Archives for Library:
September 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A patron came up to me at the desk one evening, when things were really slow and most of the computers were empty, and asked,
What is your average availability for computers?
After a little clarification, what he was really asking was, how often is there at least one public workstation available, versus how often are they all in use.
Anecdotally, for my library, mornings and evenings always have available computers, but during the daytime - especially lunchtime and after school - often every computer is in use. I was able to answer this just off the top of my head, which any reference staff person could.
However, the patron really wanted an actual percentage of time the computers are free, so I had to go into our stats. We use Time Limit Manager for our 22 adult computers (we have 10 other public computers also), and the usage report for July 1 2012 - June 30 2013 broke down like this:
- Sessions: 48,192
- Used Time: 1416 days, 22 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds
- Unused: 970 days, 6 hours, 34 minutes, 36 seconds
- Avg Session: 42 minutes 25 seconds
If my math is correct, that rounds to 34,006.5 + 23,286.5 = 57,293 available hours total, and 23,286 is just about 41% of the time. So, roughly, 41% of the time we have a computer available for the public to use.
Those seemed like pretty good odds to the patron, and he explained to me why he asked. He said he uses his home computer very little any more, and figured that if he dropped internet access at home, the amount of money he'd save annually could buy him an airline ticket to Europe each year - and he made it clear which of those activities he prefers.
I'd like to go to Europe every year too, but I don't know that I could do without internet at home. However, I think it's awesome that someone find the library useful and reliable enough to plan their life spending - and traveling - around it. And this might be one demographic that wasn't covered by Sarah's recap of Pew's Digital Divide report - people who choose not to have internet at home because they know they can rely on the library for it.
September 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I don't know if anyone else noticed, but the swissarmylibrarian.net server came under attack yesterday, to the point that it had to be taken off-line.
It seems like a small library-related blog wouldn't be worth attacking, but if someone could get control of the server and have it to other things, then yes, it probably is. This applies to library websites, which is why I'm bringing it up here.
In my case, it was my own fault. I use WordPress to run this site, and had not been keeping up with updates. Even though things run fine with older versions and it's tempting to just let things go, it's always very important to keep web-based software updated - here's why:
When a new version of software is released, the developers usually list all of the problems it fixes in the previous version. This list tells the bad guys exactly how to exploit old versions of the software.
Then, all they need to do if find lazy people like me who haven't updated yet and exploit those vulnerabilities to take over your website.
So, and not to be all preachy about it, please make a point of updating your web software as soon as a new version is released. The server that hosts my website was crawling yesterday during the attack, and as soon as I finished the update last night, the speed immediately went back to normal.
Also: I'm sure this is purely coincidental, but on the drive home last night I heard on NPR how the Syrian Electronic Army has been attacking anyone they can, not just government-related websites. With those kind of bad guys out there, you can't be too careful.
August 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog
Because this is Labor Day weekend and I want to be outside instead of in front of a computer, this week's reference question is going to be a little different so I can hurry things along.
In fact, it's not a question at all - it's answers to questions I truly hope someone asks me about at the Reference Desk. Part of being a librarian is having the information ready to go for when someone comes looking, but the problem is that people don't always ask about the really cool stuff. To wit:
- A couple years ago a huge earthquake hit New Zealand, and among the damaged buildings was the cathedral in the city of Christchurch. While they wait for a new cathedral to be built, the constructed a temporary one out of cardboard:
Read more here and see construction photos in the Christchurch City Library's flicker set.
- Speaking of cathedrals, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, has a stained glass window called the "Space Window." Its imagery depicts planets and stars, but best of all, at the center of one image is an actual moon rock:
- And finally, out in the plains and deserts of the American west, there are huge concrete arrows on the ground. Why? To guide early airmail pilots:
At one point the arrows stretched from New York City to San Francisco - now that is cool. Read more at Snopes.
If anyone ever gets asked about one of these things, please let me know. Or if you have some trivia you're just waiting to be asked about, share it in the comments. Happy Labor Day.
Tags: air mail, arrow, cardboard, cathedral, libraries, Library, moon rock, national, new zealand, public, Reference Question, space window
August 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog
For as long as I've been a librarian, I've heard librarians talking about how to attracted more 20-40 year olds to the library. One method I've heard repeatedly (often from 20-40 year old librarians) was that we need to do outreach to where those patrons are: bars and other fun places.
I know libraries have set up help desk tables on college campuses, public parks, and even in bars, and also use pubs and coffee shops as a meeting spot for book groups. Recently, I heard about a new book group from the library in Haverhill, MA, that is taking this same tack - here's the groups logo:
Get Lit is a social book club designed for twenty and thirty something readers in the greater Haverhill area. We will be meeting monthly to talk books, socialize, eat, drink, and whatever else might come up. Second Thursday of the month, The Barking Dog Ale House in Haverhill.
I don't drink and I find bars almost unbearable, but I think this is fantastic and I hope it's successful.
Apart from people looking for free wifi, it seems to me that library patrons tends to skew to the extremes, with libraries looking either like day care centers or senior centers. Which is fine, but I also like the idea of reaching out to the patrons in the middle.
My library occasionally brainstorms to come up with program ideas that would attract the "mid-life" patrons, and some work and some don't. The "Get Lit" book group seems to walk a fine line between being clever and devolving into a frat party. However, I still think it's funny, and it's a book group I'd go to. Good job, Haverhill Public Library.
August 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Back in library school, I remember distinctly being told that patent searches are one of the most difficult types of reference questions, because usually you're trying to find out if something isn't there. However, this patent search was difficult for a different reason.
I think I've mentioned before that one of my hobbies is metal detecting, which I share with my brothers. One of them emailed me this photo of something he had found, saying it was a chunk of metal about the size and shape of an ear with "PAT 154071" stamped in it, and asking if I could help figure out what it came from.
He had already done some online research and had a couple potential patent dates, but wasn't really sure. I love knowing right off the bat the best resource to check, so when I got this message I just typed in http://www.uspto.gov and clicked on "search for patents." The US Patent and Trademark Office has a full-text search, which is great, but since I was looking for a specific patent number, I just went to the Number Search, typed in 154071, and... that's when the problems started.
The first screen to come up said that this patent, dated August 11, 1874, wasn't available in full text, so it would have to be viewed as a scanned image. Which is fine, except viewing the image just prompted me to update my Quicktime plugin.
I tried going through the steps to update it, but I could not get the update to download from the Quicktime website. I tried this on a few different computers at my house and in the library, but all of them (all Windows computers) had the same issue. Next I tried searching for "can't download quicktime" and found someone with the same problem and an alternate link on the Apple website. This time the update did download and seemed to install, but I still couldn't view the image on the PTO website - and still got prompted to update Quicktime.
Frustrated, I went to my last resort: I used one of the library's Apple computers. I got a weird plugin update message too, but the image did display:
Actually, the PTO website said there were two images associated with this patent, but the other one was clearly for a different invention (and different patent number).
So, pretty cool, especially because of all the problems I had getting it. I couldn't tell from the drawing where the piece my brother found came from, but it was still worth the effort.
Since the patent drawing listed names, I thought I'd expand my search online and see what else I could find. I tried various combinations of the names of the inventors and "combined folding chairs and benches," but didn't have any luck.
So, I just tried searching for "patent 154,071," and boy did I get a surprise. The first result was for Google Patents, conveniently displaying the image that I had tried for two days (and had to use a Mac!) to view. I didn't know patent searches were a Google offering, but I suppose all public domain information is probably assimilated by now.
I am disappointed that the Google search was more productive than using the Patent Office's own website, and that they'd use a tool that relies on a problematic plugin.
But since I was at Google, I tried a few few things and found this entry in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, page 214:
August 21st, 2013 Brian Herzog
Massachusetts has a state-wide library email discussion list, and lately I've been following with interest a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes should be allowed in libraries.
The sentiment seems to be coming down on the "not allowed" side, which is where I am, too. I have not encountered one in my library, but other Massachusetts libraries have - one even felt the "e-smoker" (a.k.a., apparently, "vaper") was actually trying to pick a policy fight because he had a bunch of pro-e-cigarette material at the ready.
I've done some light research on this since the discussion started, and was surprised to find out the FDA's position is basically "needs more study, so in the meantime we're erring on the side of caution." The Mayo Clinic feels the same way: "Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes."
That alone is enough to sway me into the "not in libraries" camp, but I was also curious about the effectiveness of them as a smoking cessation tool. Marketing for e-cigarettes seems to be all over the map, from cessation to a healthier alternative to a method to still accommodate the smoking habit in smoke-free zones. Which is what marketing is supposed to do: appeal to everyone and anyone in order to sell sell sell.
However, WebMD had an interesting point regarding cessation and health-related side-effects:
Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users' nicotine habits, says Michael Eriksen, ScD, director of the institute of public health at Atlanta's Georgia State University and former director of CDC's office of smoking and health.
"I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products," Eriksen tells WebMD. "If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you can't smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking. We'll just be encouraging people to use more nicotine."
This might be true because of how e-cigarettes work (also from WebMD):
- The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
- Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
- The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also activates a light at the "lit" end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
- The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
- The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
- When the user exhales, there's a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.
And if nothing else, it's that last part that, I think, is also a problem for libraries. My library has a policy that prohibits the "use of tobacco products," which may or may not cover e-cigarettes (which actually contain no tobacco). However, I think the vapor put out by e-cigarettes would certainly fall under the "other activities which disrupt the library" part of the policy, because it looks enough like smoking that I'm sure many patrons would not be comfortable with it.
One message to the discussion list said their municipality had already banned them entirely. I'm curious if other libraries have encountered e-cigarettes, and what the library position is. Please let me know what you think in the comments (and being a non-smoker, I'm also interested in the smoker's viewpoint on this).