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



Archives for Technology:


Massachusetts State-wide Ebook Platform: Coming Soon!

   April 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Library EbooksHere's something that will hopefully have a significant impact on libraries in the future: there's a state-wide ebook initiative getting underway in Massachusetts.

This project was begun after hearing about the Douglas County (CO) Libraries "host your own ebooks" platform (and why). However, instead of just a single library system, Massachusetts wants to involve all the libraries in the Commonwealth.

Also, the end goal is a little different than Douglas County. Instead of hosting all the content we buy ourselves, the Massachusetts Library System (who is spearheading the project with support from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners) is looking to develop a "discovery layer" interface that can search multiple vendors' ebook catalogs.

That way, patrons will just have one place to search all available ebooks, no matter which publisher or vendor they come from. This is good because the project includes all types of libraries - public, academic, school, special - which all have different ebook requirements. In the public world, people like to download fiction; in the school world, simultaneous online access to textbooks is required. This model is designed to accommodate the gamut.

My library is one of 50 pilot libraries that will begin testing this summer. The initial collection should be approximately 10,000 titles, negotiated directly with as many content providers as possible.

The current status of the initiative is, I believe, that proposals from vendors are still coming in. The project seems like it has a very quick timeline (see the project timeline & FAQ [pdf]), but I think that's a good thing.

In addition to the Colorado project, the Califa Consortium in California is also engaged in a similar endeavor. The Massachusetts project is unique in that it is the only state-wide program. Hopefully, as projects like this become larger and more numerous, libraries across the country will be able to adopt or join to give libraries a larger voice in the future of ebooks.

This is definitely something I'll be talking more about in the future. It's still early days yet (for the pilot libraries), but we're excited to get going.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/31/13

   April 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello.  Have you tried turning it off and on again?This wasn't a very difficult question, and although it didn't have a great ending, I thought it was interesting anyway - and happy we could help because the patron had no where else to go.

A patron walked up to the Reference Desk and asked to use the phone. We generally only let people use desk phones to call for rides or other quick things, mainly to make sure phones are available for staff to answer incoming patron calls.

Since it was fairly early in the day, I asked him if he was calling for a ride, and he said,

No, I need to call email tech support. I called them last night to help with my email, but he said I needed to be in front of the computer. I don't have one at home, so I always use the library computers. I don't have a cell phone either, but I think this computer here in the corner is close enough to the Reference Desk that I could stretch the phone cord across the aisle while I talk to him. It should be a quick call.

Okay, by the time he was finished speaking, all kinds of red flags were waving for all they're worth.

I sympathize with people trying to use technology without actually owning their own technology - libraries are great, but obviously some things are much easier to do at home. However, also obviously, I couldn't allow this patron to:

  • block an aisle way by stretching a cord across it
  • engage in a phone conversation at the public workstation, since we routinely ask people doing this very thing to take their cell phone call in a different area of the library so as not to bother the other computer users near them
  • tie up one of the Reference Desk phones for this long a time - no tech support call in history has been "quick"

Hoping to avoid this situation entirely, I asked the patron what he was trying to do, and if I could help. His answer kind of surprised me:

I've always used Hotmail, but now I'm switching to Gmail. The Gmail people said they were able to import everything from my Hotmail account, except what was in my Drafts folder. But when I went in to move those myself, I accidentally deleted some, so I called Hotmail to see if they could be restored.

First, I had no idea that Gmail offered a migration service, but they do. Neat. Secondly, I think he's right in that he'd need Hotmail tech support to recover deleted messages. I did check his account with him, just to see if there was something he overlooked, but from what we could tell the draft messages in question were gone.

And so, this left us with the original question of how he could use a phone and a computer at the same time. Eventually it dawned on me that he could borrow one of the laptops we loan to the public, and the Reference Desk's cordless phone,* and sit in an area of the library where his talking wouldn't bother anyone. It seemed like a good solution, and he was happy.

45 minutes later(!) he came back, a little dejectedly, and said Hotmail couldn't recover his messages after all. He wasn't entirely sure of the reason, but by this point had accepted it. The messages weren't critical, but he certainly would have preferred to have them. I apologized and we commiserated a bit about technological dependence, then he thanked me for the library being able to accommodate his situation, and left.

So in case anyone was wondering, the digital divide is still alive and well. It also made me wonder: do any libraries loan cell phones to patrons? I'm not an expert on cell phone technology, but I think there are the the kind where patrons could just pay to put minutes on them, so it wouldn't cost the library anything. It would have been helpful in a case like this, or if a patron was going on a trip or something and wanted the security of being in touch. It seems like a good idea, but I'm sure I'm overlooking some vital flaw.

 


*Our Reference Desk has two phones at the desk (and two computers), as well as a cordless phone in the Reference Office behind the Desk. We carry this with us when we know we'll be away from the desk, because it sure beats trying to sprint back to the desk when the phone rings while you're in the stacks.



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Library Links For a Friday

   March 29th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a few unrelated bits and bobs:

  • The big news from yesterday is that Amazon bought Goodreads. This seems like a major development for the reading and library world, and Tim Spalding of LibraryThing.com has a good summary of where that leaves the reading social networking sites. The comments are also good, and this is definitely something to keep an eye on.
  • I was at a meeting last week when someone mentioned https://www.facebook.com/thebig6ebooks - a Facebook page devoted to highlighting that "Six major publishers are making it difficult, if not impossible, for libraries to purchase eBooks." It lists bestsellers, and indicated whether or not they're available to libraries - and why. Neat. Thanks Deb.
  • A helpful skill for librarians is being able to tell accurate information/resources from junk. Boing Boing recently pointed to some tips on how to tell if a photo has been faked. Good stuff, especially the tip on using Google Image Search as a reverse image search (click the little camera by the blue search button). Its like Tineye, but Google, so probably more powerful.
  • And finally, in the same "how to look smart" category, my coworker Sharon sent me a link explaining what different browser errors and codes mean. This will be very basic for some people, but will pull back the curtain for many others and show that the internet isn't run by magic, and error codes are knowable and logical. And often, even helpful.

And now back to your regularly-scheduled Friday.



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Print From Anywhere to the Library

   March 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

PrinterOn: mobile printing solutionLast week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.

We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.

A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.

Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.

So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).

The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.

How It Works
To use it, patrons start at http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/webprint, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.

When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.

Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:

We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.

But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.

 


*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/17/13

   March 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

PrintFriendly logoOne of the most common questions we get at the Reference Desk is something along the lines of:

I tried to print something, but all I got was this blank page. Can you print it for me?

The reason this happens (I think) is that a lot of web pages - especially news sites and free email accounts - compartmentalize information using frames*, and many web browsers have a difficult time trying to print all these different frames at the same time.

When patrons try to print a page like this just using the browser's File > Print function, it often doesn't work. The page designers know this, so they usually embed a little printer icon somewhere within the content frame the person wants to print - the body of the email, the news story, etc. It generally seems to appear in the top-right corner of the content window, and when you click it, opens the important content in an entirely new window that will print nicely. However, it is often so subtle that people never notice it.

But check this out: I stumbled upon PrintFriendly by accident, and I love the idea. It is specifically designed to make printing these annoying pages easier. You can copy/paste in the URL of the page you want to print, it grabs the content, and then you have full control over which parts of the page actually print - it lets you remove anything you don't want.

What I thought was even more useful is their bookmarklet that you can stick right in your browser - that way when you want to print a page, the PrintFriendly button is always right there, instead of having to mess with copy/pasting the URL. Neat.

Since finding this, I've been testing it every chance I get, and it seems to work about 90% of the time. Usually, exactly what I want to print is the only thing that shows up. But even when extra sidebars and things do show - like in this Lowell Sun newspaper article (source) - PrintFriendly makes it so easy to remove all the junk (just click on whatever you want to delete). This means the good content fills the page (a single page), instead of being a very narrow column four pages long.

It didn't work everywhere though. For instance, Zap2it.com listings seem to print much better the normal way than through PrintFriendly.

A few more neat features: once you render a page to print in PrintFriendly, it gives you the option to print, create a PDF, or email it. Very handy.

Of course, my first thought was to put the bookmarklet in all the browsers on our public workstations. This still might be a good idea, but patrons will need to be trained to use it, which will be a challenge. Everyone is so conditioned to File > Print, and usually people don't know something went wrong until after they've paid for their print job (why doesn't anyone File > Print Preview?!?).

So for the time being, this might just be a handy tool in the librarian toolbox (but I do have it installed on my computer).

I have no idea how long PrintFriendly has been around, so I might be the last person to know. Has anyone been using this? I'm curious to see how well PrintFriendly works on a wider array of websites.

 


*Frames is an HTML way of embedding multiple "windows" into the same webpage. The best clue for knowing whether or not there are frames on a page is to notice if there are scroll bars inside the page. There will always be the main vertical scroll bar all the way on the right edge of the browser window (for pages longer than the screen), but sometimes there are additional vertical scroll bars in the page itself, that just moves some content in a little window. This is a frame, and may or may not print when you print using the browser's File > Print functionality.



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A Few Current Ideas and Trends in Libraries

   March 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog

If you haven't seen it already, please take a minute to check out Jessamyn's picture-laden post on some really great ideas currently happening in the library world.

Awesome Box: Return Awesome Stuff HereI point to her post because I had a couple of these in my to-blog folder, but, not surprisingly, she hits the important points much more concisely than I would (but I'll add my two cents anyway).

The Awesome Box
This idea circulated around my library a few weeks ago, and we all agreed it indeed is an awesome idea, and we want to make it happen here. We're in the (early) process of adding an Awesome Box to our circulation desk, and once it's there, I'll update people on patrons' reactions (which I am very curious to see).

Blind Date With a Book
Blind Date with a BookAnother good idea that was new-to-me recently (around St. Valentine's Day), was a lot of libraries doing "blind date with a book." The idea is for staff to choose good books, and then wrap them so patrons don't know what it is. Some libraries put a little information on the cover, but basically the point is for the patron to read this book blind (so to speak) - and, hopefully, enjoy something they may not have otherwise checked out. (By the way, this wasn't in Jessamyn's post, but I like it anyway.)

Non-Traditional Collections/Next Generation Libraries
Jessamyn pointed out that there is such a thing as the West Seattle Tool Library - unfortunately, I don't think there is an Awesome Box big enough for this. I like the trend of makerspaces in libraries (like in Westport, CT), and this is sort of in that same vein. Also too, I think non-traditional collections (like seed libraries) are a great idea.

I have also been collecting links about "Next Generation Libraries" - you know, the bookless type that are nothing but rows and rows of computers and the collection is all ebooks. Here's a few I've bookmarked:

On San Antonio's Bexar County Public Library:

Other varieties of new tech trends in libraries

I'm certainly not a Luddite (well...) and generally don't shy away from evolution and change, but this picture really bothered me:

Bibliotech representation

My library has rows of public computers too, but this picture makes these terminals (and the library overall) look so cold and isolating - not to mention the stools look designed to be uncomfortable and unwelcoming.

But anyone can pick out the pros and cons of a particular instance of a trend, so I decided to focus on what my library would be like if we went bookless.

I started with the obvious: maintaining access to information, which is a core library mission. The current state of ebooks is barely tolerable, primarily because not all ebooks are available to libraries. Which means we'd probably need to purchase ebooks as a consumer and load them on physical devices (which itself is not exactly a model made for libraries).

Anyway, if we were going to be providing devices, and expected to maintain our same level of service and circulation, the number of devices we'd need to purchase depended on our circulation. A one-day snapshot showed that we had 3,142 patrons with at least one item checked out.

That number is kind of sobering, and leads me to think that there is no realistic way we could afford to make this switch and still provide our patrons with access to all the titles they want to read, watch, and listen to. I'm certainly not denying the trend, nor the success that some libraries have had with a bookless model, but it doesn't seem like we'd be able to accomplish this any time soon.



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