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

Safe Places for Meeting Online Sellers

   May 6th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Safe Place SignMy brother told me about this a few months ago, but I forgot about it until I saw a local news article this week.

Police Departments nationwide have been designating themselves as "Safe Zones" for the face-to-face part of online sales. If you buy or sell something online, you can use the local Police Station as the place to meet the person to exchange the merchandise.

What a great idea. Of course, my next thought was, "hey, libraries could do that too." And of course they could, but Police Stations clearly are a better choice. As the article about the Chelmsford Police points out,

The lobby inside of the Chelmsford Police Station is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is equipped with surveillance cameras that constantly record activity in the station. This added security provides a level of protection that most public meeting places cannot.

Besides, libraries often have rules about using the library for commerce - although most of those rules exist in a gray area.

And two more links from the above-linked Lifehacker article:

I don't personally do a lot of online buying and selling that requires meeting the person. However, I'm sure this is something that will become more common in the future, and it's nice to know this service exists.

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Still Selling Flash Drives

   May 13th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Flash drive imageAlmost exactly a year ago, we started selling flash drives at our reference desk. We did this because 3.5" floppy disks are becoming more and more unreliable and problematic, and CDs seem to be a mystery to most patrons.

We stopped selling floppy disks and CDs, and started selling 32mb drives for $5 each. When our source for them dried up, we had to scramble for something else. We thought a $5 flash drive, regardless of the size, was a pretty good deal – still cheap enough not to be prohibitive, and 32mb is still useful enough for people working on resumes and things like that.

But now we found an even better deal – 1gb drives for $8.

Our IT person sourced them through the local office of Corporate Express, and I think she was able to combine our non-profit status with some closeout deal on these to get that price. I think the $8 price tag is a little steep, especially for someone just wanting to save a couple documents, so I put more effort into selling the technology itself than selling drives.

As with everything, some patrons are slow to adapt, but some do recognize that these same drives sell for about $20 in stores, so they're happy. What I'm happy about is that we've been getting fewer requests for the $1 floppy disk, but even better is that we get fewer "I had all my resumes on this disk and now it won't open" type questions.

Don't PanicAnd since I like themed posts, I shall continue with the "drive" theme and say that I'm currently in Ohio, visiting my family for Mother's Day and my brother's birthday. I drove here, which means 20 hours (round trip) of audio books. Currently, I'm working my way through the Hitchhiker trilogy. I know this comparison has been made before, I think it's amazing how closely Wikipedia resembles the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (double emphasis here because it's the title of a book within a book by the same title): it has entries on almost everything, the entries are supplied by people out living in the world and writing what they know, it's accessible from almost anywhere, and when the entries are inaccurate, they can be wildly inaccurate.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/10/07

   June 16th, 2007 Brian Herzog

On older man with a cane walks up to me at the desk and says:

"How long... is... a lawyer's... binder?"

A good ten seconds went by before I could manage any kind of response, and all I could come up with was, "I don't know what that is."

His response? "Okay."

We then just kind of looked at each other for a few seconds. At this point, I honestly wasn't sure if he was earnestly asking me a question, or if he was completely senile. Sometimes it is hard to tell, but 99% of the time someone is just having difficulty communicating. Time to put my "reference interview" skills to work.

So I as didn't appear too direct, I asked him, "can you explain to me again what you're looking for?"

He said something like, "I'm looking for how long... you know a lawyer... when you pay a lawyer... I don't want to pay a lawyer..."

He then rested for a bit and looked up at the ceiling, and then continued with, "...when you own a house... sell it... what are the forms...?"

From these fragments, I guessed that he wanted to sell his house, but didn't want to have to pay for a lawyer to help him do it. I asked him if he was looking for information to help him sell his house, and he nodded his head.

Ahh, now that's something. I took him over to the 333.33's, and we found a few general home selling books for him to browse through. In the meantime, I went into the reference collection to see what we had as far as Massachusetts-specific forms and information.

When I came back five or ten minutes later, he was sitting at a table with the stack of unopened books in front of him. He said the books were all too general, and they didn't answer his question.

Oh, a question?

"You're looking for something very specific?" I asked, hoping he would volunteer what it was, so I could help him find it.

"Yes... you know... people sell their houses to... their sons, for a dollar... ..."

"And you want to find out how to do that, and what forms you need?"

Again, he just nods.

I like to draw on personal experience as much as possible, but since I've never owned a house, this is a mysterious world to me. But, I thought when it got into something as specific as this, then he's right, these books were either too general or too out of date.

No one else was working the desk with me for me to ask, so I decided to call the Town Tax Assessor's office - since they assess and record the value of a house, I figured they would know what was involved in selling a house for less than its fair market value.

When their office answered, I explained the situation: "I have a patron who would like to know what he needs to do to sell his house to his son for one dollar." Her response was surprisingly simple:

Her:"In that case, all he needs to do is to transfer the title to his son's name."
Me:"I think he wants to avoid using a lawyer - are their any forms that he can use to do this himself?"
Her:"Well, it needs to be a legal transfer, so either a lawyer or a title office. But as far as forms, we don't have anything here like that."

I thanked her, hung up, and relayed the information to the patron. He just started expressionlessly at me while I told him, but kind of perked up when I mentioned a title office. He then turned and walked away from the desk, and I could hear him repeating what I had said, "...title office to transfer... forms... no lawyer binder..."

A few days later, I saw him in the library again. It was a little while before he noticed me, but when he did he smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, so I guess everything went well.

home, homes, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, selling

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