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

What’s In Your Ready Ref?

   September 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ready Reference CollectionI've been working on an answer to Debbie's comment about a guide to ready reference, but am sorry to say I haven't been able to find one.

Searches on the web found a lot of great ready reference lists of websites, but not print books. Amazon lists some, but I don't have them to review. I remember having such lists in my library school text books, so maybe that's the best place to look.

But as I thought about this, and looked at what's on the ready reference shelf at my library, I concluded two things:

  1. To be effective, the ready reference collection needs to be tailored to the library and its patrons. My current ready reference collection is very different from the one we had behind the desk of the Kent State University Library when I worked there, but they are equally appropriate
  2. The best thing to do might just be to ask other librarians which print ready reference resources they like and use

So in the spirit of the second one, here's an overview of resources on the ready reference shelf in my library. If you're so inclined, please share what you've got on your shelf - I'd really be curious to know.

For staff to help answer computer questions:

Things that don't really get used but I feel we should have:

Quick Facts & Referencey books (for annual resources, we keep the current year in ready reference and move past years to the reference collection):

Government Information:

Business Directories:

Local Information:

Shelved right next to the desk

Granted, many of these only get used once or twice a year, if that, and almost all have online versions (or equivalents). But I really like being able to answer a question just by grabbing a book within reach, showing a patron how to look it up, and then let them sit at a table absorbing the information. I don't know, it feels more tangible and satisfying than relying on Google for everything.

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Selection Speculation

   November 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

We Buy Books photoPersonnel changes at my library are changing the way we do collection development. So for the past couple weeks, I've been thinking about how to incorporate more review-reading and book selection into my workday.

Since this has been on my mind, I had two slightly unusual ideas for potential ways to supplement more traditional selection.

Selection via LibraryThing Early Reviewers
I've been a part of the LibraryThing.com Early Reviewers program since it started (if you haven't, and enjoy reading, it's worth checking out). I've used this as a resource for new books for awhile, but something I noticed recently was that the books I like often had the most requests.

My idea was for Tim to whip together one of his useful tools, so that librarians (or anyone who signed up) could receive an email (or rss feed) each month after the list has closed, with the title of each book, how many requests it got, and also a link to LibraryThing or Amazon. My logic was that if a book appears popular with LibraryThing'ers, there's a good chance it will also be popular in my library.

I wrote to Tim and asked him about this just a couple days ago, and I'm hoping for a positive response. But if you like the idea, contact LibraryThing and ask them to implement it. Lobbying like this is probably the last thing he wants, but I do think this could be a valuable and unique selection tool.

Selection via Universal Medical Database
For awhile now there's been talk about the government and hospitals trying to start a single database of health information of every American.

The pros are that it'd be easier for a doctor anywhere in the country to access someone's medical history in an emergency, and it could also prevent conflicting medications and stop people shopping around for prescription narcotics. Drawbacks of the idea are that it potentially leaves people open to an invasion of privacy, or allows employers and others to discriminate based on medical conditions.

What does this have to do with libraries? It occurred to me that if such a universal system ever were put in place, it could potentially be used to help improve a library's collection of medical books. If real-time statistics could be provided on what conditions and illnesses were prevalent in a particular community, the library could use that information to make sure it had books and information on those topics.

Not that either of these might ever come to pass, and they both have a very big-brothery feel to them. These ideas are just some idle speculation on alternative selection tools to supplement traditional methods.

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Libraries Of My Life

   April 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Sandusky LibraryInspired by the kid who collected 3000+ library cards, I thought I'd put up all of my library cards, too.

Unlike his collection, though, these cards were all issued to me because I either lived or worked in the towns where these libraries are located. I didn't get them to build a collection - I just always use the library where I live.

Even just with this small collection, it's interesting to see the variety in designs. This gave me the idea to create a Library Cards flickr group - how about showing off your library card?

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Library of the Present

   July 24th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Books on shelf - Modern fiction next to Homer's The Odessy next to Ubuntu book next to Gay and Lesbian Couples Legal GuideI was passing through my library's Technical Services area [?], and the "to be catalogued" shelf caught my eye.

Featured in the photograph here, the titles really struck me as a very accurate cross-section of a modern library's collection. Not only do we have popular/genre fiction (Kilt Dead and Rashi's Daughters), but also represented are the classics (The Odyssey - 2 copies!), up-to-date technology (Ubuntu Unleashed), and social minorities in our community (A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples).

Not that this is unique to my library, but it did make me happy. There're at least six of us responsible for selecting books for the adult collection, and it's nice to know that, even without direct coordination, we're building a well-rounded collection.

It also reminds me that having a solid collection is at least as important as how you organize it; the books need to be there in the first place before better signage or search engines will have an impact.
collection, collection development, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, purchasing, selection

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Go Ask Mickey

   February 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Mickey Mouse imageOne of the things I enjoy the least about being a librarian is doing selection - picking which materials to buy for the library's collection. Sometimes, though, an item comes along that obviously need to be purchased. Witness Disney's new "Let's Talk About Puberty" DVD set.

collection, disney, let's talk about puberty, libraries, library, materials, selection

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