Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Leadership lessons from Star Trek: the Next Generation

I'm "shelf-reading" our adult nonfiction collection, which means checking that the books are in call number order and pulling anything that is in horrible condition or is simply horrible. The librarians are doing a big project to withdraw a lot of titles so I've been passing on the worst of my finds to my friend who has the Dewey 000s-500s under her power. The Dewey 300s (Social Sciences) are particularly fertile ground for horrors. Some of today's highlights (high in humor, high in professional embarrasment for our institution):

-Make it So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation, by "Wess Roberts, Ph.D. and Bill Ross" (1995)

-Focus on the Family's Boomers, Xers, and Other Strangers: Understanding the Generational Differences that Divide Us (1999). Features a list of icons of the "Net Generation" including Brandy, Macauley Culkin (of "Home Alone" fame), and Mary Kate and Ashley Olson.

-Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben. Opening sentence: "As this book goes to press in January 2003, the world is still waiting to find out if the Raelian UFO cult has produced Earth's first cloned child or if that prize will go to one of the other teams of rogue scientists racing toward the goal."

-Aftermath: A Guide to Preparing for and Surviving Apocalypse 2012

-A whole set of woefully-outdated "Opposing Viewpoints" books (Did you know there is an "Opposing Viewpoints: Africa"? I shudder to think what that table of contents looks like.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Today I checked on the catalog computers and one of them was two minutes into a soundless 20-minute montage of the best goals of Pele from Youtube.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

God at the library

Today I helped our objectively nicest patron, who is actually uncomfortably nice and always hugs you, print out a cake recipe. She isn't the brightest and maybe has a disability. She always comes in with her husband who is quicker on the uptake but not nearly as kind. When he saw the picture of the cake he said "That doesn't look very good" and his wife said, "Well Larry, God told me to make this cake."

Saturday before Thanksgiving

Everyone seems really wound up this weekend, especially the kids. I think it's because a break is coming up. Here's some various news and excitement from today's shift on the adult reference desk.

Dad of one of our clerks who is very slow and was at the computer class this morning: "Right now I'm at the pecking stage, but once I can type I'm gonna be unstoppable!"

A lady spends an hour on the public phone trying to cancel her cable service. We have to tell her twice to keep her voice down and eventually my rule-stickler colleague makes her end her call since the public phone is supposed to be for calls no more than three minutes. All her anger is concentrated at the cable company though so there is none to spare for us.

"My son has a science project about batteries. He's making something out of pennies. I'd like two references for that, please." Not how the library works exactly, lady...

A group needs my help SIX TIMES to print everything they want to print. A new record!

A regular hands me a videocassette that came off the Friends of the Library sales cart. "I found this in the bathroom" (lowering her voice to a whisper) "It was under the toilet!" Eew.

"I'm phobic about germs on your computers and I have an open cut, can I have a band-aid?"

Now the six times printing people are using the copier, which is our number one user-unfriendly machine! Nothing good can come of this.

Nice old couple wants the most recent Consumer Reports on washing machines. As he is looking through the index to figure out which isue it's in the old man says "We had a lady who worked at our home library, a smal town Carnegie library, in the children's section. Boy she was strict about shushing. You whispered in there."

Guy who shouted at me once and then later came back to apologize slides by the desk without making eye contact. I think he's embarrased to talk to me now.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

More ethical dilemmas

Tonight a woman called and asked about a zillion different hotels in our metro area. She seemed interested in one of the ones I checked into for her, but then paused and said, "I've heard that's a bad neighborhood. Is that a bad neighborhood?" I told her that I hadn't lived in the state long and had not heard anything about the area. "How could I find out?" she persisted. I took the path of least resistance and told her that I had better transfer her to a librarian, because that was a fairly complex research question.

But what if I had had to take that question myself? I have lived in at least one "bad" neighborhood. I liked living there and it really seemed like the label discouraged people from shopping, working, or moving there. Accordingly the label became kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm really reluctant to name anywhere as a bad or dangerous neighborhood, especially on the basis of a two-minute Google search. I don't feel any more qualified to determine what is a good or a bad neighborhood than I do to give tax or legal advice (other things library staff are often asked for that they cannot really provide).

But on the other hand, my job is to provide the best information possible to library patrons. If this area has higher crime statistics than neighborhoods nearby, shouldn't I find that out for her? By asking the question she has indicated that she is sensitive to crime rates, atmosphere, the 'badness' of a neighborhood, so if anything maybe I should err on the side of confirming her worries since she is likely to percieve a marginal neighborhood as 'bad.'

How would you handle this if you were in my place? Or how, as a member of the taxpaying and/or ethics-contemplating public, would you want me to handle it?

Things our patrons call the catalog computers

- The card catalog
- A library computer
-A non-internet computer
- "A little place where I can look up books"

Friday, November 15, 2013


Youngish man with little daughter: "Your glasses look so cute on you!...(I shudder inwardly)...They make you look like a librarian!"
Me: "Hey, thank you!"

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I assume that it used to be that if someone in the library appeared to be doing nothing but standing there, it was a good sign that he or she needed help. Now I just interrupt people checking their email on their phones about ten times a day.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Solo reference excitement

I am 'running the floor' all by myself this hour because the adult services librarian is at lunch and the children's librarian is supervising a public transit program. It's an exciting time. A small number of reference interactions:

I need A Christmas Carol.
By Charles Dickens?
I don't know. My teacher just told me to get it.
There is a book and a play and a movie, do you need the book?
I think so.
Then I show him our 20 different copies in the childrens' chapter books and he says "No, it needs to be a novel." He won't accept the idea that the original version is a children's book and probably all our editions have pictures and our impasse is only broken by his mom, who specifies the required ISBN. We don't have that edition but I admit I am not as sorry as I am for some patrons who we can't help.

Max Translations Gentleman (he is always very polite to me so I call him a gentleman) wants to know if we have (suppressing a laugh) Killing Jesus, by Glen Beck. I ask if he means O'Reilly, and he says, eh, they're all the same--I know he shares most of my political sympathies and no one else is in earshot so I agree...then he wants to know, "In your opinion, what is the main myth now, that we teach our children?" He is talking about things that movies have been made of so I say, "Well I can't really say about now since I don't have any friends with kids, but for my generation I would say it was definitely the Lion King" so he goes to check that out.

A lovely old man who doesn't have a phone is trying to activate his card for SNAP benefits. Apparently he had trouble and the help line people told him to go to the website, but I think they gave bad advice or he misunderstood. Fortunately it turns out his main problem is that he doesn't have a phone so I offer him the chance to try again using our public phone and he is a lot happier with that. Unfortunately all you can reach on the weekend is the automatic phone system, which I doubt has ever helped anyone. But I tell him he can come back and use our phone any time on Monday.

Adorable brother and sister want help copying and pasting, finding the "Captain Underpants" series, and the sister even accepts my reader's advisory suggestion of The Spiderwick Chronicles!

Wish list

If I could choose five things all of our library patrons could magically know, they would be:
1. How to attach a document to an email
2. What their PIN to log on to the computers is
3. That the public library doesn't carry current textbooks
4. That our branch is NOT the other, bigger branch that starts with the same letter
5. Where to go to release a print job

But then, I guess, what would I do all day?


Old man who wants to know where the Louis l'Amour books on CD are: "Do you know the difference between in-laws and outlaws?"
Me: "No I don't, sir."
Old man: "Outlaws are wanted!"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Miscellaneous problems

Phone call:
Me: The East Side Library, this is Emma speaking. How can I help you?
Caller: Are y'all doin' votin' down at the liberry?
Me: Yes, ma'am, 'til 7 p.m.

I am trying to help a woman email something to herself but it keeps failing because she insists on typing the subject line in the 'to' field of her message and won't enter an email address at all.

I don't know how to describe the patrons who remain in the library at closing. I say things like, "Did the guy in the black shirt with the laptop leave?" and it would help if there were a politically-correct and non-ridiculous way to say "The guy of East-Asian ancestry with the laptop"--it's okay to say "the white woman" or "the black guy" but there is no good way to describe the skin color of people who are neither black nor white...

More Spanish-speaking

I helped the same lady who addressed me in Spanish previously (it turns out I do have a reputation for Spanish skills; I'm very excited) get into her email on her smart phone. I have a dumb phone that doesn't have a touch screen so I was really having trouble typing on the tiny virtual keyboard. It cracked her up. Anyway, we got into her email and she had a ton of messages. She opened the first one and then, laughing, asked me, "What does it say?" I told her it said a website had the grades of her son, but I didn't know anything about the website. She said that was okay, she didn't either, but she would ask him.

She is one of my new favorite patrons. Everything makes her laugh and she doesn't slow down her speech even a tiny bit although it's obvious I only understand about 50% of what she says.