Thursday, June 27, 2013


We had a family program featuring a clown this evening where you had to get a sticker from a staff member to go in. There are fire regulations about how many people we can let into the program room, and giving out the stickers is how we keep track. The advertising for the program said you had to get a "ticket" at the information desk. Two parents pulled out their wallets and asked "how much?" We've got to figure out a word that doesn't imply that the program costs money.

On a more humourous note: I gave stickers to a man and a woman in their 40s. When I asked if they needed additional stickers for "other family members" i.e. kids, they said "No, we're just fans [of the clown]."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

In which I use the internet to do my job (again)

Good afternoon, brilliant, talented, and creative readers!

This is the problem of the day: I control the Spanish-language display at my library. I put up items with a new theme every month. The problem is that the Spanish-language collection is quite small--a little over 4,000 items. That sounds like a lot, but when you realize that that number includes feature films, books on CD, fiction, and nonfiction, there aren't very many things on any one individual subject. The English-language displays in the library tend to be pretty specific, for example "Award-Winning Mysteries," historical fiction about real people, and "Road Trip" (travel books for places within driving distance of My Town, TX). It's hard to make Spanish displays like this, because we probably have only a handful of titles on themes that are that specific, and you really need about 15 titles for a display.

I've been doing the display for about 9 months and these are the themes I've used or planned out so far:
Set in Mexico
Read it watch it listen to it (pairs of stories that have at least two of: print version, audio version, movie version)
How to do everything
Personal finance
Music CDs
Diet and exercise
Help your child succeed in school (educational activities you can do with your kids, study strategies, etc.)
Great reads 200 pages or less
Inspirational stories

Does anyone have suggestions? All the suggestions lists I can find assume you have a much larger collection to work with, and I am running out of ideas!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Worry of the day redux

Today's worry is whether library staff damages the ability of our users to learn new technologies by trying too hard to reassure and comfort users who need assistance. This worry was prompted by a specific instance of copier help, but the language that concerned me is actually way more prevalent. The patron was having trouble getting the copier to make a copy because he had put three checks on the copying pane. They fit within an 8.5"x11" space, but the copier wouldn't copy because it couldn't identify the paper size. In my explanation, I described the copier as "picky." "Picky," and "particular" are two of the words most commonly used to describe the copier by library staff. We often also suggest some sort of mysterious technical failure as an explanation of patrons' problems, or at least accept it as a possibility (or pretend to) when the patron says something is "broken" or that the computer "lost" his print job. Favored words here are "glitch" and "error."

We may not have cutting-edge technology, but our computers, copiers, and networked printing system are basically functional. In 99.9% of cases, the problem is user error, not technical failture. I'm concerned that the way the staff talks about technology sends the following messages:
1. Technology is hard to use
2. Technology is unpredictable--sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn't work

Both of these things are only a little bit true, and they inhibit the confidence and understanding of our patrons. How can we talk about technology in a different way without coming off as harsh or critical to patrons?

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Cute children's desk incident of the day: I helped a small boy find a comic book about the teen titans. Almost as soon as I sat back down at the desk, he reappeared to tell me earnestly that the book was "broken" (it had a large piece ripped out of one page).

Uh oh

I think a 70-year-old man just told me that his wife had a restraining order out against him.

Me: Well, they have a lot more maps at Local State U. Unless you're a student you can't check things out, but you can go in and look at their collection.
Man: I know. My wife is a Bigshot Administrator at Local State. I'm not allowed on the campus.
Me:...Well, I guess you're stuck with the USGS.

It makes the fact that the first thing he did was wink at me a lot creepier.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Only in a public library

Coworker: Could you help the lady in the Tweety pajamas? She's having trouble with a Word document.
Me: Sure. Where is she?

Bonus: I bet you are picturing pajama pants but no, they were onesies! I think they might even have been footy pajamas.

Also, I had this conversation with a running kid last week:
Me: Walk, please!
(Kid stops running)
Me: Thank you!
Kid: You're welcome!

Free food?

If you were me, would you accept the food that grateful but eccentric patrons try to give you? And if so, would you eat it?

(Also, fun fact: It seems like most career librarians are offered money as a tip at least once in their careers. Hasn't happened to me yet, though.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013


So I'm getting my Masters in Library "Science" now and one of my classmates introduced me to The Oatmeal comics. One of my favorites so far is one about what should be taught in senior year of high school:*
I have helped patrons with about 2/3 of these things. I wish the library could offer a class to teach these things since few, if any, high schools actually put this in practice. I think it could be a great summer program. I bet we could cover the basics in a day. I'll let you know if I ever manage to pitch this successfully to my superiors in the system.

* Warning: Contains "language," by which I mean swear words. Most things on the internet contain language. And "language."

Worry of the day

Did I go too far with this request for help?

Today a patron who I haven't met before came up to the desk. He is a local artist who is putting on a open house of his works and he had made a flyer to advertise it. It was more complicated than most documents like that because was a true advertisement rather than a what/when/where sort of flyer. The patron's problem was that he is a native Spanish speaker and his English isn't very good, so he wrote the text in Spanish and ran it through an online translator to get an English version, and the English version was terrible. I mean, truly terrible. It reminded me of those memes you see of English being used in East Asia, about on par with this. He asked if I, as an English speaker, could take a look at it and help him make some minor changes, but there was no way for the translation to be salvaged.

So I asked him to write out what he wanted to say in Spanish, and I translated it myself and then talked over my choices with him. It was only four or five sentences, so it only took a few minutes. As a reader (although not a speaker or listener) I am nearly fluent in Spanish, but I have no translation training at all. I did make that very clear, emphasizing that this was only one opinion, he should probably get at least one other person to look at it, I wasn't an expert, etc. etc.

I think I did a pretty good job with the translation and it wasn't too time-consuming, but there's a slippery slope argument about the library setting itself up as a translation service. I really don't know if I was providing good customer service or whether translation should be Not A Service We Provide.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Old Man Fan Club

My Old Man Fan Club was out in force today. My number one, number two, and newest fans all came by to say hello to me.

Number One came to see if my library school classes had started yet, and to wish me luck for them AGAIN.

Number Two came up to the desk as soon as he walked into the library, smiled a huge smile, and said "I thought I'd start my day in the right place!"

My newest fan, Mr., had come back to the library with his son to help him with his email account--the fact that he couldn't remember his password was an insurmountable barrier to his ability to scan and email something earlier in the week. He reported happily that he had successfully done his scan, and said "You are the best person I have met!"

If only the guy who demanded to speak to my boss when I told him he couldn't eat in the library knew how highly-endorsed I am. Maybe he would have saved himself the embarrasment of finding out that, yes, I am not incompetent. I was correct, he is not allowed to eat crackers at the computers.