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



Archives for Technology:


Infographic: Can Print Books and Ebook Coexist?

   February 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This infographic came out earlier this month, but I thought it had some interesting statistics on the coexistence of ebooks and print books:

Print vs. Ebook infographic


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Reference Question of the Week – 2/10/13

   February 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Holding a duckOne common question at the reference desk is a patron asking for a specific book by describing the cover - they don't remember the title or author, but know it was "kind of red, with an airplane or a submarine, and maybe something like a roundish square type thing."

Being librarians, we take whatever information the patron can provide and do our best. I know many people dread this type of question (because it's often just impossible), but I sort of enjoy them. Since the expectation of success is so low to begin with, it's a fun challenge, and finding the right book is all the better for it.

In this case, the patron was actually a coworker of mine - she had taken her niece to a different library, and was trying to re-locate a book her niece had picked out and loved, to see if the author had any others. But all she could remember was that it was a newish kids book with a girl holding a duck on the cover.

I first went to Amazon's advanced search with this question. My keyword search was for "girl duck," limit to Condition=New, Format=Printed Books, Pub date after November 2012, and then submitted individual searches for each of the different kid ages one at a time. None of the searches has a likely-looking cover, so I decided to just use "duck" as my keyword (thinking that if a duck is on the cover it must be the important part of the story). I also dropped the idea of using the age limiter in favor of the Subject option limited to Children's Books.

Amazon advanced search page

In that search, result #10 looked promising. I called my coworker over to check, and she was excited - the book she'd seen with her niece was indeed Lulu: Lulu and the Duck in the Park (Book 1), by Hilary McKay and Priscilla Lamont*.

Lulu and the Duck listing on Amazon

Awesome. But then I started to wonder - was Amazon the best tool for this question? There is no really good "look up a book by cover" resource out there, although I would love there to be. LibraryThing started down this road with CoverGuess. The genius of their approach was to gamify the data entry part of tagging cover art, but I don't think a searchable interface has ever been created.

Anyway, out of curiosity I decided to run the same search process in Novelist and the library catalog, to see if I could have successfully located the book with those tools.

Novelist's advanced search is more complex than Amazon's - I used "girl duck" as a keyword, limited to Audience = 0-8 Years, and Publication Date from = November 2012:

Novelist advanced search

In my library's catalog's advanced search, I used "duck" as the keyword, limited to Format = Books, Audience = Kids, and Publication Year after 2011:

Evergreen's adavnced search

And now the results - each one has the number next to it indicating how far down this book was in the search results:

Amazon:

Result #10 on Amazon

Novelist:

Result #2 on Novelist

Library Catalog:

Result #55 in the library catalog

In all cases it was findable, but Novelist ranked it the highest with the fewest search limiters. However, since Novelist is a subscription database, getting to the search interface is a much more cumbersome process than using Amazon. The library catalog is easy to get to and the search interface is reasonable, but burying the book at #55 is bad because many people give up log before the sixth page of search results (thanks for that, Google).

Something else I noticed, and what I think is another strike against the library catalog, was the various sizes of the cover images. Comparatively, the library catalog's cover thumbnail is tiny, and because of this it's not really evident that the girl is holding a duck. Since that's all I had to go on with this search, if I had started with the library catalog, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I don't know why the thumbnails are as small as they are, but it seems the catalog would be improved by making them almost twice the size they are now.

So there you go, my curiosity was sated. Anyone else have a favorite method for finding books by cover descriptions?

 


*I don't know why Amazon has the publication date as September 2013, since the other library apparently had it cataloged and on their shelf. Ah, sweet mysteries of life.



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Can Anyone Help With This Gmail Issue?

   November 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Gmail LogoI'm hoping someone can help with a solution to this. A librarian in Florida emailed me with this situation:

I recently ran across Google's "phone verification" for Gmail account creation. Essentially, our computers have been used to create Gmail accounts enough times that patrons are now asked to provide a working cell phone number when creating a new account - one that they can use to retrieve a passcode within minutes and one that hasn't already been used to verify accounts too many times (so I can't just give them the library's number).

This is just not an option for a good number of our patrons - they either don't have a phone or their phone is out of minutes or they're saving the minutes they have for job call-backs. Mind you, the library is often their only source of internet access and an e-mail address is often required to apply online for jobs, social services, unemployment benefits, etc.

The only solution I know of is to recommend Yahoo or a similar non-Google number. Have you heard of a way around this (eg. a Google-provided rotating list of phone numbers just for librarians to use) - or baring that, a petition I could sign regarding this issue?

We haven't encountered this in my library, but Yahoo is still the go-to for free email accounts. Has anyone else had this happened to them, and hopefully found a solution to it? Thanks.

Update 11/28/12: Based on the first couple comments, I wanted to clarify what we're talking about here. It's not just logging into an existing account (I have no cellphone, so I always skip that by just clicking the "Continue" button) - it's when you create a new account. After you create a username and password and other fields required during signup, you see the following screen:

Gmail verification screen

That's the problem - patron's don't have their own phones, or enough minutes, to receive this verification, and the library phone has been used to verify too many times so now it's blocked. On Google's Verifying your account via SMS or Voice Call info page, among other things they say:

Signing up without a phone

If you don't have a phone, you can use a friend's number to request the code via text message or voice call...

and

Maximum number of accounts reached

If you see the error message, "This phone number has already created the maximum number of accounts," you'll have to use a different number. In an effort to protect our users from abuse, we limit the number of accounts each phone number can create.

Both of which really back certain patrons (and librarians) into a corner. What is a patron to do?



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A New Overdrive Interface is Coming, Are You Ready?

   October 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Overdrive's Next Generation Digital Library - See Book Read BookI think I'm a little behind the curve on this, but since there were so many great comments on how to improve the Overdrive interface, I thought this would be worth talking about.

It looks like the new Overdrive interface really is coming, scheduled to hit libraries during the holidays - perhaps the worst time for staff to be learning a new interface, but if it's progress, it's worth it.

I haven't seen Overdrive's Webinar on the new interface, but I do plan to watch it as soon as I find a spare 60 minutes.

However, other librarians in my consortium have watched it, and it looks like there's some good stuff in there. Most interesting to me is the "one-click download" requiring no software installation or activation. That's huge. Apparently that component isn't quite ready yet, but should make our patrons lives (and therefore our lives) much, much, much easier.

But one of the new features did bother me. The new interface apparently includes a "Buy It Now" button, which will be located directly under the "Add to Cart" button. The Boston Public Library has been demo'ing the new interface for most of this year, and here's what it looks like (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" screenshot

When someone clicks that green "Buy It Now," a windows pops up with a list of stores (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" popup window

Pardon my French, but I fucking hate this. There's been conflicting reports about whether this "Buy It Now" button is optional or not, but I sincerely hope it can be turned off.

Certainly there's an argument to be made for it: if publishers know libraries are going to directly be driving customers to them, they might be more inclined to actually deal with libraries. There's also the convenience to the patrons who don't want to wait for the library's copy to be returned, and can afford to just go buy it themselves.

This seems wrong to me. It makes libraries Overdrive's bitches, because now we're drumming up retail business by preying on immediate gratification. Which is absolutely idiotic, because technologically there is no reason anyone should ever have to wait for an ebook. Implementing this feature just encourages the backward-thinking currently gripping the ebook world as they try to cling to past revenue models.

What would be awesome is if the patrons were given the option of buying a copy for the library. They get it first, then they can donate it to the library for others to use, if they want.

There's also the line that libraries will be getting a kickback from such sales, in the form of Overdrive credit. This is a complete non-starter for me, so I won't even address the idea of libraries profiting from our shortcomings.

But speaking of revenue streams, it looks like the new Overdrive interface also prominently features banner ads - here's the BPL's advanced search page (click for bigger):

Overdrive featuring banner ads

Notice the two "Advertisement" right under the black menu bar? Sigh.

But I don't want to be all doom and gloom. In all fairness, I haven't seen the webinar and don't know a lot of the facts - this is just all from using BPL's site. When I called BPL, they were much more positive than I felt. The "Buy It Now" button was initially a little jarring for them, but they've had no problems or complaints, and do see credits quarterly, which shows patrons have no qualms about using it.

I am also not sure what other new features are included in the new interface, but since Mike Lovett of Overdrive was so encouraging in his comments last time, I'm hopeful the good outweighs the bad (or better yet, all of the "bad" is opt-in).

So, I encourage everyone to check out the Overdrive Next Generation Digital Library webinar. And as always, keep a running list of "how to make this better" to send to Overdrive to incorporate into the next iteration.

And for further reading on ebook topics, here's a few recent things to check out:



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/22/12

   July 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Hello.  Have you tried turning it off and on again?I'm on vacation most of last week and next week, so I don't have a real reference question to share. Instead, I thought I'd highlight this post from last year from Lifehacker.com: Top 10 Tactics for Diagnosing and Fixing Your Sick Technology.

Just about everyone who works in a library is a de facto tech support person - whether it be for your own work station, or helping a coworker or patron. So instead of an normal reference question, hopefully this post will help in answering reference questions.

The tips they provide really run the gamut of applicability, but tips I think are most relevant are:

10. Disable Crap You Don't Need.
Helpful in the way they intend, but also relevant in patron support in terms of "focus on one aspect of the problem." For instance, if a patron says, "I can't download books from Overdrive," you have to go through a mental checklist every single time: is their computer connected to the internet, are they getting to the Overdrive catalog, are they checking out the book properly, is their any kind of block on their account, are they getting the right format for their device, etc. By ignoring extraneous details and deliberately going through the process, you can usually fairly quickly identify whatever the problem may be (fixing it, on the other hand, is a different matter).

8. Talk It Out with a Troubleshooting Buddy
This is good for any type of reference question - if you get stuck, ask a coworker. Any two people will probably approach a question differently, and someone else might think of something you haven't. Relying on colleagues is a great way to provide excellent customer service (well, provided you have excellent colleagues).

7. Make Sure It's Not Just You
I actually use downforeveryone.com frequently (and am always oddly delighted when I find someone else who does too). Patrons seem to be less upset about not being able to get into their email if you can show them that the problem seems to be with their email provider, not the library's network.

3. Use Alternative Search Engines When Looking for Help
Definitely. It's good to be come very familiar with your standard tools, but don't be locked into them. And not just search engines - remember to use the library's print resources, databases, vertical file, local resources, etc, when looking for an answer.

2. Hit Up Helpful Q&A Web Sites
I do this all the time, both for answering patron questions and IT support within the library. Patrons think up some pretty weird things, but chances are someone else on the internet has already figured that weird thing out. Look for help forums, and don't be afraid to interact on them. And tell the patron you've asked their question, just to give them a heads-up that the answer might not be immediately forthcoming. Also, any time I get a strange error code, or try to do something slightly counter-intuitive (like read Kindle books on an iPad), searching web forums is a quick way to pick the internet's collective brain. Likewise, calling other libraries, relevant organizations, or real-life experts can be a good idea, too.

1. Restart
This applies to so many things - from literally restarting a frozen public workstation to taking a fresh tack on a difficult problem. Turn it off and turn it back on again is the #1 suggestion for a reason - and why Roy always answers the phone that way:



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How Would You Improve The Overdrive Interface?

   July 11th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Over the weekend, Stephanie tweeted:

Stephanie's tweet

I thought she was right on (sadly), so I retweeted it. The next day, @OverDriveLibs replied:

OverDriveLibs' tweet

Good on them for paying attention and being open to ideas. Since they're listening, I put together the following list that I think would improve the Overdrive experience.

Granted, I know their web interface is somewhat customizable, so different libraries have different looks and slightly different experiences. And, I know they have a mobile interface, which I'm going to ignore for now. I also won't even talk about Overdrive Advantage, because I don't know how much just seems overly complicated to me due to my library being part of a consortium.

  1. Remove the bookbag entirely.
    It doesn't seem like a whole lot of people shop for and then check out a bunch of books at once. In my experience, most people look for one book at a time, and then download it. This process becomes overly complicated by having to add that one book to the bookbag, review the bookbag, then proceed to checkout to download it. I think Overdrive would be so, so much easier to use if, instead of the "add to bookbag" link, people clicked a link that would take them right to the download process.

    If you make downloading a book easy enough, and then return people back to where they were after downloading is complete, you don't need a bookbag anyway.

  2. Combine the loan-period selection screen with the download button screen.
    Once someone chooses a book they want to check out, they should be taken to a single screen that lets them choose the loan period AND click a button to download right from that page. Combining these eliminates a step, which would go a long way to making Overdrive easier to use. The whole experience should be:

    1. search for book, then click the link to get the book
    2. choose loan period, click "Download" or "Get for Kindle" button
    3. struggle with DRM software*
    4. enjoy book

    I see no reason why the process couldn't be this streamlined.

  3. Change "add to bookbag" link text.
    With the bookbag gone, the "add to bookbag" link needs to be changed. One problem I've seen patrons have is making sure they choose the right format - because format is specified on the left of the screen, but the link they need to click is on the right.

    Overdrive example

    It seems difficult to make a mistake, but I have watched more than one person do it - especially in this scenario: Someone has a Kindle, and they limit to show only available items. The Kindle item is checked out, but the EPUB line says "add to bookbag" - the person is thinking Kindle, and sees the "add to bookbag" link, so they click it. Likewise, I've also seen people download an ebook thinking they were getting an audiobook.

    My suggestions for better link text is:

    Instead of Replace with
    add to bookbag Download Kindle Ebook
    Download EPUB Ebook
    Download WMA Audiobook
    Download MP3 Audiobook
    place a hold Request Kindle Ebook
    Request EPUB Ebook
    Request WMA Audiobook
    Request MP3 Audiobook

    I actually go back and forth between "Download Kindle Ebook" and "Checkout Kindle Ebook" - Checkout has better library connotations, but Download is more evocative.

  4. If someone limits to a format, show only that format.
    I hate that a patron can limit to see only Kindle books, and yet EPUBs will still display, if we have both formats for the same title. If someone limits to Kindle, then hide the EPUB line from the image above (and same for audiobooks).

    And because format is so important, it should be easier to limit to format - for instance, provide a separate interface for each format that libraries can link to, like, "click here to search for EPUB ebooks." And then, all the patron would see are EPUB ebooks, without them having to further limit to format.

    The advanced search format limiter box should include options for "all Ebooks" and "all Audiobooks" options, since someone with an iPad and a Kindle app can use either format. Also, when someone limits to format in advanced search, this should stick even if they click a "Browse by Genre" link too.

    Patrons should be able to save their preferred format in their account settings, so they don't have to keep limiting every time they return.

  5. Change the search algorithm to AND and not OR.
    If you search my consortium's Overdrive catalog for "vonnegut last" there are 42 results. However, a search for just "vonnegut" gets four results, and a search for just "last" gets 38. 4+38=42, which means there is no overlap between those search terms. Most people searching for more than one word except to find items containing BOTH of those words.

    When our Overdrive catalog was new, and we didn't have a lot of items in the collection, using the OR operator seemed like a cheap trick to make it appear that we had a bigger collection than we did. We're past that now, and clogging up the search results with everything under the sun just adds to why Overdrive is difficult to use.

  6. Keyword searches should search title and author fields
    This refers to the keyword search on the advanced search screen. "Keyword" seems like is should search everything, but it doesn't. Why not? If it's not actually a keyword search (like the basic search box on every page), then call it something else. Or better yet, just replace it with the actual keyword search.
  7. Add a direct link to the software download page.
    The Overdrive Help pages are getting better, but the fact that they periodically change means that library staff even need to refamiliarize themselves with how to help patrons. The most common question that sends me to the Help pages is to download Overdrive Media Console or Adobe Digital Editions. However, none of the options on the Help screen mention downloading software, and I can never remember which one it's hidden behind. Just having a "Download Free Software" option on the Help screen, which leads to a device/OS selection, would be great.
  8. AARRGH!
    I know this is beyond Overdrive, but getting things set up on an iPad can sometimes get trapped in a loop: in order to install the Overdrive app, you need to create an Adobe ID, but one of the Adobe webpages requires flash, which the iPad does not support, so you have to use a computer to actually accomplish everything. This doesn't happen every time, and I don't know why it does sometimes and not others, but I've seen patrons trapped in this loop more than once - and Overdrive gets the blame every time (justified or not), which just sours the patron on using Overdrive in the future.

I sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since Overdrive asked for input, please suggest what improvements you'd like to see in the comments below or tweet them to @OverDriveLibs.

 


*DRM is a much larger issue, and not entirely under Overdrive's control - so I won't even discuss it here, and instead just focus on their interface and things they can improve. But let's all enjoy The Brads Why DRM Doesn't Work comic once again.



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