Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I am an expert at doing things on the computer (A refgrunt)

A man in a bright orange shirt and hat comes up and asks, “Are you an expert on doing things on the computer? I mean, do you help people do things on the computer a lot?”
Me: Well, I don’t know if I’m an expert, but we do help people a lot. Usually I can figure things out. What are you trying to do?
BOSH Man: My father has a biography on Wikipedia and some of the things are wrong. I want to edit it but I’ve never done that before. Have you done that?
Me: No, but I think I know how. I’m sure I could figure it out. Let’s go take a look.
BOSH Man: I’m not on a computer right now. I just wanted to know if someone could help. I’ve got to go to my mother’s house first to get some information, like his birthdate.
Good luck, sir!

A woman on her cell phone is talking so loudly that, halfway across the library, I can hear about her rash. My colleague on the desk with me winces, but doesn’t intervene, and after a minute or two the woman either leaves or finishes her conversation.

Old man: Do you have a mapsco?
Me: Sorry, what?
Man: A mapsco.
While I try to figure out another way to say, “sorry, what?” my colleague, who is older, has lived in the area longer, and has worked here much longer, pulls out a book of maps for him. Apparently “Mapsco” is a brand.

How can I get a library card for my son?

Over the phone: Do you have The Racketeer by John Grisham? Yes we do, there are only 169 holds since it is his newest one!

Where would the Mapsco be? (I answer this one with great enthusiasm!)

Pointing at the stapler: Can I use this?
Do you have a paperclip?
Thank you!

Loud man on yell phone: “Yeah, I’m at the library right now!”

An adorable little boy wants to know “where the math books are.” Further questioning reveals that he wants books on “feet and inches.” I show him the measuring books in the children’s section.

Do you want me to show you how to print more than one thing at a time?

 The line at circulation is up to 4 or 5 groups of people so I go over and ask if anyone is just checking out. Most people look around the way you do in those situations rather than saying no, but one woman points to the person being helped at the moment and says, “she is!”

Various simple fixes to out-of-action computers.

Pick up “Line 2 for reference” but no one is there.

Um…yesterday I lost my card…did you see me leave it anywhere? I want to say that I wasn’t at work yesterday, but instead I say, ask at customer service, if someone found it that’s where we would have put it. The line is still really long there and he leaves without checking. Sigh.

Walk please! (To two surprisingly old teenagers)

You can’t pay for sixty cents’ worth of printing with a debit card. Not matter how you rephrase it. You. Just. Can’t.

Find a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation for a school project. I have a bit of difficulty when I start looking for one in print but then it turns out the kids are already on a computer so it’s easy to bring it up on the NARA website.

Estimate for an excited teenager how soon her hold is coming—it’s a new book and is still In-Process.

Nice regular: Can you believe this? My pen doesn’t work. I left mine outside. Don’t worry, I’ll bring it back.
Me: Let me get you another one.
Regular, a moment later: This one doesn’t work either!
Me: It’s new, let’s try scribbling with it.
(Why didn’t I just do that the first time?)

Refreshingly direct young man: We need help. We want to save my powerpoint onto a flash drive but we don’t know how.

Girl waiting for her hold is back. She wants Pride and Prejudice.

Help with the printer. The only problem most patrons have is a lack of confidence.

Teenage girl: I’m typing on a computer but I need more time!

Walk please!

Borrowed pen returned.

The printer is asking me for the staff password.

How do we make this extra page go away? Oh, never mind, we already figured it out.

Do you have a fax machine? Yes, it’s here, six feet away from me. I indicate it and the guy says ‘thank you,’ but then walks away to a completely different part of the library.

A patron walks up, uncomfortably in the ‘librarian’ area of the desk. But he was just throwing something away. A rock!

Caller looking for an obituary. He has lots of information about the woman, but as far as I can tell she wasn’t famous. My colleague and I look a little bit and then pass the question on to the Genealogy department.

Books on the history of radio.

Can you help me? I want to email this to someone.

Books on radio prove insufficient—expand search to online databases.

Do you have the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens? Can I come pick it up in like…10 minutes?” (He never comes, by the way.)

Voter’s guide.

Find a book that was not at its call number for a grateful tween girl.

Do you want me to show you how to print more than one thing at a time? No, I just need this one.

The Bad Beginning.

Do you have a phone I can use to call my mom?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We're so cool we're in cartoon

Libraries, especially public libraries, take a lot of flak for pandering to the lowest common denomiator of the public. In my experience, this is mostly deserved, especially when that 'pandering' is done in massively clueless ways. Take my own library as a stelar example:

Teen participation is the holy grail of public libraries. For some reason, even though teenagers tend to be loud, to curse, and to take up a disproporitionate amount of the bandwidth on libraries' free internet, library management really, really wants them to come to the library. To this end, our branch recently got a videogame system to lure in teenagers and installed it in the teen area along with a T.V. purchased specifically for gaming. We wanted teenagers to play so badly that we even instituted a policy that an 8-12 year old can be kicked off the system if an older kid wants to play (seriously.).

The idea was that we'd leave the T.V. on as a regular T.V. when no one was using the game system. One problem:

Absolutely no policy has been formed about what channel to put the T.V. on. Also, administrators are afraid of offending any of the nutty conservative patrons, so the T.V. is currently being left on...the Cartoon Network. Yes, that Cartoon Network. Known for Scooby Doo, Dexter's Laboratory, and Johnny Bravo.

Not surprisingly, this encourages kids to hang out in the teen area. Again not surprisingly, the few teenagers that previously hung out there (mostly nerdy types) don't want to hang aroudn with a bunch of eight-year-olds watching Annoying Orange and shout at each other about Mariokart. So, in summary, the expensive television and viedogame system actually discourage teens from hanging out in the library.

I think more teenagers watcg Dexter than watch Dexter's Laboratory.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Update on Wild Minds

My supervisor recommended that we withdraw Wild Minds (the academically scandalous book mentioned in this previous post). However:
A) There are other copies in our library system, and
B) We are going to end up selling it at a booksale fundraiser! (So we'll sell you sketchy books, we just won't give them to you for free.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It’s about a girl who gets cancer so they take her to this island. It’s supposed to be really sad.

Can you look up a movie for me? Antwone Fisher? Sorry, our copy is lost (actually, half of all the copies are lost) but it’s in at another branch—let’s put it on hold for you.

Restart a messed-up catalog computer.

How many things can you check out at a time?

Little girl is walking around lingeringly eyening all the library technology. She looks like she might be trying to check out books. I ask her if she needs some help, but she says no.

Lady holding a piece of paper: I don’t know how to pronounce this book. It’s for my book club…Molo…Mola…
Me: Do you have it written down there? Can I see it?
She hands over the paper. I can’t read my own handwriting on the last letter there. (I can) (While I’m looking up the book) It’s about a girl who gets cancer so they take her to this island. It’s supposed to be really sad.
Me: All our copies are checked out right now and there are a few people on the hold list; do you want me to add you? Can you wait a few weeks for it?
Lady: Sure. I have plenty of things to do.
Thanks for that less-than-enthusiastic book recommendation, lady.

The wandering little girl comes to the desk: Where are the Bluebonnet books? All checked out, I’m afraid, was there a particular one you wanted? Zita the Spacegirl. Place a hold for her.

Lady: “The printer, when it prints…”
Me: “Did you release your print job?”
“If it’s black and white, the big printer right there [is where it prints].”
“So, where do I release my print job?” (Called it.)

Is there any way I can put money on my [printing] account? I only have a credit card.
Aww, this is a public library, we don’t have credit card machines and stuff…

Books on Greek mythology for a teenager. I don’t usually ask why a patron wants something, but this time I did and she said it was just for her own amusement—she is a big Greek mythology nerd!

Do you give temporary IDs for people from outside of the area to get on the computers? Not unless you’re from a lot further outside the area than that, sir.

Help an adorable kid with her geometry homework at the request of a coworker, who says, “Are you good at math?” and then “I knew it! I can just tell.”

Give out a prize from Star Wars Reads Day to the world’s quietest child.

Cinderella books for the prize winner.

Beezus and Ramona, the movie. Then Sailor Moon, books AND movie.

Books about fairies. The additional specifications are revealed painfully slowly over a long series of searches.

Ma’am, you know you can see the regular catalog on that computer too, right? Not just the children’s one. Patron launches into a long monologue about how she teaches (“teaches” one-year-olds). It takes a while to extricate myself.

Do you have another of these? Sometimes it is hard to explain to kids that not every single book is part of a series.

I want to play the Wii.

Um, do you have a pencil I can use?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The perfect library

Now that I work in two different library settings I have a lot more opportunities to compare the ways different libraries do things, and to see what each does and does not do. It's solidified a lot of my ideas about what a good library is, and given me some new ones. But I'm curious to get other perspectives, so I would like to know:

If you use a library of any kind: What you use it for, what you like about it, and what you wish it had that it doesn't (or what it has that you wish it didn't!)

If you don't use a library: What would a library have to offer to make you use it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Another old refgrunt

A quiet hour or two on the YS desk. I pick up a call from adult reference about ESL classes. No, we don’t offer any classes at the library, but we do have a program on weekend afternoons where you can come practice your small talk.

Place a hold for a woman who doesn’t speak much English. You’ll get a telephone call when it comes in, ma’am.

You’re really not supposed to sit up there…

Teen girl: Do you have any books about fish? I mean, not books about fish. Like, story books. There were ones I used to read as a little kid.
Me: Were they Rainbow Fish books, by any chance? Those are the most famous ones I can think of.
Girl: Oh yeah!
I show her where they are so she can show them to her little brother. Super-cute.

A grandma (?) asks for books featuring a series of characters from cartoons, mostly educational ones, for her grandson. Can you believe that either Barney the Dinosaur books don’t exist or that they do and we don’t own them? We don’t have much in the way of Barney, Elmo, or Mickey Mouse but I find a couple of books featuring Sesame Street characters other than Elmo, plus a Dora the Explorer. Grandma wants Grandson to thank me for the books, but he’s sulking about the absence of Elmo so he won’t. I’m trapped for a minute or two as she repeatedly orders him to say ‘thank you’ and he stares at her in stony silence. She even hands the books back to me, but when I finally say that I’ll put the books at the information desk in case she wants them she takes them even though the grandson hasn’t caved.

Do I have to have a reservation to use a computer? (A common misconception)

I check on my pet display. There’s only one hole but I switch some of the other items out to give new titles a chance.

Do you have a pen I can borrow, ma’am?...This one doesn’t work.

I put more pens out in the tub. We have a huge bag that were donated but they don’t work right away. You have to pre-scribble with them before putting them out or half the patrons will come back and say they don’t work. (Not the case with the last lady—her pen was indeed broken.)

Excuse me,(all the patrons are so polite today!)  is it possible for me to use my own computer here? Yes, we have wifi. This is the username and password to use.

One of my favorite regulars turns in a lost card.

I can’t find the book I have on hold. I got a call this morning. (Also very polite, even though it was a Bill O’Reilly book.)

Guy wants to get on ‘an internet computer.’ I explain how but then he doesn’t know what phone number we have on file for him because he hasn’t used the card in a long time. I offer to check but neither his card number nor name is in the system at all! I send him to my poor, poor friend at customer service.

Same guy comes back. Customer service fixed his problem but he forgot to check his phone number with them.

A hold for Geronimo Stilton books.

NOW it’s busy in children’s.

How old are you? Do you love to read? Is that why you have a job at the library?...Do you always bring a sweater because you’re always cold?...Do you know the movie The Hunger Games? Did you know there’s a book? Where did you buy it, Walmart?...Do you wear tennis shoes?

Books on mermaids. With good pictures. I use Google in aid of this and the little girl says suspiciously, “you’re using the Google?”

Do you have any more books like this?

Books on pirates.

I don’t have my library card but I really want these books is there ANYTHING you can do? She’s a sweet kid and a regular and they’re not massively in demand books so I agree to hold them overnight at the desk for her.

Books on building stuff out of Legos for an adorable small boy. Then I update his family’s telephone number. Turns out they live in my same apartment complex.

Coworker: I sent those boys over here because I was on the phone.
Me: What boys?
Coworker: [Big sigh] They didn’t come over here!?

A series called “The Genius Files.” The newest one is checked out, so I place a hold.

Move back over to the Adult desk.

I’m learning that “walk please!” is more effective when you reinforce it with “thank you!” if the kid stops running. Should have had more faith.

Restart a frozen catalog computer.

Show some kids how to release more than one print job at a time.

Older lady patron: Is your mom a reader?
Me: Yes she is!
Lady, proffering Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray: Tell her to read this book!
(Consider yourself told, Mom.)

The printer isn’t working! Oh wait, never mind, it did now.

Help one of our nicest regulars with PowerPoint.

Needs help with the printer, but won’t ask. Had to be intrusive that time as a line was forming behind him.

Are there any computers available?

Do you work here? (I HATE being asked this. No, I just sit behind this desk with a badge around my neck to try to trick people.) Where are the legal aid people?

GED study guides in Spanish.

Help with the printer.

May I borrow a pen? (Seriously, is there something in the water today? SO polite!)

Is there a way I can save something so I can refer to it later? You can email it to yourself! How do I do that? Let me show you.

Chat briefly with one of our chattiest regulars about antibiotics.

Someone RETURNS a pen. This is starting to creep me out.

Step back over to YS to cover for a coworker on break.

A patron on the phone who wants to know if the library has tutors. I tell her about what we DO have. Many follow-up questions.

Warn loud, running kids in the children’s area.

Accept returned crayons.

Questions about the bookmark contest.

Do you have any crayons?

How do I get what I’m printing off the printer?

More printer trouble.

Check to see how long the hold list for the new Avengers movie is.

Do you have any new books?
Yes, we have a lot of new books! Are you interested in a particular kind?
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” (Not new)

I just have a small question. I was walking in in the lobby and I passed a sign that said, we can help you prepare for college. I mean, is that true? How do you do that?

Did someone turn in a wallet? Not here, maybe at customer service? Oh, thank goodness. Coworker: She didn’t even open it to see if her money was still there. She must be more trusting than I am.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another ethical question about where to put a book

Patron: I'm trying to find A Million Little Pieces [by James Frey]

I show here where it is--at 362.29092 FRE, in: Social Sciences--Social welfare problems & services.

Patron: Oh, I thought it would be in fiction.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Dear Intelligent, well-informed, clever readers of this blog,

Today I got a reference question that stumped not only me but two actual librarians. I'm hoping that crowdsourcing, the solution to all problems in this modern age, might be able to solve this one too. One of our nice regulars came up to us with the following problem:

When he writes, he tends to leave out words, enough that his sentences often do not make sense. It’s not that he doesn’t know which word he should use, it’s just that he forgets to write down all the words he thinks of. He was looking for a resource that would give him strategies to stop doing this.

We got him a proofreading book. We also considered books on grammar and books on reading comprehension (hoping that making him more self-aware about his reading might make him more aware of what he was writing) but we didn’t have much success. I just do NOT know where we could find out what he should do, but I bet its out there somewhere. Tell me if you find it, or if you have any idea where I should look.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ethical dilemma

Dear Readers, I am making recommendations about which little-used science books to get rid of at the public library. We don't have a huge budget for new books, so we tend to err on the side of caution when deciding what to weed out of the collection. One of the books I am considering is Wild Minds, by Marc Hauser. It's less than 15 years old, apparently well-written, and on an interesting topic. However, the author resigned his Harvard professorship after the administration discovered that he had systematically falsified data in multiple studies. (This article gives a bit of an overview on the debate)

Is this kind of dishonesty enough to take Wild Minds off the shelf? We don't know how long Hauser had been dishonest in his research or whether any of the data in Wild Minds is contaminated. Moreover, most patrons won't know about Hauser when they see the book on the shelf.

Give me your arguments for and against keeping Wild Minds.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why are public libraries important?

I would encourage you to check out this visually appealing webpage providing some statistics on the benefits that public libraries provide. I would also like to know if they are forgetting anything!