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

Archives for Resources:

Where The Good Stuff Lives

   September 4th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I just got back from an extra-long Labor Day weekend, which of course means my desk had accumulated a variety of items in my absence. Most are fairly routine to deal with, but a few - namely, donations from patrons - sometimes require special tactics.

For regular donations (like books and DVDs), we either add them to the collection or give them to our Friends group for the book sale. But other things, local history items, photographs, old newspapers, and other assorted ephemera, don't fit into an existing slot somewhere in the library, which means a Decision must be made.

In my case, all that stuff (a.k.a. Deferred Decision items) goes under my desk. It occurred to me that it's possible that the best stuff in libraries lives in places like this - and only because we don't know what else to do with it.

So, as an exercise in public shame, I thought I'd share what it looks like under my desk, and explain what's there and why. Here's what is under my desk:

Under The Desk

Now, going from left to right:

  • The tall thin boxes are unassembled acid-free archival boxes, waiting to be used
  • Next is an assembled archival box, which is my catch-all for any local history item that isn't a book. This currently includes (but is not limited to) a route map for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail bike path (the white roll on top), old and newish newspapers, unmarked photographs, random notebooks and records, loose yellowing pages from who knows what, and some duplicates of things we have in our Local History Room. Most of these things I found while cleaning out different cabinets in the library and just consolidated here - beyond that, I don't have any idea where most of it came from
  • The white box is where I keep the current year of our local newspaper - we have a "reference" subscription to the paper, which I send out to be microfilmed after the year is complete. The publisher doesn't provide microfilm copies, so this is the only way we can continue to build a clean filmed copy for our archive
  • The "tax products" box is something I keep just because it makes me laugh, although I haven't found an actual use for is yet
  • And finally on the right, this entire box was donated by a patron and is full of magazines, newspapers, and scrapbooks of clippings, all from the 1960s and relating either to the Kennedys or the moon landing

Since we're a public library and not at archive, we really don't have a way to make most of this stuff publicly-available. But I also can't bring myself to just throw it all into the recycling bin.

I've tried to find homes for some of it - I called the JFK Library to see if they'd be interested in the old Kennedy stuff, but they said they have loads of it. Everything else, I just keep telling myself that some day when it's really slow at the desk, I'll go through it all and do something with it. Some day.

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear if anyone else has a treasure trove like this under their desk (or elsewhere). I hope I'm not alone, and I suspect that I'm not.

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The Yearbook Project from OCI

   November 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

OCI ScannerI was recently forwarded this email, concerning a yearbook scanning project that is free to libraries:

We are contacting you in regards to a FREE project we're doing to digitize the High-School yearbooks at all of the libraries in your state. The program is called "The Yearbook Project", and it is sponsored by the Records Conversion Department at OCI; as I previously stated.COMPLETELY FREE. We even pay the S & H.

The Yearbook Project came about after it was brought to our attention that high schools and local libraries throughout Oklahoma were losing their yearbooks. Some were being destroyed by natural disasters, and others were being destroyed by people cutting images out of them. Once they are gone or damaged it is nearly impossible to replace them and these yearbooks are irreplaceable because of their historical value alone. The Records Conversion and Digital Imaging departments also use this program as an advertising tool to highlight the quality of work we do here at OCI. There's no obligation for our other services, we would just hope you keep us in mind if you ever do need them.

OCI is a state agency located in Lexington, Oklahoma. Our Records Conversion department has been in business for thirty (30) years and consists of four areas; Data Entry, Digital Imaging, Image Review & Verification, and Microfilm. We do records conversion for every state agency in Oklahoma. These include; the Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Labor, The Oklahoma Supreme Court, and the Attorney General's Office, just to name a few. If you would like to visit our website it is www.ocisales.com.

Our overhead non-destructive scanning method ensures that the yearbooks are not damaged and that they are returned in their original condition. You can view sample yearbooks and read about Non-Destructive Scanning by clicking on the following links: Click here to view yearbook examples or Non-Destructive Scanning. The yearbooks are scanned at 300 dpi and saved in a [jpeg] format. Meaning, they are done with Publisher Quality so that libraries can digitally reprint any books, just a few pages, or a single image from the DVD for anyone who would like a copy.


  • Archival purposes
  • Reduces storage space and cost
  • Protection of valuable and irreplaceable materials
  • Ability to provide full or partial reprints from the DVD final product
  • DVD provides easy access and viewing of scanned material
  • DVD allows viewing without physically handling the original material
  • No cost to libraries participating in the Yearbook Program

After the yearbooks are scanned, they are returned to your library along with a set of DVD's containing each yearbook. These DVD's belong to the library and you can then load it in your computer database for everyone to access. In addition, if you would like to contact the area high schools and add to your current collection, we will provide a second set of DVD's to share with the schools (also free) and their books would be returned to you. Just be sure to let us know which school(s) to include an extra set for. The only thing needed to be done from your side is for you and/or your staff to box them up (no more than 25-30 in a copier-paper size box, please) tape them securely and make two inventory sheets, one for yourself and one to be put in the box. You'll then call us and let us know what day you would like scheduled for pick-up and we will take care of the rest with FED-EX. We will send you the shipping-labels via-email and the books will be returned to you within 5-6 weeks. Whether you have only a few or hundreds, we would be happy to be of service to you.

If you are interested in having your yearbooks converted into a digital format at no cost, please contact me at (405) 527-0833, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. central time. If you have any questions or need any references you can e-mail me at ocirc@doc.state.ok.us Also, feel free to forward this email to any area Branches or Directors in your Library System so that they may benefit from this offer as well.

From the limited research I did, I learned that "OCI" stands for the Oklahoma Correctional Industries, which explains why this service can be offered free - having inmates doing the work gives them something productive to do, while at the same time benefiting libraries who could not otherwise afford the scanning.

Has anyone used OCI for yearbook scanning, or heard about the quality of their work?

In our case (and all of Massachusetts), we have scanning services available through the Boston Public Library, in conjunction with the Internet Archive. However, I thought this was interesting enough to post, to hopefully find out more about it. If you know any details, please share in the comments - thanks.

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Information Sharing in an Emergency

   April 17th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Although I'm 20 miles from Boston, the explosions at the Marathon have been the dominant topic for the last couple days. Amid the tragedy, I couldn't help but notice a few things about the way information (and misinformation) flowed.

Almost immediately, the authorities were calling for everyone with photos or videos of the day - not just the explosions, but the entire race route throughout the morning - to share their media with the Police. They're even stopping people leaving the city through Logan airport to individually ask people if they captured anything. Of course the majority of people watching the race would have been taking pictures and video, and these will be tremendous help to the investigators. I'd never heard of this kind of solicitation on such a massive scale before, but I was impressed that City officials did not hesitate - shortly after it became clear the explosions were not an accident, they were asking for help from the public.

Also in short order Google created the Boston Marathon Explosions Person Finder - it's a way to both get information on someone that may have been near the scene, as well as a way for people to let others know they're safe. It's not the first time it was used, but is another helpful tool for sharing information.

Somewhat related, I also found it interesting that officials were repeatedly asking people to text and email loved ones instead of using their cell phones to make calls, to lighten the load on the over-burdened cell phone network. Even radio reporters at the scene kept getting cut off as their calls were dropped, and this technological fail led to rumors that the cell phone network had been deliberately shut down.

Which was false, but rumors were to be expected, I think. So I thought it was great that by Tuesday, Snopes already had a page up debunking some of the conspiracies and rumors - some of which are still being circulating among people I know and on the radio. Snopes is also continually adding information as they can.

Of course, all of this is in addition to the tip hotlines, press conferences, and other traditional ways to pass along information in situations like this. This is the closest I've ever been to this kind of emergency, and distracting myself with information logistics helped deal with the event itself.

And one last thing - a quote from Mr. Rogers, seen on Twitter:

@petemanning When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.

This quote is contained with PBS' page on helping kids cope with scary situations. From what I heard on the news, there was an abundance of on-the-scene helpers - sharing information is just another way to help.

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Librarian Q&A Forum At StackExchange Now Live!

   May 30th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Unshelved comic stripGreat News - the Libraries and Information Science question and answer forum, by librarians for librarian, is now open for business! Check it out:


This is the long-awaited replacement for Unshelved Answers - at least, I've been waiting for it, because I used it all the time. I love that librarians have a place to ask each other questions, share tips, ideas, and best practices, and just easily communicate - all with a searchable archive.

Thanks to all the early committers and beta testers. If this is completely new to you, please check it out - it's worth it, and is definitely useful professional development.

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Library Anytime: Highlighting 24/7 Library Services

   May 23rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Library Anytime logoHere's an idea that my coworkers and I had talked about for a little while, but really saw take shape at PLA12.

We wanted to create a webpage that really focused attention on all of our library services that patrons can use without having to come into the library. Good idea, right? We went round and round coming up with a name, but eventually settled on Library Anytime.

The PLA session that gelled everything was Designing and Building a Social Library Website, with Rebecca Ranallo (Cuyahoga County [OH] Public Library) and Nate Hill (San Jose Public Library). Their talk was inspiring, and we tried to blend* all their ideas into a single website:

  • Cuyahoga PL has a "library after dark" website, that pops up on their homepage when the library is closed over night - it focuses on resources and services people can use from home or elsewhere
  • San Jose Public Library's website looks great - very distinctive and eye-catching. However, Nate said that after using it for a couple years, they're going to be making some changes (which made me feel less bad about completely lifting their design)

We didn't create any new content for this website - it's just a (hopefully) easy-to-use portal to get to tools that already existed on our main website. But: having a second website to supplement the main website probably means the first website needs work, so our plan is to use this as a basis for a complete redesign of our main website.

Anyway, we launched Library Anytime during National Library Week (which, for those who are counting, gave us a three week development window following PLA), and so far patrons seem to like it. And I can't tell you the number of "I didn't know you guys had..." kind of comments I've heard since.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/11/12

   March 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

This isn't so much a reference question as it is just me venting about two different reference interactions that ended up having the same answer.

Consumer Reports OnlineSituation 1:

A patron comes up to the desk and asks to see Consumer Reports. In my library, we get two copies of the magazine - one to circulate, and one to keep behind the reference desk (otherwise, it would only circulate in one direction*). Generally this works well. Our circulating versions are usually checked out, so often people using the reference copies just photocopy the article or ratings or whatever they want.

Such was the case with this patron - except, when I suggested photocopying, I also offered the fact that we have online access to Consumer Reports (through EBSCO). The patron got excited about that, so I showed him how to find it and log in from home. By this time we had found the article he was looking for in the reference copy of the issue, but he said instead of photocopy it he would look it up tonight online, as well as spend more time researching the ratings.

But the next day, he called and said he couldn't find in the database the article that he saw in the magazine. I thought it just must have been his searching skills, so I grabbed the issue to get the title, and then searched the database myself - and I couldn't find it either. And then I noticed that none of the articles seemed to be in the database - the ratings and reviews were, but not the magazine articles.

I apologized to the patron, and told him I'd contact the database vendor to see why those were missing from our account. He said he got enough information from the ratings, so that was good, at least. But I emailed EBSCO anyway, and then got a call later in the day from our sales person (new sales person actually, so he was calling to answer my question and to introduce himself).

He said that our experience was correct - the Consumer Reports database we purchased through them was limited (by the publisher Consumer Union, as EBSCO is just the distributor) to the ratings and reviews only. The full magazine is only available for customers of MasterFILE, which has the full text of each issue.

So, that sucked, and was not something I realized when I originally subscribed to the database (which was probably an oversight on my part, even though it might be a natural assumption to think buying the magazine database would give you full access to the magazine).


Ancestry.comSituation 2:

The day after I first spoke with the Consumer Reports patron, another patron asked for help with our Ancestry database. She said she was in the library the week prior doing genealogy work, had printed a page of search results, and now she couldn't figure out how to get back to it.

That seemed simple enough - she was in the family tree section, so I helped her drill back into the family tree search for the name she was researching - and nothing. Not only was there no matches for that name, but the family tree screens didn't look like what she had printed out.

When I realized the menus were all different from our library interface, it occurred to me that perhaps she had gone directly to the ancestry.com website, instead of through our subscription database. So I switched to their website, drilled into that family tree search (called Public Member Trees) - and sure enough, we found the page she had seen before.

But when we clicked the name to see more information (which of course is what she wanted), we were prompted to purchase Ancestry. We were both puzzled as to why something behind the website's paywall wasn't available in the subscription the library was already paying for, so I told her I'd contact the vendor to find out.

I emailed ProQuest, who we buy Ancestry Library Edition from, but they wrote back in a few hours saying that since my question was about the Ancestry.com website, I'd have to contact them directly (and provided the contact information). I did, and a few days later I got this reply from them:

Thank you for contacting Ancestry Library Edition support.

Unfortunately, the Ancestry Library Edition does not have access to the Member Trees that a personal account does. While there is a "Family Trees" section of the library edition, it is limited to the databases listed on the following URL:


The answer to your question is that the databases available to the library edition do not contain a match for the person being searched for when limiting to the "Family Trees" category.

If there is anything else with which we might assist you, please let us know.

Also in looking around the Ancestry.com website, I found this:

About Public Member Trees

This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information.

Perhaps I can understand that, since the family tree information is uploaded by users, there is some licensing reason it cannot be resold to libraries. At any rate, I informed the patron, and she was disappointed, but okay - in fact, she thought she knew which Ancestry.com member posted that family tree, so she was going to try to contact her directly.

The Resolution

But the bottom line was, in both situations, the library version of the subscription database didn't have the information in it that the patron was looking for - even though it was available through other (not free) sources. And probably in both cases, it was me being a bad librarian for not having known this beforehand, or evaluated the library editions more thoroughly when I signed us up for them.

I'm sorry for concluding such a long post without some great insight or happy ending. It was just a odd coincidence that these two situations happened at the same time, and with the same (unsatisfying) resolution.


*By which I mean, get stolen.

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