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



Archives for Technology:


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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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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