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

Guidelines for Handling Weekend Emergencies at the Library

   January 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello, I'm IN CHARGE badgeThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile, but better late than never, I suppose.

In the fall, my library was able to reopen for Sundays for the first time in like five years. This is great news for patrons, but since our seasonal Sunday hours are voluntary (with paid overtime), we sometimes have a shortage of staff willing to work them.

In my library, there needs to be a Department Head in the building at all times. Generally this isn't a problem, but if no Department Head volunteered to work a particular Sunday, other staff (with library degrees) can be acting Department Head.

Since these acting Department Heads would be in charge of the building, we created some "Sunday Department Head Guidelines" for them to refer to if something unusual happened - and also to make sure the library delivered the same level of service on Sundays as we do the rest of the week. The goal was to have all necessary information - procedure, contact information, passwords, etc. - in one place.

I really like lists like this*, so I thought I'd share. Obviously it is primarily applicable to my library, and even then primarily only on Sundays (as other times follow slightly different procedures in certain situations), but perhaps it might inspire other libraries to also document procedures like this. Feel free to download and use these however you like (names, phone numbers, and other vital information removed):

I know the staff here appreciated it, as it can be daunting to be in charge when something goes wrong.


*Some people say I have a love of rules, but that's not true - orderliness and answers are what I like. Take that, entropy.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 7/6/08

   July 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Zodiac Cancer signThis question wasn't particularly hard, but the phrasing of the question took me by surprise, and the patron was funny, too. The phone rings:

Me: Reference desk, can I help you?
Patron: Do you personally take the Boston Globe?

I think it was the word "take" that threw me off. I wondered if he was asking if I took a copy of the Globe from somewhere and brought it to the Library, or if I took our copy and kept it at the reference desk.

I stuttered a bit, and then explained that yes, the Library has a subscription to the Globe. He was not impressed.

Patron: I'm sure it does, but that's not what I'm asking. I want to know if you personally take a subscription. I need to talk to someone who knows the paper. In the daily paper, there's a section called Sidekick, which has the comics and horoscope and things. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff. I've been reading it for three months now, kind of like the comics, you see. I figured I'd read it on my birthday, too, which was Sunday. This past Sunday's Globe didn't have a Sidekick section, so I want to know from someone who reads the paper where the horoscope is. I looked all through it and couldn't find it. Mind you, I don't believe in that stuff.

Mind you, this is the condensed version of his question.

Anyway, I told him that no, I didn't read the paper, but I'll ask around the staff to find someone who did, and I'll look through our copy of the Sunday Globe to see if I could find the horoscopes. He was skeptical, but gave me his name and number so I could call him back.

We were short-staffed, and no one working read the Sunday Globe. Instead of spending a half hour looking through the paper, I called the Boston Globe Customer Service and explained the situation. The sales rep was very nice, and said that they had been getting calls all week about this. Apparently, for the first time in 50 years, the Globe's production department forgot to include the Sidekick section in the Sunday paper.

He offered me a week's credit, but could not send that section of last Sunday's paper to me. Since the patron was looking for that specific day, that didn't help, so I asked if he knew were the information came from and if I could find it somewhere else. This brightened him up, as he told me that the horoscope for the day was on their website.

After a bit of clicking around the Boston Globe website, I found their horoscope section and worked back from the current day to find and print the horoscope for July 6th. I called the patron, who was entertained by the rare omission, happy that I'd found it, and he said he'd be in the next day to pick it up.

It did make him nervous, though - he'd been reading horoscopes for months, and the first time there's a problem with it is on his birthday. That's got to be a bad sign.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,