Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Week of June 21, 2013 in Reference

This week in Reference June 21, 2013

Last week I got an example of the importance of name authority. A student wanted to check out a book and her bar code wouldn’t pull up her record. I entered her name and found a name. Since the record was from 2007 I asked her if she still lived on Long Street. She replied, no that is the other person with the same name. They had the same middle initial and year of birth. She said that she has never met that persona but has been confused with her before. The name was not even what I thought was a common one. I entered her record with a full middle name and date of birth to make sure they are not confused.

I was at the doctor’s office this week and they kept asking for my name and date of birth. I finally asked why. It was to differentiate people with the same name. That is also an example of good name authority. If we were cataloging a book date of birth (and death if known) are used to differentiate authors.

In checking the catalog I found a record with a main author entry and an added entry with the same name, but different years. Initially I thought something was wrong with the entry. When I retrieved the book I found one author was the father and the other his son. We don’t record the “Jr.” in the name entry. However, in the rules for transcribing title pages in RDA we would record “Jr.” if present on the title page.

A staff member of the college wanted to read the latest issues of Time and Newsweek. I said we get Time, but Newsweek [fn 1]is no longer appearing in print. She replied, “But you used to get it.” “Yes that was before if stopped the print edition.” She replied, “Where is the current issue of Time?” I pointed her to the periodicals area and she had a hard time figuring out how to get there. She walked in the exact opposite direction. I guess she didn’t have the time to read that day.

A student in a history class wanted information on “hematology” (also referred to as Kemitism) Since I never heard of this term I used a Google search to learn more. It is a pagan revival of the ancient Egyptian religion. I found a web site, The Khemit School of Ancient Mysticism: http://khemitology.com/ with information on the Khemit School. They say that Egyptology does not cover everything about this ancient religion. I searched our catalog and WorldCat , but did not find any books on the topic. I looked for information in reference books and articles, but found nothing. I had to give up finding library sources. The only materials available are for sale on Khemit web sites. The student was ok with the lack of information. He will have to choose another topic to write about.

Another week at the reference desk and I’m always looking for stories, searches, and ideas to share.


1. The story of Newsweek and it financial woes and change to an all digital format is in the Wikipedia article found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsweek . Newsweek sells issues and subscriptions for the digital version.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Are You in a Bookstore or Library?

A library reading room
One would think college students are bright enough to know the difference between the college bookstore and the college library. Is there a gap in their education? I asked a high school teacher and dean of another college. They said that students don’t always pay attention to their surroundings. Libraries and bookstores have books. This is about all that we have in common. We do have a sign with 12 inch letters indicating this is a library; the bookstores have large signs. Bookstores have merchandising signs and cash registers. The library stacks do not look like store shelving. We have tables for studying, computer carrels, desktop computers, copiers, printers and even comfy chairs. None of these pieces of furniture or physical arrangements are in common with a bookstore. Stores don’t look like libraries.

Unfortunately this is funnier when read loud than when you read it. Imagine sitting at the reference or circulation desk and hearing, “Can I get the book for my class? How do I buy it?” The reverse is also true. The bookstore manager reports and some students think the bookstore is a library. We even get phone calls from people asking if we carry their textbooks. When we answer the phone we say “library” and still callers ask, “Is this the bookstore?” We have on reserve many textbooks, but the students are surprised that this collection is limited to two hour loans for in the library use only. Students also ask about “renting” books or charges for circulation. Sometimes I wish we could charge, but that would make this another kind of place.

In recent years libraries have learned about merchandising from bookstores. More than 10 years ago the library had bookstore type shelves to display books. Libraries and bookstores have installed snack bars or eating areas. Libraries have big signs that imitate retail merchandising, but libraries are not bookstores.

In the interest of helping students better understand how to tell the differences between a bookstore and library below is a handy-dandy guide to the similarities and differences. (Note this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. If you fail to see the humor, please let me know and I’ll tell you how to find the humor books.)

1. Purpose -- Libraries have the mission to select, collect, store, facilitate retrieval, and circulate materials in all published formats. They also teach research skills and offer places to read, study, and meet. Bookstores are businesses and their purpose is to make money for the owners or shareholders. No matter how well they serve their customers or how much the owners love books, selling and earning profit is their purpose and goal.

2. Names – Libraries usually have the word “library” in their names. The library may be named after a donor or famous person such as the John Washington Library or after a city or location such as Norwood Public Library or Eastside Branch of the Parkside Library. Schools may call their libraries media centers, learning resource centers, or information commons. They all have the above purpose. Bookstores usually have the word “bookstore” in their name, but may use shortened forms such as “Strands” or “B & N.”

Bookstore signs
Bookstore shelves

3. Furnishing – Libraries have several kinds of seating and table arrangements to serve their readers. We have large tables, small tables, computer tables, and desks. We have computer stations, printing stations, viewing stations for video and listening stations for audio. We have meeting rooms, book stacks, staff work stations, storage areas and work areas. We have hardback, softback, adjustable and comfy chairs. Bookstores have display shelves for books and other merchandise. They have checkout areas and staff work areas. Their shelves have retail quantities of new and gently used books.

4. Signage – Signs in libraries are informational, directional and promotional. The signs tell patrons how to use machines and where to find things and places. Bookstores also have informational, directional and promotional signs. A sign in the library may tell the patrons about printing or locating books in the stacks; a bookstore sign will tell customers where to find merchandise. The library signs want to inform and direct; the bookstore signs want you to buy more.
Library stacks

5. Architecture – Libraries have long rows of books called stacks. They have current and out of print books. They also have storage areas for non-print materials. Libraries are open and inviting places where readers can stay all day. Stores are
Library stacks 2
designed to sell new merchandise. (Okay, there are used bookstores, too.) They have aisles with merchandise and want you to stay in the store long enough to complete your purchase.

6. Personal -- When walking into a library you will meet circulation staff and reference librarians. Librarians are highly educated professionals who will help you in your information quest. Bookstores have salespeople who will guide you to merchandise and help you complete your purchase. (This is simplistic; there are managers but for the average reader or customer the managers and support staff are not seen.)

7. Organization – The library catalog is what distinguishes a bunch of books from an organized collection. The catalog will tell you the call number which is an address for where to find a book. Each book or other library materials are tracked as unique items. Bookstores will have inventory lists, but individual items are not tracked. One copy of a book is exactly the same as another. If inventory is sold, it is replaced. Merchandise items are commodities and tracked by the number sold. [fn 1]


1. A Wall Street Journal article, "New York Public Library, Others Check Out Online Book Sales" (June 14, 2013) talks about libraries that are selling books online. Libraries are selling electronic books that already in the catalog to people who don't want to wait to borrow a copy from free. They also sells books via Amazon and used book sales. This does not diminish the mission and look-and-feel of a library. Companies such as Amazon (through its Kindle product) and Overdrive are lending books for a fee or through membership programs. Many individual publishers have lending and renting programs for both trade and textbook collections.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Account of a Hat

People leave belongings in the library all the time. The next person using the space will find the object and hand it over to the circulation desk. What is the obligation for the parties involved? How does one differentiate between lost and abandoned property?

If a big piece of property is left in a public area such a car it may be considered litter if certain conditions are met. Municipalities have laws to define the time and conditions defining when the car is considered abandoned. In general if the automobile is in a condition that no one would want it, it is considered a public nuisance and can be removed after a statutory time period. A question would remain as to whether the government tries to locate the former owner and issues a fine or invoice to recover costs.

States have laws concerning unclaimed property based on a uniform property act. For example the law defines tangible property to include bank checks, security deposits, and amounts due from financial transactions. Each has its own time limit. None of these laws cover lost personal property such as hat, phone, umbrellas, and clothes left in the library.

Organizations that have large numbers of people passing through the doors establish “lost and found” departments. For example people turn in a “lost” object and it will be sent to a central location and hopefully the owner will “find” the object. This does not always work; have you ever seen how many lost objects schools amass and no one claims them?

The library labels everything we own because otherwise we would never know if the book or other object belongs to the library. This facilitates return of our property. This leads us to some clues as to how people should treat personal property. Jewish civil law provides some insight as to dealing with lost articles. Sometimes Jewish civil law travels one route and American law another, but frequently in the end the conclusion is the same. Under Jewish law it is a positive commandment to return lost objects, but there are conditions. In order to return something and you have to know who the owner is. If the object has the owner’s name on it, returning it is easier than if you don’t the owner. If the object has a sign that the owner knows, returning the lost object is more likely than when there is no sign, but not as certain as when the name is present. A sign or name on the object means the owner is less likely to have abandoned hope of finding it again.

Let’s take the scenario of a lost hat. There are endless varieties of hats. Unless the hat is regalia for the institution, it is quite possible that no one has the same hat in the library. What happens if a patron finds a hat at a library work station? Several questions must be addressed -- 1) Has the owner abandoned hope of getting it back? 2) Does the hat have possible value to another person? A name or ownership mark on the hat is the best sign that the owner will want the hat back. If s/he has taken the time to write their name on the object, they realize that it may be misplaced and they want it back and will not abandon it for a long time. (However, “long time” is not definable.) If the hat is torn, dirty or in some other way disgusting, the value may be nil and so the library has no obligation to even try to return it. The obligation to return an object is based on these criteria (based on Jewish law)

1) The majority of the library users are affiliated with the institution. For a college or school library this is easy to determine; for a public library it is hard.

2) The object that seems lost is in a non-secure place. An object in someone’s bag, purse, or work area is not considered lost. 3) The manner in which it was left indicates placement was not intentional. For example a hat was left on the floor near where another person was working. A pile of neatly placed objects is intentional. The classic case in the Talmud is a nice pile of three or more coins is considered intentional while three coins randomly found on the floor are not.

4) It was not willfully abandoned. Objects placed in the waste containers are considered ownerless, not lost. No matter what the value, the original owner has no claim. Similarly to the junk car on the street, property in non-usable condition is considered as if the owner has willfully given up all rights to ownership.

5) The object has value. The value just needs to be minimal, but the value must be obvious. A junk automobile may have a value to a junk yard, but most people would not be able find value in it. A hat that can still be worn has value to the owner and the finder even if the value is $1.00 or less. 6) If the object has a name on it or some sign of ownership, the owners will not give up hope of finding it. If the hat is marked, the owner probably has not left the hat on purpose.

7) The person who finds the object would take care of the object or similar objects. If the hat is placed in a “lost and found” area of the library this is taking care of the object. If the object is something the finder would never be able to care for, he is under no obligation to find the owner. For example if you find a lost animal and have no idea how to care for one, you have no obligation to attempt to find the owner. If you would incur a monetary loss in keeping the object, perhaps you do not need to find the owner. For example if you find a muddy T-shirt you would not be required to wash it. You are not obligated to take an abandoned object that is valueless, objectionable or would cause you a monetary loss.

What should you do with a “lost” object? If you have reasonable expectation that the owner is still in the library, you could quietly search or even make announcement. This would mean that object could be quickly returned. If the person has left the library, It would probably be best to leave the object near where it was found, because the owner will come back to look for it. If the item is a phone or something of obvious special value, we would immediately keep it at the circulation desk. If a reasonable amount of time has passed (the exact amount of time is not definable) the object could be placed in a lost and found area. If the object has a name on it and you can find them in library records a phone call or e-mail could be sent to let the owner know that the object is in the library.

The lesson for owners is that you should put your name on all your objects so that if lost or misplaced, they can be returned. The lesson for libraries is that you can try to return lost objects, but not every owner can be found.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

This week in Reference June 6, 2013

This week in Reference June 6, 2013

We had a Marx Brothers moment in the library this week.

In the movie Duck Soup Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho Marx) is handed a report from the Minister of Finance and says:

Clear? Huh? Why a four year old child could understand this.
Run out and get me a four year old child, I can't make head or tail out of it.

The Library got a new computer and card reader to control public printer. We put signs up to inform the students how to use the machine. The place to put their printer pay cards has a big arrow pointing to the slot. On Thursday a student brought her four year old to the library and wanted to print. The student looked confused and asked me where to put her card. The child was pointing to the place. I told her to look where her daughter was pointing. Sometimes it takes a four year old to understand the obvious.

As a community college we let outsiders come in to use the computers. One outsider asked for help with e-mail. One library staffer offered to help. The session took 45 minutes. The person could not understand how to use his password. He refused to remember or write down the password. The library staffer was very patient, but after the patron left he was glad. Sometimes it takes the patience of Job to deal with adults who seem to have the knowledge of a 5th grader. (Opps! That is a TV reference. )

Another outsider brought a DVD to view on our computers. He had been here before and I told him that his DVD was too worn to be usable. He insisted that he cleaned it and he saw it “last night at my nephew’s house.” First I had to show him how to get onto the computer. He needed to type the password which is found on the computer, “Library.” He could find the first letter, “I” on the keyboard. Yes that is not a typo; he thought “library” started with “I.” One can copy the password without know how spell. I typed the password, since I know some of the computers were having problems with the network connections.

The computer could not read the disk. I looked at the disc and found it was so worn, the tracks were no longer visible and there was a crack in the hub. I showed him a new DVD so that he could compare. He still thought the machine was the problem and not his disc. He tried three more computers and even asked some students to help him. He refused to believe that his disc could be a broken. This though I could repair the disk; I can’t. Then he saw the binder that had our DVD collection. He wanted a feature film. We only have DVDs that are connected the curriculum. We have no videos solely for entertainment.

Here are pictures of DVDs; the left side is scratched and the other is new. The new one is so reflective that the image of the camera is visible.


 A psychology student asked for help with the first class assignment. The assignment was aimed at getting students to look up information in the library databases. The teacher told the students to look for articles in PsychInfo from ProQuest. Since the library does not have a subscription to this database, I guided the student to Academic Search Premier. The first question was to find an academic article written by someone with your last name. The student said no one has my last name since I’m from Nigeria. She searched her name and received more than 1600 hits; many were psychology articles. To contrast – I searched my last name and got 23 hits; ten were written by me.

I wonder what next week will bring?