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



Archives for Technology:


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.

Benefits:

  • 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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The Best “Help Wanted” Sign Ever

   September 11th, 2013 Brian Herzog

I was tinkering with fickr over the weekend, and it wasn't letting me do what I wanted to do. So, I hit Ctrl+U to view the source code and instead of what I was looking for, I found this:

fickr source code job ad

What a great way for a computer company to target the kind of people it wants to hire - the people who look at source code.

Not that there is any shortage of applicants for library jobs, but with any great idea, I immediately want to steal it to apply to the library world. Although the question is, where could a library put a message like this that hard-core candidates would naturally find, but casual patrons wouldn't? In a MARC record? The webpage listing the library's policies?

In all honesty, we could probably just hang a big sign in the library saying as much, because it seems like only librarians read the signs in libraries. I am now going to be preoccupied with this all week.



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A Quick Note On The Importance Of Software Updates

   September 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog

blackhatI don't know if anyone else noticed, but the swissarmylibrarian.net server came under attack yesterday, to the point that it had to be taken off-line.

It seems like a small library-related blog wouldn't be worth attacking, but if someone could get control of the server and have it to other things, then yes, it probably is. This applies to library websites, which is why I'm bringing it up here.

In my case, it was my own fault. I use WordPress to run this site, and had not been keeping up with updates. Even though things run fine with older versions and it's tempting to just let things go, it's always very important to keep web-based software updated - here's why:

When a new version of software is released, the developers usually list all of the problems it fixes in the previous version. This list tells the bad guys exactly how to exploit old versions of the software.

Then, all they need to do if find lazy people like me who haven't updated yet and exploit those vulnerabilities to take over your website.

So, and not to be all preachy about it, please make a point of updating your web software as soon as a new version is released. The server that hosts my website was crawling yesterday during the attack, and as soon as I finished the update last night, the speed immediately went back to normal.

Also: I'm sure this is purely coincidental, but on the drive home last night I heard on NPR how the Syrian Electronic Army has been attacking anyone they can, not just government-related websites. With those kind of bad guys out there, you can't be too careful.



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Check Out The Chelmsford Library on Google Maps

   July 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Update 8/8/13: I got a message from someone at Google who reminded me of an important competent of Indoor Map - it's really designed to work on phones. I've only been checking it online, where it hasn't changed since it went live. But he assured me that using Google Maps on a phone will use your location to place you on the correct floor. Nice. Not having a cell phone, I forget the fancy things they can do.


Update 7/31/13: I just learned something annoying about embeddeding Street View - Internet Explorer automatically jumps to wherever it is on the page. I found a hacky workaround for this, which I've implemented on our About Us page, and it seems to work okay. But hopefully, Google will fix this (it only happens with embedded Street Views in IE, not with regular Google Maps or with any other browser). I did not fix it on this page though, so IE users could see what I'm talking about.


Original Post:

This year, the Chelmsford Library has been involved with two Google mapping projects: Indoor Maps and Indoor Street View.

Indoor Maps
We did Indoor Maps first, which displays a floorplan of your building on Google Maps (instead of just the outline, like the buildings around us). It looks like this:

Google indoor map

This is neat because it lets people online see where things are in your building, at a glance. One catch, however, is that they're still trying to figure out how to handle more than one floor (like our building) - so in the meantime, they only show the ground floor.

The process was interesting: we contacted Google Maps and supplied them with labeled floor plans of each of our buildings (the whole thing was free, so we were able to do our branch too), and they sent a crew1 to take multiple GPS readings around the building to make sure the floor plan images matched up accurately with the map itself.

Pretty neat. But of course, when you say "indoor map" what people really think of is Indoor Street View, so we got approval from our Trustees to do that, too.

Indoor Street View
Since there was a cost associated, and a third-party photographer involved, this process was a little different. The first step was to contact "Google Trusted Photographers" in our area to see if anyone was interested, and what they would charge us. I sent requests to everyone within a reasonable distance, and mostly the quotes were in the $1000-$2000 range, with various discounts because we were a non-profit. We ended up going with CJL Photography of Manchester, NH, because his quote2 was one of the lowest, and he had worked with libraries before we liked his portfolio samples (the struckout link was a mistake on my part).

Now this is where the delays set in. I initially contacted the photographer in January, and had scheduled the photo shoot for February. Then we were hit with a series of snowstorms, which pushed things back. Then, we decided to wait until March because that month we had a really visual art display up in our meeting room. And of course, a few days before he came we got more snow, so he shot the entire inside of the building in March, and then came back in early July3 to do the outdoor shots.

The wait was worth it, I think, and the tour looks phenomenal:


View Larger Map

Photographing the inside took maybe two hours, and we chose to do it early on a Sunday morning when we were closed to the public, so as not to interfere with patrons. The photographer used a camera on a tripod to take a series shots from each "point" on the tour to create the 360 degree view, and then handled all the processing on the backend to color-correct, stitch everything together, and upload it to Google. All library staff had to do was make sure the building looked as nice as possible.

In addition to the tour itself, the photographer also created a Chelmsford Library Google+ page, which also features a series of still shots. The still shots are included in the package, and we're free to use them however we want - on our website, in printed materials, etc. I know this is an obvious statement, but holy smokes there is a world of difference between the library pictures I take with a point-and-shoot camera and what a professional photographer can do.

We're not sure what we'll do with the stills yet, but we've already started using the tour. Besides mentioning it on our Facebook page, we've put it on our About Us page, using it to highlight the mural in our Children's Room, and embedded views of our meeting rooms on our reservation page so people can see what the rooms look like before they book a room.

We're certainly not the first library to appear on Indoor Street View - ebookfriendly did a post in March listing others.

They all look great, and we expect this to be a useful tool for us. Not only as an online tour and historical record of the building, but we're hoping that by showcasing how nice our space is, some of our online-only patrons will be motivated to visit in person. But honestly, I've been pretty content just to click around and play, even when I'm sitting in the library. Being online almost makes it like a video game - now I just need a laser gun. Pew pew.

 


1. I'm sure they had a very precise method, but to us it looked like eight guys randomly wandering around the building for an hour, eyes glued to their smartphones.

2. After the photo shoot, the photographer told me that a business of our size would normally cost about $3000, but libraries would be discounted to around $1000. Our actual cost was a bit lower than that, because I think he underestimated the size of our building with his initial quote, but was good enough to honor it. Incidentally, he was great to work with overall, and I personally would recommend him to other libraries considering this.

3. Which is why you see snow if you look out a window, but see flowers if you walk out of any of the doors.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/14/13

   July 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Removed pay phonesI've talked about pay phones before, but I like them - and we do still get asked about them - so here's the latest pay phone question.

This week, a man came to the Reference Desk asking if we knew where any pay phones were. The phones in the shopping plaza across the street were removed earlier this year, which were the last pay phones in town I knew of.

Since the pay phone was removed from our lobby, our policy has been to let people use desk phones. I offered this to the patron, but he declined because it was going to be a long call to Worcester, MA (which would also be a long distance call). He said he preferred a pay phone, so my coworker and I and the patron brainstormed where one might be.

We thought of all the high-traffic retail centers, but couldn't definitely remember seeing one anywhere. Eventually the patron thanked us, and just sort of wandered away.

This bothered me, so that night after work, I went grocery shopping. My grocery store is in a big shopping plaza*, and I drove around slowly really looking for a pay phone. And, success! I found one right outside the entrance to Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart pay phone

At the library the next day, I relayed my find to my coworker, and also the patron who came in later. We thought this could very well be the last pay phone in town, and thought the only way to be sure was to drive around trying to spot them. Not being a digital native, you see, it took awhile before I realized that this is why Facebook was invented.

I asked on the Library's Facebook page if anyone knew where there were pay phones in town, and immediately got some responses:

Facebook pay phone post

Great! Crowd-sourcing Reference Questions is kind of fun - and certainly provided a better answer than I did for the patron. This might even motivate me to create a Custom Google Map of local pay phone locations - it would be a challenge to maintain, but there certainly is no other resource for this question.

 


*This plaza just got a Five Guys!



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Options for Offering a Public Scanner

   July 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

scanning stationMy library finally rolled out a service patrons have been asking for ever since I started: a public scanner.

Requests for a scanner always seemed to wax and wane, and we never got serious about it because of all the logistics involved: where do we put it, should the computer be scanning-only or have full internet access, should we get a simple flatbed scanner or a dedicated scanning product made for libraries, will the staff be able to assist patrons, etc. etc. etc. Recently, the requests have been coming in so consistently that we just bought a low-cost flatbed scanner, hooked it to a computer, and put it out on the floor.

We did do some research beforehand, asking around to see what other libraries did. And coincidentally, on the very day we put the scanner out for the public, another library sent around an email asking the same questions - and very kindly, she also compiled and shared the responses (thanks Becky!):

Most libraries have 1 flatbed scanner that is connected to a public computer. 4 libraries had more than 1 scanner, and 1 library had set up a switch so that 4 computers could share 1 scanner. A few libraries had the scanner in a staff location that was easy for both staff and patron to access.One library kept a scanner at the Reference Desk, and gave it to patrons to hook up to any available computer.

A few libraries used different products: a copier that can also scan, an all-in-one printer that can scan, and book scanners including the BookScan Station from MDS, and the Scannx BookScan Center from Scannx.

Scanner models mentioned were the Epson GT-1500 (which has a document feeder), CanoScan 4500F, Epson WF-4530, Epson V37, and Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Only one library mentioned charging for scanning, many libraries said they did not charge as there was no real consumable cost.

All libraries said the service was very well received with these comments: being able to scan color documents was well received, users could scan to USB, Google Docs, or email, some libraries install the scanner at a computer that is 15 minute only or a walk-up computer, patron assistance is often necessary for first-time users of the equipment.

We really, really, liked the dedicated scanning stations because they are so easy to use, but the cost was prohibitive (in the $5,000 neighborhood). The scanner we purchased was the Epson GT-1500, which is just connected to a desktop computer. Some details:

  • Scanner cost: about $250
  • Features: document feeder tray, easy-scan buttons on the front of the scanner (which we didn't end up using, unfortunately: the scan-to-email button quickly became a problem, and the others ended up not being entirely intuitive, so we just used desktop shortcuts instead)
  • Picture scanning: we use the included Epson scanning software for this, and it works surprisingly well with just the default settings
  • Document scanning: we use the included ABBYY Reader software, which gives the option to scan to either Microsoft Word (to edit a document like a resume) or right to PDF to save/email a document without changes
  • Bonus Feature: not only is this a new scanner service for patrons, but it also means we can now meet the needs of patrons needing to make color photocopies - just scan their original as a PDF, and then print directly to the color printer! An extra step, but it works

Like the image scanning, the OCR capabilities are surprisingly good. In all the testing we did, there was not one mistake (all test scans were from printed pages, not handwriting). Anything it can't OCR is automatically scanned as an image, and the formatting in both the resulting PDF or Word document were impressive. Word did not carry through colored text, but that is easy enough to re-do.

Something else that impressed me was with the document feeder: I deliberately fed in sheets in opposite directions (as in, sheet one right-side up, sheet two upside-down, etc), to see what it would do - and the software was smart enough to orient them all right-side up and OCR the text with no mistakes.

We put out a couple instructional signs with the scanner to match the desktop shortcuts (Scan a Picture [pdf] and Scan a Document [pdf]), and we'll see how it goes. Staff picked it up quickly, and we can always adjust/improve the patron signs after we see where the stumbling blocks are.

We're also starting off with the policy of "scanning gets preference" at this computer, although it does have the same capabilities as all our other public workstations. We put a little sign saying,

Patrons needing to use the scanner have priority!
If you are not scanning you may be asked to move to a different computer.

And so far it hasn't been a problem. This is a stand-up computer, which we're hoping will facilitate the just-need-to-scan-something-quick patrons.



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