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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/27/13

   February 2nd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Newspaper crossword puzzleA patron came up to me at the desk and asked,

I'm looking for information on writing and books about getting published. - you know, like Writer's Market, but modern.

That puzzled me for a second, since Writer's Market is updated every year. I walked with her down to the 808 section and showed her our 2013 edition of Writer's Market*, and some other books on the shelve. She said thank you, and then followed it up with,

I want to publish crossword puzzles - do you have any books on that?

Huh. I didn't remember ever seeing any books specifically about publishing crosswords. We skimmed the shelves and nothing obviously stood out, so I left her there to look through what we did have and I went back to the desk to search the catalog. Nothing came up, so I tried searched online.

One of the first results I came across was an Ask MetaFiler post titled Crossword Publishing help. It had only two responses to the original post, but both seemed (to me) to be very helpful. I didn't really find much else online, so I quickly reviewed the website cruciverb.com which one of the responses recommended. It seemed to be exactly what the patron wanted - it listed publications that publish crosswords, contact information and other details for submitting puzzles, and lots of other resources (including a listserv, forum, and social networking) for creating and publishing crossword puzzles. How perfect is that?

However, when I went back to the 800's to find the patron, she had left. I looked around, and even ran up to the Circulation Desk to see if I could catch her on her way out. I hadn't been searching at the reference desk very long, but she was nowhere to be found. I hate it when patrons slip away like that.

I was curious though, so I went back to the 808's to looked at the shelf. From the empty spaces between books (that weren't there before), I could tell that she had taken the 2013 Writer's Market and also a couple other books. That's good, and hopefully she found what she's looking for.

This question really intrigued me for some reason. I had seen (and really enjoyed) Wordplay, but never thought much about that actual process of publishing crosswords. Oh well - I think I'll stick to word finds.

Link to library word finds.


As with most of our most recent editions of traditional reference titles, our 2013edition of Writer's Market is a 7 Day Loan item, instead of in-library reference only. Even though it's been almost two years since we eliminated our "reference" collection, it still makes me happy every time a patron is able to take home and really use something they previously wouldn't have been able to check out.

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Flying Corgi Media Presents Back-to-Back Books

   November 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Flying Corgi MediaI thought this was neat: a member of our Friends group, along with some colleagues, just started a new publishing company in town.

The name is Flying Corgi Media, and they're focusing on something I'd never heard of: Back-to-Back Books. The idea is that they publish books in pairs, based on the same settings and characters, but written for different ages. Here's how they explain it:

Our first set of Back-to-Back Books, Thérèse’s Adventure and La Comtesse by Charlotte Rolfe! Back-to-Back Book packages provide our readers with pairs of books: one for children ages 9 – 14, the other for adults ages 15 and up. Kids and adults can share characters, settings, storylines and adventures from their books. Thérèse’s Adventure (kids) and La Comtesse (adults), are two exciting novels set in post-Revolutionary France. Get ready for adventure, mystery, and romance!

I thought this was neat - it allows people of different ages to share the same characters and ideas, but also as the younger kids get older, they can easily build on what they already are familiar with. Also, being historical fiction means there's other opportunities for expanding and learning. I haven't talked to our Childrens Librarian yet to see what we're going to do with them, but it almost seems as if they would need to circulate together.

For more information, check out their FAQ, a recent article in the Chelmsford Independent, and of course Flying Corgi Media can be contacted directly. They also have plans for videos and other interactive elements, so I'm looking forward to see where they can take this concept.

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Paying for Content Or Paying for Format

   September 24th, 2009 Brian Herzog

hollowed bookBoingBoing pointed to an article on the difference between paying for content and paying for format. Publishers want us to pay for content, so they can charge the same price for online information. But historically, we pay for format: hardbacks cost more than paperbacks.

The same is true in town halls and libraries with public records. People have a right to free access to the records - but, if they want their own copy, there is likely a reproduction cost. In which case, they aren't paying for the records (content), they're paying for the paper the records are printed on (format).

Interesting. (And it also brings up the slippery slope of double-taxation: if the paper is purchased with taxpayer money from the library budget, then why does a taxpayer have to pay for it a second time?)

Machineman nutRelated to this is what author Max Barry is up to with his latest book, Machine Man. He's publishing it in real-time, one page per day, and readers can subscribe to rss or email to get the first 43 pages for free. Beyond that, it'll cost $6.95.

I like that an author is experimenting - that's where good ideas come from, rather than just forcing forward the status quo. I also like that, when it is published in traditional book form, it will (likely) be different from the day-to-day feed. Which makes sense, since he'll have had time to think about it and rework* the real-time "draft."

And what Barry is doing is evidence again that what we pay for is format. If I pay the $6.95 for the content of the rss feed, then it stands to reason that when the printed book comes out, I should get it for free, since I've already paid for the content (unless, of course, it is significantly different from the feed).

I can see why the supply side of the publishing industry wants to charge the highest price they can for content, regardless of format. But technology, context, and past practice just doesn't support that model. But then, business = ++profit != logic.


*I'm fascinated by the evolution of the story, and how an author changes and rearranges the plot and characters in between drafts. In fact, here's what I think would be a good idea (although, it would take the right kind of author to make it work): publish a book with every draft of a short story, with annotations on the changes. Having a author not only put out there early versions of a story, and also explain what changes were made and why, would be fascinating insight into the creative writing process.

From what I know of Max Barry, he could pull it off, and it'd be worth reading. Neil Gaiman is another author that comes to mind. But maybe this is a market limited to only me.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/3/08

   August 9th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Andre Agassi[Note: I'm starting to feel bad that most of the "reference question of the week" questions lately have just been humorous or interesting, but not challenging or requiring strategy or unique reference resources. I'll try to do better in the future.]

A patron walks up to the desk with "Memories coming from a Tennis Star by Alfred A. Knopf" written on a piece of paper. She hands it to me and says, "I read about this book in the paper, about Andre Agassi - can you request if for me?"

That's pretty straightforward, but it didn't show up in our consortium catalog. It didn't show up in the state-wide catalog. And I couldn't find it in either WorldCat or Amazon. Hmm.

Each time I didn't find the title, the patron insisted she read about it in the paper. Patrons are notorious for being simultaneously confident and inaccurate, so I asked her which paper she reads, in the hopes of tracking down the article and learning more about the book.

She couldn't remember where she read it, so I just searched the internet for "memories coming from tennis star agassi." The first result linked to a new story entitled Memoirs coming from tennis star Agassi, from USA Today, and the patron said "yes, that's what I read."

When we clicked into read the story, though, we found that she had slightly misread the article. It said that publisher Alfred A. Knopf had acquired the rights to publish Agassi's memoirs (not memories), and that "his book is not yet titled and no release date has been set."

The patron was a little embarrassed, but recovered by asking:

Well, can request it for me anyway?

When I said that no, I couldn't request it until it's been published and we have a record in our system, she got upset and left.

Which made me feel bad, because there are other books about Andre Agassi out there. But hopefully she'll read again in the paper when the book is published, and come back to request it then. I'm definitely buying this whenever it comes out.

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Slowly Building Towards 2.0ness

   May 8th, 2007 Brian Herzog

flickr logoMy library is slowly adopting web 2.0 tools. We've done a bit up so far, but now we've finally started a flickr account.

We always take pictures at our many programs, but then those photos just end up sitting on our staff network. They usually don't even make it our website. This seemed to me a sad waste, so I've been talking up using flickr as a storage and sharing tool for the last few months.

People were pretty tepid to the entire idea, and couldn't see why I cared. So, as a micro-project, I started using flickr just for some historic photos from our archive (and then integrated them into the website). Once people saw how flickr worked, and how it could be used, then they started thinking about what ways they could use it, too.

Painting the mural in the Childrens RoomThe first to dive in was our Children's Room librarians. The Children's Room is being repainted with a mural, and they saw that flickr would be a great way to share the progression of the painting - and by using a flickr "badge", they could also put these pictures right on a Children's Room webpage.

The biggest sticking point now is concern that patrons will be outraged if we post their photograph on the internet without first getting their permission. And this is legitimate, because although photos taken in public places are fair game, I wouldn't want to rely on a legal technicality. But I also think that it's not that big a deal - once people get used to it, there should be no problem (I hope).

So it's still slow going (slower than I'd like, anyway), but I am getting people on board. Perhaps soon we'll even find the $25/year to pay for a pro account, and really invest in this as a permanent tool.
flickr, libraries, library, library 2.0, patron photos, patron pictures, photos, pictures, public libraries, public library, publishing, web 2.0

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