April 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog
Today's post is a response to an email I received (thanks, Amber). She said she just started working in a public library again, and asked if I had any advice on helping parents when they are looking for resources for their child's homework. This happens often enough that I've actually written it into our reference policy.
The best-case scenario is when the parent comes in with the student, and I always try to engage the student as much as possible. After all, it's the student that knows what their assignment is and what kind of information they need - not to mention I am trying to teach them research skills at the same time.
The situation that can be the most difficult is when the parent comes in alone. It is certainly a good thing to have a parent involved in their child's education, but more often than not, I get the distinct impression that the parent is just doing the child's homework for them - which makes me uncomfortable.
Here are some of the tactics I use any time an adult asks for information on the underground railroad, or the Black Plague, or a very specific animal, etc:
- Ask them if this is for them or for a homework assignment
Rarely do people let you know right away that their question is for their child's homework assignment, but the quicker you know where you stand, the better
- Ask if they have the homework assignment with them
Maybe one person in a hundred actually does, but it can help a lot. For awhile the school library staff were emailing us assignments as they got them from the teachers, but this dropped off after they had staff cuts
- Ask how much and what type of information is required, and the nature and length of the project
If they don't have the homework assignment with them, this is the next best thing - but it's still rare that a parent would know very many details. However, sometimes they know that they need just two books*, or that they need photographs, or that the project is a three paragraph biography, etc. Whatever they can tell you will help, because there's a big difference between a five page paper and a poster.
I also use this question to try to limit the amount of books the parent takes - some parents just want to take every single book they can find on the topic, and let the child sift through them once they get home. This is bad because often more than one student has the same topic, so if the parent says they need just two books, I try to hold them to that to leave resources for other kids
- Ask for the age/grade of the student
Obviously this is important in selecting the most appropriate resources, but also tells me right away if adult or teen resources are even applicable, or if I should refer them to the Children's Room
- Ask when the assignment is due
The answer to this is usually "tomorrow," but not always. This is especially helpful to know if I'm having trouble finding books on the topic - if the project isn't due for a week or so, that opens up the option of requesting books from other libraries. If there isn't time for that, I do remind patrons that they can drive to other libraries and pick up materials there (thanks to being in a consortium)
- Give them our guide to accessing databases from home
Also very helpful when I'm having trouble locating resources in the library, but this of course is limited to people who have internet access at home. I always give my speech about how databases are not an "internet source," and also write down the specific name of the databases that will help. If there is time, I show the parent how to search the database and that there is relevant information - and if we get this far, I always email one of the articles we find to them from the database, to remind them when they get home to use it
- Tell them to have the student call or come in if they need more help or have questions
Of course, it is ideal to work directly with the student, even if it's just on the phone. Sometimes students come in the next day after school, but I have had kids call later that night after their parents got home, asking where in the books they brought home is the information they need. I walk them through using the book's index and table of contents, and that is often enough to get them started
I'm curious to find out what other tactics are useful for this situation - it's something we face all the time, so please share your success stories in the comments.
*The absolute worse-case scenario, but one I've been seeing more and more, is when the project is already done and they just need a book source for the bibliography. Generally this confession comes from the student rather than the parent, but I probably hear this once or twice a month. I mentioned this to a middle school teacher who tutors a lot in the library, and she was shocked - enough that she said she'd bring it up at the next curriculum meeting.
Tags: help, helping, homework, libraries, Library, parent, parents, public, question, reference, student
April 7th, 2011 Brian Herzog
This might be my longest post ever, but I've got a lot to talk about. My library just finished a major project I mentioned earlier this year - the three parts of this project were:
- Revamp the reference collection, to make the majority of it circulating and interfiled with the regular non-fiction collection
- Use the space formerly housing the reference collection to make popular subjects easier to find and use
- Build new study rooms
Because we were moving so much material around, all of this had to happen at the same time (although it dragged out a couple extra months because of problems with the building contractor). A breakdown of what we did is below, and you can see photos of the construction, and some "before" pictures.
For the last few years, it was pretty clear that our reference collection was underused (which is an understatement). There were many times I would take a patron over there, hand them the book and point to the information they were looking for, but when they found out the book couldn't leave the library, their response was, "nevermind, I'll just look it up on the internet."
That drove me crazy, but also illustrated that our collection no longer met the needs of our community. For better or worse, books they couldn't take home were useless to them, and for me to keep spending thousands of dollars on it was wasting their tax dollars.
So the plan we came up with was to convert about 90% of the "reference" collection to books that could be checked out and taken home. The only thing that remained as "library use only" are our current encyclopedias (Britannica and World Book), almanacs (The Old Farmer's Almanac and the World Almanac), statistics books (Statistical Abstract of the United States), and also our ready-reference collection.
The rest of the reference collection fell into one of three categories:
- Weeded - I'd estimate that at least half of our collection went this route. We had a lot of space for reference books, so I tended to hang onto them much longer than I should have. Also, for the last couple years I was buying more for non-fiction than reference, so in quite a few instances we had a newer edition in non-fiction than the reference edition
- Converted to regular non-fiction - about 20%-40% of the collection were converted to regular non-fiction books. I made an effort to put as much into this category as I could, because these would be the most useful to patrons
- Made "7 Day Loan" - this was a new item type we created as a result of this project. Into this category when all the big sets, expensive books, or books that we used a lot but not enough to keep as ready-reference. Each of these books got a bright red "7 Day Loan" sticker on the spine, and circulate under three caveats:
- They circulate for 7 days - by allowing limited circulation, they will be more useful to patrons, and we'll get a better value for the money we spend on them
- They are non-requestable - because we're part of a consortium, making them non-requestable means they're more likely to be available when a local patron or staff needs them. However, if another library calls and asks us to set a book aside for a patron because they're coming to pick it up, we will
- They are non-renewable - again, the goal here is to make sure there is turnover on these books, and that they are available to most people most of the time. We did need to create a new "24 hour waiting period" for checkouts though - when a patron returns a 7 Day Loan book, they need to wait 24 hours before they can check it out again - otherwise, one patron could monopolize a resource, and I wanted to avoid that
Since the non-fiction collection would be absorbing a lot of newly recataloged books, the Reference staff spent months weeding that collection also, and got rid of a ton of outdated or underused books. Then, as Tech Services recataloged books either as regular non-fiction or 7 Day Loan books, Reference staff would interfile them with the regular non-fiction collection.
This is really my favorite part of the project, because it means all books on a topic were in one place, instead of having to show patrons the non-fiction books, then walk them across the room to show them the same Dewey number in the Reference Collection.
Space, and How to Best Fill it
As the Reference area cleared out, we had a lot of floor space we could now repurpose. I had two ideas for this.
1. More Study Rooms
By far, the biggest unmet need in my department was for quiet study rooms. We had one room that people could reserve, but it was always booked. It was definitely a hot commodity, and we sometimes had mild altercations between tutors or students or parents, who all wanted to use the room.
This need had been growing over the years (and especially in the summers), and money finally became available in our budget to build new study rooms. Given the space available, we decided on three new 8' x 8' rooms. Each room had two chairs and a work counter along one wall - this maximized table space, without actually putting a table in the room (which would have required the rooms to be bigger to make them ADA-compliant). We also wired all the rooms with power outlets and ethernet jacks (above the counters to make them easy to access), and put a clock and recycle bin in each room. For security, the fronts of each room are floor-to-ceiling glass, which many tutors actually thanked us for.
These rooms are now almost constantly in use, and being able to accommodate the needs of our patrons - instead of always apologizing for our limited resources, feels really good.
2. Subject Tables
We built the study rooms along the back wall of the Reference area, which left open floor space between them and the Reference Desk. Into this space went three new index tables (basically, a table with a book shelf down the center). I like these tables because they let you combine a book collection with a work surface. They are also low and open, and therefore inviting and easy to use.
These three tables became "subject tables" for some of our commonly-used collection areas - career resources, auto repair, genealogy, and maps (continuing what we started in 2009).
The tables were lined up in such a way that each section got its own little pod, along with clear signage. We also created new call numbers for each subject, so patrons searching the catalog would know they were in a special section. The system we used is roughly:
- Career/331.702 and Career/650.14 - plus a few stragglers from other Dewey numbers
- Car Repair/629.287
- Maps/910 and Maps/911 - plus a few others, with more to come including a lot of atlases that ended up being banished to the Oversized collection
By just appending logical subject words to the beginning of the Dewey numbers, we were able to make things easier to find without reinventing the wheel. This allowed us to get things recataloged quicker, and kept my Cataloger from tampering with my car's brake lines.
A couple happy results of the layout of our building and the tables: the table closest the Reference Desk is where I put the remainder of our Reference collection - the encyclopedia, almanacs and statistical books. This is the best place for them, so I was happy it worked out. On the other end of the tables is where I put the Genealogy books, which just happens to be right outside of our Local History Room. Again, not exactly just a happy accident, but really the best place for them considering the patrons that use both of those collections.
So Far, So Good
The project took longer than it should have, and the transition period was rocky at times. The biggest complaints (from both patrons and staff) were:
- weeding so many books in such a short period
- letting expensive books be checked out
- not having a reference collection
- building study rooms instead of spending that money on something else
Through it all, I kept coming back to my bottom line: the needs of our patrons have changed, and we need to change too. No one uses reference books, and everyone wants quiet study rooms.
Now that things have been in place for a month or so, I think everyone is adjusting to the changes. I honestly still do cringe any time I see a middle school kid walking out with a Grzimek's volume under his arm, but I also know that patron is far better served by being able to take that book home.
One last detail: total cost for the construction of the three study rooms, plus purchase of the custom-made wooden subject table and chairs, ran about $16,000. This doesn't factor in all the staff time involved in weeding, shifting, recataloging, or other duties, but I think this is not only a great investment, but a small price to pay to make sure our library evolves to continue to serve the needs of our patrons.
I'm sorry this post was so long, and sorrier that I know I left important parts out. If anyone has any questions about this project, my goals or logic, or how things have been going, please let me know.
Tags: chelmsford, construction, index tables, interfile, interfiling, libraries, Library, public, reference, remainingrelevant, study rooms
March 31st, 2011 Brian Herzog
Last weekend I heard a story on NPR about how Sweden is turning driving the speed limit into a game - complete with cash rewards.
Instead of just using traffic cameras to catch people speeding, they're using them to also catch people obeying the speed limit - and by following the law, those people earn a chance at winning a share of the revenue generated by speeding tickets. By offering a reward, the police are hoping to encourage more people to drive safely.
The theory, called gamification, is that people enjoy playing games because of the positive reinforcement from doing something well - thus turning something normally punitive, like a speeding fine, into a game of consequences: play badly and get punished, play well and get rewarded.
How awesome would it be to do this with library overdue fines?
I prefer not charging fines at all, like my library, because I personally don't think fines should be a revenue stream for libraries. It's more important to get materials back on time than to profit from irresponsibility.
Which is why this sounds like a great idea to me - it focuses on responsible borrowing, and in a fun way.
I haven't worked out all the logistics, but it seems possible to try it for one week a month, one month a year, etc. And ideally, there would be as many "winners" as possible - so instead of one grand prize winner, a whole bunch of names could be drawn who each win $5 or $10 - chances are, many of them will donate it back to the library anyway, but still feel good about winning.
There might be a problem with libraries giving away money (although fines aren't tax money), in which case there could be a different prize - maybe a $5 gift certificate to the book sale. Anything to reward good behavior - and highlight that it is important to get library materials back on time.
February 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog
Something I really like about smartphones are apps like CardStar and Key Ring - they let you input the numbers from all the club and rewards cards from your keychain and display the barcode on your phone.
Patrons also use these apps for their library card numbers, and some libraries aren't sure how to handle the library-card-on-smartphone situation. It hasn't really come up in my library, but I know our traditional scanners won't read barcodes off a smartphone screen. So, I thought I'd do some research to find out what it would take to accommodate these patrons.
The reason it doesn't work is because traditional barcode scanners are designed to read laser light reflected off a solid surface. Smartphone screens are emitting light, so an entirely different technology is needed.
The scanners that can read barcodes on smartphones are called CCD scanners (what that stands for is less important than a short description or a compare/contrast between CCD and traditional laser scanners).
After learning this, I started looking around at the different models and costs of CCD scanners. I stumbled across a Quora post mentioning a company called FaceCash* which sells scanners for $30. That's cheap enough for experimentation, so I contacted Aaron Greenspan (FaceCash founder) and bought one.
And it worked. I plugged it into a computer's USB port, held it up to an iPhone with a library card displayed on it, and Beep, the scanner read it just like it should. I'm always shocked when tech things work right out of the box. And happily, the scanner also reads** regular barcodes too.
So now, for just $30, my library can accommodate those patrons who make their lives easier*** through mobile technology.
Recent studies show this is fast becoming the standard in the business world - especially airlines. So the only question is whether or not libraries are willing to honor "virtual" library cards.
I don't see why not. It doesn't seem like fraud would be any more of an issue with this than with regular library cards. When we sign up a patron for a new library card, we give them a wallet card and a keychain card - so already there is more than one copy of the card in existence, which means more than one person could be using it. Since we don't make people show a picture ID when they present their library card, people could already be using someone else's card and we'd never know. Besides, if it's good enough for the TSA and airline security, I think we can manage.
But best of all, accepting these means that it's easier for patrons to bring their library card with them to the library. This is both better customer service and will save staff time in not having to look patrons up. Now that I have this scanner, I just have to wait for a patron to come in who needs it - what a strange feeling to be ahead of the curve.
*FaceCash is a new way to pay for things - you add money to your FaceCash account, and install the FaceCash app on your phone. Then when you're in a store or restaurant that accepts FaceCash, the app displays your account barcode for the business to scan, and also a picture of your face, so the clerk can verify that you are actually you. With more and more personal data being stored in phones, the visual verification is a great idea. If my library charged fines, I'd want to sign up us to accept FaceCash.
**One limitation of CCD scanners is their short range - just a couple inches, compared to 8-10" range of traditional scanners. Plus, the scanner I bought is trigger-operated, rather than motion-operated like our existing scanners. So, even though it can read both physical and digital barcodes, I don't think we'll swap out what we've got for it, but instead just plug it in and use it when a smartphone patron comes to the desk.
***I like just about anything that reduces waste and clutter. These apps let you store useful information easily, instead of lugging around a whole deck of various cards, and that makes life better. Read a few more tips to simplify your wallet, so you don't end up like George:
Tags: barcode, card, device, devices, libraries, Library, mobile, phone, phones, public, scan, scanner, scanning, smartphone, smartphones
January 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog
This week's question is yet another one in which I wasn't involved: my library is a funny place all around.
The Children's librarian told me about a young boy she helped in the Childrens Room. He came up to her, all excited, and asked for help looking for information on sperm whales.
No problem, she thought. Animals and endangered species are big topics will school kids in Chelmsford, so we do have a lot of resources for questions like this. And before too long, she was able to find some sperm whale books for him.
The boy was happy, but not satisfied - next, he asked her for books about the "giant colossal squid." That request gave her pause, but every year we all get asked for information on an endangered species that we've never heard of before, so she started looking.
She checked the catalog and subscription databases, and had no luck. Next she went to the animal books and started searching through the indexes of anything that looked remotely promising, but again just could not find anything.
This is the way it continued, with my coworker expanding and expanding her search, trying to locate even a mention of the "giant colossal squid." But no matter what she tried, she couldn't find a thing.
Just then, the boy's mother walked up. After my coworker related to her what she was looking for and how it was going (not well), the mother replied,
Oh, don't worry - he only learned about it in a movie he watched last night. The "giant colossal squid" isn't actually a real animal.
This is why I love librarians - who else would work this hard just because a child was curious about something? Actually, now I'm kind of curious which movie it was this patron watched. Hmm.