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


Library Volunteers Need To Be More Detailed-Oriented Than This

   December 11th, 2013 Brian Herzog

There are two elements to this story I need to establish up front:

  1. We have a PDF teen volunteer application on our website, which interested kids can download, print, and then bring in or mail to the library to apply
  2. As I've mentioned before, people in Chelmsford, UK, occasionally contact us by mistake, thinking we're the library in England

So, the crux of this story is that these two elements collided recently. A teen, apparently in the Chelmsford in England, wanted to volunteer at the library, but downloaded our volunteer application by mistake. The teen dutifully filled it out, and mailed the envelope to the address on the application - which arrived to us like this:

envelope-teen-front

Judging by the postmark (with the European date style being YYYY-MM-DD DD-MM-YY [thanks Emily!]), it took over a month to reach us - and seems to have bounced around quite a bit in England first.

But since the Royal Mail apparently (repeatedly?) tried to deliver this letter to somewhere in England, I suppose the teen can't be entirely blamed for mistaking the address as local. However, I am impressed that the Royal Mail (and the USPS) ultimately did deliver the letter to the right place - despite the insufficient postage:

envelope-back

It appears that a 2nd Class Stamp costs 50p, which is about $0.82. Not bad for trans-oceanic delivery.

However, when the letter arrived, our Teen Librarian emailed the applicant to let him know of his mistake. Too bad, but I hope he's able to get in touch with the other Chelmsford Library - just not to volunteer with any geography-related projects.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/23/11

   October 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Shadow of a witch on a treeI don't know if this question was Halloween-related or a coincidence. A patron came up to the desk, slid me a piece of paper with "manningtree" written on it, and said,

Can you tell me where this tree is? It's the tree in Chelmsford where they used to hang witches.

I've never heard of this, and it's definitely the kind of thing would have stuck with me. But, we're not too far from Salem, MA, and Chelmsford was founded forty years before the witch trial era, so I suppose it's possible.

I searched online for manning tree chelmsford, and one of the results is a downloadable book titled Trial Of Manningtree Witches In Chelmsford 1645.

At first I'm shocked that this is something I've missed, but from the description I learn that this book is about some accused witches from Manningtree, England, and their trial that took place in Chelmsford, England. Ah, now it makes sense (someone confuses us with the Chelmsford in England about once a month). I explained this to the patron, and although he was disappointed, he wanted to read about this book online, so I pulled it up on one of the public computers for him.

Interestingly, one of the other search results was for Manning Tree & Landscape in Boxborough, MA, a few towns over from Chelmsford. This is probably be Google trying to be location-aware, but I did think it was a funny coincidence. Happy Halloween, everyone.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/28/09

   July 4th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Chelmsfords mapHere's an appropriate reference question for the Independence Day weekend:

One quirk about living in New England is that many communities got their names from olde England. As such, about once a month my Chelmsford Library is contacted by someone who mistakes us for the library in Chelmsford, Essex, UK*.

To wit:

To: askus /at/ mvlc.org
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2009 6:52 AM
Subject: Thanks!

On Tuesday I visited Chelmsford with the aim of exploring the surrounding countryside and history. Unfortunately there was no easily found visitor center, or indeed a map with a "you are here" spot on it.

Fortunately I found the public library, and given some wonderful suggestions and a town map. I promptly forgot the name of the young lady working at the help desk who provided all this information, but please thank her very much and possibly consider a supplementary income for her as a town ambassador?

I had one of the nicest afternoons of English countryside I have ever experienced and it would have not happened without her enthusiasm and knowledge.

Once again, thanks a million. I more future visitors to your town have a great day like I did. Cheers!

A very nice message, but the "English countryside" phrase indicated he contacted the wrong Chelmsford Library.

Whenever this happens, I reply to the person saying that while we're always happy to help however we can, they're probably better off contacting the other Chelmsford Library. I also included a note encouraging him to forward his message to them, because feedback like this is important to libraries.

Shortly thereafter, I got this message back:

To: askus /at/ mvlc.org
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2009 11:17 AM
Subject: RE: Thanks!

Ah! You librarians are a special breed. Thanks for your googling, forgive my ignorance and have a wonderful day. To think that us Antipodeans love to poke fun at a perceived American lack of geographical knowledge. And I email the wrong continent. If you're ever in London Brian, have lunch on me.

It's nice that after 200+ years, we in the colonies are getting the recognition we deserve.

But best of all, he included a link to the restaurant he owns in London. I removed it here for privacy reasons, but that's definitely more than enough incentive to hop across the pond.

The rewards of being a librarian are boundless. I'm telling you, fortune and glory.

 


*We even once got an email from someone in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, because our branch is named the Anna C. MacKay Library.



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