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

Swear Like A Librarian

   August 9th, 2011 Brian Herzog

No Swearing signI hope this post doesn't get blocked by your filtering software.

When not at work, some librarians I know have the filthiest mouths of anyone I've encountered. But at the desk they obviously can't use bad words, so I got curious about the public-safe language librarians use to replace swear words. That's the catch-22 of libraries: serving the public can be stressful, but working at a public service desk means being limited in how we can respond when something goes wrong.

I asked around a bit and here's a list of some choice "safe" words library staff use:

  • some old standards: Shoot, Fudge, Bologny
  • Jeepers Crow
  • Flip
  • Fly me (to the moon)
  • Mother of pearl
  • What the what?
  • For the love of Pete
  • For cripe's sake
  • Frick
  • Shut the front door
  • Sugar Honey Iced Tea

The last one is my favorite - read it again, but just the first letter of each word.

I'm sure everyone has their favorites - what are your patron-safe swear words? Please share them in the comments or make #swearlikealibrarian a trending topic.

When I was originally working on this post, I thought some gansta rap-style image would make an appropriate illustration. I couldn't find one exactly right, but I did think this was funny:

I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie sign

Good job Hillsdale Free Public Library - Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud.

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Ich bin ein Bibliotecario

   November 4th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Babel Fish from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyLanguage is fascinating to me. I'm particularly interested in the idea that our brains are shaped by the language we use to interpret our environments and communicate - and therefore, people of different cultures do perceive the world differently.

So, apropos of absolutely nothing, here are the translations for a few library-related words, according to the Babel Fish translator.

English library librarian book reading information reference
Dutch bibliotheek bibliothecaris boek lezing informatie verwijzing
French bibliothèque bibliothécaire livre lecture l'information référence
German Bibliothek Bibliothekar Buch Messwert Informationen Hinweis
Greek βιβλιοθήκη βιβλιοθηκάριος βιβλίο ανάγνωση πληροφορίες αναφορά
Italian biblioteca bibliotecario libro lettura informazioni riferimento
Portuguese biblioteca bibliotecário livro leitura informação referência
Russian архив библиотекарь книга чтение информация справка
Spanish biblioteca bibliotecario libro lectura información referencia

Something else neat is that other language can be clever sources of product names - who among us wouldn't buy into a chat reference product called "Referencia?" But my favorite is the word for librarian - "bibliotecario" - I think I might change my business cards.

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Book Term Poll: Hardback, Hardcover or Hardbound?

   March 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Hardback book stackWe got into a discussion at work about whether the proper term for a book with stiff covers is referred to as a hardback book, a hardcover book, or a hardbound book. I was out-voted, but I like to think that I wasn't wrong so much as our sample size was too small.

I grew up in Ohio, so I wonder if the term I use is different from my New England coworkers because it's a regional thing. I'm not a linguist, but regional variations in vocabulary have fascinated me ever since I went off to college and met people from different parts of the country. Bubbler? Slippy? Creamies? These words* are great.

Anyway, my coworkers and I all agreed that pretty much everyone uses paperback to refer to soft-cover books (except for spiral-bound books). So please, answer the poll below to help determine which term is more popular.

Thank you for helping satisfy my curiosity.

And speaking of surveys, here's another interesting question on Unshelved Answers: What is the best way to turn the pages of a book?.


*Here are what those words mean:
Bubbler: a "drinking fountain" in New England (like this, not this)
Slippy: how people in some parts of Pennsylvania say "slippery" (among others)
Creamies: "soft-serve ice cream cones" in Vermont (like this)

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The Language of Service

   January 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Hitting a nail on the headI love Kate's recent post about the words we use and the impact they have on customer service.

Language is very important. Just yesterday I had an unpleasant exchange with a patron. She came up to say she was having trouble with the printer, and I started giving her printer tech support. All of this was unhelpful, because she was actually having trouble with the copier. It was frustrating for both of us, and could have been avoided if I had listened to what she was saying instead of the words she was using.

I'm going to make a point of using Kate's "yes, and..." suggestion from now on. It's such a simple thing, yet it encapsulates so much of what libraries do right (and wrong). Great observation, Kate.

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Library of Profanity

   January 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Bad WordsI'll warn you right up front: this post contains bad words.

While looking for a book on Amazon, I accidentally (really) found a book with the title Fuck this Book. Of course this caught my eye, so I read the description and found it actually sounded interesting (a la Postsecret, Found and Church Signs Across America).

I used the handy greasemonkey script to search my library's catalog directly from Amazon. I was surprised to see that my library had a record for the book, but it was In Cataloging - and has been for three years (there's got to be a story here, and I'm still trying to track it down [update: I asked around and learned the story, and the book has since, sadly, been deleted from our catalog]).

But this got me thinking: what other bad words are indexed in the library catalog? I ran some searches, and was surprised at the results. In my library's holdings alone, fuck has 12 matches and shit has 16 matches. I ran through a list of bad words, but most others also had non-bad meanings (pussy cat, Dick Cheney, etc).

I think it's important for libraries to provide unfiltered access to information, and not vilify a work or person because they violate a social taboos (besides, profanity is often in the eye of the beholder).

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