Best reference book for Helpline questions?

NJMambo(z6 NJ)February 4, 2005

My Master Gardener organization is looking for some suggestions for useful books to add to our resource library. These would be used to answer questions from the public when they call in to our Helpline number. Do you have a favorite? We are taking a poll amongst our members but I thought members of this forum might have some opinions too. . .Thanks!

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Whenever I mentor new interns for the Hort Clinic Hotline, I highly encourage them to use online resources. The callers seem to prefer it as well. Instead of reading something back to them over the phone and/or sending them something via snail mail, it is often much easier to get the client's email address and simply send them a link to the proper information on a website.

Any more, most people are online with but few exceptions -- and those few you can always handle the old-fashioned way. Of course, you must use some common sense when selecting those links. If possible, you will prefer to utilize information directly from your own state's land grant college. However, it is called the Cooperative Extension Service for a reason -- each recognizes the information from other states and cooperates in sharing it. For me in Iowa, Iowa State University websites would be my first choice. However, there is nothing wrong with using sources from neighboring states as long as the information is regionally appropriate and also applies to your area.

There are several benefits to doing things this way. At least in my state of Iowa (and many other states as well), we have a searchable website that will specifically provide an instant answer, addressing 85-90% of the typical phone questions. Clients really appreciate being able to get accurate, detailed information instantly and are quite willing to follow the link you send them and print the page out for themselves. A secondary benefit is that it conserves the monetary resources of our cash-strapped local extension offices by eliminating all of the expenses (secretarial, office supplies and postage) of using a conventional mailing.

A good library is still of great importance and our group has an extensive one. I love going in there and just reading or doing research. However, most of the time, the caller much prefers a quick response.


Here is a link that might be useful: Searchable question database.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2005 at 11:47AM
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andie_rathbone(Tyler, TX - 7B)

I agree with IronBelly. When I've worked the phones, I've always found the Texas A&M website to be able to answer most of the caller's questions.

Also, we have a log book in the Master Gardeners' office where the calls that come in every day are logged. The person answering the phones can see what kinds of questions have been asdked in the previous few days. The log is a good indicator of the kind of questions you're going to get, as they seem to come in waves. Right now we'll be getting a lot of lawn questions - when to put on pre-emergent fertilizer & questions on how to deal with thte winter weeds. It helps the person answering the phone to prepare for what's going to be coming in.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2005 at 8:57AM
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jazzmom516(Zone 7 LI, NY)

In our County office we have a folder titled Hot Topics which has fact sheets on seasonal things that people are discussing when they call in. This helps us see what the public is concerned about and as the season progresses the fact sheets change from termites for example, to sod webworm.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 2:43PM
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bambooo(6 CT USA)

Even though they are primarily hawking chemicals it's very hard to beat The Ortho Problem Solver

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 10:50AM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

If I was limited, I would have to say the Ortho book (the big one)and the American Horticulral Society Encyclopedias. Fortunately, we don't have that problem. Our library is growing nicely. Dirr's and an organic gardening book from Rodale are helpful too. Of course that is on top of all the pubs. Sandy

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 1:08PM
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I do like the internet but I frequently find a more organized solution in interactive CD's such as Sunset's Garden Problem Solver. For pest and disease problems, it works much more efficiently and effectively than wild Googling.


Here is a link that might be useful: Sunset Garden Problem Solver

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 9:32PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

I find it interesting some of you advised using the internet. Since we are using it now, I suppose it is a logical response, but in our group there are a lot of people who are not computer proficient even though there was a class to get them started. When I used the computer to pull up a list of poisonous plants the newbie I was working with was totally amazed. Had to give her a quick, down and dirty class in computer searches. Sandy

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 3:45PM
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