Monday, January 31, 2011

Such A Reference Ninja, Part 217

I gave a computer guest pass to the nice man who spoke only a little English. He was super-polite and friendly and all was well in the world. A little while later, he came back up to the desk brandishing the pass.
"Oil well," he said.
"Oil well?"
"Oil well," he stated emphatically. He pointed to the pass to emphasize the oily nature of the well. "OIL" point point "WELL" point point wave pass in front of deskslave.
"I'm sorry..."
I was both flummoxed and nonplussed, which is a bad state I try to avoid at all costs. Flummoxed I can handle. Nonplussed leaves me unmoved. But together?
I asked him if he was having trouble using the code on the pass. Indeed he was. He took a deep breath and invited me to look closer. He placed a pudgy yet curiously flat finger over the password part of the pass. "I yell?" he questioned.
"Eye...?" he began, his voice rising as though he were starting a question. "O'Dell?"
I gave the pass a good squint. The code was something like


The toner was a bit speckly. The small, non-halogen, non-LED lightbulb over my head glowed weakly. Fifteen watts, max. He couldn't tell if the last character was an I or an L. "I or L" was probably what he had been saying.
"Ummm..." I began. "That last letter? I think it's an L."
He smiled and let the Black Belt Reference Ninja with a thumbs-up and a smile.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Such A Reference Ninja I Am

The woman on the phone said she wanted a book called History of Pie. It sounded like a great book. I love baking and am always searching for ways to make a better pie crust, but we didn't have History of Pie. We had all kinds of books about pie, but nothing with that title. Undaunted, I told her about one of my favorite cookbooks, and one I have learned so much from. It's called The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Ms. Beranbaum is not just a baker. She's a chemist, too, so she adds that knowledge to baking part, so you really get a very well-rounded pie education.

As I told her about it ("the author talks about the chemistry of each recipe, so you can understand what you are doing and not just following the instructions...") I could tell I had gotten it wrong.

She talked about The History of Pie a little more and I finally figured it out.

Oh, yeah. Black Belt Reference Ninja.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No, I'm Actually an Exhaust Manifold. But Thanks for Asking.

Ereaders are the latest tool of Satan, sent to drive me to an early grave. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the devices themselves. If I had boodles of spare money and my retirement was secure through a bursting IRA and substantial investments and the house was paid off and the car was in perfect running condition and the kids’ college savings accounts were brimming with cash and the appliances were all EnergyStar-rated and my wardrobe was not shamefully out-of-date and threadbare, I’d probably be the first one to run out and buy one. Nope, it’s not the gizmos. It’s the people who buy them or get them as gifts and then plonk them down in front of me and expect me to show them how they work, often with quite a bit of heat and impatience in their voices.

“Lug them into the library?” I hear you exclaim, “Why should anybody expect a humble library deskslave to make an ereader from goodness-knows-where work?”

Excellent question. But you see, deskslave central is part of a consortium of libraries that purchased the digital rights to squoodles of ebooks that patrons can check out just like real analog books. Thus, the patron’s reasoning goes, if the library provides the ebooks, they must, ipso facto, show me how to use my device so’s I can get them on my fancy new ereader. Canny reader that you are, you have already figured out the flaw in the reasoning. Just because the library provides something doesn’t mean that we can or will show you how to use it. We provide books, but it is not a reasonable expectation to take one up to the desk and get all huffy because you cannot read. Likewise, if you do not know how to operate your DVD player, you would be looked at strangely if you placed it on the reference desk and demanded to know what the deal was with this darn box and these stupid DVDs we bought.

Still, most of us will give it a shot when the bewildered ereader owner comes in with their difficulties, even though none of us own an ereader. And I admit, it is a little hard. The manufacturers make it VERY EASY to buy things through their store, but damnably tricky to get the freebies from the library.

So it was today when the sprightly senior citizen lady came in. She couldn’t figure the durn thing out, so she thought she’d come in to the library where we’d show her how to use it on our computers. The biggest problem with that is that the library’s crack IT team has not gotten around to installing the ereader software on any of our machines and forbade us from doing it ourselves. I told her this, but she steadfastly refused to believe it.

“But they’re your books!”

I went through my little script as kindly as I could (large consortium, not really our books, consult the website, IT team not in a hurry, call me from home and I’ll try to talk you through, etc), but she wasn’t buying it. I think she thought I just didn’t understand what she wanted, so she went through her script again (your damn books, you get them on, look--there’s a damn computer, put the book on my spifftastic ereader with it right now). Finally, I think she figured out that she wasn’t going to be downloading anything on her nifty new device at the library. She was mad, and decided that what she needed to was put me in my place. She leaned in with the kind of smile that indicates anything but mirth and said, “You are a library, aren’t you?”

There were many things I could have said, but I opted for, “I think you know the answer to that question.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frequently Heard at Deskslave Central

Neither the federal nor state solons have graced us with tax forms yet. So I get to have a variation of the following conversation several times a day now:

Caller. Do you have tax forms yet?
Me. No.
Caller. Why not?
Me. They haven't arrived yet.
Caller. When are they getting there?
Me. I don't know.
Caller. Why not?
Me. They don't tell us, they just show up.
Caller. How am I supposed to do my taxes?
Me. I don't know.

Actually I try to be a little nicer than that. I genuinely feel sorry for people who haven't discovered the miracle of licensed tax preparers. I think they are better than most healthcare professionals when it comes to improving the quality of people's lives. I used to do my own, but I think I probably save money having somebody who is not, you know, clueless doing my taxes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Truth is Trumped. Again.

It started off as the sort of reference call I love. The caller wanted to know what the entry requirements were for Mexico. I first went to the State Dept. website and read what they had to say (unless you’re going to Ciudad Juarez or some other border city, you need a passport and you need a passport to get back into the US, so get a durn passport). Then I went over to the Mexican government website that was linked on that page and read a similar passage to him, this written by representatives of the very nation he wished to visit. I thought I was done, but the patron objected. He had something he had printed out at some point that said you only needed your driver’s license and one other piece of ID. I asked him when he’d printed it out, since the State Dept thing was effective beginning in March of 2010. He didn’t know, but thought it was a more than a year. I told him that he probably had the old stuff and that things had changed. He objected again, referring to a printout that I could hear rattling in the background. I asked him where he had gotten his printout. Again, he could not remember.

We started a circular conversation that went something like:
Me. Both the State Department and the Mexican Embassy say you need a passport.
Him. Says here I only need a driver’s license.
Me. Both the State Department and the Mexican Embassy say you need a passport.
Him. Says here I only need a driver’s license.
Me. Both the State Department and the Mexican Embassy say you need a passport.
Him. Says here I only need a driver’s license.

I finally offered him the number of the nearest Mexican Consulate. He started to write it down, but stopped and tried to begin our little dialog. “But it says here...” And who can blame him? It was easily the most profound exchange since Plato and Eryximachus threw down in the Symposium. I had to bring it to an end, though. “Here,” I said brightly, “I’ll transfer you to the Consul’s office and you can ask them yourself!”

It was a weird interaction--each time I read the relevant info, he just got more convinced that the outdated document of uncertain provenance was the truth. Here’s what a dork I am: it reminds me of a study conducted by a political scientist named Brendan Nyhan who found out about something he named “The Backfire Effect” where a correction to a misapprehension can actually increase the person’s belief in their misunderstanding.