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Book a librarian

New program can help patrons with technology, genealogy and more

Jude Geske has questions for Connie Laing, librarian, at the Long Prairie branch of the Great River Regional Library. Geske was able to get some time with Laing using the Book-A-Librarian program. Photo by Nancy Potter

Jude Geske has questions for Connie Laing, librarian, at the Long Prairie branch of the Great River Regional Library. Geske was able to get some time with Laing using the Book-A-Librarian program. Photo by Nancy Potter

Recently Jude Geske and Connie Laing were in animated conversation at a table in the Long Prairie branch of the Great River Regional Library.

“Do we still have to whisper in libraries?” asked Jude.

Connie looked over her shoulder at the librarian at the desk and then turned back to Jude. She seemed to be saying, “We’re not too loud.”

Connie ought to know. She is a librarian. As one of two traveling Patron Services Librarians employed by GRRL, she serves 32 branch libraries, from Staples to St. Cloud to Elk River. Part of her job is to be a librarian for GRRL’s Book-a-Librarian program. Jude has reserved Connie for an hour- long session.

“The way Book-a-Librarian works is that the patron, or a staff person on their behalf, submits an online form,” Connie said. “It arrives in the e-mail of the Patron Services Librarians and the local branch library. Then either my co-worker Ariel Kirst or I call the patron to set up an appointment and clarify the request if necessary. It is helpful to know what the patron wants to focus on so that we can prepare for the session. We will meet with them at any one of our locations that they choose.”

Jude filled out the request form herself and found it easy to do. She is interested in learning more about using the library’s more than 70 online databases.

“I had been taking a course that occasionally required me to get a scientific paper,” she said. “With Google I could get a summary of the article, but if I wanted the whole article, I usually had to pay for it.”

“Everything in these databases is free,” Connie told her. “The database that I often use for research is MasterFILE Premier.”

A few of the other databases include:

• Britannica Online Academic and Britannica Library editions. The academic edition has encyclopedia content plus news headlines, safe websites and multimedia. The library edition has separate areas for adults and children

• The Consumer Health Complete database allows library patrons to search a variety of sources that support the information needs of patients and to foster an overall understanding of health-related topics.

• The Regional Business News database includes business journals, newspapers, and newswires from metropolitan and rural areas across the U.S that are updated daily.

Jude has also included genealogical research on her application to book a librarian. Both she and Connie have come to their get together prepared to discuss this. Connie has a package for Jude that includes a handout with a dozen free sites on the Internet that can be used for genealogical research. She also has a form to help a researcher interview a living family member and another form to map a family tree.

Jude has her father’s final payment work sheet. The work sheet includes only her father’s name, address and military serial number.

“Do you think we can find more about my dad with this document?” Jude asked Connie.

“I don’t know. Let’s look,” the librarian said.

First they go to the Ancestry for Libraries database on the GRRL’s website. Ancestry for Libraries is a genealogy tool with access to over 7,000 other databases, including a military records database.

“We just subscribed to this,” Connie said. “It’s one of the few databases that can only be used while you are in the library.”

Jude has an iPhone for her research, and Connie has a laptop computer. Connie points out that the library’s computer terminals are also available.

“I want to see if this is friendly to mobile phones,” Jude said.

Ancestry for Libraries was unfriendly to Jude’s phone. It asked for log-in information she couldn’t provide. Connie got on the Ancestry for Libraries website easily. Then she passed the computer to Jude.

“We like you to do the driving,” Connie said. “We will do the navigating.”

Jude found the military database, and Connie suggested to Jude that she make her search as vague as possible. Jude typed in only her dad’s name, and a number of records with men who share that name popped up. Jude looked at a record halfway through the list.

“That’s him! That’s him,” she pointed excitedly.

Then, at the bottom of the record, was disappointment. The record noted that this soldier was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.

“My dad was a big man,” she said. “That can’t be him.”

“That’s an awful tiny soldier,” Connie agreed. “Let’s look some more.”

Connie directed Jude to the HeritageQuest database on the library’s website.

“You can use this at home,” she said.

Jude decided to try her phone again. She got on HeritageQuest easily, but she didn’t have all the information on her tiny screen that Connie had on her larger laptop screen. But she didn’t give up.

“I think that if you know how to use your phone and its icons that everything is all there,” she said. “I really like to use my phone when I have a question rather than go to a computer on a desk.”

If you do use your phone in the library Jude suggests that you log onto the library’s Wi-Fi network.

“If you have a limited data plan you can save your minutes that way,” she said.

HeritageQuest didn’t have good records on WWII-era veterans, so Connie suggested a website that’s not on the library website but is on the handout she gave Jude earlier.

Family Search ( does have military records, and it did have a record for Jude’s dad. Looking at Connie’s laptop screen, both women saw the tiny soldier’s record from Ancestry for Libraries minus the weight and height entry on the form. More importantly the Family Search form included his exact serial number.

“With the serial number you can be certain,” Connie said.

Jude pronounced the search a success. She now knows a few more things about her father, such as his military enlistment date. She also said that what she learned through the Book-a-Librarian program was very helpful.

“Understanding what’s available and how to access it opens up so many exciting doors,” she said. “This session reinforced my deep appreciation for the library. It is among the last places where there is truly access for everyone.”

The Book-a-Librarian program is fairly new to GRRL. It started slowly in 2014 and became fully implemented in 2015. Since then 115 library patrons have taken advantage of the program. Jude Geske’s request for research assistance was a little unusual, according to Connie.

“By far, the most common requests involve technology, whether it is an e-reader, tablet, laptop or general Internet help,” she said. “Many patrons request individual help using our digital library platform, which allows them to check out and download e-books and e-audiobooks with their library card. And there are still many patrons in our communities who lack basic computer skills to create an e-mail account, apply for jobs, or search online.”

Many of the small number of patrons that have used the service are senior citizens. Connie said she and Ariel Kirst would be happy to see the number of people booking a librarian increase, whether they be senior citizens or high school students.

Author’s note: When Connie returned to her office the day after visiting with Jude she kept a promise, she investigated the problem Jude had getting onto Ancestry for Librarians. She and her colleagues were able to access the database with smart phones.

“I’m puzzled as to why Judith’s phone was prompting a log in yesterday,” she said.

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