Today I have:

  • listened to a sales pitch for a database product it turned out the library already owned
  • worked on three wikis!
  • had a patron get upset about the fact that there were other books with the same title as the book he was looking for and was surprised this wasn’t “against the rules”
  • explained to a very willing-to-learn patron the difference between going to a web address and going to Google to find a web address, and pondered why people often think Google is a portal
  • decided, in my Herculean effort to learn to navigate print reference, to pick a section each week and browse, browse, browse

I am writing up my notes about the NHLA Library 2.0 conference, which pretty much amounts to a huge list of awesome things to explore and consider. And it turns out my library even already has a staff Flickr account, so I can post the pictures I took at the conference there. Now to encourage everyone that Flickr isn’t just for in-house sharing…

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I’m drinking coffee out of my library-approved travel mug and searching the catalog for books on wildlife rehabilitation centers for Kelly and adding blog after blog to my Google Reader (yes, wildlife rehabilitation centers have blogs, too.) I love blogs as information sources because, when I want to learn something new about a subject, I want to learn from someone who is like me, who is involved in the subject, and who is doing it NOW and wants to share their experience. I don’t just want vegan recipes, I want the stories behind them and the cheers from the people who created them and their pictures of how the dish turned out. I don’t just want a how-to manual about starting my own farm, (though if I could find one, I’m sure it wouldn’t go amiss) I want someone’s tale of how they went from City Girl to Farm Girl. I want that immediate connection with another person. And I want their blogrolls and del.icio.us bookmarks, too.

On Monday, I’m attending a conference on Library 2.0, and so long as I don’t get lost in Manchester, I’ll hopefully have a day filled with bonding with other NH librarians and brainstorming how to get people addicted to the information sources they hardly even knew were out there.

I am a librarian with a tattoo. My tattoo gets lots of attention in the library. It’s on the inside of my forearm, and is generally visible when I hand someone something across the desk or when I point them in one direction or another, which means often. Usually, older men gasp and ask what it symbolizes, younger boys ask if it hurt, and most women usually just say something along the lines of, “neat.” Last week, an older teen boy told me that I was the first librarian he’d ever seen with a tattoo and he thought it was cool. This made me very happy.

I am also, apparently, a librarian who is likely to be kidnapped by Dracula, though this has nothing to do with my tattoo. At least I hope not. The suggestion came from Sam, in response to my review of The Historian on GoodReads. In that book, (which I recommended to Sam before I’d reached – been disappointed by – the end) Dracula spirits away librarians to his secret underground lair until he finds the perfect one to catalog his collection. It’s odd and not nearly the most threatening thing Dracula could possibly do, but, when it comes down to it, I still wouldn’t want to be Dracula’s librarian.

Tonight, I am alone at the reference desk and closing the second floor by myself for the first time. If I see a bat-shaped shadow, I’m outta here.

I’ve been getting lots of interesting requests and being witness to some very odd assumptions about how searching for information in a library setting works. I’m always fascinated by user search behavior and why we look for things the way we look for them, but in a very practical, at-the-reference-desk sense, it can be extremely frustrating, both for me and for the patron, when I have to explain that the search engine or the OPAC they’re using can’t process information that way, or simply that the information they need does not exist on any one web page or database or secret book I keep behind the counter.

I had a patron (admittedly, one who is regularly difficult) become deeply disturbed that he could not return any useful results when he searched in Yahoo for what the cost would be of a specific number of bottles of spring water. We talked about how search engines search, how keywords work, and how he might try another search engine that searches whole questions, but he still didn’t understand why the answer to his question wasn’t just out there where he could find it.

Another patron couldn’t understand why all the plays weren’t all together (they were, in the Dewey way that things are “together”) but what she meant was that she wanted to look for the plays alphabetically and for collected plays not to be included in that section. She did, however, wonder why a copy of the play she was looking, which was already checked out, wasn’t also included in the publication, ‘Best Plays of Insert Year.’

I had one irate patron give up on our search because I, as a librarian, did not have the extremely specific map of Idaho he needed (at the New Hampshire library – I’d be a little more sympathetic if we had actually been in Idaho.) The part that cracked me up was that he kept saying, “You, as a librarian,” as though the first day on the job they handed me a magic bag from which I could pull out anything anyone needed. I assured him that my search skills were quite good and that I could find this map for him if he was patient, if it in fact was available for public access online, if he was willing to call or have me call the state of Idaho, and if he gave me more details about what he needed in a map so I could determine if the maps I was finding actually met his needs. He was not interested in this. What he wanted was for me to pull open one of the library databases (or, seriously, my magic bag) and produce for him this topographical map of this river basin area in under five minutes. I’m good, but I am not that good.

When a mother came in with her son to find a book for his class and he couldn’t remember the title, I pulled up both Amazon and Books in Print to see if we could find it. The son had obviously forgotten some key part of the title, because I found no results that were even close, and mother suggested we should just Google it. I explained that Google would return a wider, less specific result, and also, Google would not find it if nether amazon nor Books in Print could find it. I run into the belief that Google has all the answers all the time, but it surprised me to think that this patron didn’t understand the value of specific sources and why a broader source would not necessarily produce the desired result.

And yesterday, someone came in and asked for a medieval cookbook. Sure, we keep the first editions and their illuminated texts with all the other cookbooks. I explained to the patron why we, a modest public library in the United States, did not have an original medieval cookbook (nor was any other public library nearby likely to have a recent reprint which included the original formatting) and I tried to send her to a library that might be able to get a hold of such a resource. While it was great on some level that the patron saw no distinction between an academic library and a public library concerning what information we could provide her, when I explained a little bit about why we’re different, she still seem stunned that I didn’t have what she wanted. I’m a librarian, after all. With a magic bag.

Pod cats

September 14, 2007

Today I have:

  1. Endured a pep talk from a patron while I fixed a paper jam in the copier.
  2. Requested the second season of “Seven Feet Under” for someone.
  3. Performed a search on ReferenceUSA using an SIC code.
  4. Spoke to a woman who believes that her ILL books aren’t coming in because the person doing ILL doesn’t like her. I’m only assuming this isn’t true, but I don’t know, maybe she’s right? Either way, I could do nothing for her.
  5. Made this hilarious typo: podcats.

Today I also failed at being a commuter. I left the house with only a quarter tank of gas, knowing full well this was not enough to get me to New Hampshire. My low fuel light came on somewhere around Topsfield, where I stupidly pulled off the first exit, not thinking that there might not be a gas station nearby, and ended up driving something like five miles three ways before finding one and then having to navigate back to the highway. Considering my complete lack of directional skill, it was perhaps a small miracle that I made it to work at all.

Now, I’m going to go research how to make pod cats.

The Long Haul

September 12, 2007

I’ve renamed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, “The Long Haul, Parts 1 and 2” because they are both marathon 10-hour work days, and because they tend to be uniquely weird and challenging days, which unfortunately occur back to back. The other oddity: Tuesday at one library, Wednesday library,Wednesday at the other, the upside of which being that if complete disaster occurs on Tuesday, at least I don’t have to go back to it until Saturday.

The Long Haul, Part 1: I would really appreciate it if the web experts would stop breaking the website. Every time they fix a bug, they temporarily disable some huge part of the site’s infrastructure, meaning that when I come into work, I am immediately greeted with a chorus of, “OMG THE SITE IS BROKEN!!!” I email the web guys, and they say, “Really? Weird!” And then, a few moments later email me back and say, “It’s fixed. I guess the bug fix we did messed some stuff up. Oops! But it’s all better now.” I want to buy them some Quality Assurance Staff for Christmas.

The Long Haul Part 2: I would appreciate it if the print reference collection and I could be friends. Right now, the collection has its secrets held close to its chest, and no amount of searching the catalog will reveal things I know actually exist, I’m just not calling them the right thing – it’s a combination of town records that aren’t easily cataloged, things being kept in certain places because they’ve always been kept in those places and you only learn this by asking someone else, and my lack of familiarity with print reference sources in general (all the indexes!) This will be one of my major, ongoing challenges – both to befriend the collection so it tells me about its inner life, and to find a balance between print sources and my instinctive turn to digital alternatives.

Policy issues: We’ve recently barred groups of middle-schooler/teenagers from using any of the study rooms on the second floor where the adult collection is housed. They can’t use the computers upstairs either – all such activity should be kept in the teen room. I have mixed feelings about this. Apparently the decision was based on some serious vandalism that occurred in one of the study rooms, and in that case, the decision makes sense. We can’t police the study corners and we can’t manage noise control in any consistent way, but I’ve found that I have more encounters with rude or otherwise offensive adult patrons than I do with groups of noisy middle-school boys (who want to know if my tattoo hurt when I got it done) and so I feel a pang when I have to herd them back downstairs while they’re protesting that they are really here to do their homework.

debut vampire novel

September 10, 2007

From a quick browse in August’s Kirkus Reviews:

“A creative writing instructor must choose between his serial killer instinct and the tenure track.” (R.M. Kinder’s An Absolute Gentleman)

“This debut vampire novel translated from the Swedish…”(John Ajvide Lindquist’s Let Me In)

“Durable CIA agent turned vigilante political assassin…” (Stuart Woods’ Shoot Him If He Runs)

And my favorite: “Not as sequel to, rather a consequence of Harrison’s eerie space opera, Light. (John Harrison, Nova Swing)