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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/8/12

   April 14th, 2012 Brian Herzog

The Tick animated TV characterThis reference question marks the unofficial start of blood-borne pathogen season:

A patron called Monday morning and said he had been bitten by a tick Sunday while hiking, and wanted to have it tested for Lyme Disease.

He knew he could mail it to UMass-Amherst for testing, but wanted to know if there was a more local testing facility, so he could get results quicker. I didn't know of anything, so before consulting our Town's Board of Health, I just searched for tick testing massachusetts to see what came up.

The first result was a Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services listing of the testing services they trust - perfect. Only one was closer than UMass, but still not close enough for him to drop it off. It was $20 per tick, as opposed to the $40 UMass charges, and although the patron liked the cheaper price, he decided to go with UMass. They do their testing on Tuesday, so if he overnighted it, he'd get results quickly - besides, he said, he had already filled out the envelope before he called me.

Before we hung up, I offered to contact our local Board of Health to see if they knew of any services in the immediate area. He said they already did - it was they that told him about the testing at UMass, and they also referred him to the library if he wanted to look for more.

Ha. It makes me laugh when the resource I would consider the authority on a subject refers people to the library. It's always good to check multiple sources, but referral-looping like that makes me feel like I'm missing something.

And on another note: it's only April, and the ticks are already out in force and biting. Man, it's going to be a long summer.

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Phone Book Follies

   August 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

The Phone Book ListingsSo apparently, in 34 years, I've never looked up in the phone book a business name starting with the word "The."

While looking up a phone number of someone whose name started with "Terr," I happened to glance at the rest of the page. I was surprised to notice that there were business listings filed under "the" - The Pizza Place, The Family Eye Care Center, etc.

Since listings like this in a library catalog would be an error, it caught my eye. It seems like it should be wrong for a phone book, too, but I could understand there are business where "The" is an official part of their name.

But I was amazed I'd never noticed this before. Just to make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked up some of these businesses where I would have thought they'd be - under "P" for Pizza, "F" for Family, etc. Some were listed, and some weren't. How strange.

So I checked the other phone books we have, to see if all the publishers did it that way. I found that some businesses are listed under "The," some aren't, and some are under both. And then I found something even stranger.

Test Test in the phone bookOn the "T" page of one of the books, there were listings for "Test Test." This is something I commonly do when entering junk information to test a new system, and I was thoroughly entertained to see it published in a phone book.

All of the various "Test" entries were listed at the same address, but with different phone numbers. Curiosity got the better of me, and I tried a few of the numbers - but they all just went right to a generic voicemail. These "Test" entries were listed in the other phone books, too, so I'm guessing it tracks back to whoever complied the data originally and sold their database to the publishers. Ha.

But again, this underscores the important of knowing the appropriateness and limitations of your resources.

And so, now the world knows that I can entertain myself for a good twenty minutes reading the telephone book.

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