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

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 2/23/14

   March 29th, 2014 Brian Herzog

portable dvd playerAn email question was waiting for me when I got to work Friday morning:

I'm not sure this falls under reference, but we are going on a long family car trip and I was wondering if the library had and lends out portable dvd players for kids to watch in the car? Thank you for any information.

Of course, I think everything falls under reference, so I thought this was a good question. However, I knew right off that we don't have any portable DVD players like this - although it sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing for a library circulate.

We share our Evergreen catalog with 35 other libraries, so it was easy of me to find out if any nearby libraries did in fact have them. Very easy, in fact - our catalog offers an "Equipment/Toys" Item Type limiter, and a search for "dvd player" with that limiter produced six matches.

Although not all were perfect matches. I read through the catalog records to make sure they were portable DVD players with a screen, not the kind you connect to your television. Some of the records contained model numbers, which made this verification easy.

I noticed though, that none of the records contained "policy" information - like, could non-residents borrow them, how long do they circulate, etc. A call to the owning library quickly answer that question. Oh, that was the other great thing - the owning library was just two towns over from us. Yay, Groton Library!

My email back to the patron explained that I had found some nearby, but that she'd have to go there to pick them up. I wasn't sure when she was leaving, so I sent her their website, directions, and hours, as well as their phone number in case she questions about the devices. I never got a reply, so I hope that helped her out and they have a good trip.

More about the Equipment/Toys limiter, and what lies within

I've known about the Equipment/Toys limiter since it was implemented, but really don't use it very often (this might be my second time, in fact). So I got curious just what other "equipment/toys" libraries in our consortium offer. Evergreen allows "termless" search, and doing that returned 575 total results - here are the results for different keyword searches:

Skimming these records felt like I was going through the library's basement - all the unusual stuff we don't use often ends up here. I'm guessing a lot of it is in-library-use-only, but still, I found this very interesting to see what other libraries offer.

Bookopotamus: Audiobook Trivia App

   March 27th, 2014 Brian Herzog

BookopotamusI just heard about this this week, from a coworker who heard about it at PLA - Findaway World (the company who makes Playaways) has a free app that uses audiobooks to test your book knowledge. It's called Bookopotamus.

It's pretty neat - it's multiple choice trivia, with book titles as your options. Each question is a quote from an audiobook (which the app reads aloud), and then you tap the title of the book that the quote is from. The earlier you answer the higher you score:


Not only is it a free app (Apple, Google), but it's also billed as "A Fun Way to Donate to Literacy"

We are excited to introduce you to Bookopotamus, our new audiobook trivia app! When you download the app and play, we’ll donate Playaways to children’s literacy through First Book!

More information at School Library Journal and Facebook. Pretty neat, for those of you space-age people with them cellular telephones.

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 3/16/14

   March 22nd, 2014 Brian Herzog

stuffed duckThis question came in awhile ago, through the library's website reference question form. It's sort of odd, and it seems like there's a good chance that other libraries have gotten the same thing.

Subject: Help finding stuffed duck

I am looking for a specific stuffed animal duck. It's an old duck. The one I have was purchased from a Roses department store in Albany, Georgia in April of 1988. I wore the tag off years ago, so I have no idea what brand it is. I spoke with someone who worked for Roses, and he said that during that time the two biggest companies they bought stuffed animals from were Chosun & Dan Dee, so it may be one of those.

I found a couple of websites that have forums where you post looking for certain stuffed animals (Ghost of the Doll and Lost my Lovey), but I have had no luck. I spend hours scouring eBay and the like, but still no luck.

I guess my question at this point is - where do I go from here? It is unsurprisingly but frustratingly difficult to find a 25 year old stuffed animal with nothing to go on except the location of the purchase and a possible (though not necessarily probable) brand name.

Here is a picture of what the duck looked like new:

At this point I would be willing to pay nearly any sum of money to get my

hands on another duck like this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Since there was an image of the duck online, the first thing I did was a reverse image search. Everything that came up were forums and other places that this same patron had already posted this question online - some as far back as 2008.

Huh. So next I searched our patron database for the name, email, etc, and sure enough, she wasn't there. I'm guessing this person submits this question everywhere she can find - maybe other libraries too - in the hopes of getting lucky.

I read some of the advice posted in response to her various questions, and I couldn't come up with anything better. It seems like either she'll get lucky and find one for sale on eBay or Craigslist, or else she could have one custom-made. But finding the manufacturer's name seems like an incredible long-shot, not to mention that company still being in business or having more of these ducks.

However, there's always hope - reference librarians are nothing if not perpetual optimists.

Some Highlights from #PLA2014

   March 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

pla2014It's been a long week already, and I'm still getting caught up. But for anyone interested, here are some of the highlights I took away from PLA2014 last week in Indianapolis. Well, besides that it was a great conference and I got to meet a lot of neat people.

Handout and slides for the programs are available on the conference website - search or scroll to find the program, and then they're available on the right in multiple formats.

Website Tips

  • instead of doing one grand website redesign every five or so years, and keeping things frozen in between, use the iterative design process (like Amazon, Yahoo, etc): always be making little changes to improve the website. Don't make changes just to change things, but don't be afraid to make minor improvements any time, instead of waiting for years
  • perform a content audit to identify your site's important content, organize it, and then build your site's navigation and design around that
  • break up webpages and avoid big blocks of text - use headings, vary paragraph lengths, make bulleted lists, and use line-spacing of 1.5
  • avoid passive voice, use "we/you/us," instead of "patrons" and "the library"
  • 50% of the content on most websites is never used - focus on search, hours, locations, events, and contact information, and use newsletters to distribute other content
  • When it comes to CMSs, ExpressionEngine, although not free, is definitely worth a look - it's powerful but can be made to be easy to use

Engaging Patrons and the Community

  • look at the expertise of your staff (professional strengths and personal interests), and then grow that by sending them to outside groups - if you have someone interested in craft beers, have them join a craft beer group and have them be a resource/library liaison, and grow them into "community specialists"
  • if you have a problem/opportunity in the library, use that as a hiring guideline for the future. For example, if your library has a problem with rowdy teens, seek out a YA librarian who is great at teen programming; if you have high mystery circulation, hire someone who can do great mystery readers advisory
  • use technology to free up staff time - get self-checks to allow circ staff to spend more time helping
  • train volunteers to run programs and offer services staff can't (tech drop-in times, in-depth genealogy research, etc)
  • if you want to attract a certain demographic (20/30 year olds), tailor programming and marketing to them. Don't advertise a program as "for 20 and 30 year olds," just advertise it where they're likely to see it - flyers in pubs, gyms, coffee houses, day care centers, and engage them in social media. Also, focus on programs that would interest them and fit into their schedule: retro-movies or popular television marathons (Big Bang Theory) on Friday nights, adult craft time (like LifeHacker or MAKE Magazine - and even suggest they bring their own supplies), "intergenerational storytime" (having Darth Vader read to kids)
  • reach out to the business community: go to chamber of commerce or business association meetings, give presentations on how they can benefit from databases, hold programs that support and highlight them

Vendor Highlights

I spent a lot of time in the vendor hall this year, and learned about some neat new things:

  • 3M self-checks can integrate with NoveList Select, which means you can print reading suggestions on receipts based on what patrons are checking out. This is awesome, and I wish it worked with our regular ILS receipts. Requirements are a 3M self-check (with a Windows 7 computer), NoveList Select subscription, they recommend a 19" monitor, and after the first year the integration costs $249 (from 3M)
  • Envisionware LPT:One integrates with PrinterOn for print-from-anywhere service. We have both of these products, LPT:One for our public printing in the library and PrinterOn for allowing patrons to print to the library from home, but right now they are separate. This integration means print-from-home jobs can show up right in the normal print queue, so patrons don't have to have staff release their print jobs for them
  • I know I've seen this before, but the idea of StackMap.com is great - putting a "Find It" button in your catalog next to the call number, and showing patrons a floor map to help them find their item in the building. This is something else I wish was just a natural part of library catalogs
  • An update to people counter technology - at least to me - was SenSource, which has equipment cooler than just the electronic eye by the front door. They have that, but a few fancy twists I learned about were:
    • a wifi-enabled sensor, which doesn't need to be hard-wired into the network. This will allow putting sensors just about anywhere your wifi network reaches, and also can be networked between different buildings, and can be monitored all from one central location
    • a thermal sensor, which doesn't just count the number of times a beam is broken, but actually counts the heat signatures of people passing below it. Theoretically, this should be much more accurate
    • an "active" sensor, which is really a video camera (pointed straight down from the ceiling). Their software can then detect and count shapes, and is even sensitive enough to differentiate tall from short people, to get a rough adults-to-kids ratio. Another feature is "audit" mode, which allows staff to go back and review the video, and count people manually, so verify the software's count is accurate. The salesman did say that since this camera is pointed straight down, it's really not useful as a security camera, but I thought it was pretty neat anyway

One negative about this conference was that so many of the sessions were packed-full, and people were getting locked-out of things they wanted to see. I know it's hard to anticipate what will be the big draw, but it's still frustrating not to go to something you really want to see.

Whew. It's hard to recap an entire conference, because many of the most valuable conversations were those in the hall between sessions, or over lunch, or even in the elevator. But I hope this is helpful - another tip is that Indianapolis is a really nice city.

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 3/9/14

   March 14th, 2014 Brian Herzog

coffee containerUsually I post Reference Questions of the Week on the weekend, but I wanted to be sure to post this one on Friday, 3/14. (Remember this if you're playing along at home, because it could help out.) This isn't one of my typical reference questions, but I enjoyed it and I thought others would too (unless you've heard it already).

Last week, I emailed a colleague to ask for some tech help on an issue we were having. In his reply (which was above-and-beyond helpful - thanks Chris), he also posed the following question:

In the meantime, here's a trivia question for you:

What does this mnemonic help one remember?:
May I have a large container of coffee

No cheating. I'll give you clues if you get stuck.

This of course was much more fun than doing work, so I sat and thought about it for awhile. I tried using the first letter of each word to see if it was a mnemonic for a common sequence - planets, presidents, things like that - but it could be something like countries in a certain region or the underwater peaks of the Challenger Deep. So, I emailed back and ask for a hint to help narrow it down - at least, down to a subject.

In reply, Chris sent me this hint:

OK, the subject for the mnemonic is math. Some more hints: it's not a normal mnemonic. Think about this: why is the word "container" used rather than just "cup"?

Okay, math. And "container." To me, a math container is something like parenthesis in a formula, so it might be something like

May I have a large (of coffee).

Or both Container and Coffee could represent the parenthesis, so it'd be just (of); "I" could be 1, or an imaginary number, but thinking of this as a math formula also made me think that "have" could translate as =. So it could be

M i = A L (O)

Obviously, I was going nowhere. Which made me feel bad, because lately I've been watching a lot of old Sherlock Holmes episodes on YouTube (with Basil Rathbone as Holmes), and I feel like I'm letting him down by not figuring this out.

So, Chris sent me another hint (keep in mind that these hints were sent in the same messages in which we were talking about my tech problem, so we really were working too):

OK, to clarify my hint: in what ways are container and cup different? The words, not the objects.

I thought about that for a minute, and then it hit me and I figure it out. Fun!

If you're ready, you can find the answer here.

Funny Book-Related Photos

   March 12th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I'm heading to PLA today, and will try to post highlights of the conference over the next couple days. In the meantime, here's some random photos I saw online recently:

Bringing book covers to life...

acting out book covers


This seems so much better than calling the Police or a collection agency...

grim reaper book collection


I know we've all felt this way at one time or another...

blue book display