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

Reference Question of the Week – 7/26/15

   August 1st, 2015

monkey phonicsI think I've already done a question like this one before, but I don't mind repeating it just because this tactic delights me.

A patron called about an hour before closing on a Friday afternoon. He said,

I want to know if you have a book on the steps used in the phonics method of teaching someone how to read. I'm writing an article about how to teach writing and want to use an analogy involving the steps for teaching reading, but I want to make sure I'm using the phonics steps correctly.

I don't know anything about the phonics method for teaching reading, but the question seemed straightforward enough. I told him it'd take me a bit of time to research it and find a book with the steps, and I took down his email address to send him the answer.

I did a few different "phonics" searches in our catalog, but couldn't find a book in our library that listed the steps. However, other libraries had promising titles - namely Phonics for the new reader : step-by-step and Get back to phonics : a step by step approach : how to improve your reading skills.

Normally I'd call the the libraries that had the books, ask them to check the table of contents for the information, and then either fax or scan and email the relevant pages to me. However, since this was at the end of the day and I was pressed for time, I tried the tactic of using Amazon's Look Inside feature to read the table of contents right from my desk.

And in this case, it paid off. Instead of sending the patron the link and trying to explain how to use Look Inside and hoping he gets it, I did the extra work of:

  • open Look Inside and view as much of the first page as I could
  • hit the Print Screen key to take a screenshot
  • paste the screenshot into Paint
  • crop to just the words I wanted
  • copy/paste that cropped image into Powerpoint
  • repeat for the rest of the relevant sections of the Table of Contents
  • once everything is pasted into Powerpoint, print using CutePDF to create a PDF version of just those sections of the Table of Contents [pdf]

That's definitely a quick and dirty way to accomplish this, and probably not the best way, but it worked for me based on the software we have on our desk computers.

But since I don't know anything about these steps, I thought I'd double-check by finding some other resources too. A quick web search turned up two websites, one that I couldn't verify the expertise of, and then a Word document from the National Right to Read Foundation [doc] (which I would tend to trust).

All three were different, but I hoped between them the patron would get what he needed. I sent all of this to the patron, thinking that the PDF would be the best resource. Within a few minutes he replied,

Thank you, Brian. Very quick work. The Word doc was just what I needed. Appreciate it.

So, go figure. I'm glad it was helpful for his article - that's definitely the important thing.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/26/15”

  1. Chris A. Says:

    Hey Brian,

    The Snipping Tool (assuming you’re on Windows 7 or above) would make that project so much easier! Type it into the Start menu and you’ll get a selective screenshot tool. Once you make a selection, you can paste paste directly into a document or save it as its own image file.

    It’s the bee’s knees for quickly making illustrated guides on how to use a program or website, too.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chris: I did not know Win7 had a snipping tool built in – that has always seemed like an exclusively native Mac thing. We do have Win7 and Win8 computers at the desk, so I’ll have to give it a try. I’ve been doing it the PrntScrn+Paint method for so long it didn’t even occur to me there would be some new fangled whiz-bang the kids were using these days.

    You’re definitely right about using it for making handouts too – that has got to be way quicker than what I’d been doing. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Macee D. Says:

    My cousin (though we call him Uncle Bob) Robert Sweet, Jr. founded the National Right to Read Foundation after service in two presidential administrations and extensive research and legislative experience in developing and implementing phonics instruction. It is a life’s work and passion for him, and I’m happy to see his work cited here.

  4. Curtis Spiva Says:

    I still use CutePDF or PDF Creator for some tasks but any versions of Word (and some other Office programs) from 2010 up allow saving documents as pdf natively. Office 2013 and up also lets you open pdf documents in Word and edit them natively too. Its saved me a lot of time and hassle especially when I’m at another branch on a pc that doesn’t have one of the other programs. Opening uploaded pdfs in Google Docs also lets you edit them, it’ll even give you an image file and separate the text out as well if it can which is quite handy.

  5. Amy G Says:

    The Snipping Tool is amazing! I just recently started using it myself and it saves so much time with great results.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Macee: wow, that’s great! I don’t know much about the details of the organizations, but that’s always been one in the back of my mind that seemed like they did great work. Thanks for sharing that connection.

    @Curtis: those two are exactly what we use at my library (and I use at home). We are just now in the process of updating from Office 2007 to Office 2010 (in 2015!), so thank you for the tip about native PDF support. Being able to edit PDF files right in Word will be a huge benefit for patrons.

    @Amy: that is good to hear – it sounds promising, and it’s nice to know it actually is.