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



Archives for Technology:


Leaving Location-Specific Messages Seems Like A Neat Idea

   August 21st, 2014 Brian Herzog

screen568x568People probably get tired of me saying this, but in cases like this I feel like I need to apologize for not having a cell phone but talking about apps anyway.

I read on LifeHacker last week about an app called Knit. It lets users tie a message to a specific location, so that when another user gets to that spot, they see the message.

It can't be as seamless and effortless as my imagination makes it out to be, but I think this is an awesome idea. And since libraries are all about providing contextually-relevant information, this seems like a very useful idea.

My guess is that it's not accurate enough to use in the stacks, but wouldn't it be neat that if someone walks into the local history room they'd get a message about online resources?

But even better would be to use it outside the library. Leave notes with historical information around town and create a self-guided tour; if the library has off-site events (which we sometimes do), leave notes in those places for the upcoming events; leave notes in parks and train stations about downloading ebooks or digital magazines. Like an automatic QR code people don't need to scan, or a virtual sign someone might actually read.

Of course, there's got to be some catch, because it seems this will immediately become a new form of spam advertising, with every step or highway exit being inundated with who knows what (if you can broadcast to all users, rather than picking a specific person). So it'd be neat if this functionality could be integrated into an existing library app, to provide some control over what patrons are sent. Still though, I thought this was a neat idea.



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Ebooks in General, Ebooks in Specific

   August 13th, 2014 Brian Herzog

library ebooksIn case you missed it, be sure to at least skim the recent Wall Street Journal article comparing Amazon's new subscription ebook service to other options, including libraries. For me, the big take-away was:

Of the Journal's 20 most recent best-selling e-books in fiction and nonfiction, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited has none—no "Fifty Shades of Grey," no "The Fault in Our Stars." Scribd and Oyster each have a paltry three. But the San Francisco library has 15, and my South Carolina library has 11.

That is great. But you know what libraries don't have? Wamesit: Life in Colonial Massachusetts in the area known today as Chelmsford, by Bill "Doc" Roberts.

Here's how I know this: a little while ago, Bill Roberts called (from Texas!) to let us know he wrote a local history book about Chelmsford. Neat. I wasn't sure if he wanted to donate a copy or have us buy one, but local history is local history, and I'm sure we would have worked something out.

However, when I went online to learn more about it, it turns out it's a Kindle-only ebook - so we basically can do nothing with it. I don't know what his connection to Chelmsford is, and it's a novel rather than non-fiction, but still - being locked out of this because of format is annoying.

So, even though the WSJ article (very rightly) shows that libraries are doing okay when it comes to ebooks, the nature of the still-growing environment still has plenty of room for improvement.



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Chapter Two on Purple DVDs

   August 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog

chapter two DVDA few weeks ago, I mentioned a reference question from a patron who couldn't play a library DVD in her laptop.

The problem seemed to be that it was a purple DVD-R DVD, rather than a regular silvery shiny one, and it wouldn't play in her DVD-RW drive.

I requested the same copy of the disc, so I could experiment and see if it would play for me. The item was Chapter Two, and it was indeed purple.

But more interesting was the note on the back:

DVDnotice

Besides the "this disc is copy-protected" icon, the interesting part is the last line:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.

I don't often read the fine print on DVD containers, but I have not seen this before.

Also, none of this would be surprising if it were the regular silver disc. The fact that it's the purple is what surprises me. After I posted this question, a reader (thanks Dot!) sent me a link explaining why DVD-Rs are purple - which makes it sound like whatever operation made the DVD the library purchased is based out of some guy's garage.

I'm sure that's not the case, and although I have not contacted the production company, my guess is that it's just a small-run video house that doesn't have the large expensive equipment. They probably produce DVDs using DVD-R disc and also put DRM on them to satisfy the studios, and then sell them retail through vendors that are also used by libraries. Probably all perfectly legal, but it's just unusual.

Anyway, since I had a copy of the DVD, I tried playing it in a variety of computers and with a variety of software - and for me, it played in every single case. Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, using Windows Media Player, VLC, and PowerDVD (obviously, Macs don't exist in my world).

As a result of this testing, it seems that the problem the patron was having is with her laptop. Another reader (thanks Plutia!) suggested it might be possible to change the settings for the laptop's DVD drive so that operates as a READ-ONLY device. I didn't try this, but if the patron continues to have trouble, I will suggest it.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



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Changing Library Hours on Google

   July 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

googlehoursMCDThis was something I had to figure out for myself - and I was recently asked about it by another library, so I thought I'd share it here.

On the Google search results page, it tries to match your search with a local business, and show you its details on the right - a map, maybe photos, business hours, contact information, etc. I presume they pull this from a variety of sources.

One year, I noticed my library's details showing up there - phone, website, hours, etc. Great, that's Google making things easier for people to find us.

Except, later on our hours changed (we started being open on Sundays), but the hours on Google didn't change. Then one of our Trustees noticed it, asked my Director why our hours were wrong on Google, and that became my project for the day.

This was also what another nearby library recently asked me - their hours were listed on Google, but weren't correct, so how do you change them?

The answer is that you have to "claim" ownership of that business listing by going through the authentication process to prove you're actually entitled to make changes. This then ties the business listing to a Google account, which you can then log into to make changes. It's not hard, and as far as I can tell, is the only way to update it when things change - like if you're open on Sundays in the winter but not the summer, you've got to go in twice a year and manually make the change (lest your Trustees think you're not keeping up with your Internetly duties).

Anyway, here are some pictures. The one on the left is for the JV Fletcher Library (in Westford, MA), which has not yet "claimed" their listing. Ours, on the right, has been claimed - you can tell because theirs has the subtle "Are you the business owner?" link under it:

googlehoursMCDMWF

Once you click that link, you'll be prompted to log in and authenticate. It's been a couple years since I did this, and I don't remember exactly what the authentication process was - although, it could have also changed since then. I also don't entirely understand the hierarchy of various Google products, but I'm sure there is some relationship between business listing, Google accounts, Google+, and I don't know what all.

However, it's worth doing, to get your Google listing associated with an account you can edit. Because of course, if people see it on Google, they assume it's right - so if Google says you're open on Sundays, it's your fault if you're not.



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Overdrive is Spreading, and Libraries are Along for the Ride

   July 3rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

bing-overdriveThis seems like something that shouldn't be big news, but I think it's cool and long overdue.

I read on Go To Hellman one of those "finally..." posts - Eric had a great idea a long time ago, and now suddenly it's been implemented. The idea:

I imagined that popular websites would use fancy links to let their readers get books from their local libraries. And that search engines would prefer these links because their users would love to have access to their library books.

And now it seems that Overdrive is making this happen - in two ways:

  1. When you do an apparent book search Bing (like, the girl with the dragon tattoo book, the right sidebar has a "Read this book" section that includes preview & download links to Overdrive. It even suggests libraries based on your IP, so you can check it out - in my case, it guessed right with "Merrimack Vally Library Consortium"
  2. With the "read online" feature that was added to Overdrive during their last upgrade, people also have easy access to an excerpt. You can see it in the Bing example, and embedded in this Huffington Post book review (also with a "Get book" link)

Good stuff. Not exactly new - LibraryThing, WorldCat, and other book websites have been linking to libraries for years. But this really brings libraries to the forefront of your casual internet browser in a much bigger way - and it doesn't just link to a catalog record for a print item, it's immediate electronic gratification.

It's not everywhere yet - when I tested it tonight, the same search on Google had links to purchase the book from a variety of places, but none to libraries.

And also, these links only go to Overdrive, which, in many cases, is only a fraction of a library's electronic resources (which itself is only a fraction of our overall collection). Still, it's a start, and I'm excited.

Now we just need to get people to use Bing.



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