or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



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#nelaconf12 Notes and Insights

   October 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

New England Library AssociationI spent the first part of this week at the New England Library Association 2012 annual conference, which I found I enjoyed more than others in recent memory. Partly it was due to talking with way more people than I usually do, but the guys from ByWater Solutions, Koha developers, also picked up my lunch tab one day, which is awesome - thanks Nate.

Anyway, I mostly stuck to the technology track this time, which seemed like it was all ebooks all the time. Often, that turned into Overdrive-bashing (for past practices), but there was also a lot of looking to the future of what-could-be. Here are a few notes I wrote down from the various sessions over the three days:

  • Followup on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    Last week I posted about this case now before the Supreme Court, and mentioned that Alan Wexelblat of Copyfight would be speaking at NELA. This was probably the hands-down absolute best session I attended, and if you ever get the chance to see Alan speak, jump at it.

    He offered more insight on the speculating I did last week - for one thing, this case will be limited to items imported from overseas, and only items that have (or can be) copyrighted. So, things like iPhones (which are patented, not copyrighted) and clothes (which are not copyrighted at all) will not be affected (so no "Garage Sale Police: SVU" any time soon).

    Alan also said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in Wiley's favor, albeit with a very narrow ruling. Arguments between October 29th, so keep an eye on it.

  • The (not so bright) future of ereaders
    In more than one session, I heard people say that 2012 was the peak for dedicated ereaders. They will start to decline in 2013, and from here on out, ebooks will be read on smartphones and tablets, because ebooks will cease to be something special or unusual and just part of peoples' normal lives. As people get more and more used to doing everything on one device, dedicated devices - like ereaders - will be left behind.

    Dedicated ereaders have the advantage with cheaper prices and better eink displays, but hardware prices are always falling, and the more people use smartphones and tablets, the more they become accustomed to those displays. Besides, Betamax was better quality than VHS, and it still lost out.

    Except maybe in libraries, since the libraries that circulate hardware will only want patrons using them for ebooks. But the death of ereaders was still an interesting observation (and again, a widely-held one, it seemed).

  • But if you are buying ereaders...
    A few speakers gave kind of best-practices reviews of ereader lending programs in their libraries. One recommendation was that, if you are buying ereaders to lend to patrons, definitely get the extended warranty.

    Another model for ereader/ebook lending was to give patrons a gift card in addition to loaning them an ereader. That way, patrons do your ebook collection development for you. And, since the books are being purchased, patrons aren't limited to just what is available through Overdrive, and instead they get to read whatever bestseller they want, right now. A couple libraries in Massachusetts are doing this, and they have not had any problems - the gift card is tied to the library's Amazon account, and patrons are told not to buy more than three ebooks.

    However, again, there was the recommendation to buy tablets, not dedicated ereaders at all - they will have a longer useful life.

  • The (ever brightening) future of ebooks
    Another common opinion was that ebooks really are a major revolution in publishing, whether we like it or not. And by revolution, we're really talking evolution along the lines of cave walls > clay tablets > papyrus scrolls > bound books > ebooks. However, ebooks won't necessarily totally supersede print in our lifetime - more likely, they will be viewed as different experiences, not as mutually-exclusive.

    A great example of this was keynote speaker T. Scott Plutchak's story of reading picture books to his granddaughter. She has one favorite book, which they have both in print and on his iPad. She always wants him to read it to her, but sometimes she wants the interactive play of the iPad, and sometimes she wants the traditional page-turning of the print book. I like the view that it's not all or nothing - print and ebooks can coexist. And kids don't see them as competitors, just different. I think I've said this before, but I still use both pencils and pens, and I also still listen to the radio every day. Pencils and the radio are good for certain applications, pens and keyboards and television and internet good for others.

    Another analogy I liked was that ebooks are a total revolution in technology, along the lines of sheet music > phonograph recordings. Before Edison, music was distributed as sheet music - people bought it and then played the piano themselves in their own parlors. But after the phonograph, people could buy and listen to a recording. This is a fundamental change in how people interacted with music - it removed the personal experience of playing it, and standardized what version of the song people heard. This isn't a direct ebook correlation, but the basic "this is a fundamental shift in how people interact with stories" is worth considering.

    However, one of the funniest lines at the conference came up when a speaker was trying to make the point that new technology does often replace old technology: "yes, people still raise horses, but how many of you rode a horse here today?" Ha.

  • DRM is the problem.
    Universally, the cause of all ebook-related problems right now is DRM. Not copyright, not technology, not piracy - just DRM. So, the recommendations were always: buy DRM-free ebooks - publishers like TOR and HumbleBundle are leading the way and need to be supported.
  • Create your own electronic content
    For libraries in Massachusetts, contact the Boston Public Library to get on board with BPL's local resource digitization program. For free, libraries, historical societies, town offices, etc. can have their annual reports, yearbooks, special collections, whatevers digitized by BPL and Internet Archive staff. The items will become part of the Digital Commonwealth and Internet Archive collections, and will be freely available online. This is definitely worth checking out - send a message to digital@bpl.org for more information.

    Good quotes relating to this were, "copyright is like a speed limit - it's flexible, so going a little over is okay." And, "copyright is often a gray area - and to us, gray means GO!"

  • Training - it's what we do
    Lastly, lots of talk about training and tech support - library staff training patrons to use ebooks, the reference desk evolving into a community technology help desk, etc. These ideas are not new, but they bear repeating, because I do think this is the future for libraries.

    I did hear one new idea though: one speaker found he was having trouble training senior citizens to use their brand new ereaders, because they had no computer experience whatsoever. No matter how patient and repetitive he was, he could just not communicate with them in the way they needed. So, he got the idea to train one of their peers - a senior woman who volunteered at the library - and then had her show other seniors how to use technology. He said results were instant and fantastic, because she, being from their generation, was naturally more attuned to speaking at their level. Great idea, up until he told us what he called it: "The Old Lady Support Group."

In all, it was a great conference. My only complaint is that I couldn't get to all the sessions I wanted to see. Presentations are being posted online, so please check them out for more information.



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#PLA12 Weeding in the Digital Age

   March 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

I'm still unpacking from PLA12 two weeks ago, and just came across notes I took during a great session on Weeding in the Digital Age. I know it's two weeks late, but it's still relevant. The discussion was led by Alene Moroni (Manager, Selection and Order, King County Library System), Stephanie Chase (Reference, Adult Services, and Programming Coordinator, Multnomah County Library), and Kaite Stover (Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City Public Library).

Program Description:

The explosion in formats for leisure materials is a challenge for all aspects of collection management, especially weeding and evaluation. Join a discussion that asks librarians to consider format, space, use, and building design when evaluating materials in all formats for withdrawal from the collection.

We should hold digital collections to the same standards as print collections - this means weeding out the unused and out-of-date to avoid eclutter.

Tips for Weeding Digital Collections

  • Do you weed your Overdrive catalog? It's not easy (you need to do the legwork yourself, and email Overdrive directly), but their interface is difficult enough to search so that if something isn't getting used, then it's getting in the way
  • Look for overlap in research databases, and then cut the unnecessary ones
  • Your access and finding tools can go a long way to cutting through the clutter - look for better catalog/database search interfaces, or create web-based pathfinders with direct links into databases

Thoughts on Formats

  • Watch for genre+format preferences that emerge (and listen to what patrons tell you). For instance, perhaps your mystery print books don't circulate much, because mystery reader prefer digital - but perhaps just the opposite is true for westerns. If that's the case, then get rid of your westerns ebooks and focus on mysteries
  • Large print physical books are not dying, even though ereaders can do large print
  • Younger patrons are often format-agnostic: if they can get their book in print, ebook, book on CD, downloadable audiobook, etc, they're happy

But remember: just about anything you're getting in digital format now can be taken away with a mere licensing change - what then?

I liked this session a lot because it hadn't occurred to me to weed ebooks. I have done some of that with databases, but certainly not Overdrive. It's also good to hear how other libraries balance print and online purchasing - for instance, we subscribe to the Safari Computer Ebooks database, and so have cut back on our print computer books.



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#PLA12 Redefining the Library through the Collection

   March 16th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Do print collections actually meet the needs of your patrons?

Non-traditional collections actually give patrons the tools to use the information they find in the library - guitars, seeds, video games, ereader, etc.


Why ereaders?

We don't circulate DVD players. Because market penetration of DVD players means most people have them, but only a low percentage of people have ereaders (this will change over time).

Look for partners - contact Barnes & Noble (or other ereader providers) to donate them, give classes, and provide support.

How to circulate ereaders

  • circulate in a padded bag to protect the ereader, along with instruction sheet, circ rules, and a patron survey
  • content: load different ereaders with different genres (best sellers, childrens, teen, etc) and people check out whichever one they want - all titles were listed in the catalog
  • needed to have a separate database to manage devices (and record all information, in case patron deregistered it somehow)
  • losses and damages: out of 300 circing devices, only two have been damaged (one by staff, during transit)
  • training: classes for staff (try to train everyone, and give lots of hands-on time), and classes for the public, along with YouTube videos (provided by B&N - and handouts and FAQs for both staff and public
  • devices do need to be upgraded and maintained, because B&N doesn't support old versions

Seed library

San Mateo is a "food desert" so this encourages people to eat healthier. Partnered with a group called Collected Roots - they help people created a raised bed in their backyard, and teach them how to plant (all for free).

How it works

  • all seeds are donated
  • people write down what seeds they're taking (comes with info on when and how to plant
  • people don't need to return seeds (also don't want seeds that have been cross-pollinated

http://pcsweeney.com/2011/04/12/im-starting-a-seed-library-at-my-library/

Total cost to set up: $30 - seed boxes from IKEA ($3/3 boxes), a binder (library already had). Shelf to hold boxes was donated by local artist who built it from recycled wood.


Guitar library

http://pcsweeney.com/2011/05/31/guitars-at-the-library-its-gonna-be-freaking-rad/

Partnered with a local band who gives lessons, and purchased 15 acoustic guitars (about $200/each), which circ for 8 weeks (grant funded). They also purchased a lot more guitar books, to go along with the lessons. Look for a local store to supply the guitars - hopefully they will work with you select which guitars are best for this project, and help with advice down the road.

Guitars are not requestable, so that they don't have to travel through transit to other libraries.

This project motivated staff to learn guitar, and childrens librarians are trying to do musical storytime.


Programming in a box

Boxes make it easy for staff to present programs - requested through staff intranet (contents are fully catalog, but not visible to patrons). Program guides are provided, but staff are free to change things up any time and add to boxes. Some things can't be kept/shipped in boxes (liquids, etc), so sometimes the libraries have to go shopping after the box arrives. They currently have 64 boxes (for 28 branches), but it's growing all the time (will only stop when they run out of room).

Staff needs to book them to use, but need to spread them out because each box needs to come back to main library to be restocked.

These boxes are a huge timesaver for the staff, while still provided good programs to patrons.


Video game collections

Gaming is mainstream (everyone knows Pac-Man, Pokemon, Angry Birds), and almost a traditional library collection at this point.

Video games have plots, character development - same things as books (read Sex, Brains, and Video Games. Plus they lend themselves well to programs, tournaments, and community engagement - and tie-ins with books and movies.

This is probably the last generation of games that can be physically loaned - pretty soon games won't be played on consoles from cartridges.

ALA Gaming Roundtable is now providing reviews of video games and boardgames, so libraries should pay attention. Also look for National Gaming Day - http://ngd.ala.org



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#PLA12 Revitalizing Reference Services

   March 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Presenters were from the Arlington Heights (IL) Library and the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library.

Passive reference, of librarians sitting at a big desk waiting to be asked questions, is pretty much over. However, even though capital-R Reference is dying, lowercase-r reference is still a core library service. Difference is Reference desk, Reference collection, Reference staff, vs. referring people to the information, services, and skills they're looking for.

Where reference service should be going: Niche Reference
Use the reference desk only for in-person reference - keep all calls, email, and chat reference in the back room. This will improve service to both types of reference, because one person isn't trying to balance everything at once.

Identify needs in your community and address them

  • have a "start your job search here" desk
  • get a grant from the Rotary club to bring in professional resume reviewers
  • put an add in the job classifieds to "get job search help at your library" (I came up with this, but I'm not sure if I like it)

Have staff be specialists, not generalists

  • reach out to the business community to help them get started or get better
  • hold one-on-one or group classes on research topics
  • [me again: this might work for large libraries, but does not scale down well]

Focus on community interest

  • what does your community have/want that people are interested in?
  • create something like, "What's the history of your house?" and let patrons provide the content - this is something that can be built on in the future
  • run a "question of the week" in the local paper - and ask for questions
  • create a local wiki (like Daviswiki) and don't "own" it - let other people add content
  • treat social media as a conversation starter, not one-way announcement stream. ie, on Facebook have a "stump the librarian" day and solicit questions (like Skokie, IL)

Focus on programming

  • whatever's interesting: job search skills, "What is it like to be a..." series (town manager, police officer, doctor, etc), urban agriculture, etc
  • Business Bytes: how to use social media to connect with customers, how to use Google Places, Yelp, Foursquare, etc
  • ideas: Computers 101 (basics), Working Life (job skills), Digital Life (beyond 101, and online), Creative Life (painting, video editing), Informed Life (search and finding skills)

Libraries should be like kitchens, not grocery stores: focus on getting patrons to come in and discover and interact, not just grab stuff off the shelves and go.



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#PLA12 Secret Shopping in a Library

   March 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Presenter was a branch manager in the DC public library system. He was given six weeks in May-June to pull together a secret shopper program and run it over the course of six weeks during June-July.

Goals of secret shopping

  • evaluate patron experience, for different types of patrons (using different types of shoppers)
  • evaluate how well staff was trained on a particular product or service
  • evaluate library's space, traffic flow, signage, etc
  • evaluate collection and merchandising
  • just get fresh eyes on the library

However: A Goals Caveat

  • are you doing this to really find out something you don't already know?
  • are you doing this to find proof of something you already believe to be the case?
  • if problems are identified, are you in any position (financially, staffing, politically), to do anything about it?

DC used volunteers (teens, adult volunteers, and Friends of the Library), and developed their own tools; retail secret shopping ~$25-$35/shopping trip (~1 hour). Good to use non-librarians, so they don't already know the jargon (but nice to partner with other libraries because they won't be recognized by staff and each library benefits).

One great resource for them is ALA Publication's Assessing Service Quality. The shopper questionnaire [pdf] they created was all yes/no question (no "rate 1-5" scales, so as to be less subjective), and they had three specific uses cases:

  1. Ask staff help in finding a book on [ancient Egypt, trucks, other options given] for a seven year old [son, daughter, younger sibling, nephew - whatever fit the shopper's age]
  2. Ask staff help in finding a good book to read
  3. Ask staff help in creating a resume on the computer

Also included was calling in to ask for directions, impression of outside of library, parking lot, landscaping, etc.

Results were sort of disappointing: not enough shopping results to really have any kind of scientific impact. They did learn that 50% of patrons aren't greeted when they enter the library, and often there are no paper towels in the bathrooms.

Staff were all informed of the shopping beforehand, but only the timeframe - they didn't know exactly when or where. Afterward, a summary of the results were shared with all staff, too. Shoppers were not trying to connect individual staff with actions or experience - this was not designed to be a punitive exercise. There was no pushback from staff on the idea, and managers felt that six weeks was long enough so staff couldn't "fake it" the entire time. They never considered not telling staff, because they didn't want it to appear like a spying or "gotcha" program.

Was it worth it?
Not really - they just didn't get enough data to justify the amount of time that went into it. But it was a good exercise for managers to think about it. And they have lots of groundwork done, so it will be much better next time.

Other ideas presented as possibilities:

  • do "exit interviews" with patrons as they leave the library, to get their immediate reaction
  • do focus group of volunteers afterward, to see how they felt about it (and get them talking to each other)
  • do website/catalog usability check - informal, 10-20 patrons in a lab, 15 questions/tasks (such as, what is the director's name and email?), maybe 2 hours on a Saturday morning, and give them a gift card for participating (use Steve Krug's books as guides)
  • have shoppers ask for things they should not be able to get
  • use app isecretshop, because people typing on a phone/ipad is less obvious than people walking around with clipboards
  • do community polling outside the library, to find out why "unpatrons" don't use the library in the first place


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#PLA12 Chat Reference Discussion (OCLC QuestionPoint User Group)

   March 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Integrating chat into your website

You put your info desk in the middle of your physical library, so put the chat reference link central to your website.

Placement = point of service, so put it everywhere, and be consistent (catalog, website, not just handouts and flyers)

Feb 2012 = 619 sessions (at Arlington Heights (IL) Library)

  • Homepage: 135
  • User account signup page: 133
  • Catalog pages: 124
  • These three pages are 63% of the total

Placement tips

  • Top-right or top-left, make sure it's above the fold
  • Talk to vendors: some will let you put chat widgets inside the databases
  • Put it on other community websites (local newspaper, Town Hall, social service agencies, etc)

Use a promotion to boost usage and introduce the service to patrons

"Win a Nook" promotion at Anne Arundel County (MD) Public Library

  • Promotion lasted one week, which was plenty long (especially for staff who had to keep promoting it)
  • Pass out bookmarks, pins/badges, and flyers to tell people how to get to the chat
  • This told patrons to mention the contest when they started their chat session, so they got entered to win the Nook)
  • Promotion focused on staff/patron interaction, so patron had to also mention staff person's name (staff person could then with a Nook also)
  • Results: 436 people tried chat that week - 632% increase; 899 sessions for the entire month - a 162% increase over previous year
  • Lessons learned: easy promotion; chat sessions increased; public "got" the service by trying it out; people love winning free stuff
  • Contact Betty Morganstern (bmorganstern@aacpl.net) for more details


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