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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/15/12

   January 21st, 2012 Brian Herzog

Colored pencilsThis question was short and sweet, and in addition to making me laugh, left me a little confused. A patron walks up to the desk and asks:

Can you show me where the painting books are?

I asked her if she meant books on how to paint, books of paintings by famous artists, or books on painting your house, and she said the how-to books. So I took her to the 751's, and she said that was exactly what she was looking for and would browse for awhile.

I went back to the desk, and maybe five minutes later the patron came back up:

Patron: Those were okay, but not what I was looking for. Can you show me there the books are about painting with pencils?
Me: Oh sure, the drawing books are...
Patron: No, not drawing, I mean painting with colored pencils.

I had no idea what painting with colored pencils could possibly be besides drawing, so I just searched our catalog for colored pencils to see what came up. It wasn't much of a surprise that a lot of drawing books came up, so I took the patron to the 741.2's and actually found a book called Painting light with colored pencil. Again, she said that was exactly what she was looking for, and that she'd look around.

I went back to the desk a little puzzled, as I didn't know why there was a stigma on "drawing."

It must be a thing though, because a little while later the patron stopped by the desk again to thank me. When she did, I noticed she was carrying two more books: Masterful color : vibrant colored pencil paintings layer by layer and Drawing workbook : a complete course in ten lessons. But she left happy, so it was a good day.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/28/08

   October 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Kids in the back of a carSometimes, an innocent reference question has the potential to turn into a multi-million dollar industry.

Late one evening, a man in his early-forties came up to the desk:

Patron: I'm looking for someone to drive my kids.
Me: Um... where to?
Patron: My kids get home from school about 3 o'clock, but wife and I don't get home from work until about 6 o'clock. Most of the activities they want to do (sports, dance lessons, piano lessons, etc.) are after school, but they can't do them because I can't drive them there. I'm looking for someone who can drive my kids to their activities and then bring them home afterwards. Can you give me the number of the group in town that does that?
Me: I don't know of any group that does that specifically. I think most people use nannies or babysitters, or carpools or relatives or neighbors. But I'll check around and email you what I find.

After a little more talking, I learned that he and his family had immigrated here from India a little over a year ago, and so didn't have family in the area and hadn't met many people yet. They couldn't afford to pay a babysitter, especially since the kids were old enough to be home alone, but just not old enough to drive.

I first checked with our Childrens Librarian, as the Childrens Desk usually knows about kid- or mom- or family-related resources in the area. And I was right. She told me that the middle schools in town have buses that move kids between the various schools to get them to school-related after-school activities. Also, she said that high school kids volunteer around town after school, and that perhaps he could find one of them that could drive his children around.

I next checked our Community Information database, which is a listing of social services and non-profit organizations in the area. Most of what I found were child services for low income families or at-risk kids, but there was also a listing for the Chelmsford Mother's Club.

This club is kind of like a support group for new and expectant mothers, so I didn't think it would help him directly. But I linked to the Mother's Club website from CommInfo, and found that they had put together a great resources page. I couldn't tell if any of them could help the patron, but it was a good list to start with.

I emailed these three options to the patron, but haven't yet heard back.

And after thinking about this question for a few days, this really does sound like a business that could make a fortune.

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/11/08

   May 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Question markI was traveling most of last week, so this week's reference question is actually something I was asked outside the library (and hear often, as I'm sure most librarians do):

Aren't you going to be out of a job when computers replace books?

There's lots of answers to this, but I was happy to illustrate my point with a quote a book.

In Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless, two characters are comparing astrology to the science of astronomy. One of them makes the case that its rules and methods is what gives astrology value, because they serve to bring out the information someone is seeking.

"It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations."

I immensely enjoy books, and don't think they are going anywhere any time soon, but this question implied that libraries are just book warehouses. In fact, libraries aren't about books at all - we are about information, and access to that information.

Printed and bound books are just one form of "graphite dust" that can be used to reveal the important part - the information they contain. E-books, newspapers, websites, DVDs, journals, mp3s and paintings are also types of delivery media for information.

As long as there information, there will be a need to organize it, convey it, give it context, and help others use it. Talk about job security.

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Patron Refuses to Return Book

   September 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

It's Perfectly Normal coverCurrently happening at the Lewiston Public Library in Maine, a library patron has checked out two copies of the book It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris, and refuses to return them.

The book, subtitled Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health, offended the patron because she was "sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and the sexually graphic, amoral abnormal contents, I will not be returning the books."

Lewiston Library Director Rick Speer did not accept a check from the patron to cover the cost of the book. Instead, he returned the check and enclosed the library's Reconsideration of Materials form - which, opposed to outright theft, is the proper approach for someone to challenge library materials.

More information via the Portland Press-Herald.

it's perfectly normal, lewiston, lewiston public library, libraires, library, public libraries, public library

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