Our library has gotten rid of much of the reference collection, which simply wasn’t being used. We also took some titles we thought were too useful to discard and put them in our circulating collection. The jury is still out on those newly-circulating books. But occasionally I can get patrons to give the reference collection a try.
Today, I had a woman ask for major events in American history that happened between 1955 & 1965. She just wanted to browse a list quickly. I could have went to google and typed her request in word-for-word. I could have found a reputable website that has a list of these events. But I took her straight to the reference shelves instead.
We have a series called “American Decades.” It lists major events & their dates. Then it breaks down into categories like the arts or health & medicine, and lists headlines, people and more. It was a PERFECT match!
Lesson: Even if your reference collection is looking dusty and lonely, never underestimate its power to have the right information at the right time.
Two young adults came into the library today looking for the oldest book we own. Cool question! They were doing a scavenger hunt put together by friends and family. How was I going to find what they were looking for?
I started by searching our staff side of the OPAC. I know there’s a way to do an item record search and limit by publication date. Using this method, I searched for books with a publication date earlier than 1850. The oldest book in that results list is Pere Goirot and Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac, published in 1834.
That got me thinking, though. What about the Bible or other prominent religious texts? What about Shakespeare or Homer? They were written well before 1834, but all of our editions in the library were published after 1834. And the only way I can search the catalog is by published date.
Can we even put an exact date on when some of these older classics like The Odyssey were first published? Maybe when the Gutenberg printing press was first invented. But what about a handwritten copy of a classic? That is surely a book just as much as a printed copy is. Now I’ve sunk myself deep into questions of “What defines a book?”, “Who wrote the first book?”, “Who printed the first book?”, “Does the true ‘first’ book even exist any longer or has it been eaten away by insects?” and so on. This bamboo book is gorgeous.Wax tablets were used by the Romans. Even little kids know about papyrus, which was first produced about 2,300 years ago. Once I start googling, I find I know very little about the history of books and their production. As a librarian, a steward of books and an advocate of reading, I am a little embarrassed for myself. I’ll have to find a book to learn more about it….
I found this article really interesting:
The book (or rather materials) budget has been stagnant at my library since I’ve been working here for the past two years. I definitely have seen the increase in books being published, even just from 2012 to 2013. I feel like I’m reading many more Young Adult book reviews than even and I find it hard to keep up as well as decide what to buy for our collection. It’s getting a little out of hand!
Coffman thinks that we’re doing a disservice to our communities and our library brand by shrinking our book budgets, buying mainly popular titles that people want, and purchasing a high proportion of DVDs. I agree that DVD circulation will probably go down with the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix. (And we all know how scratched-up library DVDs get.) But it’s simply not possible or responsible to add more money to a book budget when there is no space to keep the books or no one interested in reading them. Keeping up a building is expensive. Paying staff is not cheap. Buying and maintaining computer equipment takes a good amount of cash. Books are our brand but we can’t acquire everything.
Another wordpress blogger & author Pat Bertram wrote about publishing statistics issued by Bowker:
300,000 books were published in the U.S. 2003.
411,422 books were published in the U.S. in 2007.
1,052,803 books were published in the U.S. 2009.
Approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011.
And . . . drum roll, please . . . in an online interview, Seth Godin suggests that 15,000, 000 books will be published in 2012.
Google estimates that as of August 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in existence. Which means that the total number of books that could be published in 2012 is more than 1/10 of all the books in existence. That is an unfathomable jump, a 500% increase in a single year. (That is correct, right? 3,000,000 times 500% = 15,000,000.) Unbelievable.
My thoughts exactly. Still, the book budget article brings up some interesting points. I just don’t know what the right answer is.
This morning, a patron called wanting to know how to protect his identity from being stolen by hackers on the Internet. He mentioned a service that could protect you through the use of one password. I wasn’t aware of a service like that but a quick online search will show you that they do exist. Lifelock is one such website.
But should you have to pay that much to be protected from hackers stealing your identity? I don’t think so. There are free alternatives that anyone can use and everyone should know about. Including me… As a librarian in the digital age, I must know this stuff like the back of my hand. It’s called financial literacy–just another form of literacy that libraries need to actively promote. The Public Library Association agrees.
Here are the best online resources I’ve found on identity theft:
And don’t forget the 3 credit reporting agencies (your new BFFs):
You’d think getting people books or information about animals would be easy. But it’s deceptively difficult. Here’s a few examples:
A woman and her teenaged son came in asking for a book on black panthers. I had to ask, “As in Black Panther Party or animal?” So animal it was. I thought black panthers were their own species of big cat. Looking through books turned up nothing. Then I checked the indexes of animal encyclopedias and still was confused. Where are the Black Panthers, YO? I finally found an entry that confused me even more. It said that black panthers were really black leopards or black jaguars. It wasn’t until I read the Wikipedia article on black panthers that I got the gist of it. They aren’t their own species. It’s just what we call a big cat that has a gene which causes its fur to be black from excess melanin. They sometimes still have spots like their jaguar or leopard mommies and daddies. So “black panther” is more of a nickname than a real scientific classification.
AWWW! So cute! But when one is living under your porch and eating all your plants and vegetables and you are pulling your hair out trying to make it scram, then you come to the library for answers. “What do groundhogs eat,” she wants to know, “because we’re gonna try to trap him.” Again, I can’t find any books on groundhogs on the shelf, and the encyclopedia index says “SEE woodchuck”. So they are called woodchucks, whistle-pigs, land-beavers. They are part of the marmot family and they love to eat fruits and veggies and other green things. (How is this guy so fat?) The best answer I got, including techniques on how to trap one, was from the Internet. I avoided the Internet at first because she said she wanted a book. But she was happy with the information anyway. Good luck to her! I hope the groundhog didn’t ruin the foundation of her home! (Something else I learned they are capable of…)
I feel sad to even put this guy on the same page with that cute groundhog… But a boy was doing a report on the pill bug and needed to use at least 2 books for writing his report. It’s nice to know that some teachers are still requiring books to be used for research, not just the Internet. But again, is Pill Bug its “true” name? I was stumped by the books, and the Internet was also confusing. Did he want the pill bug aka woodlice aka Armadillidiidae (Arma-Dilla-Dee-Day-Ding-Dong)? Or was it really the pill millipede which looks very similar but has no other relation? I gave him the info on the woodlice variety, but geez, did it really have to be that hard?
Lessons learned? Do a quick online search before you hit the books, just to make sure if your animal of choice goes by another name or has any confusing varieties or is even really an animal! Then look it up in the books.
Some jobs require quick thinking. Air traffic controller. ER doctor. Improv actor. They have to be great at thinking quickly and intelligently, or they are out of a job.
Librarians need quick thinking too. People want answers to questions, and they want it NOW! I got a little experience thinking on my feet when I did homework that involved practice reference transactions. I would pair up with another student and we’d practice answering questions on the spot using only free internet resources.
Now that I’m working in a public library answering questions all day, I find myself wanting to jump to conclusions or habitually only looking in certain places. My quick thinking may not suffice in the end, though, and someone leaves dissatisfied or still looking for an answer that suits their needs.
Naturally, I’ve been aware of my interactions with patrons because I’m new at this. And I really like helping people so I want to get better at it. Slowly, I’ve been collecting tips and tricks from my fellow librarians who know much more than I do. The full-time cataloger who has a few shifts at the reference desk has been extremely helpful with giving me new ways to search the catalog to find books. It’s already improved my response time tremendously. I also walk around the stacks or click around on the library’s website to get acquainted with the massive amount of information we have access to. I think another great exercise would be to give myself random questions and see how fast I could answer them.
Here’s some questions I’ve gotten lately that had my brain sputtering:
- What are the side effects or dangers of zeolite?
- I searched online for this “zeolite.” My first reaction to the “side effects” part was that they should consult their physician. We are not in the business of giving health advice. When the patron heard this, they were immediately discouraged and ended the interaction. After searching the internet some more, I found some basic info on the Sloan Kettering website that could have been useful to them without breaking the “no medical advice” rule.
- Do you have any audio books about math?
- Hmm. This was a hard one because there just wasn’t anything to fill his need. I showed him some audio books in which math was mentioned as a smaller topic within a broader science context. I did use the tips I learned from the cataloger to make my catalog search more precise.
- Which Kennedy had an annulment?
- I guess this one was hard because she kept saying that it was Robert Kennedy and it was actually Joseph Kennedy II. Sometimes people think they have their facts right but they don’t always. A Google search for “Kennedy annulment” did the trick. But I got stuck because of her prejudgment about who had the annulment.
- I need some easy listening music CDs.
- We don’t have an easy listening category in our music CD collection. I know this used to be a category when browsing in some CD stores back in the day (I remember those days….). So I had to give suggestions, like jazz or classical. Sorry, dude!
After catching the film “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Turner Classic Movies the other night, I was blown away by the performances and the writing. Now an American classic, I wanted to know more about the film, its background, the process of production, and anything else about the actors, the story, the director that I could discover. I especially wanted to find some criticism that could help clarify some questions I had — for example, What is really true about Blanche’s past and her dead husband? Does Stanley actually rape Blanche? Is Stella really going to leave Stanley? Why does Blanche so eagerly kiss a strange teenager but won’t kiss Mitch? I could probably formulate my own answers if I watched the movie several times more or carefully analyzed the play, but I was interested in what published critics and academics had to say.
I went on the ProQuest database and did a simple search of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Lots of the results were review articles for recent stage adaptations, not exactly what I was looking for. I then added “AND film” to the search box, which gave me better results. The first article I read was truly eye-opening. Dowling’s “The Derailment of A Streetcar Named Desire” in Literature/Film Quarterly (1981) gave insight into the differences between the play and the film script and the role of the censorship board of the Motion Picture industry in the watering down the film’s sexual tones.
For example, a key component was left out of the story of Blanche’s previous marriage. In the play, it’s alluded to that her husband was gay and she actually walked in on him with another man. But this was completely left out of the film, with only his poetry as a single clue (and that’s not even a strong one.) This is the reason why Blanche lashed out at him and he therefore killed himself. It’s a much more well-rounded picture of the situation and of her past, something that I was missing from the film.
I also discovered that the censors wanted to completely do away with the rape scene at the climax of the story, which, thankfully, Tennessee Williams was vehemently opposed to and wrote a letter in protest of. In the play, this scene is much clearer with Stanley actually taking Blanche to his bed. The film, however, just uses the symbolic image of a shattered mirror, which was vague enough to have me wondering if the rape even happened at all.
Ultimately the producers of the film wanted to get as wide an audience as possible and therefore bent to the will of the censors who wanted to keep the public away from some of the most poignant and meaningful elements of the story for fear of the degradation of society. If I had not done a little research and read this article, I don’t think I would have found elsewhere such a detailed account of the censorship forced upon one of the greatest films in American cinema. The real tragedy of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is that it was never allowed to take its original language and intent to the silver screen.
What’s the best way to answer a reference question by email?
Luckily I was well prepared to do this today because of my previous experience answering reference questions submitted through the Internet Public Library website as part of my virtual reference class. Here’s the formula I followed:
- Greeting – Say hello and use the person’s name if you know it. Makes the transaction more personal.
- Reiterate the question being asked
- Give an answer – Use simple steps, URL links, screen capture images, anything else to make the patron’s job easier to find the information they are looking for.
- Describe how you found the answer – This is your change to have a teaching moment and show the patron how they could find the answer next time on their own. You’d be surprised how grateful people are when you go this extra mile.
- Provide follow-up help – Let the patron know that they can always come back for more help if they have any questions or if the answer wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Give contact information, again to make it easier for the patron.
- Say goodbye – It’s nice to give a goodbye greeting to make the email transaction more personal.
I came away with some questions after answering my first email at the USciences reference desk. We discussed many of these ideas in my virtual reference class but I am still trying to find satisfying answers.
- How much information is TOO much information for an answer? At what point will the patron stop reading your email answer? When it is too long? Filled with too much jargon? Not formatted in a readable way?
- Can this question even be answered properly through email? Or do you need to suggest a phone/in-person meeting to discuss the answer/information need? What’s the best way to go about that?
- How can you tell if the patron is asking for what they really need? Reference librarians know that most patrons don’t ask for what they want right away. You have to ask them questions to get to the root of their need. With email, it’s hard to ask the patron for clarification, especially when the patron may never respond back.
Librarians – what kinds of concerns/questions do you have about email reference?
After starting my first shift ever at the reference desk at J.W. England Library, University of the Sciences, I got a reference question in the first 5 minutes. That was fast!
Her initial question was about if we had access to an article. After some back and forth, we determined that article wasn’t exactly what her professor was looking for. It was a news article and not a scholarly journal article. So her initial question turned into a different problem that we needed to solve.
Now she needed to go back into the CINAHL and the Cochrane Databases but she had received very little results from her first search or results that weren’t relelvant. Her problem was that she was using very specific keywords, which worked for some databases but not so great for others, and didn’t revise her search strategy when the results were poor.
I showed her several ways she could expand her search–by using synonyms and wildcards, looking at subject headings of relevant articles, and limiting her results by date or subject.
She left the desk satisfied. It was my first official success at the reference desk as a newly-minted librarian!