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

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!

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/14/13”

  1. Beverley Says:

    Living on a tiny place means it’s not hard to know where the pay phones are. There’s one left in the hotel. There use to be one on the old bank building at the main intersection – I don’t know how anyone could carry on a conversation there with the big trucks going by on the highway. About once a month our homeless guy (yes, our one & only) would come on to use the library phone to call the phone company to tell them it was broken. I think he may have been the only person who used it, once a month to call his brother who lives elsewhere. It made me happy that despite his problems he still had this connection. I hope the hotel lets him use their pay phone.

  2. Susan Kilkelly Says:

    The Friends of Beebe Library (Wakefield, MA.) pay for a pay phone for our library entrance. Years ago we made money on the pay phone contract, now it’s something we provide the library. But it gets used regularly and may be the only one left in town.

  3. Mica Meerbach Says:

    Did you search online? Not being local I couldn’t check relevance or veracity but Google listed this site: http://www.payphone-project.com/numbers/usa/MA/CHELMSFORD/ A quick browse shows a few restaurants, so I wonder if there is a bias built in to the way it is put together, an opportunity for promotion that might out weigh usefulness if there is no way to easily remove incorrect entries.

  4. Jim Dunbar Says:

    There have been several crowd sourcing projects to map various services, including public access defibrillators (AEDs). You might want to consider something similar for pay phones in the area.

    The way it was described in ‘Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World’ by Jane McGonigal, participants took a photo of a defibrillator with a free app which would upload the photo and the geographic location to a website.

    You can find the relevant story in Google Books, by searching this phrase, “photo mapping AED reality is broken.”

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mica: I had found similar websites the first time someone asked this question, but unfortunately don’t entirely trust them: the numbers listed aren’t Chelmsford’s area code (which is odd), and many of the restaurants and places are out of business. Still it’s a place to start for my drive-around-town campaign.

    @Jim: That is great – although writing an app is beyond me. It’s definitely the same situation. Too bad that app isn’t more of a general “public services” app, where you could choose to upload an AED, or pay phone, or public bathrooms, etc, and it would sort them all accordingly.