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

Archives for Programs:

Children’s Illustrators Auction

   October 29th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Dream Big autographed print by Peter H. ReynoldsI was at the New England Library Association's annual conference earlier this week, where I learned from a colleague something amazing her library is doing.

The Bacon Free Library in Natick, MA, is having a Children's Illustrators Auction as a library fundraiser, and it runs from November 1st - 15th.

She said they have 80+ illustrators contributing over 100 prints or original artwork, which is phenomenal. Plus,

In addition, we have a children’s picture book signed by Former President Jimmy Carter and we will have a picture book personalized and signed by Former First Lady Laura Bush (did you know they both wrote picture books with their respective children?). AND we’ll have two limited edition signed poems from literacy superstar Jane Yolen!

The auction is online, with software was written by someone on their staff. They also have an online preview, as well as a reception on the first day of the auction to view the work and meet some of the illustrators.

This sounds like a huge event to manage, but one that is probably a lot of fun for both staff and patrons - and hopefully also for the generous donors.

If you're interested, check it out at http://auction.baconfreelibrary.org. Good luck, Bacon Free Library!

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/15

   April 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Alright, this question can be filed under, how maybe not to run a scavenger hunt.

Last Saturday I came in to work for a few hours in the morning to cover for someone*. Before we opened to the public I was updating some of the computers, and was still sitting at a public workstation when, a few minutes after opening, two of my coworkers walked up on either side of me. They asked,

Coworker 1:
Brian where are the tickets? Everyone's asking for the tickets. Where are they?

[minding my own business]

Coworker 2:
Brian the Police hid tickets in the library. We don't know where they are - do you?

I had no idea what they were talking about - and to be fair, they didn't really either, because all of this was news to us.

Apparently when they unlocked the front doors at 9:30 that morning, a couple parent/kid combinations all rushed in and started looking for hidden Red Sox tickets - and of course, asking the staff where they were hidden. This was the first any of the Saturday staff was hearing about it, so they came to ask me to see if I was in on the secret. I was not.

It turned out the Chelmsford Police Athletic League has been picking a public building in town, hiding tickets to a Red Sox games somewhere in the building, and then posting on their Facebook page hints to let residents find them. They didn't let the library know beforehand though, so this was all news to us - which I don't think any patrons believed when they asked everyone on staff where the tickets were. And, my coworkers didn't believe me either.

On the one hand, what a nice thing for the CPAL to do for people. And, great that they thought to include the library - especially given the hints (more on that in a minute). But on the other hand, it really sucks to have kids crawling under tables while other patrons are working at them, and having frantic parents who promised their kids free Red Sox tickets becoming increasing intense as time goes on that They Must Find The Tickets. Basically, being in a library and not doing library stuff is really distracting to all the patrons who are there doing library stuff.

But anyway, here's the details on how everything went down. The day before, CPAL posted this photo on their Facebook page as a hint to where the tickets where hidden this time:


Now that's a tough hint - I mean I recognize our carpet and public workstation leg, but how many patrons would? A few at least, as it turned out.

And as the people came in looking for them, this was the only clue that we had too. So it meant they were in the library, but where? Taped to the bottom of one of the public workstation tables (which is what this leg is)? That means crawling under every single computer table, and then every other table, to find out. No? Well then, where else could they be?

In case you haven't noticed, there are millions of places in a library to hid two tickets. After an hour of frantic searching, the tickets still hadn't been found - and still no one believed me that I didn't know where they were.

Then another photo was posted:


Which brought all the searchers downstairs to the non-fiction section. But still no success, and shortly thereafter a third photo hint appeared on Facebook:


By this time staff were all checking the Facebook page too, to learn anything we could about where these tickets might be. After refreshing the page and seeing this third photo, I looked up from the computer to see one mother who had been searching all morning making a beeline back to the 700s (which are back past the Biography sign).

A few minutes later she came out of the stacks with a tremendous relived smile on her face. She had found them! Tucked inside the displayed book. As word spread that they were discovered, and where, word spread back that apparently multiple people had already thought of this logical spot and checked this very book - but somehow had missed the tickets.

And then, as quickly as the ticket search had begun it ended, and the library immediately quieted back down to a normal Saturday morning.

So to recap: a treasure hunt in the library is a great idea for a program, and, clearly, if you have a nice enough prize, people will be highly motivated to participate. However, the better the prize, the more annoyed all the other patrons will be at the disruptive treasure hunters. And, if you're not affiliated with the library, please give them a heads-up beforehand so staff will at least know what is going on. But it really is a nice thing the CPAL is doing - maybe I just annoy easily.

And I swear, I really didn't have any idea this was happening, and didn't know where the tickets were. My coworkers still don't believe me.


*So in other words, I'm not even supposed to be here today.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Random Notes on a Tech Program for Seniors

   November 19th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Watch for Seniors signI don't often give presentation-based programs for patrons at my library, but last week I assisted one of my coworkers with a "Using Library Ebooks" program at our local Senior Center. A few things stood out to me during this program that I didn't anticipate, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here.

(But again, I don't do this very often, so it might be old news to people that do.)

First of all, we were invited to do this tech program at the Senior Center - they're always happy to have speakers visit them, and seniors seem to be the demographic that we help the most with ebooks and mobile devices. It seemed like a win-win.

The plan was to do a short presentation with slides, then live demonstrations downloading to devices, and finally hands-on helping the seniors with their devices they brought with them. Unfortunately, the Senior Center's wi-fi was down, which pretty much killed any live demo or helping we planned because no one could get online.

My coworker stretched out her slides as long as she could, and then we just talked with the seniors and answered the questions. Although things didn't go as planned, I felt it went really well. The thing about just sitting around talking is that the people felt comfortable enough to ask us just about anything.

So, based on this experience, here's what I learned for next time:

  • Don't count on wi-fi - this is true for any presentation really, and having backup slides is just good practice. But in our case, having slides that had screenshots of the different websites we were talking about was invaluable, because we could still show what the sites looked like, where important links were, etc.
  • Make a Large Print Presentation - many seniors read Large Print books for a reason, so it makes sense that they'd be more comfortable with Large Print slides too. Even though it's projected up on a wall, it's still easy to accidentally make the type small to cram a lot of information on a slide. In a few cases I noticed the seniors leaning in towards the screen to read the slides, so this is definitely something I'll keep in mind for future presentations to seniors.

    A little harder to manage are screenshots, because you can only get so big with those. But one option is to pull a zoomed shot of the part of the page you want to highlight, so people can read it - but to also show the full page and where that zoomed shot fits in. I could see just a series of enlarged fragments being confusing.

  • Do these talks before Christmas - conventional wisdom over the last few years has been to offer ebook workshops right after the holidays, in order to help all those people who just received devices as gifts. This program was in early November, and something interesting came up: it was perfect timing, because it caught all of these seniors before they went South to Florida for the winter.

    That hadn't really occurred to me before, and if we waited until January for this program we would have missed them. Obviously not everyone goes to Florida for the winter, but in our case it really is a strategy to accommodate.

    Another nice benefit of mobile seniors is that they aren't limited to just what this library offers. Chances are the library in where ever they're going also offers ebooks, and it's worth their time to stop in there to ask about it. Some of the seniors in our program own property in Florida and some only rented, so they may or may not be able to get library cards down there depending on library policy. But we can help them with the Collier County Public Library's Overdrive catalog as easily as we can our own, and they seemed to appreciate it.

  • Be ready to talk about anything - this isn't really something you can prepare for, but it's good to allow time for wide-ranging conversations. In our case, when my coworker mentioned using Adobe Digital Editions, one senior gentleman said he must not be able to use ebooks after all because his computer at home has been telling him to update is Adobe and he can't.

    That led to a bit of an explanation on the differences between Adobe the company, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Digital Editions. It took some time, but in the end the seniors seem to understand why all of those are different things and not really related, and a problem with Flash doesn't mean he can't read ebooks. Of course I'd talk about this with anyone who asked, but having the freedom to spend some time on this seemed to benefit everyone.

  • If at all possible, work on their devices - I think every one of our attendees brought their own device, and they also each had unique questions about their experience (and problems) so far. I felt bad that we couldn't get online and address each one of them, because people in general aren't usually interested in the overall Way Things Should Be, they're interested in the very specific Ways It Is For Them.
  • Bring handouts - my coworker brought copies of her slides as handouts, but what we forgot were the ebook step-by-step booklets we have at the library. I also forgot to bring business cards with my contact information so people could easily contact us for one-on-one tech help appointments. Everyone was very interested in those, and said they'd be stopping by the library for more personal assistance. Which is great, but I feel bad that we didn't think ahead to make it easier for them to do so.

Overall I think it was a very successful program. The six or so attendees really seemed to benefit, and my coworker and I enjoyed the casual instruction. If anyone else has helpful tips to make programs better, please let me know in the comments.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Libraries Holding Privacy Literacy Workshops for Patrons

   September 18th, 2014 Brian Herzog

rad ref logoYou may have seen this, but it bears cross-posting:

Librarians in Massachusetts are working to give their patrons a chance to opt-out of pervasive surveillance. Partnering with the ACLU of Massachusetts, area librarians have been teaching and taking workshops on how freedom of speech and the right to privacy are compromised by the surveillance of online and digital communications -- and what new privacy-protecting services they can offer patrons to shield them from unwanted spying of their library activity.

Read the full article on Boing Boing - please, read it. Good stuff.

It's important also to know this isn't a one time have-a-workshop-and-everything-is-fixed situation. Online privacy and security evolves constantly - a good example is Overdrive's recent announcement of changes to their app.

On the one hand they said they can do away with Adobe IDs, but on the other they want to start forcing patrons to register with Overdrive. It's increasingly common for patron information to be controlled by third-parties, but it's still not a good thing - and definitely something patrons should know about. And if it's not their librarians telling them, who will?

Thanks for pushing this, Alessandro!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Summer Reading Program Ideas

   June 26th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Summer Reading signSince I work mostly with adult reference and tech support, I've never done much with summer reading programs. But my library is doing two different things this year that seemed like fun, so I wanted to share.

For patrons, we're doing the Fizz Boom Read program for kids, and an interesting but somewhat complex Literary Elements subject bingo for adults. Which are fine, but it's two other programs we're running that I really think are neat.

First, our Childrens Room is making Fizz Boom Read more fun by adding a little raffle incentive. When kids bring in completed log books, they get a raffle ticket. They can then use their raffle tickets to win one of 24 "prize jars." The jars were put together by library staff, and range from a jar of Legos to beads to pennies to Starburst to race cars to stuffed animals - anything that kids might like and would fit in a jar:

Summer Reading jars  
Summer Reading jars  
Summer Reading jars

At the end of the summer, a winning ticket will be pulled for each jar. I know prizes for summer reading are questionable, but I liked this because it's not exactly cutthroat head-to-head competition. Lots of reading is still rewarded with better odds, but the winners are still luck of the draw.

Secondly, our Head of Readers Services put together a "Celebrity Frankenstein" program just for staff. Out of magazine photos, she cut eyes, ears, noses, and mouths of celebrities - and then, for each book a staff person reads, they can build a celebrity Frankenstein face out of the parts:

Adult summer reading face

Bizarre, but engaging - here are all the rules.

She hung a huge sheet up in the Circ office to track everyone's progress, because making it visual makes it much more fun:

Adult summer reading board

And, because this is a staff program, we're also supposed to include notes about what we thought of the book on the back of our face. I think these notes are going to be used later on a "staff picks" display.

I know there are tons of ideas out there for summer reading programs, but I hadn't heard of either of these before. Anything that makes reading more fun is okay in my book.

Tags: , , , , ,

Creative Names for Book Groups, and Who They Might Attract

   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 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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,