February 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
This isn't a reference question, but I think it is by far the most interesting email the library received this week. The message below was sent to my Director, and was then forwarded to our cataloger and me to look into:
Subject: former(?) Rare Chelmsford Library Book 1743 MASSACHUSETTS Bay COLONIAL Laws
Hello, I noticed this rare book for sale on ebay and an image shows an ownership label of your library. I'm not interested in buying it, just wanted to bring it to your attention in case this rare item had been removed from your collection. No response needed to me.
Wow. We checked out the ebay listing for this book, and sure enough, the inside cover has a old Chelmsford Library bookplate:
None of us ever recalled seeing this book in the collection, or even anything remotely like it. We have lots of old historical and vital records, but none leather-bound or particularly valuable.
There was no record in the catalog for this item at our library (although a nearby library does have it) - which means this item could have been weeded and discarded, sold as a fundraiser, or stolen by fiends any time in the last 100+ years.
Since we have no way to know, there's nothing we can do. I do occasionally hear about stolen library books being sold at auction (or worse, maps or color plates cut out of library books), but in this case I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It is an interesting situation though. If anyone would like to purchase it and donate it to the library, please let me know.
February 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog
One common question at the reference desk is a patron asking for a specific book by describing the cover - they don't remember the title or author, but know it was "kind of red, with an airplane or a submarine, and maybe something like a roundish square type thing."
Being librarians, we take whatever information the patron can provide and do our best. I know many people dread this type of question (because it's often just impossible), but I sort of enjoy them. Since the expectation of success is so low to begin with, it's a fun challenge, and finding the right book is all the better for it.
In this case, the patron was actually a coworker of mine - she had taken her niece to a different library, and was trying to re-locate a book her niece had picked out and loved, to see if the author had any others. But all she could remember was that it was a newish kids book with a girl holding a duck on the cover.
I first went to Amazon's advanced search with this question. My keyword search was for "girl duck," limit to Condition=New, Format=Printed Books, Pub date after November 2012, and then submitted individual searches for each of the different kid ages one at a time. None of the searches has a likely-looking cover, so I decided to just use "duck" as my keyword (thinking that if a duck is on the cover it must be the important part of the story). I also dropped the idea of using the age limiter in favor of the Subject option limited to Children's Books.
In that search, result #10 looked promising. I called my coworker over to check, and she was excited - the book she'd seen with her niece was indeed Lulu: Lulu and the Duck in the Park (Book 1), by Hilary McKay and Priscilla Lamont*.
Awesome. But then I started to wonder - was Amazon the best tool for this question? There is no really good "look up a book by cover" resource out there, although I would love there to be. LibraryThing started down this road with CoverGuess. The genius of their approach was to gamify the data entry part of tagging cover art, but I don't think a searchable interface has ever been created.
Anyway, out of curiosity I decided to run the same search process in Novelist and the library catalog, to see if I could have successfully located the book with those tools.
Novelist's advanced search is more complex than Amazon's - I used "girl duck" as a keyword, limited to Audience = 0-8 Years, and Publication Date from = November 2012:
In my library's catalog's advanced search, I used "duck" as the keyword, limited to Format = Books, Audience = Kids, and Publication Year after 2011:
And now the results - each one has the number next to it indicating how far down this book was in the search results:
In all cases it was findable, but Novelist ranked it the highest with the fewest search limiters. However, since Novelist is a subscription database, getting to the search interface is a much more cumbersome process than using Amazon. The library catalog is easy to get to and the search interface is reasonable, but burying the book at #55 is bad because many people give up log before the sixth page of search results (thanks for that, Google).
Something else I noticed, and what I think is another strike against the library catalog, was the various sizes of the cover images. Comparatively, the library catalog's cover thumbnail is tiny, and because of this it's not really evident that the girl is holding a duck. Since that's all I had to go on with this search, if I had started with the library catalog, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I don't know why the thumbnails are as small as they are, but it seems the catalog would be improved by making them almost twice the size they are now.
So there you go, my curiosity was sated. Anyone else have a favorite method for finding books by cover descriptions?
*I don't know why Amazon has the publication date as September 2013, since the other library apparently had it cataloged and on their shelf. Ah, sweet mysteries of life.
February 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
My library's One Book Chelmsford selection this year is Townie, by Andre Dubus, and the kick-off event was last weekend.
To promote the book with patrons, we decided to hang up a punching bag right next to the circulation desk, so it's the first thing people see when coming into the library. Pretty neat, huh? Plus, since we didn't want to permanently attach it to the wall or ceiling, they let me build a stand for it:
It's nothing fancy, but I like woodworking and carpentry, and any excuse to use power tools is a good one. The wood and hardware cost about $30, and we bought the bag itself on Craigslist for $15, so it's not too much money for a pretty eye-catching display. And in how many other jobs would I get to do something like this?
Patrons seem to really like it too - especially kids. We encourage people to try it, and I'm pretty sure it won't fall over (we tested it). We still haven't decided what to do with it afterwards, but we've got a few months. Who knows - maybe we'll just catalog it and add it to the circulating collection for people to check out.
January 30th, 2013 Brian Herzog
My library recently updated our policy for patrons replacing lost or damaged items.
The problem that arose is that patrons would check out a book (say, a non-fiction book that was five years old, with a price in the record of $30) - then they'd lose it, and eventually they'd get a bill for $30. Our previous policy said patrons could replace lost/damaged items either by paying for it or by supplying another copy of the book.
This meant that, instead of paying the $30, patrons would often find used copies of the item online, for just a few dollars, and give that to us as a replacement copy.
The problem was that often these books were in terrible condition (sometimes even discarded from another library, with their stamps and stickers still on it). Not to mention that there would often be newer versions of this item available, which we would want to get instead of the old outdated one.
So, we updated our policy to be:
Lost/Damaged item fees
- NO REPLACEMENTS ACCEPTED FOR BOOKS
- Book or magazine - patron is charged 100% of the full price
- DVD, music CD, or videogame - replacement allowed only if it is new and still sealed in the original package, otherwise the charge is the same as books, 100% of full price.
- Book on CD - $10 per CD (if the entire item is lost, then 100% of full price.)
- Playaway, CD-ROM, kit - 100% of full price
- Lost CD or DVD insert - $2
- Lost CD or DVD case - $2 (so lost case & insert is $4)
- Still not sure what to charge? Call tech svcs
What to say when patrons ask...
Why can’t the library accept replacements for lost or damaged books anymore?
There are several reasons:
- Many of the replacements we’ve been getting are used items in poor condition.
- Replacing the exact same isbn can mean getting an old edition of a book when a newer edition is available.
- In some cases, we don’t wish to replace the lost item, and would rather use the fee to buy something new that we need for our collection now.
Why does a replacement DVD, music CD or videogame have to be new & still sealed in the package?
- For similar reasons – we’ve received old and/or used items to replace things we wouldn’t have bothered to replace at all.
Why is the replacement cost 100% of the full price? I can get it for less than that on Amazon!
- True, but sometimes the items you get from Amazon are old and used, and you might not even realize it till it arrives.
- Also keep in mind that when we replace a book or other item, it involves staff time to get the new item, catalog it, and process it to go into circulation.
This all happened a couple months ago. Then just a couple weeks ago, we received the following note from a patron:
My favorite part is that she drew a picture of an open book on her note. Since the replacement copy she supplied was a brand new copy, and this title is still on the school's summer reading list, we just kept it.
Tags: book, Books, damage, damaged, item, items, libraries, Library, lost, policy, public, replacement
January 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A couple weeks ago, my library received the latest shipment of free Scientology books, and I'm guessing your library did too. On the whole, we never want these books, and rarely do they make it to our shelves (or even out of the boxes they came in).
So I was happy to see a post on the Maine Libraries listserv the following week (from Mamie Anthoine Ney of the Southern Maine Library District) detailing an email exchange she had with the company that sends them out. She asked them to stop sending them to her site, and this is the response she received:
Dear Ms Ney,
Thank you for message alerting me to this situation.
I have taken your address off the mailing list.
If you have not been able to send the books back yet, let me know the correct address, contact name and number and I can have my shipping department get FedEx to pick them up.
The books are very valuable and I do not want them to go to waste.
I will pick these up right away if you have not been able to arrange this.
Mr. Larry Perras
Library Distribution Manager
5600 E. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90022
Mr. Perras' email is address is firstname.lastname@example.org and he is the person to contact if you'd like your library to stop getting these boxes of books. I forwarded this to my library's Head of Technical Services, and she was only too happy to email them to take us off the list (although we never got a reply from them).
Thank you Mamie for sharing this information - hopefully it will keep more of these books from ending up in dumpsters.
October 27th, 2012 Brian Herzog
You know serendipity can be a subtle but major influence on how people find things in libraries? Here's a situation where serendipity backfired.
A patron came up to the desk and asked if we had any books on how family members can cope with someone who has a drug and alcohol addiction. I brought her to a catalog workstation and did a simple book search for "alcohol addiction" - the second result was:
The patron didn't comment on it, and I quickly pressed on to find useful resources for her. I have no idea what her situation was, but still, I felt like an ass. Oh well.