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Readers Advisory Initiative at the Chelmsford Library

   May 23rd, 2013

QR code labelThis is a neat thing, but is such a large project that I'm still not exactly sure how to explain it all.

At the end of last year, my library created a new position for a dedicated readers advisory person. Since this was a brand new position, we've had to reconfigure the way we do things. Another benefit, though, is that it got everyone in the library thinking about how we can improve readers advisory across the board.

Our Childrens Room really upped their game in this area. They'd long maintained in-house readalike lists, both for specific books and for subjects. Eventually these lists migrated from papers in binders to online lists created using our catalog's "bookbag" feature.

Which is all well and good, but what they really wanted to do was improve access to these lists, and make it easier for patrons to find them on their own.

The best way to promote these lists, they felt, was to print out labels with the list URLs (and QR codes) on them, and stick them in each book that was on the list. I know other libraries use QR code labels in their collections (notably the Dover [MA] Town Library), but I don't know how many are mass-sticking the actual books. And they're trying to stick them in the books as close to the end of the story as possible, so that patrons find them immediately after finishing a good story:

QR code label in book

Along the way, we ran into a few snags that had to be dealt with, and I think our solutions worked pretty well.

Our catalog's bookbag URLs are pretty messy and unfriendly (ie, https://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=53439;page=0;locg=18;depth=0), so we wanted to use a URL shortening service to clean them up. The Childrens staff first started with Goo.gl, and reviewed a few others, but hit a major roadblock: with those services, once a short URL is created, you can't change the destination.

This was a problem for us because not too long ago, we had a catalog upgrade that changed the URLs of every single one of our bookbags. This meant that if we had stuck QR code labels in thousands of books, they would all have to be redone with new labels for the new bookbag URLs.

I looked around for an alternative, and found an open source solution yourls.org (Your Own URL Shortener). That was awesome, and with instructions from Lifehacker, I had it up and running on our web server in like fifteen minutes.

However, it kind of defeats the purpose of a URL shortener when you're starting with a URL as long as chelmsfordlibrary.org, so we decided to get a whole new domain name for this project. We kicked around a lot of ideas, but the best one we came up with - short(ish), and memorable - was readmore.in.

Now, the .in is the country code for India, but readmore was available at the domain name service we used, so we went with it. But best of all, it makes for great readers advisory URLs: readmore.in/adventure, readmore.in/magictreehouse, etc. Even though those aren't super short, they're easy to remember, and that's the important thing.

With yourls running on the readmore.in domain, now we can always point readmore.in/poetry or whatever to the right place, even if the underlying bookbag link changes.

And to make the QR code creation process easier, I also installed a open source QR code creator (phpqrcode) on our web server. There are lots of free services out there, but hosting our own lets us pre-set all the output settings, so all staff need to do is paste in the URL, click "create," and then right-click on the QR code to paste it into the label template. It's already the right size, encoding, and everything else.

I admit there was a lot of technical playing to make this happen - but, now that everything is set up, staff is whizzing through the creation and labeling process. Of course, this is an on-going project, but we're hoping it is something from which patrons will really benefit.




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7 Responses to “Readers Advisory Initiative at the Chelmsford Library”

  1. Kristin Says:

    What about books that are on multiple RA lists? Do you use multiple codes?

  2. John Schoppert Says:

    The readmore.in is brilliant. It’s a prefect suggestion for reader’s advisory. Have you thought how you’re going to measure the success of this? There must be a way to track the QR clicks. Nice work.

  3. Swiss Army Librarian » Readers Advisory Initiative at the Chelmsford Library :: Brian Herzog | QR Code Fun Says:

    [...] See on http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net [...]

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kristin: I don’t think we’ve encountered that yet, but this system does lend itself pretty easily to multiple labels in the books. They’re pretty small, and clearly marked by genre, so putting a few in there just gives the patron more options to pursue.

    @John: thank you – I honestly was pretty pleased with myself for this domain. And yourls has built-in click-through stats, which is great (because our network people told us there was no way to track page views of our bookbags).

  5. Chris Says:

    This is pretty super cool. Great idea and implementation.

  6. Book Talking and Reading Maps: Readers Advisory Success | project READ with Jo and Alison Says:

    [...] in the readers advisory field (all things Jo and I advocate). And then I found this on the Swiss Army Librarian’s blog and had another idea – add QR codes to the books to point people to the reading map so they [...]

  7. Automated but human | The Nocturnal Librarian Says:

    [...] advisory to their catalog and even to their physical collection with QR codes. You should read Brian Herzog’s post at Swiss Army Librarian for the technical details.  But the executive summary is that their read-alike lists, which are [...]