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



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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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You Can’t Get There From Here (DDC Edition)

   May 2nd, 2012 Brian Herzog

I know I've given the Dewey Decimal System a hard time for its quirks, and have experimented with other shelving systems when Dewey wasn't getting the job done. But recently, I stumbled on another great example of how Dewey totally misses the point - to wit:

Istanbul and Turkey Dewey call numbers

Now, keep in mind this photo was staged - I pulled these books off the shelf to photograph them. In real life, they're about three shelves away from each other.

And that's the problem: Istanbul is a city in Turkey, but Istanbul travel books are shelved in the "Europe" Dewey section, while general Turkey travel books are shelved in the "Asia" section. Ridiculous!

Yes, I know Turkey spans two continents, and the majority of Istanbul is in Europe while the majority of Turkey is in Asia. That's all very clever and precise, but totally fails patrons browsing the shelves. Chances are, someone looking for travel books to Turkey are going to find them and stop, and not think they've got to look for more books in a different section.

I talked to the cataloger at my library and (happily) we decided to apply Ranganathan's fourth law and move the Istanbul books to the Turkey section. But come on - a system is only good as the number of compensations you need to make for it.

Then again, perhaps this is nobody's business but the Turks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12

   April 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

No PornThis isn't exactly a reference question, but it is something reference staff deal with all the time. A patron came up to the desk and said,

That man on the last computer over there is looking at porn.

This seems to go in waves for us, but we probably average three or four porn complaints a month. The way we handle this in my library is to print out our Appropriate Library Behavior policy, and highlight the line that says,

The library is a public building and objectionable or pornographic images that can be seen by others (either intentionally or accidentally, and either on screen on in print) are not permissible.

I then give it to the patron in question, while at the same time saying something like, "another patron complained about something they saw on your screen. Since this is a public building, you must make sure that anything on your screen is appropriate for all ages."

At least, this is how we handle first-time offenders - we don't accuse them of anything, we don't kick them out, we just make it clear that anything they do must be clean enough for kids and the general public. We approach it this way because porn isn't illegal, but very subjective, and just not something we can allow at the library.

But it got me thinking: there are other things the library can't accommodate, for one reason or another: color photocopying, notary service, etc. In these cases, we have little handouts at the reference desk that list other locations in town that can accommodate those needs.

So, I thought, why don't we also make a handout for the porn people, listing other places in the area that cater to Adult Services? Here's what I came up with:

Adult Services bookmark

From now on, whenever a patron complains about someone looking at porn, in addition to giving them a copy of the official library policy, I'm also going to give them one of these handouts - that way, we're maintaining our yes-based policy and fulfilling a core library function by referring them to the most appropriate resource.

It's formatted to print three per page - feel free to download and edit one for your library [ppt], or check out the PDF version.



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#PLA12 Secret Shopping in a Library

   March 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Presenter was a branch manager in the DC public library system. He was given six weeks in May-June to pull together a secret shopper program and run it over the course of six weeks during June-July.

Goals of secret shopping

  • evaluate patron experience, for different types of patrons (using different types of shoppers)
  • evaluate how well staff was trained on a particular product or service
  • evaluate library's space, traffic flow, signage, etc
  • evaluate collection and merchandising
  • just get fresh eyes on the library

However: A Goals Caveat

  • are you doing this to really find out something you don't already know?
  • are you doing this to find proof of something you already believe to be the case?
  • if problems are identified, are you in any position (financially, staffing, politically), to do anything about it?

DC used volunteers (teens, adult volunteers, and Friends of the Library), and developed their own tools; retail secret shopping ~$25-$35/shopping trip (~1 hour). Good to use non-librarians, so they don't already know the jargon (but nice to partner with other libraries because they won't be recognized by staff and each library benefits).

One great resource for them is ALA Publication's Assessing Service Quality. The shopper questionnaire [pdf] they created was all yes/no question (no "rate 1-5" scales, so as to be less subjective), and they had three specific uses cases:

  1. Ask staff help in finding a book on [ancient Egypt, trucks, other options given] for a seven year old [son, daughter, younger sibling, nephew - whatever fit the shopper's age]
  2. Ask staff help in finding a good book to read
  3. Ask staff help in creating a resume on the computer

Also included was calling in to ask for directions, impression of outside of library, parking lot, landscaping, etc.

Results were sort of disappointing: not enough shopping results to really have any kind of scientific impact. They did learn that 50% of patrons aren't greeted when they enter the library, and often there are no paper towels in the bathrooms.

Staff were all informed of the shopping beforehand, but only the timeframe - they didn't know exactly when or where. Afterward, a summary of the results were shared with all staff, too. Shoppers were not trying to connect individual staff with actions or experience - this was not designed to be a punitive exercise. There was no pushback from staff on the idea, and managers felt that six weeks was long enough so staff couldn't "fake it" the entire time. They never considered not telling staff, because they didn't want it to appear like a spying or "gotcha" program.

Was it worth it?
Not really - they just didn't get enough data to justify the amount of time that went into it. But it was a good exercise for managers to think about it. And they have lots of groundwork done, so it will be much better next time.

Other ideas presented as possibilities:

  • do "exit interviews" with patrons as they leave the library, to get their immediate reaction
  • do focus group of volunteers afterward, to see how they felt about it (and get them talking to each other)
  • do website/catalog usability check - informal, 10-20 patrons in a lab, 15 questions/tasks (such as, what is the director's name and email?), maybe 2 hours on a Saturday morning, and give them a gift card for participating (use Steve Krug's books as guides)
  • have shoppers ask for things they should not be able to get
  • use app isecretshop, because people typing on a phone/ipad is less obvious than people walking around with clipboards
  • do community polling outside the library, to find out why "unpatrons" don't use the library in the first place


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Reference Question of the Week – 2/12/12

   February 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Terracotta WarriorsThis reference question happened in our Childrens Room one night, which makes it all the more humorous.

An adult patron went to the Childrens Desk looking for information on the terracotta warriors of China, for a short college paper. The reason she was in the Childrens Room is that the entire sixth grade in my town does an ancient civilizations project, so there is a lot of material up there. However, the terracotta warriors are a popular topic with the kids, and as a consequence of an entire grade working on one project, there wasn't a single book on the shelf that would help this patron.

Which apparently is how this patron's semester was going. She was only taking this particular class because the student loan she was granted required her to take at least two courses - even though she needed just one more to graduate. She took this one thinking it would be an easy elective. However, it had been a lot tougher than she expected, and was actually bringing down her overall GPA - for a course she didn't want or need. So then, when there was nothing in the library to help with her project, her stress level shot up.

But the Childrens Librarian didn't give up, and turned to our databases. While searching Gale's World History in Context, they found an article with this headline:

Topless terra-cotta warriors attract tourists*

She said they laughed so loud that someone from the Circulation Desk came in to see what all the commotion was about.

Contrary to where my mind went, it turns out the topless figures were male, "wearing skirts but topless for performing arts and skills."

After a ten-year excavation and research, archaeologists found that the player figures, quite different from the combat figures discovered before, wore no armors or helmets but gestured for entertaining the royal circle, such as dancing, wrestling and performing acrobatics.

The patron's stress and tension was immediately gone, and although she still had to write the paper, she was now looking forward to it. The Childrens Librarian said the patron couldn't wait to share her findings with the rest of the class.

So, score another one for librarians helping someone in need - and perhaps even saving this patron's GPA.

 


*"Topless terra-cotta warriors attract tourists to inland." Xinhua News Agency 6 Jan. 2012. Gale World History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

The article is also on the free web, in case you don't have the Gale database.



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CCD Scanner at the Circulation Desk

   February 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Unitech MS335 CCD ScannerAlmost exactly a year ago, I posted about scanning library cards on smartphones. While the FaceCash scanner I ordered worked, it wasn't designed to be used for library purposes, so didn't really fit at the circulation desk*.

At the time, we decided that as our existing desk scanners stopped working, we'd replace them with CCD scanners, so we'd be able to accommodate patrons with their library cards on their smartphone. And I'm happy to say it finally happened - one of our scanners stopped working, and we replaced it with a CCD scanner.

The model we chose is the one Jeff Pike from the Groton (MA) Library found - Unitech MS335, which features long range laser, USB attachment, and on a hands-free stand.

One catch is that the scanner, by default, is trigger-activated, rather than motion-activated like our other desk scanners. That was solved by switching it to "continuous" mode, which means the laser is always on. A little different, but the Circ staff doesn't seem to mind. Another catch was that the scanner ships with Codabar support turned off (which is what our library barcodes need). That was easy to fix too, as the barcode to turn on Codabar support was in the manual. I called Unitech to ask them these support questions, and they were excellent - an actual person answered the phone, was friendly and answered all my questions, and the entire phone call lasted maybe five minutes - with the end result being our scanner worked the way we wanted by the end of the call.

Since that post a year ago, I've gotten lots of questions about these kinds of scanners. The only two I'm familiar with are the two listed above, but I was curious what scanner models other libraries use, and well they work. If your library has a scanner like this, please let me know in the comments - hopefully this will become a resource for other libraries looking to buy these scanners. Thanks.

 


*So I was happy to keep it at my desk so I'd have a scanner to use



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