The Elusive Search

I had a rather interesting reference encounter tonight in the Children’s Department. A couple came in needing information (for their child) about the Nile River and Chaitén, a volcano in Chile. The first topic search was pretty straightforward: I did a keyword search in our online catalog, VuFind, for “Nile River” and turned up plenty of books in two main Dewey sections, the 916s and 962s. The 916s is geography and travel of Africa, while the 962s represent general history of Africa: Egypt and Sudan. One of these days, I shall take a closer look at these books to see how the catalogers made the distinction.

The second topic gave me a lot of trouble. A keyword search for “Chaitén” didn’t yield any results, so I did a Google search to verify that the spelling was correct and that such a volcano existed! Yes, there is such a volcano and there were some information on the web via Wikipedia and such which the student was not allowed to use. Since nothing registered in the catalog under “Chaitén,” I went broader and searched for books under “volcanoes.” The parents and I looked through the indexes of these books and found only one that listed Chaitén (and only a paragraph of information at that). We also looked through books about Chile, also with no success. My next step was to check out our online databases, such as the encyclopedias and reference e-resources. I had no luck there, either. At this point, the children’s librarian jumped in to help. She came up with other possible search terms, such as Mt. Chaitén, that this particular geographic feature might be listed under. This was a search technique that I learned in my online searching class- coming up with alternative search terms that the topic may be listed under. Alas, we still came up empty. In the end, the librarian asked the parents to go downstairs to adult services to see if they could find anything in their resources, such as an atlas.

This was an interesting exercise in searching though all possible resources (or what seemed like it!) and still coming up empty! However, the internet was a useful resource in refining the search…which only shows that librarians should not hesitate to use Google (judiciously) if it helps them get what their patrons need.

Learning by Doing

I continue to work the reference desk for both Adults and Children’s Services, which is my primary focus, and I’m learning little “tricks” all the time. I’m finding that sometimes it’s best to go with intuition rather than formal knowledge—real life does not always adhere to rules!

I’m doing a much better job searching our computer system for titles in a particular subject.For example, in the past, I would just search the title or subject field. For the title field, I would only input actual titles or their close approximates, but now I’m learning that if a subject search does not turn up what the patron needs, I could input keywords in the title field and that could turn up relevant titles that I can then use to find appropriate subject headings. (Whew! That was a mouthful.) I’m learning not to be so rigid and to be more creative and experimental. I guess this is all part of becoming more comfortable on the job.

Headquarters has put out a directive about tracking the use of reference resources for two weeks. I believe they are trying to decide what to do with reference books county-wide. At some of the branches, reference books are intershelved with the general collection that circulates. It sounds like headquarters is trying to figure out which shelving system would promote a greater use of reference books. Anyways, my supervisor asked me to read the memo and think about how I would implement a way to track the use of reference books at our branch (we have a separate reference collection). I’m pleased to say that my idea was pretty much what she had in mind—to place a small cart by the reference with signage directing patrons to place reference books on the cart once they are done using them. What I didn’t think about were the reference books that would be left on the tables and circulating carts. So pages and other staff members would need to be informed of the procedure. Communication is key! It will be interesting to find out the results of the tracking county-wide. I would imagine that reference books that are shelved with the general non-fiction collection would get more use due to more patrons browsing the general collection, but we shall see.

I worked on weeding movie DVDs to make room for new ones. The general criteria were low circulation and a last check-out date of at least 3 months prior. I was amazed at how well movies circulated. Even titles that were really old and which I’ve never heard of circulated well and recently. Of course, discs that were terribly scratched were discarded. I also worked on adding and processing donations to our collection. I checked the computer to see if we have the title, and if we don’t, check other branches to see if the title is circulating well elsewhere. Of course, current best sellers get added no matter what because there is usually a long waiting list county-wide for them!

In my collection development class, we learned about merchandising books to promote their use. There isn’t a lot of space to do this at Katie Wheeler, but we make the space for new and rental books. Just like in retail (my previous career), merchandising books makes them fly off the shelf, no matter what the subject is. I am constantly replacing books to face out because patrons keep taking them. There was one business book that sat in the new shelf area for days. I decided to face it out and it was checked out that afternoon. Coincidence? Maybe not.

I have a couple of interesting projects coming up. One is the e-book reader open house next week. The other is a selection project for Chinese books. My supervisor has ask me to help select new Chinese books for our Chinese collection because I know a little Mandarin. We have a list of books that our regional library has selected for their collection and we will need to chose from that list. The description of the book is in Chinese, so that doesn’t help anyone at my library. More on these in the next post.

It’s All Becoming Clearer

These past few weeks have gone by fairly quickly! As I go forward in my internship at Katie Wheeler Library, I’m finding myself getting really immersed in the activities. I’m feeling more like a librarian, although I still have a ways to go.  I’ve been working the reference desk quite a bit, both with my supervisor and on my own (of course, with a librarian within call range!). One morning, I was asked to take the door count and put out the daily newspapers the library receives—the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and  a Korean daily. At another public library where I work part time, this task isn’t completed by the reference librarian. We also receive other newspapers, but not everything arrives every day. I’ve discovered that the phones generally start ringing right on the dot at 10:00 am and will continue for the first 15 minutes at a steady pace. So you need to be ready to go! Many of the questions still deal with specific title requests, where you have have to do an item search to see if the library owns the title, or check to see what other branch has it and have it transferred in if the location is too far. I’ve also had opportunities to do more subject searches, though. These, of course, tend to be more complex. One gentleman asked me how he could research materials on businesses that have failed. At first, I was stumped! I had no idea how to begin searching the topic. Something to do with businesses! So I just typed in “business failures” because I couldn’t think of anything else, and to my surprise, that was an actual subject heading! I was able to locate appropriate materials for this patron to get him started. Another patron called on the phone to see if we had books on helping children cope with divorce. A search under the subject “divorce” brought up way too many headings and in the interest of speed, I transferred the request to a librarian. I did manage to conduct a reference interview and found out she wanted books children can read rather than books for parents so they can help their kids deal with divorce. A subtle change in semantics but one that makes a huge difference in what the patron was asking for.

I  played  with the Kindle and iPad a few more times to make myself more comfortable around them. I even walked a frustrated patron through downloading a Kindle book, for which he was extremely grateful. Being familiar with the procedures for downloading e-books to the Kindle and iPad made it much easier to do the same for the Nook, which was a new device for me this time around. I’m going to have to play around with that one a bit more, as it entails using Adobe Digital Edition and a USB cable (as opposed to being a wireless transaction). Also, my supervisor invited me to participate in an e-book open house the library is holding next month. I’m super-excited about it! I love that the library is recognizing a need for instruction in the community and is acting to provide that information on a personal level.

I also continued with collection development activities. I continued to log information about the holds coming into library to the Excel spreadsheet. There are patterns emerging, which I will analyze at a later date. I continue to weed full shelves to make room for new arrivals and rid the library of books that have not circulated in a while. This process is becoming much easier for me. Some decisions to discard are quite easy to make while others are iffy. With those, you really need to factor other criteria into your decision. These, I talk over with my supervisor and explain why I think something should be discarded, and I’m happy to report that she has agreed with my decisions 99% of the time! Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about discarding last copies. Those decisions are made by headquarters, and they will either tell us to get rid of it or reassign it to another branch. I find that I have to struggle a little to put aside my personal preferences when it comes to weeding. I need to remind myself sometimes that it is not my library but my community’s, and if they’re no longer interested in the book, it needs to go.

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the direction of my internship. I’m learning and doing professional activities that will help me achieve my learning outcomes and getting great advice on just about everything library-related!

Carrying On

The past couple of weeks, I have been working on both reference services and collection development. I’ve started covering lunch breaks at the desk both in adults and children’s all by my lonesome and this has really made me grow in the role. I guess I’m not as tentative and insecure when I don’t have someone looking over my shoulders. I’ve also come up with an Excel spreadsheet with the help of my supervisor to track holds coming into the library. The objective is to log different kinds of requests in order to analyze what patrons are asking for and to see if there are weaknesses in the collection that need to be addressed. The spreadsheet tracks the number of fiction, nonfiction, audiobook, CD, and DVD requests. Then I go into our catalog and check the titles against our holdings to see how many titles our branch already owns and how many we don’t. I also log call numbers for the nonfiction so we can later see what subjects are most frequently requested.

books at the Katie Wheeler libraryThe library had just finished weeding according to a last-circulated list, but many of the shelves were still full. So the librarian asked me to pull the books from the full shelves onto a cart and go through them in the ILS to see what can be weeded further. At least one book must be weeded from each of these shelves. Although it pains me to discard books that have circulated within the year, necessity dictates this course of action. The library’s fiction collection is a small one, and room must be made for new additions. This is a library where users are always requesting newly published books, and this particular demand must be met. I looked at several statistics- last date checked out, number of times checked out during the period the library owned the title, number of books within OCPL, and whether the title is still circulating at the other branches. The year of publication was also taken into account.

Thoughts about weeding (collection development): I had one book that I was really on the fence about. It was Comanche Moon, the last in the Lonesome Dove saga by Larry McMurtry. It was a gorgeous new copy, but the last checkout was in March 2010. We didn’t have any other books in the series except Lonesome Dove in paperback. The county system listed 23 copies of Comanche Moon, with only one copy currently checked out. I thought, big name author, beautiful condition book. I don’t want to discard it! But…it was written in 1997 and was not circulating at our branch. So out it went.

Thoughts about reference: I think what I’m finding the hardest thing to figure out are the subject term(s) to use when searching for books on a particular topic. I had one young lady ask me for books about careers in psychology. I tried several combinations of “psychology” and “career” and “guide”in a subject search but came up empty. Often, the terms you think you should use are not the right ones! Practice practice practice, I suppose. After a while, I’m hoping the right terms will come to me automatically.