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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/12/12

   August 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

antique radioHere's a story about why follow-up questions are important in the reference interview.

An older patron walked up to my coworker at the Reference Desk and asked if we had a list of Massachusetts radio stations.

Instantly I felt a sense of dread - we used to have a book exactly like that, but I think I weeded it when we eliminated our reference collection. I remember thinking, "no one will ever come looking for this - besides, I'm sure it's on the internet."

My coworker also remembered the book, and of course set about searching for it in the catalog. When it didn't come up, she got up to check our Ready Reference collection behind the desk.

At this point I told her I think it had been weeded. We also get a "list of lists" book about the top 10 of everything in Boston, which - I hoped - would also list the top 10 radio stations. So while she continued to search the catalog at the desk, I walked down to our oversized shelves to grab a copy and check - no luck.

By the time I got back to the desk, my coworker was searching online for a list of Massachusetts radio stations. Before she got very far though, the patron - who had been waiting patiently this entire time - said,

Well, all I really want to know is the dial numbers for WODS.

Ha. In a few seconds my coworker located that and gave it to the patron, who left happy, talking about how he likes listening to the oldies.

But it took us about five minutes to get here, and both of us felt a little bad about wasting his time. We let ourselves get sidetracked by focusing on a resource we thought the patron wanted, instead of making sure we actually understood what answer the patron wanted. A good reminder why initial follow-up questions are important.

However, feeling bad about that was quickly curtailed, when few minutes later my coworker recalled this radio station had recently switched formats. The patron was already gone at this point, but I'm sure it won't take him long to figure out - and probably lament - this change.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/1

   April 8th, 2007 Brian Herzog

A patron walks up to the desk...

patron: can you give me a list of all the radio stations in the area, what their numbers are, and what kind of music they play?

At first this sounded like a tall order, but then I realized that it really shouldn't be. My first thought was that, if anyone, the FCC should keep track of some kind of list like that. So I tried their website, and their search feature, but saw nothing obvious. The search returns were so bogged down with regulations, filings and rulings that I couldn't find anything useful.

While searching here, as a stall tactic, I asked the patron if he has seen a list like this. He said he had one, that was published in the newspaper a few years ago, but it was all out of date.

So, I switched to the general internet. I thought that if I didn't find something quickly, then I could try out newspaper databases.

I searched for "radio station listing" on Google, and the first result was Radio-locator.

I'd never heard of it before, and can't speak to its authority, but it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. It lists itself as "formerly the MIT List of Radio Stations on the Internet," with over 10,000 radio station websites. So apparently this only includes radio stations with websites, but it was a good start.

It allows a zip code search (as well as other search options), and provides a nice listing of the station, the call letters, the frequency, signal strength, city, and even format. The patron was very happy with this, so I printed it for him and he went away.

A couple other notes about this website:

  • Another element of each record is a link to the station's online feed, if it exists
  • Oddly, the page would not let me (in Firefox) highlight and copy just the radio station listings. When I went to print, it took up two pages because of all the ads and formatting. I wanted to copy out just the station information and paste it into Word so I could print just one page, but it didn't see to want to allow this.
  • The search included functioning AM and FM stations. There was also a link to find unused frequencies - that isn't particularly useful to me, but I find it interesting.

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