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



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Video: Who Needs Libraries? We All Do!

   June 12th, 2013 Brian Herzog

I don't know how I missed this video when it was originally posted last year, but it's making the rounds again and I'm happy to share:


[video link]

What a great approach to showing the relevance of libraries. Good job, MBLC!



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Readers Advisory Initiative at the Chelmsford Library

   May 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

QR code labelThis is a neat thing, but is such a large project that I'm still not exactly sure how to explain it all.

At the end of last year, my library created a new position for a dedicated readers advisory person. Since this was a brand new position, we've had to reconfigure the way we do things. Another benefit, though, is that it got everyone in the library thinking about how we can improve readers advisory across the board.

Our Childrens Room really upped their game in this area. They'd long maintained in-house readalike lists, both for specific books and for subjects. Eventually these lists migrated from papers in binders to online lists created using our catalog's "bookbag" feature.

Which is all well and good, but what they really wanted to do was improve access to these lists, and make it easier for patrons to find them on their own.

The best way to promote these lists, they felt, was to print out labels with the list URLs (and QR codes) on them, and stick them in each book that was on the list. I know other libraries use QR code labels in their collections (notably the Dover [MA] Town Library), but I don't know how many are mass-sticking the actual books. And they're trying to stick them in the books as close to the end of the story as possible, so that patrons find them immediately after finishing a good story:

QR code label in book

Along the way, we ran into a few snags that had to be dealt with, and I think our solutions worked pretty well.

Our catalog's bookbag URLs are pretty messy and unfriendly (ie, https://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=53439;page=0;locg=18;depth=0), so we wanted to use a URL shortening service to clean them up. The Childrens staff first started with Goo.gl, and reviewed a few others, but hit a major roadblock: with those services, once a short URL is created, you can't change the destination.

This was a problem for us because not too long ago, we had a catalog upgrade that changed the URLs of every single one of our bookbags. This meant that if we had stuck QR code labels in thousands of books, they would all have to be redone with new labels for the new bookbag URLs.

I looked around for an alternative, and found an open source solution yourls.org (Your Own URL Shortener). That was awesome, and with instructions from Lifehacker, I had it up and running on our web server in like fifteen minutes.

However, it kind of defeats the purpose of a URL shortener when you're starting with a URL as long as chelmsfordlibrary.org, so we decided to get a whole new domain name for this project. We kicked around a lot of ideas, but the best one we came up with - short(ish), and memorable - was readmore.in.

Now, the .in is the country code for India, but readmore was available at the domain name service we used, so we went with it. But best of all, it makes for great readers advisory URLs: readmore.in/adventure, readmore.in/magictreehouse, etc. Even though those aren't super short, they're easy to remember, and that's the important thing.

With yourls running on the readmore.in domain, now we can always point readmore.in/poetry or whatever to the right place, even if the underlying bookbag link changes.

And to make the QR code creation process easier, I also installed a open source QR code creator (phpqrcode) on our web server. There are lots of free services out there, but hosting our own lets us pre-set all the output settings, so all staff need to do is paste in the URL, click "create," and then right-click on the QR code to paste it into the label template. It's already the right size, encoding, and everything else.

I admit there was a lot of technical playing to make this happen - but, now that everything is set up, staff is whizzing through the creation and labeling process. Of course, this is an on-going project, but we're hoping it is something from which patrons will really benefit.



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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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