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12/1/05 09:13 am - blogsarestupid - Some firsts

On Monday night, I worked by myself on a desk for the first time. (It was only while the librarian took his smoking break, but still. A harrowing fifteen minutes.) It was also, unfortunately, the first time I had a patron that I could not understand. Usually I have no trouble understanding accents, but for some reason, this young kid came up and asked me for a movie called "Maragathka," and I had no idea what he was talking about. And he was like five, so he didn't know how to spell it. So we tried:



So then I thought, well, the feature films are alphabetical, so we walked over to the shelf and I'm like, maybe you'll recognize it. And we started looking at the Ma's, and all of a sudden I'm like:


No, we don't have that one yet, but I can add you to the hold list.

Good one.

Also, last night (not my usual night for working!) I got to make the closing announcement! I felt Very Important and Informative.

11/28/05 10:15 am - blogsarestupid - Article #9: Who reads graphic novels?

Charbonneau, Olivier. (2005, Summer). Adult Graphic Novels Readers: A survey in a Montreal Library. Young Adult Library Services 3: 4, p, 39-42.

Charbonneau surveyed graphic novel readers in a Montreal public library to determine the demographic make-up of the audience. There are cultural differences between this and an American library – "bandes desinees" are more universally popular in Francophone countries than graphic novels are in American libraries. His collection has over 9000 sequential art documents of various types, including manga, in English and French (mainly French) – it is the largest collection in Montreal. Charbonneau found that most graphic novel patrons were men, but almost forty percent were women; most readers were fifteen and under, but all age groups had at least nineteen percent. A majority of respondents (fifty-nine percent) visited the library just for this collection; an overwhelming majority (seventy-five percent) had used the collection for over three years. Charbonneau also smartly asked readers to name their favorite genres; this data can be used by future collectors. Sixty percent of respondents said they would participate in a club or conference or graphic novel-related activity. He encourages other libraries to "build it and they will come" (p. 40).

I'm not sure if that last sentiment is enough. I looked it up, and there are almost six hundred graphic novels in our library, if you go over to the (sad-looking!) graphic novel shelf in the young adult collection, there are never more than two hundred on the shelf at a time. Obviously, these are circulating (some people are coming), but the collection is barely growing and there is no support for it. Charbonneau found that almost sixty percent of respondents visited the library just for the graphic novel collection – I have not observed any of this in my months on the desk. Better marketing could draw (no pun intended!) a whole new audience to the library. Also, take them out of the young adult section – graphic novels are not necessarily written for teens. (Charbonneau points out that many, while not necessarily explicit, are decidedly adult.)

Although maybe the library is not ready for that. If a patron came up and asked for a graphic novel recommendation, I don't know what I would say; NoveList doesn't cover it, maybe I could use Amazon.com. I don't know of any readers' advisory tools that connect graphic novel readers to others they would like based on story, character, drawing style. Do any such tools exist?

11/28/05 10:15 am - blogsarestupid - Article #8: Selection tools online?

New Editor Named for ALA's Acclaimed Guide to Reference Books. Retrieved 23 November 2005 from http://www.haveford.edu/publicrelations/archives/kieft_editor_ala.html

This is actually an annotation of a lecture I recently attended, featuring Robert Kieft, the new editor of Guide to Reference Books. He discussed the process of (finally) updating the Guide, and turning it into an online panacea of reference sources, including electronic resources, web sites, and regular old books. The new Guide, which was last published in 1995, was expected to come out in 2001, but is still being compiled. No price range has been set, although Kieft imagined a pricing model similar to Books in Print, where you pay for the size of your institution.

To me, the bottom line (and I hate the bottom line!) is that this database is not out yet. While it will be very exciting to have every reference work ever (current) in one place, it is not realistic if you are spending so much time updating it that it is never released. Furthermore, it is impossible to include EVERY reference work. As Homer Simpson says, the lesson is, never try. Is this an exaggeration? Maybe the lesson is: don't reinvent the wheel. While Kieft's annotating minions are scouring the globe (and the internet!) for reference materials, librarians find new sources of reference reviews, or do without them. (How's that for library marketing?) Furthermore, Kieft did not seem to have a plan for updating, but seemed to think that it would always be current, that updates would be instantaneous. Do libraries really need that? Obviously, internet links should be kept current, but if the sources change more than once a year, should we question their validity? And how is anyone going to be able to afford this? Even a public library as large as ours (not so large, but large enough); will it be worth the price? Even if it is worth the price, will we buy it?

I wonder if he considered a way for it to be free to ALA members. This thought, of course, just occurred to me, not three weeks ago at the lecture.

11/28/05 10:13 am - blogsarestupid - Article #7: What are patrons really asking?

Boyd, Rhonda S. (2005, July/August). Assessing the True Nature of Information Transactions at a Suburban Library. Public Libraries, p. 234-240.

Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) in Georgia designed a study to test the anecdotal hypothesis that reference questions were getting more in-depth as patrons relied on the internet to answer quick-fact questions. The nature of these questions would be assessed to develop better training and to better identify the skill set needed to staff the reference desk. Ultimately, the goal of the study was to more efficiently provide service. Staff perceptions of types of questions were gathered. The most common observations were that traditional print reference was less frequent than complex, in-depth questions requiring technology; that questions were more about access than about information; tech troubleshooting questions were common; time was spent bridging cultural and language barriers; and that staff was interacting with machines. The study required staff to note the age of the questioner, categorize each question (categories defined as readers' advisory, reference, access to equipment, access to resources, and services and processes), assign a value to its complexity, and note the length of time required to answer the question. Despite the author's (and the staff's) expectations, more time was spent on short (less than fifteen minute) questions. Readers' advisory was the least frequently asked question. Over half of the questions were not traditional library questions, and involved access to equipment and resources and services and policies. Boyd acknowledges some challenges with the study design – each transaction gets one category, which is limiting; the data was self-reported, leaving room for errors and inconsistency. Nonetheless, GCPL used the results of the study to recommend changes in the training of staff, including issues with technology and community newcomers; technology training for patrons; marketing the capabilities of the reference librarians to the patrons; and rethinking the allocation of duties.

I like that this study disproved something we have been taught in basic reference, that questions are fewer, but harder. (Or maybe they are harder, depending on your relationship with computers.) I was very surprised by the low number of readers' advisory questions; although I have received hardly any in my internship. I wonder about the depth of reporting the staff was allowed – if a patron comes up to ask you to put a hold on a book (#2 most common question at the desk, next to asking for a guest pass – although that's also anecdotal), and you say, that's the last book in the series, hey, have you read this one?, does that count as readers' advisory?

Aside from methodology questions, I think it is important to understand the nature of questions asked at the desk. I like that Boyd suggested making patrons aware of the kinds of questions librarians can answer – usually the answer is just to cut service. (Although did I read it wrong, or has GCPL replaced librarians with library associates?) I also think that these results should not only increase technology and cultural training, but also re-training in print reference sources. Maybe everyone is tired of me complaining about how the internet is NOT a panacea, but maybe these questions are in-depth and complex because the answer is not most efficiently found online? Maybe you sometimes need a Bible concordance, and it's just easier to use it in print?

11/28/05 10:11 am - blogsarestupid - Article #6: Quantity vs. Quality

Singh, Sandra. (2005, November). Gathering the Stories Behind Our Statistics. American Libraries 36:10, p. 46-48.

This article ended up being what a professor of mine calls a "We done it good" article, describing the Vancouver (BC) Public Library's "Beyond Words" essay contest. The province-wide contest encouraged patrons to write an essay describing a library interaction that had a profound influence on their lives. Singh relates a few of these (moving!) stories as she describes the inadequacy of merely counting statistics. Singh goes on to point out that, while not all interactions are necessarily life-changing, each has a different impact on a patron's life and that "we need to be upfront about what our statistics represent" (p. 47); the same value represents many different kinds of questions.

The value of statistics has been on my mind since we kept statistics for one week at our desk. Singh points out that, especially at a busy desk, the accuracy of the statistics is not guaranteed. This was definitely the case – I was not used to keeping statistics, and so surely forgot to mark down a few questions when I had one patron after another. Also, we only kept statistics for a week – business at the library is so varied depending on the weather, the football schedule – more than just the day of the week. How can such a small sample be meaningful?

Furthermore, what are the statistics for? Just to count, so we can periodically compare, say, one week in 2005 to one week in 2019? Or is there a set end to these statistics? And of course I think of the nefarious: to justify keeping librarians part-time, to cut reference desk hours, to "save money."

This further solidifies my resolve that librarians need to be less gooey about feelings and community and more literate with numbers. If you can't beat 'em, join'em. We shouldn't have business people running our libraries; we should have financially-savvy librarians, who understand the value of both money and the stories like the ones Singh's library was collecting. Imagine being one of the librarians who was written about, who changed someone's life without even knowing it, then reading the essay in the newspaper and thinking, hey, that was me, I remember that patron. Singh wrote her article shortly after the conclusion of the contest, so there wasn't much analysis of the aftermath, but I hope that the stories were not just used as a marketing tool to convince the council to maintain their budget. I hope the stories were used to show that, yes, reference desks do get a lot of who-wrote-that-book type of question, but librarians also answer life-changing questions, and not just once-in-a-while randomly, but every day because that is our job.

11/27/05 03:38 pm - blogsarestupid - Schooled.

Yesterday the librarian I was working with scolded me (again!): "Don't ever apologize for your taste in books." I know! But I can't help it. Romance novels are embarassing! (She conceded this...)

I pride myself on my ability to remain objective with patron requests, but if I think I look stupid when I'm carrying around a book with Fabio on the cover, how can I pretend to think that a patron ISN'T stupid for requesting that same book?

I'm just saying.

I don't really like romance novels.

Or do I?

11/27/05 02:40 pm - blogsarestupid - Article #5: Los Angeles Branch Libraries

Levey, Noam M. (2005, 27 November). L.A. Renews Its Libraries as Modern Civic Centers. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 November 2005 from http://www.latimes.com.

Since the mid-90s, the Los Angeles Public Library system has renovated over sixty of its branches and added nine new ones. Several of the branches are profiled here, each one a community center that is helping the city overcome its racial tension and economic strife. Sociologists point out that these community centers are especially important in a place like Los Angeles, a sprawling city of suburbs connected by freeways. Each branch offers a unique set of programming and services: the Chinatown branch has a large Chinese-language collection and offers citizenship classes, the Arroyo Seco branch offers a large collection of children's materials; Lakeview Terrace has hitching posts out front(!). Each library is also architecturally unique, from Spanish-style to modern, that makes it a neighborhood landmark. Since 1995, circulation has increased four times faster than the national rate. And, the system-wide renovation project is finishing early and under budget.

The article glosses over some of the problems that came with the renovations: communities vetoing architectural styles, disagreements over building location. The most-glossed fact, however, is the fact that "some grumble that the new libraries have lost their focus as books become just one reason for patrons to visit," and the author's observation that "there are hopeful signs for those willing to overlook noise and horseplay that would have horrified an earlier generation of librarians." One vignette shows boys from different ethnic backgrounds working together and sharing...a computer game. I love that each building was not erected slapdash, and that each is a beautiful place with thoughtful architectural details - the care that went into the building will have a positive effect on the community. But I wonder if the renovations have also dumbed-down the purpose of the branches? They are noisy places for video game; is this the new library?

Or am I being premature in my criticism? Surely video games are not the only thing offered by the library, and while the focus may not be on books, it can still be on community learning. This is an important distinction that I have to get used to. As Levey says, "the new branch libraries are also doing something more profound, reinvigorating a sense of community often lost or obscured by the chaos of the city."

As plans are made to renovate our small main library (moving AV upstairs so all of the materials are on the same floor is one change; removing the seating out front is another, although I'm not sure if that is actually happening), I wonder how much thought was put into the community space part? I worry that comfortable seating will be replaced with shelving, that separate reference desks will be mushed into one to make room for more public workstations. But then, this article discussed smaller branch libraries - what is the role of the MAIN library as a community center?

11/27/05 01:59 pm - moosling - phone fun

yesterday during my brief 1-4 shift i got a call from a patron who wanted to do a reverse look-up on some addresses. the resourse we usually use for this is called ReferenceUSA. When doing this sort of look-up you click check-boxes designating the information you have (like name, address, city, zip, etc.) and it generates a form for you on the fly. so i began asking the patron some question so i could generate the form:

Me: "Do you have all or part of a name?"
Patron: "If I had a name I would have looked it up myself."
Me: "Do you have the city and state or just the street address?"
Patron: "It's a Bloomington address." (sounds annoyed)
Me: "Okay, well the reason I ask is because of the resource that I'm using...the more information I can put into the better the results for you will be."
Patron: Starts firing off the street address for two different locations
Me: "I'm sorry, could you speak a little more slowly? I can only lookup one address at a time."
Patron: "My God! Can't you write anything down?"
Me: "Of course. I'm sorry, you were just speaking more quickly than I could..."
Patron: "I'm not talking fast.(begins yelling) Why are you being rude to me? Just look up the address in the book!"
Me: "If you could just repeat the addresses for me a bit more slowly..."
Patron: "What's your name?"
Me: gives full name. "I'm a intern at the library and would be happy to give you my supervisor's name and direct phone number if you'd like to lodge a complaint..."
Patron: "I don't want to hear your mouth again until you give me the number!"
Me: "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I still don't have the complete addresses. If you wouldn't mind repeating them..."
Patron: full on shouting, "I said that I didn't want to hear your mouth again..."
Me: "Why don't I connect you with the Indiana Room." (transfers call)

It was fun, honest. The thing was, if she just would have repeated the addresses, none of this would have happened.

11/25/05 07:20 pm - moosling - article #9: community information

Community Information, Electrified
Library Journal (1976) Net Connect 4-6, 8-9 Wint 2005
Tim Rogers, Atabong Fombon, & Erica Reynolds

This article addresses fulfilling patron's need of community-specific information. Examples of community information include information about social services, non-profit groups, and what resources are available within the community for residents in general. Providing community information has been a growing trend for public libraries and many libraries are trying to figure out what the best method is for storing this kind of information. This article uses some preliminary data from a 2004 survey that asked questions about community information projects taking place in libraries across the country.

Many libraries use their internal online catalog to store community information. This might be the easiest method as the system is already in place. There is a move by some libraries to use things like Access, SQL, and MySQL to manage this information. This approach allows for a great deal of customization and can provide greater access to patrons.

Community calendars are another way to augment the information contained in the OPAC or library-created database. Often these can be established so that organizations can upload their own events and be responsible for the maintenence of their portion of the calendar, solving the problem of the high time cost involved with the creation of a community calendar. However depending on other agencies to update and essentially maintain the community calendar could seriously compromise the accuracy of the calendar. It seems to be best that the library take the responsibility for maintenence of the calendar.

Ultimately the article concludes that a web entity which includes both directories and calendars is best practice. This method provides content and not just links to content and allows an inroad for libraries to help in creating community - not just providing access to it. One Colorado library also provides a service where they create and maintain pages for organizations without websites.


The MCPL has had a methodology in place for providing community information to patrons for some time. Before the OPAC there were a series of notecards containing information about various organizations within the community. Post-OPAC this information went into the digital database. When searching for it you type in the kind of information you're looking for, for instance, "public health" and then "community". These terms will get you the community information you're looking for. This is very useful for reference librarians but it seems to me that this is probably not so intuitive for patrons. The MCPL certainly seems dedicated to providing this kind of information to patrons so creating the sort of best practice solution described in this article, a database and community calendar system, might be a good direction to go in.

11/25/05 05:18 pm - moosling - article #8: overblocking

RI Libraries Overblock Under CIPA
Library Journal (1976) 130 no10 18-19 Je 1 2005

After a report written by the ACLU of Rhode Island criticizing the state's public libraries with too full compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), libraries began to consider how to allow adult patron's full, uncensored access more easily and consider less stringent blocking standards. The report noted that the company chosen to provide filtering for Rhode Island' libraries actually went beyond that which was dictated by the Supreme Court ruling. The ACLU also reported that at least one third of libraries do not notify patrons that they can ask a librarian to deactivate the filter.

Nationally a survey revealed that most, but not all libraries who responded to the survey implemented procedures which allow quick disabling. That said, individual librarians reported that since July 1, 2003 most had gotten 50 requests or less to disable the filter, possibly indicating that librarians aren't telling adult patrons that the filter can be disabled.


This report is brief, but it does bring up a recent take on the issue of filtering now that CIPA has been in place for over two years. Filtering software is getting better, but is still imperfect. Considering that the internet is still and will always be growing, there is always the possibility of sites being blocked that shouldn't be.

It seems that it would be a simple solution to place a notice at each individual computer terminal that gave information about the filtering software and letting each adult patron know that it can be turned off if they wish it to be. Just because a notice exists though, does not necessarily mean that patrons will read the notice. There also seems to me that patrons might be reluctant to ask that the filters be removed because they're afraid of how that might make them look - like they're specifically looking for "questionable" material. I also think that the attitude that a librarian takes when talking to patrons about filtering or when a patron asks for the filters to be removed is very important - the patron should not be made to feel that they are asking for something "special".

At MCPL filters are not used. A policy that I think is nice for everyone - staff and patrons alike. That said, not every library can afford to operate without federal dollars and must use some kind of filtering software.
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