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

Reference Question of the Week – 3/18/12

   March 24th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Milk bottleA patron called the desk this past Thursday:

Patron: What's today's date?
Me: March 22nd.
Patron: Okay good, the milk doesn't expire until the 24th. Thanks.

End of Reference Transaction.





Tags: , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 1/29/12

   February 4th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Date ChangedI wasn't directly involved in this reference question, but my coworker who did handle it had to consult me because it was just so odd.

Sometime in November, she was working the reference desk when a patron called to ask if we had a specific magazine article. We didn't, and our process for requesting articles through interlibrary loan is to submit the request through the Boston Public Library's online ILLiad form, as they are the regional center for this type of ILL.

The bizarre part came in when the patron called back a week or so later and asked:

I work at a law firm - can my article request be back-dated to July 28th?

This is where my coworker came to me, because she wasn't sure if this was something we would consider doing as a matter of policy, and she also wasn't sure if it was even technically possible.

And as far as I know, it isn't, at least for us. Since we use the BPL's online form, all the timestamp information is on their servers. We have no control over that, and to really completely back-date this would probably be extremely involved.

Regardless though, this isn't something I would have been comfortable doing anyway. The article in question didn't seem like something that would be used in any kind of court case, but who knows. And if their request records were subpoenaed by the court (if it came to that), manipulating library records certainly isn't something a librarian should be caught doing.

We don't keep any article ILL records beyond what is in BPL's system, so there wasn't anything we could do for this request anyway. My coworker called the patron back to let her know.

The article arrived shortly thereafter, and a few weeks later someone from the law firm came in to pick it up - and didn't mentioned the back-dating. We never learned more about what the request was for or why it would be important to back-dated it, but this is something I've never heard of before.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 12/4/11

   December 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Exipred milkThis question was a two-parter, and it was the second part that made it interesting.

Last Saturday, a mother and her middle-school daughter came to the desk and asked for information on food expiration dates, which the mother explained was for a group project. We didn't have anything recent in print, but I showed them how to access our databases, and using various keyword combinations we found three or four articles that looked really good.

I emailed each of the articles to them, and then the mother asked the second part of their question:

My daughter's group needs to do a presentation for a group of people outside the class and who are not family. Is there a meeting coming up in the library they could present to? It will only be about 10 minutes long, and had to be done before Thursday.

Huh. There are always lots of programs and meetings going on in my library, but this was definitely something I should defer to our community/programming librarian to coordinate. So, I told the woman that the people who organize all our meetings will be in on Monday, and that I would leave a message for them but that she should call in Monday and hopefully they would have found something.

After they left, I checked the calendar to see what was coming up before Thursday. Unfortunately, no Friends or Trustee meetings, which I thought would have been perfect. We do have a group that meets every Tuesday to practice learning to speak English, which might have been a good fit, and we always seem due for a Department Head meeting to talk about some pressing issue.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of hearing this presentation during our Department Head meeting - it would be fun, and I quite honestly would be curious what the kids had to say about food expiration dates.

But sadly, it wasn't meant to be. When I work Saturdays I have the following Monday off, and when I came in Tuesday I was told the patron didn't call or come in on Monday. Hopefully they found another group to present to, but I think "captive audience" would have been a fun service to provide. Although, I guess I provide that on a daily basis to chatty patrons already - this is just the first time anyone has actually asked first.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 11/14/10

   November 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Old House Journal cover 01-2011This wasn't actually a reference question, but can be filed under "things you didn't really question until someone provided an answer that showed you weren't asking the right question."

Occasionally at my library, if falls to me to add new magazine issues that arrive. We have a variety of subscriptions, like any library (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc), and when I'm adding new issues, it always amazes me how early they arrive. Early, that is, based on the cover date of the magazine. I always just chalked this phenomenon up to a ridiculous marketing attempt to appear hyper-current.

Anyway, I was adding magazines in October, when the January 2011 issue of Old House Journal arrived. A month or so in advanced seemed the norm, so a magazine arriving three months early prompted me to tweet:

Tweet about Jan. 2011 Old House Journal arriving in Oct. 2010

A little while later, and with this tweet in mind, my friend Chris emailed me with this:

Huh, TIL (Today I Learned):

The date on a magazine is the date it's supposed to be pulled out the shelf, not the publication date or something else.

Wow - that actually makes a certain kind of sense. I tried to verify this with another source, but couldn't find one. However, Wikipedia did provide a little more information in the Cover Date article:

In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the standard practice is to display on magazine covers a date which is some weeks or months in the future from the actual publishing/release date. There are two reasons for this discrepancy: first, to allow magazines to continue appearing "current" to consumers even after they have been on sale for some time (since not all magazines will be sold immediately), and second, to inform newsstands when an unsold magazine can be removed from the stands and returned to the publisher or be destroyed.

Weeklies (such as Time and Newsweek) are generally dated a week ahead. Monthlies (such as National Geographic Magazine) are generally dated a month ahead, and quarterlies are generally dated three months ahead.

In other countries, the cover date usually matches more closely the date of publication, and may indeed be identical where weekly magazines are concerned.

So there you go - I love learning things by accident.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alikewise is for (Book) Lovers

   August 24th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Heart shadow in bookIt looks like Alikewise.com has been around all year, but I only heard about it this weekend - it's a dating website that matches people based on the books they like.

This is a great idea for a dating website - it seems a much better way to get at someone's true nature than filling out a profile by guessing what will make you attractive. I checked around the site a bit (without creating a profile), and wonder if there's a way to tie-in with sites like LibraryThing and Good Reads to capitalize on peoples' full libraries. LibraryThing sort of already does this, with their You and None Other meme.

But here's something funny: at my first library, we toyed with the idea of a "singles night" book group. We thought it'd be a perfect program for Friday nights, after work, to come and meet other single people interested in books. It never happened, but I always liked the idea. Maybe that'll eventually manifest in Alikewise meetups.

And wouldn't this be a heck of a social networking widget to add to a library catalog? "Like this book? Click here to meet other patrons that do, too."

via Burlington Free Press (thanks, Carney) and more at NPR

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,