Tag Archives: library

Refer Madness: The Terminator of Ghent

rmRefer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk.

A gentleman called the desk with a pretty simple question: What was the release date of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? Because of my prodigious ability to remember useless trivia (film-related especially), I knew it was 2003. But he wanted the specific release date, which IMDb told me was July 2. I thought that would be the end of the call, but it… wasn’t.

Here is the sequence of questions that followed:

  • Who was the lead actress in Rise of the Machines? (Kristanna Loken)
  • How old is she? (36)
  • What is her hometown? (Ghent, New York)
  • What is the per capita income of Ghent, NY ($37,643 in 2014) [Thanks, U.S. Census!]
  • What is Ghent’s percentage of white people? (94.5%)
  • What is Ghent’s percentage of black people? (1.6%)
  • What is the release date of Terminator Genisys? (July 1, 2015)
  • What is Ghent’s poverty level? (5.4%)

The thing I couldn’t figure out while answering these questions was whether this line of inquiry was pre-determined or if he started winging it after the first one. I got the sense he was pulling questions from a list since our back-and-forth moved along at a steady clip. But if that was the case, why bounce around between the Terminator movies and Ghent, NY? If he planned the jump between the two topics, by way of Kristanna Loken, why the sudden incursion of Terminator Genisys?

UPDATE: He called back an hour later with more. Still on a Terminator kick, he wanted to know:

  • Who was the female lead of the first two Terminators? (Linda Hamilton)
  • Is she still alive? (Yes)
  • Where is she from? (Salisbury, Maryland)
  • Where is that? (Between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic)
  • What has she done lately? (Most recent movie is A Sunday Horse)
  • What is that film about? (“After a near-fatal accident, on a horse the experts thought was nothing special, a determined rider from the wrong side of the tracks defies all the odds to pursue her dreams of winning a national jumping championship.”)

Yep, he’s definitely just winging these.

Each’s Owned

Pictured is the haul ($8 total) from a recent afternoon browsing used bookstores, which I do once in a while, when my time is open and therefore my self-discipline is weak. But I didn’t feel bad about getting more Stuff this time, because I’m coming to something approaching terms with it.

I love books, movies, and music, but developing an extensive catalog has never been a priority. Working at a library is a factor. With easy, daily access to a plethora of titles, expanding our humble collection of books, DVDs, vinyls, and CDs seems unnecessary. Since I tend not to reread books, amassing more out of fun or bibliophilia isn’t an issue; only the most meaningful or heirloom-worthy books have secured space on our limited shelves. Ditto our LPs and CDs, which are now mostly survivors from several moves and curatorial weedings. For me, less stuff has been better. My friend jokes about being able to move me and all my stuff from college to grad school in one trip in his Geo Prizm.

That’s changed recently. I’ve rediscovered the desire to own analog media, if only as a supplemental collection to my mostly-digitized life. Also: for their tangible or aesthetic appeal, to preserve tangibility, to not be constantly tracked and advertised to, to escape the mercurial whims of licensing and arcane digital services, or to have something to do when the internet goes down.

In a way I haven’t even needed to rediscover it: the majority of my movie watching has always come from DVDs or the theater, and I’ll always prefer print over ebooks. We still have Amazon Prime for movies and Google Play for music, and they are often handy. But I need to remind myself once in a while that newer/easier/faster doesn’t always equal better.

I’m not concerned I’ll suddenly become a hoarder. In fact I’m starting to become concerned we’re not keeping enough things around we’ll regret not having later on, either as historical curios or as cultural artifacts that boomerang from modish to obsolete and back. I can’t tell you how many times, when I bring up my interest in typewriters, I’ve heard something like, Oh yeah, I had one from college, but… or My parents had one but didn’t use it anymore, so… It makes me cringe to ponder the fate of those machines. Whether it’s vinyls, typewriters, love letters, Polaroids, or anything else that doesn’t live in an app or social network, the things we think no longer matter in our lives might in time prove us wrong. And what with the internet ushering in a new Dark Ages, methinks we all should get a little more discerning on what we keep, what we don’t, and why.

But hey, to each’s own.

Man Bookers

This New York Times story about all-male book clubs was not as inflammatory as I knew it would be taken in certain spheres. It turns out (wait for it…) some men are in book clubs just for men.

The reaction from one of the groups to the NYT story is worth reading for important context that didn’t get into the piece: that they do in fact read books by women, and that the group was started out of a desire to get back into reading after kids and life had intervened. The group’s mission: “to leave our day jobs behind, to find meaning and enjoyment in literature, and to know each other better in the process.” What a bunch of misogynist pigs!

They also correctly point out people start exclusive book clubs of every conceivable theme and parameter. To prohibit men from this privilege out of some anti-patriarchy crusade would be misguided, obtuse, and contrary to the spirit of reading.

As a librarian, I cheer anyone who joins a book club at all, or even just starts reading for fun again. And since men participate in book clubs and discussions much less than women, civic groups like this one ought to be applauded, not snickered at. (Although, yes, the International Ultra Manly Book Club has a silly name and some cheeky masculine posturing in the article.)

The morals of the story: Read! For fun! At whim! And do whatever it takes to do so. I didn’t start reading for fun until right after college, when I realized I didn’t have to take notes or bullshit write a critical essay on the material anymore. I could just read what looked interesting. And I’ve been doing that ever since.

Not Fine: On Library Amnesty

Chicago Public Library is embarking on a fine amnesty drive this month. The last one seemed to work really well for everyone:

The library reported receiving 101,301 overdue items, valued at about $2 million, and waived $641,820 worth of fines. The late materials ranged from items only a few weeks overdue to one book that had been due since 1934.

It’s really great that past amnesty programs worked out well for CPL, and I assume for other libraries that do them. Getting that material back benefits everyone, and the uncollected fine money probably won’t make much of a dent since fine revenue is usually a pittance in most public library budgets.

But I’m of two minds on this.

Continue reading

Refer Madness: Librarians Advisory

rmRefer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk.

If you’re a librarian, it’s likely you’re expected to provide readers advisory. (Or is it reader’s?) Every librarian has his or her own area of expertise and blind spots, but whether through direct knowledge or other resources, you’re supposed to be able to give patrons who ask some reliable recommendations on what to read, watch, listen to, or do. This happens fairly regularly at a public library and is, as the NFL puts it, a “major point of emphasis.”

Less common, but just as valuable, is when patrons advise librarians. Last week a man came to the desk looking for the album Trio by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris. He said the catalog said it was in, but he couldn’t understand the CD labeling. I tracked it down and explained the labeling system (MC for country, MJ for jazz, etc.—I can see his point…). He thanked me for finding it and said, “Have you ever heard this?” I hadn’t. “Their voices blend so well. Check it out sometime.”

So I did, and he was right: it’s a beautiful record (with hilarious hair) that got nominated for Album of the Year in 1987. I’m not a pop-culture elitist, but it’s important to be reminded that just because librarians get paid to make recommendations doesn’t mean we’re right, or that other people who didn’t get a library degree can’t do it well either.

Refer Madness: RefUSA! RefUSA!

rmRefer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk.

“It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Though John Adams wrote this passage about Independence Day, I’d say it works just as well for successful reference interviews that lead to unexpected but useful discoveries.

Example: A woman called the desk and said she was doing research for a documentary film being produced about immigrants, minorities, and women who owned small businesses in the North Shore area of Chicagoland. She wanted to find a list of the aforementioned people so she could contact them about participating in the project. My first question (to myself) was: Is that legal? Seemed like anti-discrimination laws would make that kind of info hard to find. But, after telling the woman I’d call her back as it would take a bit to do the digging, I went right to the librarian’s honeypot: ReferenceUSA. (Odds are your local library has access to it. If it does, you should be able to access it from home using your library card.)

The challenge I anticipated was not finding businesses in the specific suburbs, but pinpointing the ones owned by different categories of people — especially the ones without websites or info available elsewhere.

How to do this

Hop into the U.S. Businesses database (Custom Search), select the Geography facet on the left, and find Map Based Search. (Selecting Verified Businesses under Record Type makes sense but isn’t required.)ref2

This will bring up a map. If you don’t know exactly where you’re looking, you can Draw Shape or Define Radius to grab a general area. If you do know what you’re looking for, then Boundary Select is the way to go. At first it will only allow you to pick by state as the map will be zoomed way out. But as you zoom further in more options will appear. I chose Cities because that’s what the patron needed, but Zip Codes, Area Codes, Carrier Routes, and Neighborhoods could be helpful in different situations too.ref4

Once you narrow down your locations, click Done and go back to the facets. Then find the Executives category. It’ll allow you to narrow based on Name, Title, Gender, and Ethnicity. The problem with this facet is “Executive” is a broad term. It’s not clear whether it’s giving us the owner of the business or someone on the Board of Directors or someone else. If you’re seeking a specific type of business, then the Ownership category might be of use; otherwise you might be SOL.ref5

Click Update Count as you go so you can see the number of applicable records before you go to the last stage. If the search criteria are broad or cover a large area, it might be a long list of records and you might want to narrow the search. If you can’t, get ready for lots o’ names and numbers!

Refer Madness: Pole Stars

rmRefer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk. 

Summer is finally (almost, sorta) here. “Bees they’ll buzz / Kids’ll blow dandelion fuzz…” The AC is on at the library, but at the ref desk it’s still a bit muggy. The perfect time for this patron question: Do you have any books about polar explorers?

Ummm, OK… Perhaps he was like me in wanting to forestall the coming Midwestern mix of heat and humidity, if only in our dreams. The first choice you have to make when on an expedition for books about polar expeditions is whether you’re in for something perilous, or something (relatively) pleasant. Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (not, I’m disappointed to learn, a sequel to Homeward Bound) is a respected account of that famous first and successful British voyage to Antarctica. And the photo book Call of the North captures the lives of the Inuit by the first Frenchman to reach the North Pole by dogsled.

But if you like your polar expeditions tragic, last year’s In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides will do the trick. There’s also a book literally called The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, which recounts the final icecapades of the explorer Robert Falcon Scott, whose name—let’s be honest—could only be that of an ice-cold voyager.

Stay cool, friends.

Please Bother Me: On Asking Questions at the Library

LOTR-party-business

“Sorry to bother you…”

I’ve heard patrons say this to me or other librarians at the information desk so many times. And every time, I want to respond: “That’s what we’re here for!” Maybe we at the desk were talking to each other, or typing on the computer, or reading a trade journal, or even just sitting there waiting to answer a question. Whatever it is, patrons often feel they’re being a bother by asking questions when in fact answering questions is literally the librarian’s job. It’s what we enjoy doing and get paid for. But either they don’t get it or we’re not doing a good enough job making that known.

This could be a design problem: old-school reference desks, which are quickly falling out of fashion, can be imposing, alienating beasts. Libraries of all kinds that have been around a while probably have those hefty wooden desks, long and encompassing like ramparts of Reference Castle, with the lofty librarians holding the front line against the swarming public. Librarian’s Domain: None Shall Pass! Or, at desks that seem to sink into the earth, like Bilbo Baggins at Bag End we burrow in behind computer screens or stand-up signage and treat interruptions (“except on party business”) as inconveniences rather than essential.

Many libraries have done away with the traditional info desk altogether. They take a “roving reference” approach, which either has librarians stand at a table a la the Apple Store or sends them onto the floor with an iPad to actively help people find what they’re looking for. I’d love to hear from other librarians who do this about how well it works. Do patrons feel more at ease if they’re approached by staff? Do you feel like you work at Best Buy? I’d love to see data from two libraries of similar size who take these different reference approaches. Does one get more questions over the other?

As a patron I enjoy being able to browse undisturbed and, being a librarian myself, usually don’t need help getting around or finding something. But I’m also not afraid to approach the desk, and neither should you. Regardless of what the desk looks like, librarians are responsible for answering questions and patrons are responsible for asking them. We can’t read your mind, and we can’t help you until we know what you need help with.

So please: Bother us. Early and often. Whatever else we’re doing at the desk, however game we look for whatever you’re about to ask, ask it—no matter what it is.

(And don’t even get me started on “This is probably a stupid question, but…”)

The Simba Life, Thrice

The third issue of my culture magazine The Simba Life is now live. Check out the full PDF, or peruse individual articles. There’s a listacular retrospective, an artistic rediscovery, a debate over which Relient K album is best, a coming-out story you probably have never heard before, and more.

Below is the briefing I wrote to set the stage for the issue’s theme, which was “what I learned this year.”

This year, I learned at least three things.

I learned (1) to be less skeptical of poetry, that sometimes writing a poem is the best and only way to embody a feeling, thought, or moment. I learned (2) that I love the little things at the library as much as the big ones: sharpening dull pencils at the desk; discovering stray receipts from 2012 in shelved books; picking up scraps with call numbers on them and wondering which book they led the patrons to; and returning abandoned books to the snug vacancy on the shelf they call home.

And I learned (3) that I could have died in fifth grade. I stood in my friend’s front yard in a sleepy suburb playing nonchalantly with a BB rifle as a police car pulled into the driveway, and the officer could have jumped out of his car and shot me dead because he felt threatened by the gun I had, however non-lethal it turned out to be. But I didn’t die. I received a stern warning, and I went home and cried about it when my mom got a call from my friend’s mom explaining what had happened. And then I forgot about it, until my sister reminded me of that incident after Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy playing with an airsoft gun in a Cleveland park, was gunned down on November 22 by an unqualified policeman responding to a call about someone pretending to shoot people driving by.

Did Tamir die because he was black? Because of the aptitude of the officer he encountered? Because the airsoft gun he wielded (stunningly similar to one I owned at that age) that a friend had just given him had its orange tip removed? All I know is Tamir is dead and I am not. The why is too sad to confront and too pressing to ignore.

There’s a fourth thing I learned this year, but it’s really the only thing: I know that I don’t know anything. What better time, then, here at the End of All Things 2014, to wrestle with the Simba Life creed—Run from it or learn from it—in the third issue of the Simba Life magazine, along with this issue’s contributors. What did we learn this year? Put on a pot of coffee and let’s find out together.