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



Archives for Conferences:


#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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#PLA12 NewsBank Database Usage Study

   March 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

NewsBank has been conducting a study with 100+ libraries of various sizes, to look closely at how library databases are used. Here are my notes on the presentation, and the short discussion afterward.

  • As daily newspaper shrink (in page count), archiving shrinks as well (many newspapers are posting more to their websites than they put in print, and they are not archiving that content)
  • The trend of investment is going to "first-to-web" systems model, mobile and social network integration, and paywalls and metering systems
  • Library databases appear to be ~80% remote usage
  • Majority of use is for older content, not current news - 80% of articles accessed are more than 90 days old. Of that 80%:
    • 18% = 1-4 years old
    • 32% = 5-9 years old
    • 50% = >10 years old
  • Majority of searches are for local news: people names and local topics (political issues, crime, businesses, development of schools, etc)

As a bonus, the local NewsBank rep explained how to properly order a Philly cheesesteak:

  1. Specify the quantity you want
  2. Specify your cheese:
    • Wiz = cheese wiz
    • American = American cheese
    • provi = provolone
  3. Specify fried onions or no:
    • Wid = with onions
    • Widout = without onions

So, an order for one cheesesteak with cheese wiz and onions would be:

One - wiz - wid



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Working Like a Patron, and, Rethinking Reference

   October 11th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Shift the traditionsJust two sort-of unrelated announcements today, although they actually compliment each other quite well:

Wed., Oct. 12, is Work Like A Patron Day
I know it's not feasible for everyone, but if you get the chance tomorrow, try approaching the library as if you're a patron - use the front door, use the public bathroom, see if the posted signs help you at all, whatever. Check out the Work Like A Patron Day 2011 post for more ideas and how to share your experiences.

Rethinking Reference, Non-Fiction, and Local History
This past Friday I gave a talk for NHLA-READS on a few projects my library has done to keep our collections (and access to them) in step with the needs of our patrons. They are a great group and I had a wonderful time, both giving my talk and listening to the other speakers. If you're interested, my slides and other links are available.



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Highlights from nelaconf11

   October 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

NELA2011: Navigating the New NormalAs I mentioned in the previous post, I was at the 2011 annual conference of the New England Library Association this week. Now that I've had a day back to unpack and get caught up, I thought I'd share a few of notes I wrote to myself.

Again though, be sure to check out the session slides/handouts at http://nelaconference.org and notes from attendees at the NELA conference blog.

General Interestingness

  • A great way to encourage patron interaction on Facebook is to just ask questions - What's your favorite book? What are you reading right now?
  • A fun game for online social interaction is to post part of a book or album cover, and then have people guess what it is (also give hint - new book, published 50 years ago, etc)
  • I'm not a Childrens Librarian, but I thought the idea of rethinking the "Childrens Room" as the "Family Room" was interesting. Something mentioned was providing furniture for adult-child reading/working together
  • When you create a book display, put a list of books for display on the back of the sign, so it's easy for staff to refill as the books go out
  • 21% of Americans have no internet access at home - that's double the unemployment rate, and can have just as big an impact, but there are no initiatives to address it

My To-Do List

  • Check out http://maps.nypl.org - it overlays historical maps onto Google Maps, to compare where things were/are. They may have plans to make it open source, so it could be something we could all use for our own maps
  • I was surprised to see the Delicious linkroll on our Chelmsford History site wasn't working (but those on our main library website are fine). A good time to double-check your own linkrolls just to be on the safe side
  • Plan to have a program in January on ereaders and other gadets - not a
    talk, but more like a general help/troubleshooting session, focused on accessing library materials
  • Play with Join.me for a screen-sharing tool

Easy Ways to Improve a Mobile Website (that I should have thought of on my own but didn't)

  • add link to Overdrive for ebooks
  • add link to OCLC QuestionPoint chat or other 24x7 chat reference
  • add links to Twitter/Facebook/Flickr accounts to contact page
  • hide the browser address bar on mobile sites (to save display room)

For more tips, check out #nelaconf11 tweets - many people are linking to their own blog posts, in addition to passing on ideas they heard. I hope everyone got something out of the conference - it really was a good time.



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