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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/8/09

   February 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

locavoresAt my library, one of the phones on the Reference Desk is a cordless phone, so that we can still answer the phone while we're away from the desk.

I answered it while in the stacks one morning, and an older woman asks:

Patron: Can I ask you the definition of a word?
Me: Sure [as I scurry back to the desk and the safety of our ready-reference and access to an online spell checker]
Patron: Good, thank you, it's spelled l-o-c-as-in-cat-a-v-as-
Me: [just arriving at the desk and trying to write the word out] I'm sorry, did you say B as in boy?
Patron: -in-victory-o-r-e-as-in-easter. No, an E not a P

This actually went on for some time, and by the time I was sure I had the right spelling, I had so many scribbles and crossings-out on my scrap paper that I didn't recognize the word. I said I'd check the dictionary, and the patron said she'd already checked two dictionaries and couldn't find it.

So while I was looking it up, I asked her where she'd seen the word. She said it was in the caption to a photograph in the newspaper. I didn't see it in my dictionary either, so typed it into Google.

Even as I was typing l-o-c-a-v-o-r-e, it didn't dawn on me what it was until I saw the search results.

When I explained to her that, just as a herbivore eats only plants, a locavore is a person that eats only local food, she was delighted - both to learn a new word, and also that a made-up word would appear in the newspaper.

Having a cordless phone is nice, but maybe I should try to talk the library into getting iPhones so that we can answer questions like this in the stacks without having to rush back to the desk - sort of roving reference in a holster.

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Roving Reference 2.0

   January 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

I believe this sign was seen hanging in an antique store:

Need Help? Call our front desk

Wouldn't this be a good way for libraries to both allow cell phone use in the library and encourage patrons to interact with librarians (in a way that is convenient for the patron)?

Or we could go the supermarkets route and install "help phones" in the stacks, so patrons who can't find their items don't have to go looking for staff, too. Hmm.

cell phones, customer service, libraries, library, phone support, public, reference 2.0, roving reference

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