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



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Print From Anywhere to the Library

   March 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

PrinterOn: mobile printing solutionLast week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.

We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.

A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.

Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.

So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).

The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.

How It Works
To use it, patrons start at http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/webprint, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.

When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.

Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:

We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.

But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.

 


*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.



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Tech Services is the Oil in the Library Machine

   February 13th, 2013 Brian Herzog

oil canOver the last couple years, there's been a trend in my library to move some of the work traditionally done by Technical Services out to the service desks.

It hasn't been deliberate, and it hasn't been too major, but desk staff now routinely:

  • change status of items in the catalog, moving them into and out of "Display," "New Books," or the regular stacks
  • add identification labels, such as "Teen" or "Documentary," to items that are already circulating
  • use a barcode duplicator to add barcodes to the front cover of items
  • change call numbers in the catalog (or more often, correct them if the spine label doesn't match the catalog)
  • replace faded spine labels (courtesy of having a spine label printer at the Circulation Desk, and soon-to-be one at the Reference Desk too)

For the most part, it has improved customer service by decreasing the amount of time it takes to do these tasks. It keeps items in circulation longer (instead of being routed to Tech Services where they might be unavailable for a week or so while the update is made), and also keeps our catalog and shelves more accurate by fixing problems or improving findability on the spot.

engine oil dipstickHowever, we have noticed mistakes being made, too - which isn't unexpected. When the work was done only by Tech Services, it is by staff trained to do this type of work, usually in the back office where they work at their own pace. Desk staff, on the other hand, only get minimal training, and can only do this work in between helping patrons. So, with many more staff working on it, details are bound to be missed or forgotten as different people develop their own workflow over time. But no matter how small these mistakes were, they are still glaring when they cause a problem.

I bring all this up, not just because I find it an interesting trend in and of itself, but because of something our cataloger pointed out about the whole process.

Recently, our Director relayed a story to the entire staff about a distraught patron coming in looking for a book, and the first staff person she spoke to was able to identify the book, look it up in the catalog, take the patron to the shelf, and put the book in the patron's hand. The Director praised this success and efficiency, referring to the library as a "well-oiled machine."

Our cataloger used this success story to highlight why it is so important for the desk staff to do these traditionally-Tech Services tasks correctly. Her point was that these little processing details - making sure spine labels are printed correctly and consistently, making sure the barcode is in the right place, etc - is the oil that allows our "well-oiled machine" to run smoothly. Their importance cannot be taken for granted.

Too many mistakes, and suddenly we can't find books on the shelf because they're not where they're supposed to be or their catalog record is inaccurate.

It's helpful to share the workload, but quality control cannot be overlooked in the process. Libraries are funny in that the smallest details upstream - which many people don't even think twice about - seem to have the biggest impact downstream if something goes wrong.

So, yay for catalogers and their persnickety attention to detail - without them, libraries certainly would grind to a halt.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/20/13

   January 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Jumper cables on a car batteryIt's been really cold in this area this week, so this question is quite timely. However, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.

When I came in to work on Wednesday, a coworker related this incident from the day before:

A patron's car wouldn't start in the parking lot, so she came back in the library to ask staff for help. She asked at the circulation desk, and they sent her down to reference. Apparently she didn't have AAA or anyone she could call to help, so she was kind of stuck*. However, only one staff person in the area had jumper cables, and he said he couldn't do it for liability reasons. The patron left reference, and by the end of the night her car was gone from the parking lot, but no one is quite sure how she got it started.

The coworker who relayed this story to me was basically asking if staff handled it correctly, and should the library help someone jump start their car. It's something we've done in the past (I personally have), and I think she felt bad this patron was turned away (especially with our "getting to yes" policy).

We don't have any kind of formal jump starting policy (I mean really, who does?), but because it happened once, I thought it was worth exploring. The Director and I discussed it, and ended up posting this on our staff blog:

Patrons and Jumper Cables

Last week a patron’s car wouldn’t start in the parking lot – she didn’t have AAA or any other way to deal with it on her own, so she came into the library and asked if staff could help her.

The Town cannot accept liability for Town workers to jump cars for people (so it’s okay to say no). However, any staff person that is willing to help on their own (with their own car and jumper cables) is free to assist the patron (but they need to know that you’re doing this on your own, not as a library employee).

Instructions on how to jump start a car using jumper cables [pdf] (from Car Talk)

If this happens at closing time, and there is no way to start the patron’s car and no one else they can call for help, please call the Chelmsford Police non-emergency number 978-256-#### to let them know there is a car stranded in the library parking lot.

This seemed to be a good compromise - the Town can't be responsible for untrained staff jumping someone's car, but if a Good Samaritan staff person knows what they're doing and is willing to help, they can. I always feel a little bad when a limit to what a public library can offer is hit, because I still want libraries to be able to do anything.

Also, a note on the instructions: I know different people have different ways of jump starting a car, so I searched around online to see if there was a safe consensus among experts. The guys at Car Talk are expert enough for me, and their method was backed up by other places too.

 


*I recently had major car problems too, so I can empathize.



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Non-Traditional Circulating Collections in Libraries

   October 24th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Human Library ProjectHave you ever heard about something, liked the idea, and just accepted as fact that because you've heard about it, everyone else must have too, and then a couple years later happened to mention it in a room full of people like it's common knowledge only to have everyone look at you with blank stares? I get this a lot.

Most recently, it happened with the Human Library Project - you know, the idea in the news a couple years ago where libraries had collections of people you could check out - police officer, politician, Buddhist, lesbian, etc - and sit and talk with them to learn about their life experience.

I personally loved this idea, because it's a way to meet types of people you may never meet in your life's normal routine. Of course, I don't think the project every took itself to be grander than it was - I mean, you're only talking to one person, so of course you can't automatically generalize to everyone of that person's "type." The human books aren't stereotypes, so it's not like you're learning what life is like for all black men, but you do find out what life is like for this black man - which might be more than you knew before, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, like I said, I loved this idea when I first heard about it, and tucked it away. I happened to mention it during a meeting a couple weeks ago, and everyone in the room thought I was making it up. So I started asking around over the course of that week, and no one I talked to had heard of it. So, here you go, world - consider yourself officially informed. You are welcome.

I thought I'd also take this opportunity to mention a few other non-traditional things you can check out of libraries. Earlier this year, there was a PLA session on non-traditional collections, such as circulating ereaders, guitars, and running a seed library.

The iLibrarian blog is also a great resource for these types of ideas. Recent posts there include:

Seeing things like this makes me happy I work in libraries, but sad that I can't work in all the libraries. I mean, I've always thought it was cool that some libraries circulate cooking pans and artwork, and just last week we referred a patron to the Library of Congress' Talking Books program. But how much fun would it be to check out farmland or to offer a Maker Station?

Pretty fun, is my answer. I get excited by potential, which is why I never despair over the future of libraries - we've got potential coming out of our buns.

Librarian, her bun, and her book


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Cloud of Survey Comments from Library Patrons

   September 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A few months ago, my library conducted a survey of our patrons. We wanted it to be short+useful, so we called it the "60 Second Survey" and limited it to five questions, on things like which services people liked/used, best way to contact them about programs and events, etc.

Of course, the last question was the open-ended "Tell us what you think" question. 255 people provided comments, which made for very interesting reading.

Last week while a coworker was talking about the Wordle cover letter cloud, we got the idea to do a cloud based on the survey comments. Here it is (larger version to see smaller words):

Library Patron Survey Comments cloud

We had read the comments so we knew it was generally positive, but the visual impact of seeing things like this made us feel pretty good. A cloud is so much more concise than 255 individual comments, and we were very happy to see things like "friendly" and "helpful" rise to the top since those are areas we strive to emphasize.

Anyway, I don't mean this as a "We're #1" gloaty post - I just wanted to share because it was so positive. And, it's also a great visual, so we're going to include it in the Town Annual Report, as well as create a poster to display in the library, post on Facebook, etc. A t-shirt might be going too far, but we'll see. I like t-shirts.

I know I'm late to the Wordle game, but now I can't help trying to come up with other things to convert to clouds.



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Good Ideas, Not Easily Sold

   August 29th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A couple of totally unrelated really good ideas (I think), before I head to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend:

Good Idea #1
First, for all you DVD collection development librarians out there, here is a must-add for the library's collection:

The Red Green Show box set

A 50-DVD set of The Red Green Show! 300 episodes = ~124 hours of wisdom from Possum Lodge, plus bonus material. Of course, the $299.99 price tag made my colleague who does our DVD selection just say "no."

Good Idea #2
Apple Store genius training manualSecond, an Apple Store training manual for their Genius Bar employees was reviewed at Gizmodo. From the tl;dr write up on BoingBoing, some great training gems caught my eye:

What does a Genius do? Educates. How? "Gracefully." He also "Takes Ownership" "Empathetically," "Recommends" "Persuasively," and "Gets to 'Yes'" "Respectfully."

From the comments, it appears the existence of this manual met with a large degree of cynicism. However, swap out "Genius" for "Librarian" and this exactly sums up what our desk staff should aspire to.

Taking ownership of a problem can be difficult in a public library, because not everything is something library staff can help with. But when it is within our power - especially concerning a library resource or service - taking ownership is the best way solve a patron's problem. Because if one of our patrons can't use a library resource, then it's a library problem.

And initially I was uncomfortable with the word "persuasively," because it sounds very retail. But after I thought about it, I often actively try to persuade patrons all the time, in the sense of recommending - and leading them to - what I think is the best resource. "Yes, maybe this recently-published book on skin cancer is a better choice, even though that one from 1995 is thinner and has more pictures. Of course, you can always take both." Or, "Instead of trying to figure out how to cite Yahoo Answers in your term paper, how about I show you how to use our journal databases?" Of course librarians persuade - empathetically and respectfully - but don't force or withhold information. We certainly try to recommend the best resources possible, but it's always up to the patron to make their own decisions.

Not that I should be surprised Apple has good customer service ideas - I've certainly drawn inspiration from them before.

I hope everyone has a good long weekend - see you next week.



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