23) Why do some Sneetches feel superior to others?

To get hired, applicants must get at least half of the questions right. Perhaps libraries could implement something similar? Perhaps they already do.

I also have a list of reference questions and tasks I give to reference staff after they've been hired, to help with training. It is based on something my director found (can't remember what or where), but I tailored it to get new staff familiar with the type of questions we get, our collection, our policies, basic tech support, and reference in general. They get it as a Word document, and work on it for their first few months.

Some people like tests and some don't. But each in their own way, I think these tests are valuable to make sure that the people interacting with the public are really able to help the public.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/18/09

   January 24th, 2009 Brian Herzog

default Mac desktopOne of the nice programs my library offers is One-on-One computer training. Patrons can sit with a librarian and get help with any computer issue - searching library resources, setting up email, learning Word, etc.

It's a very popular service, and the appointments are often booked weeks in advance. It's not unusual to make appointments over the phone, but a phone call last week wasn't the typical "help with Word" request:

Patron: I read that you guys do computer classes there?
Me: Yes we do, what would you like help with?
Patron: I know how to use regular computers, but I got a Mac laptop for Christmas and don't know how to turn it on. Can you teach me how to use it?

Now, granted, if I were a Mac person or used Macs with even the most infrequent regularity, I might not have balked at this request. However, as it stands, I explained to her that I didn't know much about Macs, but I would show her what I did know and then we'd use the library's Mac books and learn the rest together.

By the time she came for her appointment, she had figured out how to turn her Macbook Air on. I showed her how to use the AirPort to connect to the library's wireless network, and then showed her how to launch applications from the icons on the bottom of the screen. We went through each of the application icons, and eventually she was getting the hang of it.

Then came her next question:

Patron: How do I get to the games?

Ha. I told her I was pretty sure Macs didn't come with games, but showed her how to use the Finder to search the computer. After going through that a few times (which is probably as much as the average person needs to know about using a computer), we moved on to using the internet.

Her nephew, who had given her the Macbook, had also created both Yahoo and Gmail accounts for her, so we practiced getting to each and logging in. Then came another surprising comment.

Patron: How do I get to the people in my Yahoo address book from my Google account?
Me: I don't think that's something you can do.
Patron: But my nephew said that you can do anything on a Mac, so why couldn't I do this?

Hmm. The rest of the appointment was spent managing expectations of the Mac and just practicing logging into things. Before she left, she made another appointment for the following week, but then called a few days later to cancel it. She said she had been using the computer on her own and felt she didn't need anymore training. Maybe Macs really are easier to use than PCs.



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