Showing posts with label Reference. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reference. Show all posts

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Affordable Care Act Resources

I attended a workshop on the ACA yesterday, sponsored by TLN. They provided some great resources, which are worth a look, so I wanted to pass them along.
Info about the Health Insurance Marketplace, open enrollment, and information for both individuals/families and businesses.

Library of Michigan ACA Page
Currently fairly sparse, but library-specific. There is a PDF with resources for libraries to help our patrons.

Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reform page
Flow charts, articles, links - exceptional information here! They also have a glossary of ACA terms.

American Library Association ACA Tools
Again, library-specific information to help us help our patrons, including clear statements on the role of libraries in this process.

WebJunction on Preparing Libraries for the Affordable Care Act
Includes a link to the archived webinar.

Families USA Health Reform Central
Lots of legislation-specific information.

Health Reform GPS
Implementation briefs, key developments, health reform overview, and more.

Health Care Reform Basics from Blue Cross Blue Shield
BCBS-sponsored info, but still very basic on health carer reform, as the name implies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Best of the Web

I recently put together a list of web pages for a library program called "Best of the Web."  The program is meant to point out fun and useful web sites.  We talk a little about search strategy and where to find the really good stuff online, since search engines are a crap-shoot on what's really quality information, not to mention you have to know what you're looking for.

In putting together the program, I started going through my Delicious links.  I have a lot of old, dead links that need to be cleared out.  I was also reminded of some really fun and interesting web sites that I had forgotten about.  Here I will highlight some of the "Best of the Web."


Create your own Picasso-esque head! Choose from differently-shaped faces, eyes, noses, lips, etc.  You can even add a signature to the picture.  Fun!

National Geographic Animals 

I mean, it's National Geographic!  The animal portion of the NatGeo site is filled with beautiful pictures, fast facts, videos, and articles about every possible creature.  Animal lovers can browse to their heart's content, and students will find all kinds of useful information for reports and homework.

Eyes on the Solar System

This site requires a plug-in for your browser, but it's really, really, REALLY cool.  You can set course for a planet, or the sun, or some other spot in the solar system, and zoom in to see features like craters, landscape, etc.  You can ride an astroid or watch the solar system move in real time. The images are from real NASA mission data.

Story Time for Me

Choose a character, such as Ben the Mouse, Fern the Fox, or Flame the Dragon.  Then choose a story.  The story is read aloud, and the words are highlighted as the voice goes along.  The pages turn like real book pages.  There are 17 different stories just in the Fern the Fox series, and they're nice, cute little stories.  A child could be entertained for a while on this web site, completely free.

Playbill Vault

Find original playbills!  The example screenshot (left) is from West Side Story at Winter Garden Theatre in 1959.  You can search by play title, performer, theater, playwrite, musicians, and more.  For example, a search for "Leonard Bernstein" results in a list of his plays with links to original playbill images.  Very cool!

Other Goodies:

Learn many, many languages FREE with interactive drills, audio, and more.

Bug Guide

Poster Street
Free to use anywhere!

Quiz Hub

The Vega Science Trust Videos

Michigan Online Legal Self-Help Center

Thursday, November 08, 2012

MLA 12 - Navigating Legal Info

Navigating Legal Information: An Introduction to the New Michigan Law Help Website for the Public Librarian
Presented by Laura Mancini of the Adams-Pratt Oakland County Law Library and Kimberly Koscielniak of the Library of Michigan.

There is a new legal information web site for Michigan, and it is AMAZING!

There are all kinds of self-help tools and articles about topics like family law, housing, consumers, and more.  There are also links to things like finding a lawyer, a help center, or a community service organization.  It is a wealth of Michigan-specific legal information. People who want to handle simple civil legal problems without a lawyer should start at this web site. 

The best part is the interactive interview for legal forms.  It's sort of like TurboTax for legal forms.  You answer questions and the site populates the correct legal form with your answers. You end up with a completed form - and you know it was filled out correctly because the program puts in the answers the way they are intended.  You can save the form and finish it later, too, which is nice. It only works in Internet Explorer, which is unfortunate, but it is pretty slick.

Friday, March 16, 2012

PLA 2012: Is Reference Dead?

On Life Support, but Not Dead Yet: Revitalizing Reference for the 21st Century

You have to know that the title reeled me right in. This might be my favorite session of the entire conference. It was all about what reference IS these days, how we count it, who we are serving, and what the service looks like.

One thing I really like is the one-desk model. Basically, the idea is that no matter what desk a patron goes to, they can get the answer to any question they have. If they go to the youth desk and want to sign up for an adult program, they can do that. If they go to adult reference and want to get reading suggestions for a 6-year-old, they can do that. If they want to renew their ILL materials at the reference desk, they can do that. If they want to put a hold on a book at the circulation desk, they can do that. I've always said it's not up to the patron to know who they can ask what. They just go to a staff person and ask their question and we take it from there. The fewer people we can refer them to, or the fewer times we can transfer the phone call, the better.

Arlington Heights library has all phone calls and reference chats handled off-desk. That's a great way to have available staff who aren't trying to do ten other things.

Ann Arbor library has an online module they use called "The Channel." If any staff person needs help with a reference question or any other info, they put it on the channel and get an answer back from another staff member at any other branch, very quickly.

Part of this conversation was the idea of having non-librarians on the service desks with degreed librarians available as backup help. I love my library's Reference Assistants, and I can't imagine not having them around. That model works really well for us. Ann Arbor has taken it up a notch, though, and their librarians are not on desk much at all. Personally, I would really miss being on-desk, but I do see that their librarians are creating some really great content with their uninterrupted (ok, "less-interrupted") time. Having Reference Assistants has done the same for us, but I think our professional staff has maintained a nice connection to our public that theirs may not have as strongly.

I still love this discussion. Anything we can do to keep our libraries relevant to our customers is a priority. We have to continually examine our resources and how they are used, as well as our staff.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

National Geographic Index

Just a quick note: National Geographic is no longer publishing the annual index. Instead, they have an index freely available at It is keyword searchable, and very easy to use.

I'm not a huge fan of dusty old reference tomes that are hidden away in a separate reference collection, little used, largely overlooked, and forgotten. I did, however, like THIS particular reference book! I have found it very useful in helping patrons use our National Geographic back issues...and we have a LOT of them (back to the early 1980s, I think).

I'm happy to see the new FREE online index, though, and accept it wholeheartedly as a replacement for the print volume.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Basics of Genealogy Reference

Basics of Genealogy Reference: A Librarian's Guide
by Jack Simpson

I'm still picking away at some of the items in our professional reference collection, which happens to reside in my office, and which happens to have some really great books in it.

I know just enough about genealogy to get patrons started.  I'm aware of what's available through and Heritage Quest, as well as the SSDI and the Family History Library.  In other words, I have half a clue.  Patrons who have done genealogy for years and are looking for help with a roadblock will probably be disappointed in my skills (although I firmly believe that just running your idea by someone else is worthwhile - they may just have a different angle of thinking about it than you do).

So, I picked up this book hoping for a refresher.  That's exactly what I got. This is an excellent book for library staff who help patrons with genealogy questions on any level.  It goes through details of using census records, vital records, city directories, church/cemetery/military records, immigration records, and even the National Archives.  Best of all, it talks about the reference interview as it pertains specifically to genealogy patrons.  Whether you know next to nothing about genealogy or just want a  refresher, this is an excellent source.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Funny Reference Questions

I love swapping reference stories with librarians! I've had a few interesting reference encounters recently, so I thought I'd share.

Russian Weather
Patron: What's the weather in Russia?
Me: What part of Russia?
Patron: Just Russia.
Me: Russia is even bigger than the United States. The weather in the U.S. is different depending on which part you are in.
Patron: Ok, what's a city in Russia?
Me: Any city?
Patron: Yeah.
Me: Moscow?
Patron: Sure. What's the weather in Moscow?
Me: (Googled it.) High of 64, low of 52, partly cloudy.

What Year is My Car?
This one took place as I relieved another librarian from the desk at shift change. She'd been on the phone with him for some time, and explained as much as she knew to me and passed the phone over for me to continue with the patron. In a nutshell, the patron had bought a car and wanted to know what year it is. (My first thought: how do you buy a car and not know what year it is??)
Patron: I bought a car at this place for $10. I want to know what year it is.
Me: Wow, $10??
Patron: Yeah, it's a Porsche Boxter.
Me: WOW, TEN DOLLARS?? (Slightly louder than necessary)
Patron: Yeah. What year is it?
Me: I can find you a book about Porsche cars and you can match yours to the picture. Or you can type the car's VIN into a site like and it would tell you.
Patron: Ok. The VIN is "42"
Me: The VIN should be a much longer number.
Patron: (yells to someone in background) "Honey! Bring me that car from the dresser!"
Me: Oooohhhhh! Is it a model?
Patron: Yeah, a model.
Me: That explains the $10. Also, Porsche started making Boxters in 1997, but you might still want to look at a book to match yours to a picture.
Patron: Ok, thanks. Bye. (hangs up)
Me: (stares at phone in disbelief.)

Gypsy Music
I don't remember the exact dialogue of this transaction, but basically, a patron asked for a CD of Hungarian Rhapsodies. I wasn't finding much in our own catalog, and the classical music by Hungarian composers like Franz Liszt wasn't working for her. In talking, she finally told me that she wants to be able to make requests in restaurants that have those roaming musicians. "You know, 'gypsy music.'" We did find music cataloged under "gypsies - music" and she was satisfied.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Few More Tech Tools

Here are a few tech tools I've been using lately. Enjoy!

Requires a free account, but worth doing so your citations are saved for you. First, click on the colored tab that matches what type of material you want to site cite [update: (thanks for the correction, anonymous commenter!)] (book, magazine, etc.) Let's look at a book example. Type in an ISBN, a title, or an author and BibMe finds the book. *Shameless Plug*: I searched for "Making a Collection Count." If you click on a title in the results list, a new browser tab opens to the record for that title. Do this to make sure it's the right one. Once verified, close that browser tab and go back to the BibMe tab. Now click on the green "Select" check-mark next to the title. A form appears with the citation information for that item. You can choose to site the whole book or a chapter from the book. If you scroll down, there is a place to add an annotation if you want. Click on "Add to My Bibliography." An ad appears. Your choice: click it or ignore it. Your citation is now saved in the "My Saved Bibliography" tab at the top of the screen. In that tab, you can choose a different citation style and the list changes to that style. Genius!

I still love Son of Citation Machine, too, but it doesn't save your citations. I can see using BibMe while writing papers and books, but even just to keep a list of books and articles you want to remember to read later.

PDF to JPG Online Converter
No accounts or software downloads required. Ignore (or click if you like) the ad in the middle of the page. Scroll down to the "Choose File" button. Find the PDF saved on your computer. If you want to be notified when the conversion is completed, enter your email address. I never do this, honestly. Click on "Convert PDF to JPG" and sit back. About two seconds later, a new screen comes up. Again, an ad is prominent at the top of the page (hey, it's a free service, isn't it?) usually, you will have two choices below the ad: JPG Pictures and ZIP Archive. Just click on "Download" under JPG Pictures and save your new JPG. Very, very simple.

There's always Zamzar for other file conversions, too. Upload your file, get it back in another format. No accounts or software installations necessary. It'll convert just about anything to just about anything else.

Fagan Finder
Fagan Finder is a search engine for finding specific things, like definitions, images, quotations, Wikipedia articles, videos, weather, maps, etc. Yes, Google will find all of that for you too, but Fagan Finder lets you just select a radio button for your choice and put in your key word. Fagan Finder is more like a collection of the best sources for your answer. It is useful for those times when Google is too much, or too irrelevant. Fagan Finder will give you the best tools to search. It is a great starting point for research on a topic. Read their about page for a great description of this tool.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giving Resume Advice

I'm going to rant.

I've heard too many patrons say to me lately that they've been to various libraries and can't get a librarian to help them with their resume.  The reasons given to the patron at those libraries vary from "too busy" to "not my job" to "we don't offer that service here" to "I'm not qualified."  I'd like to respond to each of these excuses.

Too Busy
There are times when patrons show up at our reference desks with zero computer skills and not even a clue as to how to begin to create a resume.  They only know that they have hungry children and a mortgage, and the unemployment office requires them to have a resume on file with Michigan Works in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.  They might show up at the reference desk's busiest hour.  You're don't have time to get that person up to speed at that very moment.  You can't possibly say "I don't have time" and leave it at that, though.  I can't sleep at night thinking that this scenario is happening at public libraries!  You have time to put a resume book in their hands and let them look at examples and get ideas.  You have time to tell them to start writing (with pencil and paper) a list of their previous employers, educational background, references, etc.  You have time to make a one-on-one appointment with that person for a time when you have...well, more TIME!  You have time to suggest that they sign up for a computer class at the library.  You have time to let them know that there are career counselors over at Michigan Works.  We are never too busy to help our patrons with the bare minimum of referral.  It's not what you say as much as how you say it.  While "I'm too busy to help you" is never acceptable, "The desk is too busy for me to give you as much individual attention as I'd like to right now, but here's what I can do to get you started" is just fine.

Not My Job
Who's job is it?  What is your job?  It's your job to connect people with the resources they need to complete their information-seeking mission.  It is not your job to create a resume for them.  It is your job to give them information about writing a resume.  I'll even add that it is your job to help people use technology, so if they need help centering and bolding their resume items, that's your job.  I have been known to sit a person at a computer, open MS Word for them, and have them "just start typing."  Get the words on the page.  I can help them "pretty it up" later, but they need to push the buttons on the keyboard to type the words.  I show them how to capitalize letters and press the Enter key to move down a line.  That's enough to get them started.  They are to list the places they've worked and some keywords about what they did in that job.  You're probably not going to end up with an award-winning resume, but you're getting them started.  You can instruct them on how to improve it later.  You check in on them every so often to see how they're coming along, and you move on to other reference questions.  You have time to give this basic level of resume service, and it is your job.

We Don't Offer That Service Here
Ok, we're not a typing service.  I do usually insist that the patron puts the words on the page on their own.  We do offer resume books, the service of connecting people to books, and the service of helping people use technology.  I have had patrons ask me to proof read their resume countless times.  That is something I'm pretty good at, so I'm willing to take a few minutes to glance at a resume.  That's how I interact with the patron, too:  "Sure, I've got a minute to glance at your resume."  I point out any glaring grammar and spelling errors, inconsistencies in formatting or wording, and suggest additions of missing information or removal of other.  I'll say something like, "Otherwise, looks ok to me, but I'm not an expert."  Patrons aren't looking for an expert.  They're looking for one more set of eyes to look at their resume.  Don't claim to be an expert, but do offer to be that second pair of eyes.  It only takes a minute - no more time than any other general reference transaction would take.  Now, I've also been asked to proof read academic papers several pages long.  That's not something I'm willing to do.  I'd be willing to glance at a thesis statement or skim through a specific paragraph or section, but I think it's ok to pass on proof reading an entire essay.  I would, however, suggest that they ask at their school if there is a tutor or writing center that would offer that service.  We don't have to be rude when we decline.  Try this: "Sorry, I just can't read the whole thing right now.  Did you have a question about a specific part?"  Then, be willing to help with that specific question or refer to someone who might be able to help more thoroughly with the whole paper.

I'm Not Qualified
How does one become qualified?  We've all created a resume at some point.  Most of us can probably spot a dud a mile away.  Even if it isn't our personal specialty, most reference staff can help patrons enough - better than the patron would do on their own.  We can show them how to run a spell check. We can show them examples of good resumes in resume books.  We can suggest that they not include certain information. (I kid you not, I once had to tell a man to take "Don't drink and don't run around with women" off of his resume.)  Anyone who works at a reference desk can do these things.  You may want to let the patron know that spelling or grammar isn't your specialty, but tell them what you can do.  "I'm not great at spelling, but I can double-check that you've included the most-expected sections and that your columns line up" is a fine response.  All you're really looking for is a glaring mistake.  Trust me, most of us will find them.  (If they have "Don't drink and don't run around with women" on their resume, please suggest that current resumes should not include personal statements!)

What's the real cost to the library?  In most cases, this minute or two of service will put a patron's mind at ease.  It will make them feel like they're heading in the right direction.  It will make them feel like someone cares about their situation and that there are options.  Any help is better than no help!  I just cringe when people tell me that a nearby library wouldn't help them at all. 

What about human kindness?  Many librarians got into this business because we like helping people, we like organizing information, and we care about literacy.  Giving a little resume advice that could get a person one step closer to employment than they were when they walked in the library doors is only a good thing.  It's good for our communities, good for our patrons, and good for the soul.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Update on Ever Changing Reference

Last week I commented on the Library Journal Article "Geeks are the Future: A Program in Ann Arbor, MI, Argues for a Shift Toward IT. (  Yesterday I attended the "Library Camp" unconference at the Ann Arbor District Library and participated in a discussion about the future of reference librarians and whether reference is truly dead. 

I stand by a few main points I made in my blog post last week:  Librarians need to stay connected to the community they serve and remember that all of their work, both off-desk and on, is for the good of the patrons.  After yesterday's discussion, though, I have a new perspective on a few other points.

Someone brought up the idea that when we're working at the reference desk, we are likely helping one or two (maybe three on a really busy day) people at once.  Maybe you help a dozen or so people in an hour.  However, the work we do behind the scenes likely impacts hundreds or even thousands of people.  We write blog posts for our web sites and social media accounts, we plan programs, we purchase materials, we create videos and podcasts, we create displays, and countless other projects.  The impact of these off-desk projects is much farther-reaching than our on-desk work.  Our highest paid and most highly skilled staff need to be responsible for those projects that bring the greatest impact to the most people. 

Everyone agreed that the work we do at the reference desk is important.  It is very important that we help people with their resumes, their searches, and their use of the various services we offer.  Yesterday at the unconference, Eli Neiburger said that the work itself is not meant to be diminished.  It is not as important, however, that the person offering the help has an MLIS (or equivalent) as it is that the person getting the help gets, well...helped.  The kinds of questions typically asked at reference desks do not require MLIS degrees.  They require training, experience, a customer service mentality, and some specific core competencies.  An Ann Arbor librarian pointed out that help is never far away for those times when a deeper level of knowledge or skill is required at the reference desk. We need to put the right people in every position in the library, and to embrace the idea that every position has a purpose and contributes to the success of the whole building.

So, I'm softening my stance on the idea that "reference is dead."  Reference Librarians have always had to keep up with changes in technology and information access/retrieval.  Ours is still a vital profession, but will continue to change.  We don't have to feel threatened by these changes; we can see them as an opportunity.  We won't be pulling reference librarians off of the desk any time soon at my library, but in the last two years their time at the service desks has been augmented by the use of Reference Assistants. That works for us.

I still stand by the my statement that every library needs to know what is relevant to their community.  Citizens don't know what is possible at libraries.  It is up to us to innovate and, to borrow a phrase from SSLDL, to "imagine the possibilities" for them.  There are a lot of really cool and innovative services at libraries all over the country, but just because they're cool doesn't mean they're right for every community.  We have to give our community what they need and imagine a future for them that is relevant. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ever Changing Reference

By now most of you have read this article: "Geeks are the Future: A Program in Ann Arbor, MI, Argues for a Shift Toward IT." If you haven't, read it now! 

Eli Neiburger, Associate Director of IT and production, AADL is quoted as saying "We need big servers and the geeks to take care of them...What are we going to cut to be able to hire a geek? We are going to cut reference staff. Reference is dead."

Richard Kong, Information Services Manager at AHML, commented.  He said, "As much as I agree with Eli’s statement that libraries need to invest more in geeks, I hope he agrees that librarians, many of whom have passionately served their local communities for years, can find new life."

Here's what I think:

Reference Librarians need to keep up with technology.  It's not avoidable any more.  The nature of the questions we get at public library reference desks has changed.  People aren't asking what the gross national product of Peru is or what the state symbol of Kentucky is.  Those things can be Googled.  Easily.  Eli is right - people are "acclimated to Google searches."  People need librarians to help them find library databases and the catalog (since, as the article points out, they aren't starting their searches there...).  People need librarians to help them learn to use eBook Readers and other mobile devices, and especially to connect to library resources with these devices.  Sure, with the proper aptitudes and training, parapros can offer these services.  Who's going to train them?  Who's going to provide a reference role model?  Librarians are.  We can't train parapros unless we're up to speed ourselves. 

Part-time, paraprofessional staff tend to be more transitory than full-time professional staff.  They are often students, who move on to full-time jobs elsewhere or in a different field once they graduate.  They may be older adults working part-time retirement jobs to get them out of the house a few days a week.  They are surely lovely people who are very smart and great at their jobs.  If you're lucky, you get a really great parapro who makes a long-term career out of it, but temporary or "moving through the system" staff are less invested in the long term. 

Eli also said, in this article, "If they are professionals, librarians should be behind the scenes and their time should be spent carefully. And you can get a lot of savings by staffing with a different level of support at the reference desk."  I believe that Librarians need to be aware that everything they do while at work, whether it is done at a service desk or in a back room cubicle, is done for the good of the patrons.  We plan programs for patrons.  We buy materials for patrons.  In order for Librarians to do their off-desk activities successfully, they need to be aware of what the patrons want and need.  They need to know their community and the "flavor" of their library.  I'm a believer in holistic library practices, or the idea that everything is connected.  We have to see the bigger picture of the library as a whole in order to make decisions that do the most good for the most people.  How do reference transactions translate to programs?  How do programs translate to collections?  Librarians need to interact with patrons in order to do the rest of their job holistically.

Parapros might get bored with the idea of being on-desk all the time. They don't get to do much else, beyond maybe making displays or special projects here and there. How will libraries keep them excited, inspired, and challenged? Do the professional librarians now spend their days thinking up ways to make sure the parapros are engaged? Don't misunderstand; parapros at the service desks are wonderful. They are so helpful and so good at their jobs that I can't imagine not having them around. They allow the professional librarians to have off-desk time. They have not, however, replaced us at the service desks. I do, admittedly, spend time balancing projects between Interns and Reference Assistants to make sure everyone has something interesting going on. I encourage our parapros to attend workshops and webinars to be constantly learning and motivated. I encourage them to follow their passion - whatever that may be - and seek ways to encorporate what they love into their jobs. Those who are great at technology get to teach an occasional computer class. Those who are great at readers advisory get to post reviews on the Staff Choices blog. There are all kinds of ongoing projects that parapros can get involved in, while still working mainly at the service desks...but someone has to oversee their projects and make sure they have opportunities.

The deal AADL made with Magnatune is really, really cool!  It requires professional IT personnel to pull off.  There's little doubt that your average reference librarian (like me, for example) couldn't pull off a project of that scale.  I'm somewhat techie for a reference librarian, but I am not techie at all by professional IT standards!  I rely heavily on our IT staff for many projects that are nowhere near as groundbreaking.  AADL clearly has an amazing IT staff.

In the end, I think that every library has to decide for itself whether they want to be an IT library and offer truly awesome IT projects or if they are more of a collection-based or traditional programming-based institution.  Is early literacy and storytime the big draw, or is the local history collection the thing that brings people in?  Maybe it's a legendary collection of DVDs or an amazing annual community reads program.  There are lots of exciting things that libraries of all sizes can make their name for.  In Ann Arbor, it's technology.  That is one cool library system, and I applaud them for doing what works in their community.

I'm not sure reference is dead in mine.

Friday, April 22, 2011

That Depends

I really hate giving the answer "that depends" to reference questions. Sometimes, though, that's the answer. At least, the first answer. The reference interview can usually give you more details on the real question, so explaining WHY "that depends" is crucial.

A woman called the reference desk with the question "What do republican corporations pay in taxes?" I wondered if she meant the republican party itself. No...she had an argument with her sister about how corporations get a lot of tax breaks and don't really pay much in taxes. Her sister believes that corporations pay a lot in taxes. Who's right?

The next part of the reference interview was my asking how republicans fit into the equation. She conceded that they didn't. At this point, the question turned into "What do corporations pay in taxes?" You see how "that depends" came into play.

We chatted a bit about tax credits and different types of corporations (ie. a small business is not going to pay the same taxes as, say, Ford Motor Company). I pointed her to to read all about it. I suggested that sometimes a company's annual report includes financials that includes taxes they paid that year. There are some basic flat-rate percentages that could apply in certain circumstances, but there isn't really a one-size-fits-all answer for how much ALL corporations pay in taxes. All PEOPLE don't pay the same taxes, so why would all corporations? The patron was not happy with my answer or with the reasons I offered for why "that depends." Even after we talked about it, she said she guessed she would have to go online herself and get the dollar amount that republican corporations pay in taxes. I suggested she ask a tax preparer what they thought, or call the IRS hotline.

This is just one example. How about a scenario where the patron has a very personal or private situation, and doesn't want to give you more information to help find an answer. I'm thinking of medical or financial questions. I mean, "Where is the medical section" and "Where is the legal section" are asked quite a lot, and it takes some subtlety to get more information from the patron to narrow their search. The reference librarian in me just doesn't feel right saying "these three rows" and leaving them to figure it out. The human in me does not want to pry or embarass the patron. I also don't want to make the patron feel stupid or wrong for asking. I often ask something like, "What area of law are you interested in?" or just point out "This section is about family law, further down this row is about tax law, and the other side goes into consumer law. Does that help?"

What are your strategies for answering those "that depends" questions?(Especially when there truly is not one answer and the patron just won't accept that!)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reference Collections

Those of you who know me understand the absolute delight I took in helping to weed the desk reference collection last week! Ok, ok, it was an intern project, but he graciously let me play along. I couldn't just sit there and watch while GLORIOUS weeding was being done, right? No, I could not. It was a learning experience for the intern. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. He really did all the first-round decision making and physical moving of books to cart. I cleaned up empty shelves behind him with a dust cloth and talked with him about each of his choices.

Here are my questions for all you librarian readers, as well as my own opinions on the matter:

1. What is the purpose of a Desk Reference collection? They are within arms-reach of the reference desk, and primarily behind the desk.

My answer: Criteria include irreplaceable and therefore valuable (like high school yearbooks), used by staff (ie. something like "Chase's Calendar of Events," which we use to think up display topics), and asked for regularly by patrons. If the public asks for it often, you can get to it quickly if it's right behind the desk.

2. What is the purpose of a regular, separate reference collection, not located behind the reference desk?

My answer: Everything that is not irreplaceable/valuable and that staff and patrons don't use regularly. Multi-volume sets, especially.

3. What makes something a reference book, versus a circulating book?

My answer: Ahhh, now we're getting to the heart of the matter! I like the idea of putting the library collection in the public's hands. Their tax dollars paid for the items and we purchased them with specific information needs in mind. Let's let them use the stuff at their convenience!

If only it were that easy, though.

Many reference books are difficult to figure out. People unaccustomed to something like the Physicians Desk Reference or the Statistical Abstract of the United States may need guidance in their use. I have seen heads just about explode at a glance through Value Line. That's a good reason to keep them near the desk. These example titles are also all used often enough to warrant keeping a copy on hand at all times (and therefore not allowing check-outs).

On the other hand...they may have readily available online counterparts. The Statistical Abstract of the United States is online, full-text at It's even the current edition! Do we use the online edition as the "reference" copy because it is always available and let the paper copy circulate, or do we point patrons to the online version and keep the paper copy as "reference?" Either way, there's always a copy available when you need one. That's just one example - take a look at your ready reference books and see how many are duplicated in a database or web site.

Many traditionally reference titltes are not expensive, though, and do require a time commitment by the patron to use them. How about antiques and collectibles price guides or coin collecting books? They take more time to use them than ready-reference allows. People might want to take these books home to compare the pictures in them to their actual collections. They're not that expensive, either.

How many years' worth of annuals do you keep on hand? Almanacs, price guides, etc. are only useful for so long. As it turns out, I found out through this weed that building code books are still valid on some older buildings. The new code books may only be used on new construction, where building projects on old buildings can in some cases use the old codes.

There is so much to say about weeding, collection management, and specifically reference collections. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Business Research

This week I was asked to look up the top employers for this area and describe how they are faring. Business reference is not my forte, so this was a great opportunity to use some reference tools I don't use often. Here's what I did:

Reference USA
I am so fortunate to have access to this great database! I've picked at it before to see what it could do, but it's a whole different experience to use a database when you are after something specific. I was able to use the custom search feature to narrow my search geographically, as well as by number of employees and sales volume. They give a range of numbers to choose from, so I chose the top three ranges. With the search results, I created a marked list of companies I considered to be "in this area" (my definition was set by what cities were included in the results.) I downloaded the list of about ten or so companies to Excel, where I could sort by any category (city, sales volume, number of employees).

Hoovers has a nice list of top companies by sales, as well as a list they call "top employers" that is listed geographically. There was a nice list of companies for Plymouth, MI. It was a different list than I got through Reference USA, which is interesting. Every company on the list has an address in Plymouth, though, whereas the Reference USA list only had two in Plymouth and the others were in the surrounding area (Ann Arbor, Livonia, etc.).

The "how are they faring" part of the question was a lot more difficult. Many of the companies listed are privately owned and operated. Their annual reports and financial statements are not readily available. Those on the list that are publicly traded were easy to get a quick chart of their stock prices for the last five years, one year, or less. A few of the private companies have been in the local news, so there were a very few snippets there that hinted at booming business or trouble in paradise.

What a great exercise. I'm glad I got this practice this week!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Government Documents

I took a government documents class in library school. It was not one of my favorite classes, but has turned out to be one of the most useful subjects I learned about. I took that class in 1998, so things have changed. I had a few reference questions come up this week that tested my skills, and it prompted me to refresh my knowledge. Here are some sources I found especially useful.

The Library of Congress maintains Thomas. It includes:
Bills, Resolutions
Activity in Congress
Congressional Record
Schedules & Calendars of congressional sessions
Committee Information
Presidential Nominations
Government Resources for researchers and to learn about legislative process
Resources for Teachers: classroom activities, lesson plans

GPO Access
The Government Printing Office provides online access to many, many, many of their products. Publications like the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, and the U.S. Code are available here, as well as information on the Federal Depository Library Program. If the government published it, there's a good chance there's a link to it at GPO Access.

Pretty much any statistic that the federal government produces and tracks is available here. You can search by agency, topic, or program. You can also map a state, county, city, or congressional district at
Similar in theory to FedStats, but with pure data. This site is a priority of the Open Government Initiative. It increases the public's access to data that is generated by the federal government.
Search millions of documents in ~40 different databases, regardless of which agency produced the data. All science-specific, so results are relevant.

University of Michigan Documents Center
I've always liked the way the U of M Documents Center is organized online. They have a new look, which is very clean and easy to use. It's very browsable, and has links to every possible category of government documents.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Doing Research

Today a teenager asked me (well, ok, her mom asked me...) where she might find a DVD about cloning. She was doing a research paper that required three different sources. As it turned out, we didn't have a DVD on this subject, so I asked if we might find a video online. No, no, no...she needed three sources and was not allowed to use the Internet for any of them.

Wait, no Internet? OoooooKaaaaaay...

In lieu of a video source, she could use any three different sources. She already had a book. Any three different sources EXCEPT...

Databases counted as one source. Seriously. The teacher's rule was that you could get ONE item - journal, newspaper, encyclopedia, video, whatever - from a database. The teacher was actually counting "database" as one source. Not a technique or a delivery method or a source of various different types of sources, but an actual source itself. That's just not right! You don't cite a database, you cite the information gleaned from the database. They are absolutely filled with potential information on cloning! Reliable, authoritative, current information! I'm getting a bit worked up again.

What did we do, then? We considered cheating. Let's use the database to find a magazine article, then go to the actual shelf to get the actual, physical magazine. Nevermind that we could have just clicked "print" and had the article via the database. If the teacher considered a magazine an acceptable source, a magazine she shall have!

The student then said that she could use an encyclopedia, and it would count as a separate source from the book she already had. (She just couldn't get the encyclopedia entry from the Internet or a database!)

Bottom line: we need to educate parents, teachers, and students about our wonderful online databases. They need to understand:
1. that they can use them remotely
2. that they should cite the source, not the database
3. that the Internet is just a delivery method, not the source, in the case of databases.
4. that databases are not primary sources, but may contain primary sources.