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

Take-Home Tech Support, or, Why Second Thoughts Are Important

   October 29th, 2014 Brian Herzog

tabletphoneLast week, a patron came in and asked for help using the scanner. No problem.

But while I was helping her, she explained that she has an all-in-one copier/printer/scanner that used to work great but is now giving her trouble, hence the trip to the library. She tried describing to me what the problem was, and it seemed like it should be diagnosable and solvable, but I was just not getting it.

One great thing about the emergence of mobile devices, and increasing prevalence of laptops, is that people can bring them into the library for tech support. But with desktops, and in this case copier/printer/scanners, even something that would be simple to correct continues to plague them because it's too difficult to communicate either the problem or the solution remotely.

So, the idea struck me - why not start a program offering in-home tech support? I think it would be unrealistic to send library staff out to patrons' homes, but how about this: we have a special "tech support tablet" that patrons can check out, and then when they get home, use Skype or some other video chat service. That way, I could actually see what the problem was, read the error messages on their screen, see what lights were flashing, tell them which menus to click, etc.

Really, it'd be offering the same service we currently provide to patrons who can bring their devices to the library, so why not offer it remotely too?

Well, any number of reasons, if you think about it. First, this would still be difficult, and not like being there in person. Second, and maybe more frighteningly, who knows what else might show up on the screen besides tech problems. This was basically the reason this idea went no further.

I mean, I still like this idea, and think it could help people. But it would be tricky, and has a lot of downside potential, so for the time being this is just going to be filed under "maybe someday."

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Bookshelves of Librarians

   February 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Librarians are social creatures, right? Despite dowdy stereotypes, many of us are out there Web 2.0'ing it up - among other things, we like sharing our photos on flickr and our books on LibraryThing.

So, I thought a fun meme would be to combine the two - show photos of our personal books and bookshelves. I spied one of Jessamyn's, and uploaded photos of all my bookshelves.* I'm curious to see how other people organize books in their own space.

My Bookshelves (click for descriptions)
My Book Shelves - Non-fiction
My Book Shelves - Reference
My Book Shelves - Fiction

And since timing is everything, this is doubly fun considering LibraryThing's announcement this week about expanding LT's photo capabilities.

So upload photos of your own shelves (librarians and non-librarians) to flickr or LibraryThing or somewhere and share your personal organizational system.


*I didn't photograph all the books in places other than shelves: coffee table, bedside table, bathroom bench, car, piled on the floor, etc. I tell myself those are all "temporary shelving locations."

Also: I can't decide if "bookshelves" should be one word or two - so I use both.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/10/07

   June 16th, 2007 Brian Herzog

On older man with a cane walks up to me at the desk and says:

"How long... is... a lawyer's... binder?"

A good ten seconds went by before I could manage any kind of response, and all I could come up with was, "I don't know what that is."

His response? "Okay."

We then just kind of looked at each other for a few seconds. At this point, I honestly wasn't sure if he was earnestly asking me a question, or if he was completely senile. Sometimes it is hard to tell, but 99% of the time someone is just having difficulty communicating. Time to put my "reference interview" skills to work.

So I as didn't appear too direct, I asked him, "can you explain to me again what you're looking for?"

He said something like, "I'm looking for how long... you know a lawyer... when you pay a lawyer... I don't want to pay a lawyer..."

He then rested for a bit and looked up at the ceiling, and then continued with, "...when you own a house... sell it... what are the forms...?"

From these fragments, I guessed that he wanted to sell his house, but didn't want to have to pay for a lawyer to help him do it. I asked him if he was looking for information to help him sell his house, and he nodded his head.

Ahh, now that's something. I took him over to the 333.33's, and we found a few general home selling books for him to browse through. In the meantime, I went into the reference collection to see what we had as far as Massachusetts-specific forms and information.

When I came back five or ten minutes later, he was sitting at a table with the stack of unopened books in front of him. He said the books were all too general, and they didn't answer his question.

Oh, a question?

"You're looking for something very specific?" I asked, hoping he would volunteer what it was, so I could help him find it.

"Yes... you know... people sell their houses to... their sons, for a dollar... ..."

"And you want to find out how to do that, and what forms you need?"

Again, he just nods.

I like to draw on personal experience as much as possible, but since I've never owned a house, this is a mysterious world to me. But, I thought when it got into something as specific as this, then he's right, these books were either too general or too out of date.

No one else was working the desk with me for me to ask, so I decided to call the Town Tax Assessor's office - since they assess and record the value of a house, I figured they would know what was involved in selling a house for less than its fair market value.

When their office answered, I explained the situation: "I have a patron who would like to know what he needs to do to sell his house to his son for one dollar." Her response was surprisingly simple:

Her:"In that case, all he needs to do is to transfer the title to his son's name."
Me:"I think he wants to avoid using a lawyer - are their any forms that he can use to do this himself?"
Her:"Well, it needs to be a legal transfer, so either a lawyer or a title office. But as far as forms, we don't have anything here like that."

I thanked her, hung up, and relayed the information to the patron. He just started expressionlessly at me while I told him, but kind of perked up when I mentioned a title office. He then turned and walked away from the desk, and I could hear him repeating what I had said, "...title office to transfer... forms... no lawyer binder..."

A few days later, I saw him in the library again. It was a little while before he noticed me, but when he did he smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, so I guess everything went well.

home, homes, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, selling

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