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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/21/10

   February 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I Assure You We're Open sheet sign from Clerks movieOnce again, heavy winds and rain has been knocking out power to most of the area (especially yesterday), so this question of the week is a repeat:

Hey, are you open?

My library had power all day, but most of the town and other nearby libraries did not. The library was packed, and more than a few times I was asked if I knew when power would be back on at a patron's house.

I think the power companies learned a public relations lesson last year, and have been more proactive in providing information. In searching the internet, I found some helpful National Grid storm resources:

When I asked my Director if we'd be staying open late to serve as a shelter for people without power, she said we officially cannot do that. Apparently there are strict certifications necessary for a Town building to function as an emergency shelter, and the library is not certified (neither is our Senior Center, which did stay open last year, but was closed when someone noticed the lack of certification). Granted, this week's outage (and weather) is certainly not as bad as last year's ice storm, but I really don't know how involved certification would need to be. We wouldn't be providing food or aid or beds for people, just heat and power and chairs and internet, which we already do every day. Of course, we'd have to pay staff to stay open, and that is tough with our budget situation.

So, not a very inspiring reference question, but it's been that kind of week. For a real Reference Question this week, check out a great transaction from The Surly Librarian.

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Plugged-In Study Tables

   February 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Study Carrel AfterOver the two years I've worked at my library, I've seen an increasing number of patrons bringing in their own laptops. We've offered wireless access and many years, but now we're offering just a little bit more.

In addition to work tables in the library, we also have a number of study carrels for people to use. The tables we purchased were designed with both power plugs and ethernet jacks built into them, but the study carrels were not. Since the study carrels were near walls that had jacks, we thought that was good enough.

However, the arrangement of the carrels (which are two little cubicles arranged back to back) meant that one patron had easy access to the plug, while the other had to interrupt the first patron and loop wires over the walls to get access.

We thought we could do better than this, and set about checking our vendors and the internet for purpose-built after-market power boxes, that had both AC power and an ethernet jack - and that were low-profile enough to not encroach on the desk space. We found some, but most were $200+, which was too much. So instead, we built our own.

Using pieces and parts from the hardware store and Radio Shack, we made four boxes, one for each carrel, and each box had two power plugs and one internet jack. The pieces are all common and low-tech, so assembling them was no problem. And, not including ethernet cables (which we already had), they cost about $25 each.

So now, for a very low price, patrons can use their laptops with or without a wireless card, and with or without their battery power (as well as charge their cell phone or power some other device) and not have to drape cords over another patron.

See photos: before, after, and a close up of a box.

That's one small step for the library, one giant leap for the patron who kept asking us why we didn't have outlets in the carrels.

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