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

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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Reference Question of the Week – 6/22/14

   June 28th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Davy CrockettIn the time my website was down, I kept collecting the odd reference question whenever they came up. Not that it really matters, but some of these questions are from a few weeks ago.

I was sitting next to a coworker at the reference desk when she answered the phone. She listened for a moment, and then covered the phone, turned to me, and asked,

Before I start answering this, was Davy Crockett a real person?

Ha. I said yes, and she said turned back to her computer and looked something up online. She found whatever it was she was looking for, and said into the phone,

Yes, there are descendents of Davy Crockett still alive today.

You're welcome

And then hung up. Apparently, that's all the patron wanted to know.

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Summer Reading Program Ideas

   June 26th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Summer Reading signSince I work mostly with adult reference and tech support, I've never done much with summer reading programs. But my library is doing two different things this year that seemed like fun, so I wanted to share.

For patrons, we're doing the Fizz Boom Read program for kids, and an interesting but somewhat complex Literary Elements subject bingo for adults. Which are fine, but it's two other programs we're running that I really think are neat.

First, our Childrens Room is making Fizz Boom Read more fun by adding a little raffle incentive. When kids bring in completed log books, they get a raffle ticket. They can then use their raffle tickets to win one of 24 "prize jars." The jars were put together by library staff, and range from a jar of Legos to beads to pennies to Starburst to race cars to stuffed animals - anything that kids might like and would fit in a jar:

Summer Reading jars  
Summer Reading jars  
Summer Reading jars

At the end of the summer, a winning ticket will be pulled for each jar. I know prizes for summer reading are questionable, but I liked this because it's not exactly cutthroat head-to-head competition. Lots of reading is still rewarded with better odds, but the winners are still luck of the draw.

Secondly, our Head of Readers Services put together a "Celebrity Frankenstein" program just for staff. Out of magazine photos, she cut eyes, ears, noses, and mouths of celebrities - and then, for each book a staff person reads, they can build a celebrity Frankenstein face out of the parts:

Adult summer reading face

Bizarre, but engaging - here are all the rules.

She hung a huge sheet up in the Circ office to track everyone's progress, because making it visual makes it much more fun:

Adult summer reading board

And, because this is a staff program, we're also supposed to include notes about what we thought of the book on the back of our face. I think these notes are going to be used later on a "staff picks" display.

I know there are tons of ideas out there for summer reading programs, but I hadn't heard of either of these before. Anything that makes reading more fun is okay in my book.

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Hello (again) World!

   June 18th, 2014 Brian Herzog

open for business signHi everybody. Swiss Army Librarian has been out of commission for a couple a months, but now is almost back to normal. I should be able to start with new posts again next week, but if you're interested in the details of what's happened since The Crash, read on.

In the middle of April, the server that hosts swissarmylibrarian.net crashed. It also turned out that the server had not been performing successful backups since August 2013. We had hoped that some of the August-April data would be recoverable, but it wasn't. Too bad.

My friend Chris, who runs the server, rebuilt with all new hardware, and now has gotten WordPress reinstalled along with all my posts from before August 2013. And happily, he found an alternate source for the posts since the last backup (his RSS reader's archive), but it was text only - no images. I'll work on adding those in as I can find them.

In the meantime, WordPress needs all the recent updates installed, and then I'll be back. I (really) enjoyed my two-month vacation from blogging, but I'm happy to be back too. Thanks to all the well-wishes and offers of support - I truly appreciate it.

And the moral of the story: just having a back-up service isn't enough - you need to make sure it's really backing everything up.

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Reference Question of the Week ¦ 4/6/14

   April 12th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Alfred E NeumanI never know what is going to make me laugh - but quite often, it's when I find out I was wrong about something.

Now, it isn't that I actively stereotype people, but when people ask you questions everyday, sometimes you notice patterns. People who ask to use the Value Line or Morningstar often fit a type. When a guy asks for help finding something to read, and he responds to, "so, what topics are you interested in?" by saying "history," that's not a surprise. Most of the people asking for help finding the biographies are older women. And people looking for the bathroom all look alike.

But I had one question this week that totally took me by surprise. A woman maybe in her late thirties came down the stairs, holding in her arms a baby of about one. She looked like a perfectly normal mom-with-young-child. I would have expected her to ask for books on food, health/diet/exercise, kid issues, home improvement, or relationships. She even walked right past the desk over to the 300s like she'd been there before, so I didn't think much of it.

A minute or so later I walked over there on my way to somewhere else. She was staring up at the call number ranges at the end of the aisles, as if she had a call number for a book she was trying to locate. I asked her if I could help her find anything, and she said,

Yes, do you have MAD Magazine?

Huh - I never in a million years would have pegged her as a MAD Magazine reader, but there you go. Well, there I go, maybe, for trying to guess peoples' interests just based on their appearance.

And our magazines aren't really near where she was (not that she would know that), so I was strictly thinking book topics. But that was great, and I was happy to walk with her back to the YA section to show her our MAD collection. She thanked me and later on I saw her carrying a few upstairs to check out.

After I thought about it, I realized that I don't remember anyone ever asking me for MAD before, so her being the first is great. Plus, I get to laugh at myself for being so far off in my preconceived idea of her interests. Every reader their book!

Calling in Sick

   April 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

cough dropFor the last few weeks, we've had more staff out sick at my library than usual. Infirmaries vary, but this week, whatever is going around really hit us - on Tuesday alone, almost half of the staff was out.

I called in sick Monday and Tuesday, and have been getting by with a lingering cough since then.

Personally, I think a bad enough cough is a good enough reason to call in sick if you work at a public service desk. Even if you feel fine, coughing makes helping someone an unpleasant experience for everyone. (Maybe I'm biased because this means more days at home reading for me, but I don't think I'm off base here).

My library has an informal policy of, "if you're sick, stay home so you don't infect everyone else." Of course we scramble to cover all the desks at times like this, but it's probably better in the long run to have a few people out for a few days than a lot of people out for weeks on end.

I'm sure studies have been done on this very topic, but I'm not feeling well enough right now for that kind of research.