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

Help a Library, Send a Postcard

   May 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog

twine ball postcardMy library received an email last week that I thought was fun and wanted to share:

My name is Heather Gaines and I am the event coordinator for adult programs at the O'Fallon Public Library located in Illinois. Our summer reading program will be kicking off soon and I would like to recruit you as a helper! The theme this year is "Have Book-Will Travel."

I had an idea that would bring America to our patrons in a fun and colorful way. For your part I would like to ask you to do one small thing. Would you be willing to send us a postcard from your great city, state, or even a unique local spot?

Once collected, I will share them with all our patrons, with the hope that they too will see what amazing places there are to discover across America. On the back of the postcard, please write a small blurb about what location is pictured or about the state it is from.

If for any reason you do not or are not able to participate in this endeavor, please email me back so I may contact another library in your home state.

You may send more than one postcard if you so choose!

Our address is as follows:

O'Fallon Public Library
Attn: Heather Gaines
120 Civic Plaza
O'Fallon, IL 62269

Thank you and have a great day!
Heather Gaines

What a great idea - we were happy to participate, and Heather said she'd welcome everyone to send them postcards. It reminded me of my coworker's Library Card Table, which also relied on the kindness and cooperation of other libraries across the county.

And, talking about postcards is a good segue: starting tomorrow I'll be on vacation visiting family in Ohio, so no reference question until next week - see you then.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/17/11

   April 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan, a.k.a., Monumento a la Fundación de Gran TenochtitlanThis was an interesting question, but what impressed me most was my own ethnocentrism.

A patron came to the desk, asking for help in locating the Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan. The statue commemorates the initial founding of Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs, which later grew into Mexico City - so, a fairly significant statue. He said he knew it was in Mexico City, but he wanted to know the exact location, so he could visit it when he went there. He said he had been looking for days online, but was coming up empty.

My first thoughts were to search online and also check our Mexico travel books. Since he was convinced there was nothing available online, we walked down to the 917's and started checking the indexes of all our guide books. We checked under Statue, Foundation, and Tenochtitlan, and found nothing - really, nothing at all, except Tenochtitlan entries referring to the Aztec ruins sites.

At this point I began to question whether he had the name correct. We came back to the desk and searched on Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan, which lead to a Wikipedia photo of the statue - so it seemed he had the name right. A few other flickr photos came up too, and I checked them all hoping they would be geotagged, and we could find it on a map that way, but no such luck.

I tried a few more searches, all the while with the patron saying he tried the same thing and saw the same unhelpful websites. I could tell he was getting antsy and frustrated, so I told him I could take his name and number and keep looking, and I'd contact him when I found something. He was happy with that, and was appreciative when he left.

The rest of the day was very busy, so I could only search in bits and pieces as I had time. However, driving to work the next morning, it suddenly struck me why we couldn't find anything: we had been searching with English words for a Spanish-language phrase.

When I got to work I put my (obvious and long-overdue) breakthrough into action, translating from English to Spanish, and then searching on Estatua de la Fundación de Tenochtitlan.

Reading through (as best I could) those results, I noticed most websites refered to it as "Monumento" rather than "Estatua," so I did a new search for Monumento a la Fundación de Gran Tenochtitlan.

Again fumbling through those sites with only the Spanish I learned from Sesame Street, I found http://www.joyasdemexico.com/cgi/index.php?Section=ArqCivil&Op=2&seleccion=DFederal which, using Ctrl+F on the page for Tenochtitlan, led me to this paragraph:

Al oriente de la plaza, el Palacio Nacional, construido sobre las ruinas del Palacio de Moctezuma. Al sureste de la Plaza el edificio de la Suprema Corte de Justicia que anteriormente fue el Mercado del Volador, es la sede del poder judicial. Frente a la Suprema Corte de Justicia, el interesante monumento que rememora la Fundación de la Gran Tenochtitlan.

Which translates to:

East of the plaza, the Palacio Nacional, built on the ruins of the Palace of Montezuma. Southeast of the Plaza building of the Supreme Court formerly the Mercado del Volador, is the seat of the judiciary. Faced with the Supreme Court, an interesting monument which commemorates the founding of the Great Tenochtitlan.

That seemed like enough to go on, so I searched Google Maps for Palacio Nacional Mexico City, then looked Southeastish to find the Supreme Court building, and then zoomed in as far as I could and looked around the streets for the Monument. I found the likely spot and switched to Google Street View to verify - and it was it.

I called the patron, he gave me his email address, and I emailed him the link to the monument's location.

Oddly, I looked in our Mexico travel books under Monumento, Fundación, and even Estatua, but this statue doesn't seem to be included in any of them.

The funny thing is that, Mexico had never really been on my places to visit, but now I'd really like to go there.

And for those keeping track, behold, more evidence that the internet doesn't mean the end of libraries. Not only is everything not on the internet, but even when it is, not everyone can find it.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/4/10

   September 4th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Canadian UmbrellaLast week, a fairly well-dressed older male patron, carrying a leather briefcase, approached the desk. He explained he making a driving trip from Ottawa, ON, to Saint John, NB, for three weeks this October, and wanted to know how much rain there will be.

This actually reminded me of reference question from a couple years ago, and again I reached first for the same resource - the Old Farmer's Almanac we keep in Ready Reference. However, our edition only covers the US.

So I turned to the internet, and a search for longrange canadian weather forecast led to the long-range section of the Old Farmer's Almanac website. The page was for the US but it linked to Canadian listing.

We checked both regions he would travel in - one region said it would have a wetter-than-normal October, and the other drier-than-normal.

To get a better idea of what "normal" was, we also looked at historical weather data from The Weather Network (Canada's weather channel). This was great because it allows historical searches for a date range, which can be a tough thing to find when you need it. I've done this a couple times for local weather, so was quite pleased that my first search for Canadian weather was this successful - and the patron was happy, too.

And speaking of traveling, if you need a laugh, check out my latest passport photo - somehow I ended up as red as the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. Le sigh.

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