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



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Promoting Library Services Through Live-Staging

   April 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Real Person (not an actor) shirtMy parents downsized from a house to a condo last year, so we went through the process of getting the house ready to sell. Which means, each room had to be "staged" to show prospective buyers the house's potential.

But you know, I thought, why stop at just arranging pillows on a couch to suggest how comfortable it would be to take a nap in a sun-lit nook, or strategically placing chairs to show how enjoyable it would be to relax in a certain room? I mean, instead of just staging furniture and decorations, why not just use actual people to flat-out perform these nice homey tableaux? I call it "live-staging."

My suggestion was met with eye rolls all around, but I'm finally getting to implement this idea - at my library.

See, one thing that always astounds me in the library are the patrons who say things like, "wow, I've never been on this floor before," or happen to notice our very prominently-displayed public fax machine and say, "I had no idea the library had a fax machine!"

I'm always trying to think of better ways to publicize everything the library offers, and it occured to me that live-staging is the perfect method.

So, my library hired a group of actors to live-stage library resources.

For instance, one will very conspicuously (and enthusiastically) use the fax machine. Another will "discover" that the library offers ebooks and ask staff for more information in a very noticeable way. Two will play chess to promote our gaming table, while another will excitedly find out about home-access for our databases, and someone else will talk up an upcoming evening program.

Really, the possibilities are endless. And the actors are excited too - we've given them the resources we want to highlight, and general guidelines about how to get the attention of other patrons without actually being annoying about it. Otherwise though, they're free to ad-lib and interact with patrons and staff however they feel will best draw attention to these services (and we're not telling staff who the actors are).

So as not to be too obvious, we'll be rotating different actors and services, so our cast of actors is currently up in the hundreds. After all, we didn't want our patrons seeing "reruns" of the same "patron" learning over and over that we have a typewriter.

I can hardly wait to see how this works. It launches today and will run for the entire month of April. We did a benchmark survey last year, to find out which services people know about and use. We'll do the same survey again after this live-staging, and I am 100% positive patrons' awareness will be through the roof.

After all, we're paying for these actors with our entire year's materials budget, so it better work.



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Check Out Our Library Card Table

   July 25th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Tommy's Library Card TableEarlier this summer, my coworker Tommy got the idea for a library art project: mail a letter to 200+ libraries across the country, asking them to send him one of their library cards.

He enclosed a return envelope, and most of them responded! For the next few weeks, Tommy's envelopes, with new library cards enclosed, poured into the library from all over the country. It was fun to see the variety and creativity of library cards.

Tommy's project was dependent on how many library cards he received. In the end, the number he got fit more or less perfectly on one of the coffee tables in the library, so he got permission to arrange them on a table and cover them with a protective epoxy. It looks great in the library, and the plan is to leave it in the library permanently. Tom also put up a sign on the table explaining what he did - the table is very eye-catching, and has already proved popular with staff and patrons.

Here's the top of the table - click to see a bigger image:

Library Card Table top

Nice work Tom - and thanks to all the library who participated.



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Single Serving Site: Is The Library Open?

   June 6th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Aaron highlighted a great tool on Walking Paper - a single serving script that shows whether the library is open or not:

Is the library open? screenshot

Great job Durham County Library for coming up with it, and thank you very much for making the code freely available.

This is definitely going on my library's website (when I get a chance) - but of course, with 24/7 Library Anytime, the answer is always YES!



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Highlighting the Value of Library Use

   May 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Here's a more in-your-face twist on the Library Value Calculator. Another library in my consortium figured out how to display the total cost of a patron's items on their checkout receipt, and since we never let a good idea go to waste, we adopted it in my library, too.

Basically, it's a little macro that pulls the cost figure from each item's record, adds them all up, and provides a total. We present it in kind of a cutesy context, but the intent is to show people how much they save by using the library. Check it out:

receipt with cost

Our phrasing is deliberate - if people bought the items themselves, they'd get to keep them (which obviously isn't the case with libraries). Also, we only print out receipts if people ask for them (to save on paper), so I'm not sure what impact this will have - we'll see.

Also: speaking of valuable things, I'm off for the next week to see my family over Mother's Day weekend (hence all the audiobooks I'm checking out above). So no Reference Question of the Week this week, and I'll be back next week.

Update 5/17/12:
This is how I was able to add this to our receipts - as far as I know, this only works with Evergreen version 2.1 and later. If you have a different ILS, contact your vendor and demand they offer it:

  1. In Evergreen, open the Receipt Template Editor
  2. Choose the checkout template
  3. At the bottom of whatever you have in the Line Item, add this:
    <span style="display: none;" sum="sum1">%price%</span>
  4. Somewhere in the footer, add this:
    You saved: $<span sumout="sum1" fixed="2"></span>
    (or whatever you'd like it to read. Also, the fixed="2" rounds to two places.)
  5. Click the Save Locally button

Keep in mind that if the items checked out somehow don't have price values assigned to them, the receipt will read "You saved: $0.00" at the bottom.



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Great Video to Help Raise Money for a Library

   March 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Just a quick post to share this great video, in case you haven't seen it already: the M. N. Spear Library in the Western Massachusetts town of Shutesbury put it together to help raise money for a new building.

[video link]

Whether or not you donate is up to you, but I thought this was an excellent example of a library being creative with new media: the video is great, they're encouraging sharing it, they involved their patrons, and it's fun.

Update 3/27/12:
Speaking of great library videos, I hope you've seen this one too:

[video link]



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Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online

   August 4th, 2011 Brian Herzog

My library just launched our long-overdue Facebook page. In the course of preparing it, we had a discussion about why we needed a Facebook page, what we wanted to use it for, and how it related to everything else we were doing online.

This led to the realization that no one really understood exactly what all we were doing online. We have a website, Twitter account, blog, email newsletters, flickr account, and now Facebook, but no clear policy as to what gets posted where, when information is duplicated, how things are updated, etc.

To help understand how our various types of information are represented online, I created the diagram below - it's probably not 100% complete, but it does cover most of our bases:

Flowchart of flow of online information

On the left are our different types of information (MacKay is our branch library), and the arrows show how that information flows through different electronic tools. There isn't necessarily a hierarchy at work*, other than perhaps the automatic updates necessarily come after the manual updates. Otherwise, the boxes are laid out just so they all fit on the page.

After discussing this, we uncovered two philosophies at work:

  1. use the different end tools - website, Facebook, Twitter - for unique content, so as not to duplicate things and essentially "spam" our patrons that use more than one service (for example, you can see above that no event information is posted to Facebook)
  2. publish all of our content almost equally through all of our channels, so we're sure to reach all our patrons regardless of which tool they choose to use

I don't think they are mutually-exclusive, but it does take a lot of work and forethought to do it well. I also think that more of what we do could be automated, as cutting down on the manual postings would save staff time.

Do other libraries have similar online information relationships? I imagine things range from very structured to a free-for-all to orphan accounts galore, but I'm curious to hear what other libraries are doing, to get ideas on how to do it better at my library.

 


*Something to note on the diagram is our "secret" Twitter account. We have a primary Twitter account we encourage patrons to follow and we use for regular tweets. The secret account is one we use only to post messages directly to our homepage. The reason for two, and why I don't really want anyone following to the homepage updater one, is that clearing the message off the homepage requires sending a blank tweet - it's not the end of the world if anyone follows it, but the blank tweets do look odd. Besides, everything posted to it gets posted through our primary account anyway.



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