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

Reference Question of the Week – 12/27/15

   January 2nd, 2016 Brian Herzog

keepingupkardashiansIf you're a reference librarian long enough, eventually you might hear every possible question - even those you'd never think someone would ask.

Due to traveling for Christmas and how New Year's Eve fell this year, this past week was a short one for me. However, that didn't stop one patron from sneaking in this phone question on Wednesday evening:

Me: Chelmsford Library, can I help you?
Patron: Hi, my husband and I were watching a show last night which we liked, and then I found out it was a series, and we'd like to watch all the earlier episodes to get caught up, so I thought I'd get them from the library, so can you help me with this, I mean find those old shows for me, I don't know how many there are...
Me: [glance at the timer on the phone and see that 30 seconds has already elapsed on this call without the patron giving me the information I need to actually start helping her, so even though I hate interrupting people, I have to break in with] Oh sure, what's the name of the show?
Patron: "Keeping up with the Kardashians."
Me: Oh, okay.

I mean, how do you respond to that? I've never seen this show, but the things I'm thinking are,

  • Ugh.
  • I feel like this show was on a long time ago
  • Most libraries don't collect reality show DVDs

I don't like being snobby, but I really am surprised someone would go out of their way to track down old episodes of this show. Being timely and current was, I thought, part of the appeal, but I suppose if you get sucked into the personalities, it doesn't matter.

Of course I don't say any of this to the patron, and instead just quickly and quietly search our consortium catalog, but that came up empty. The next step for us is to search Massachusetts' statewide Commonwealth catalog - which, very surprisingly, has seasons 1-3.

Now that is impressive - to me. The patron, however, is a little disappointed there aren't more, although neither of us know how many seasons there were (another surprise for me: this show started in 2007 and is currently in it's 11th season).

So there you go. I requested the available DVDs to get the patron started, and asked her to check back after she got caught up. Perhaps by then there will be more in the system, or we can ILL from outside the state, or I'll be able to find episodes somewhere online, or she will have found a marathon or something on television.

I'm sure there are all kinds of crazy things I check out of the library that other people would never think someone would want, so yay for a public library coming through with what a patron was looking for.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/20/11

   March 26th, 2011 Brian Herzog

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse DVD coverI like this question on many levels - but mainly just because I just to use the phrase Library Win.

Round One
One afternoon, a patron called to request a movie titled, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She said she had already requested it through the library, but she got the wrong one - the one she wanted featured Glenn Ford.

It took a little bit of doing on IMDB, but eventually we identified the right one from all the others. And oddly, IMBD had it listed as The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, instead of spelling out the word "four."

I switched back to the library catalog to locate it, searching on the title with both four/4, and also searching just for Glenn Ford. But from what I could tell, it was nowhere in the consortium.

Next, for librarians in Massachusetts, is to search the statewide Virtual Catalog. I started this search for the title The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Of the five results for that search, one matched both the production studio and original release date - so even though it didn't list the actors, I was fairly confident it was the right one. I requested it for the patron, and told her that since it is coming from outside our consortium, it might take a week or two before it arrives. She had hoped to get is sooner, but was happy that we could find it at all.

Round Two
About two hours later, this same patron called back. She said she had been talking to her daughter, who said that version was available on Netflix - so could I please cancel the library request we just placed, and she'll use Netflix because that will probably be faster. No problem, and I canceled her request.

Round Three
The next morning I had a voicemail from this patron. She said she talked to her daughter again, who said the movie was on long wait in Netflix, so it might take months. In that case, waiting a couple weeks for the library sounded pretty good, so she asked me to rerequest this movie for her.

Library Win
It always makes me happy when libraries can provide better service than businesses - and really, this is the kind of situation where there will almost always be a Library Win. Businesses tend to cater to the new and the sensational, whereas libraries also retain easy access to older items, classics, and items that may only turn over once a year (or less).

This is another danger of HarperCollins' self-destructing ebook plan - it would effectively eliminate this long-tail service (or at least, put a timer on it that is controlled by the publishers, rather than the needs of our communities).

The Irony
I constantly hear about the death of libraries, yet it is a movie with an apocalyptic allusion that we can deliver better than those supposedly bringing about our demise.

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/3/10

   October 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

PrivacyI think this is about the fourth time I've personally helped a patron with a request like this - the phone rings...

Patron: Hi, I live in [town next to where my library is], and I'd like to request some books sent to your library instead of my own.
Me: Sure, to do that you... [explain how to use the online catalog]
Patron: Thank you very much, I was afraid it wasn't possible. I need to get some books on getting a divorce, and was afraid my husband or kids - or even the library staff - would see what I was getting.

I know this is a privacy scenario we all heard about in library school, but they really do happen in real life.

And it's lucky for this patron that we're part of the same consortium - if this patron's home library wasn't part of a system and she didn't trust the staff to be discreet and professional, I'm not sure what the alternatives would be. I don't know if an out-of-towner walked into any random library if they would be willing to ILL sensitive books just to avoid the patron's home library getting them.

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It’s Official: I’m Not A Terrorist

   October 9th, 2008 Brian Herzog

FOIA LetterLast year, I read a blog post giving instructions on how American citizens could request a check into your personal flight history, to find out if your name appears on the "no-fly" list. So I did.

The website seems to be gone now, but it was a simple form that submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Homeland Security. I'd never requested anything under FOIA before, and my personal history seemed like a place to start. I thought it was a good exercise, both as an information professional and as a private citizen.

So I was happy when, earlier this week (almost exactly one year later), I received a letter from the US Customs and Border Protection saying,

A search was conducted of the [Automated Targeting System] database, and we were unable to locate or identify any responsive records.

Which means I am flying under their radar (until this request, probably).

Not that I thought there would be anything untoward in my flying patterns, but these days, you never know. Now all I need to do is take my official "he's no terrorist" letter to the nearest TSA worker for a smiley face.

[To request your own, try starting at CBP's FOIA webpage]

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Amazon Request List

   August 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Amazon 1st To Know logoIt seems like I learn of a new web tool or website feature every day.

A patron had missed seeing Hellboy II in theaters, and asked to be placed on hold for on the DVD. Since it's not out yet, or even close to being out yet, I told him I couldn't place a hold in our catalog.

The next obvious question is when is the DVD coming out. Usually I use the "DVD Details" section of IMDB.com for that, but in this case they didn't have the information. So I tried Amazon, and this is where I learned something new.

They didn't have a release date either, but they did have a record for it - and it let people add themselves to the list so they'll be notified when it is available. Amazon calls this their "1st To Know" notification service, which I thought it a great idea.

I didn't go through the steps, but I'm guessing that putting yourself on the list is also committing to buy a copy. But even still, I like that they are flexible enough to accommodate anticipated need.

Which is unlike most library systems. In my library's catalog, patrons can place holds on items as soon as we put an "on order" record in the catalog, but we try not to put in on order records too far ahead of time.

On order records for books aren't too bad, but movies are a whole different story.

Because we have different records for wide screen and full screen and director's cut and 10th anniversary re-releases and every other possible iteration, putting a record in too early means we might end up with holds for something we can't actually get. Or, if we buy the wide screen release and every other library in my consortium buys the full screen version, patrons with holds on the wide screen will have to wait for their turn, even if they don't care if they get the wide or full screen version.

Being able to get an idea of demand early on would help in knowing how many copies the library should buy, but this whole version thing is something we haven't found a good fix for yet. Amazon selling DVDs is certainly different than a library loaning DVDs, but there has got to be something we can learn from their model to serve library patrons better.

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