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

Reference Question of the Week – 7/6/08

   July 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Zodiac Cancer signThis question wasn't particularly hard, but the phrasing of the question took me by surprise, and the patron was funny, too. The phone rings:

Me: Reference desk, can I help you?
Patron: Do you personally take the Boston Globe?

I think it was the word "take" that threw me off. I wondered if he was asking if I took a copy of the Globe from somewhere and brought it to the Library, or if I took our copy and kept it at the reference desk.

I stuttered a bit, and then explained that yes, the Library has a subscription to the Globe. He was not impressed.

Patron: I'm sure it does, but that's not what I'm asking. I want to know if you personally take a subscription. I need to talk to someone who knows the paper. In the daily paper, there's a section called Sidekick, which has the comics and horoscope and things. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff. I've been reading it for three months now, kind of like the comics, you see. I figured I'd read it on my birthday, too, which was Sunday. This past Sunday's Globe didn't have a Sidekick section, so I want to know from someone who reads the paper where the horoscope is. I looked all through it and couldn't find it. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff.

Mind you, this is the condensed version of his question.

Anyway, I told him that no, I didn't read the paper, but I'll ask around the staff to find someone who did, and I'll look through our copy of the Sunday Globe to see if I could find the horoscopes. He was skeptical, but gave me his name and number so I could call him back.

We were short-staffed, and no one working read the Sunday Globe. Instead of spending a half hour looking through the paper, I called the Boston Globe Customer Service and explained the situation. The sales rep was very nice, and said that they had been getting calls all week about this. Apparently, for the first time in 50 years, the Globe's production department forgot to include the Sidekick section in the Sunday paper.

He offered me a week's credit, but could not send that section of last Sunday's paper to me. Since the patron was looking for that specific day, that didn't help, so I asked if he knew were the information came from and if I could find it somewhere else. This brightened him up, as he told me that the horoscope for the day was on their website.

After a bit of clicking around the Boston Globe website, I found their horoscope section and worked back from the current day to find and print the horoscope for July 6th. I called the patron, who was entertained by the rare omission, happy that I'd found it, and he said he'd be in the next day to pick it up.

It did make him nervous, though - he'd been reading horoscopes for months, and the first time there's a problem with it is on his birthday. That's got to be a bad sign.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/29/08

   July 5th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Number One BirthdayI really like answering reference questions using print resources. But I also get just as much satisfaction answering a question using a tool I read about on someone's blog.

In honor of the Fourth of July this year, a patron was doing off-beat research into things that have happened on July 4ths past, to develop a trivia game for his cookout.

I knew of plenty of "in this day in history" type resources, but he had already found a lot of that kind of information. Happily, I remembered reading a library's blog post mentioning a website listing #1 songs for a given day in history.

With just two clicks, we had a list of the Billboard #1 song for July 4th for the past 100+ years. The patron was very happy with this, and proceeded to our CD collection to get as many July 4th #1 songs as he could to use as music for his party. It's rare to see a patron walk away giddy, but this was one of those times.

This website will also be handy with a annual cub scout project. To earn one of their merit badges, the scouts have to find out what happened on the day they were born. Not that knowing the #1 song will make them better scouts, but it does add a fun new dimension to the project.

Also, I would like to point out that in my birth year of 1974, the #1 song was "Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation. That's a good song title for a holiday celebrating revolution and independence (even if that's not what the song's about).

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