November 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This reference question can be filed under "just one more thing a librarian may be asked to do sometime." A patron came in one day this week and asked if I could write him a letter so he could get into the library at Harvard.
He said he had found two books in WorldCat that he wanted to use, but he needed a letter to be allowed to use them in their reading room. I've never been in Harvard's Widener Library myself, and have heard that anyone who isn't affiliated with Harvard needed special (and hard to get) permission to use their collection.
I'd never been asked to assist a patron in gaining access, so while he got to work on his laptop, I went to work figuring out what I could do to help.
A quick search turned up a webpage for Harvard's Library Privileges Office (the existence of which amused me but someone's got to do it), on which I found the criteria for Independent Researchers not Affiliated with Harvard:
Necessary Documentation: A valid photo ID card AND a letter from the reference librarian of your university or public library stating that the specific library materials needed are not available elsewhere.
Free of charge:
Application for a Visiting Researcher Card should be made in person at the Library Privileges Office.
Before writing the letter, I looked up in WorldCat the two book titles the patron had given me. Both were indeed at Harvard, however: one was also available at Boston University (just across the Charles River from Harvard), and the other was at Amherst College (about 70 miles away).
I don't know how strict the Library Privileges Office is about "materials needed are not available elsewhere." Although, even though each book was available in another MA college, only Harvard had both, so gaining this access would save time for the patron - who did tell me he had a deadline.
So I typed up a letter [pdf], which I hope is good enough to help the patron. I wasn't sure if there was a proper format or anything, but I really do hope this works. The patron thanked me, took the letter, and I think immediately left to go present it in person at Harvard. I hope the he lets me know how he makes out.
September 25th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here are a couple recent blog posts I found interesting, both dealing with organizing a collection.
First, Cory posted an idea on BoingBoing about ditching gender divisions in kids clothing stores and organizing everything by genre*: adventurous, heroic, funny, cute, clever, edgy, casual, etc.
I think this is a great idea, not just for organization but also, as Cory cites, for toning down the girl=pink/boy=blue approach in general. Not to mention that when I'm out looking for a birthday gift for one of my nieces, I always feel slightly creepy being a single guy looking at little girl clothes.
Second, the Dewey blog from OCLC has a couple of posts on using QR code signs as real-life "See Also" references in the stacks (part 1, part 2). The idea is to link logically-associated subjects in way that makes it easy for patrons to find:
For example, let’s say you have a patron looking at the materials on retirement at 306.38. S/he wonders, “Is this all they have?” And then they notice nearby something like the following:
The positive-me really does think this is a good and helpful idea. However, the cynical-me thinks that this highlights everything that is wrong with the Dewey Decimal System, and is just applying a band-aid instead of actually solving the problem by revamping the entire system to just put similar subjects next to each other in the first place.
I know that is no small undertaking, and can probably never be fully achieved in the physical world. If you're interested in the QR code See Also project, OCLC is (was?) looking for libraries to pilot this system - email Rebecca Green at firstname.lastname@example.org with "DDC signage pilot" in the subject line. And my thanks-in-advance to any libraries that do - any improvement that makes library collection organization easier for patrons is time well spent.
*Personally, my favorite clothing-store system is the thrift shop method of organizing by color within sizes - all the red shirts together, then all the white shirts, etc. Because usually when I'm looking for clothes, I'm looking for tan pants, or a blue shirt, and this makes it so much easier. Department stores, that divide the store up by brands, drive me crazy - looking for tan pants means I have to look in six different places! How terribly inefficient.
Tags: access, childrens, clothes, collection, ddc, dewey decimal system, information, kids, libraries, Library, organization, public, see also
March 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This isn't so much a reference question as it is just me venting about two different reference interactions that ended up having the same answer.
A patron comes up to the desk and asks to see Consumer Reports. In my library, we get two copies of the magazine - one to circulate, and one to keep behind the reference desk (otherwise, it would only circulate in one direction*). Generally this works well. Our circulating versions are usually checked out, so often people using the reference copies just photocopy the article or ratings or whatever they want.
Such was the case with this patron - except, when I suggested photocopying, I also offered the fact that we have online access to Consumer Reports (through EBSCO). The patron got excited about that, so I showed him how to find it and log in from home. By this time we had found the article he was looking for in the reference copy of the issue, but he said instead of photocopy it he would look it up tonight online, as well as spend more time researching the ratings.
But the next day, he called and said he couldn't find in the database the article that he saw in the magazine. I thought it just must have been his searching skills, so I grabbed the issue to get the title, and then searched the database myself - and I couldn't find it either. And then I noticed that none of the articles seemed to be in the database - the ratings and reviews were, but not the magazine articles.
I apologized to the patron, and told him I'd contact the database vendor to see why those were missing from our account. He said he got enough information from the ratings, so that was good, at least. But I emailed EBSCO anyway, and then got a call later in the day from our sales person (new sales person actually, so he was calling to answer my question and to introduce himself).
He said that our experience was correct - the Consumer Reports database we purchased through them was limited (by the publisher Consumer Union, as EBSCO is just the distributor) to the ratings and reviews only. The full magazine is only available for customers of MasterFILE, which has the full text of each issue.
So, that sucked, and was not something I realized when I originally subscribed to the database (which was probably an oversight on my part, even though it might be a natural assumption to think buying the magazine database would give you full access to the magazine).
The day after I first spoke with the Consumer Reports patron, another patron asked for help with our Ancestry database. She said she was in the library the week prior doing genealogy work, had printed a page of search results, and now she couldn't figure out how to get back to it.
That seemed simple enough - she was in the family tree section, so I helped her drill back into the family tree search for the name she was researching - and nothing. Not only was there no matches for that name, but the family tree screens didn't look like what she had printed out.
When I realized the menus were all different from our library interface, it occurred to me that perhaps she had gone directly to the ancestry.com website, instead of through our subscription database. So I switched to their website, drilled into that family tree search (called Public Member Trees) - and sure enough, we found the page she had seen before.
But when we clicked the name to see more information (which of course is what she wanted), we were prompted to purchase Ancestry. We were both puzzled as to why something behind the website's paywall wasn't available in the subscription the library was already paying for, so I told her I'd contact the vendor to find out.
I emailed ProQuest, who we buy Ancestry Library Edition from, but they wrote back in a few hours saying that since my question was about the Ancestry.com website, I'd have to contact them directly (and provided the contact information). I did, and a few days later I got this reply from them:
Thank you for contacting Ancestry Library Edition support.
Unfortunately, the Ancestry Library Edition does not have access to the Member Trees that a personal account does. While there is a "Family Trees" section of the library edition, it is limited to the databases listed on the following URL:
The answer to your question is that the databases available to the library edition do not contain a match for the person being searched for when limiting to the "Family Trees" category.
If there is anything else with which we might assist you, please let us know.
Also in looking around the Ancestry.com website, I found this:
About Public Member Trees
This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information.
Perhaps I can understand that, since the family tree information is uploaded by users, there is some licensing reason it cannot be resold to libraries. At any rate, I informed the patron, and she was disappointed, but okay - in fact, she thought she knew which Ancestry.com member posted that family tree, so she was going to try to contact her directly.
But the bottom line was, in both situations, the library version of the subscription database didn't have the information in it that the patron was looking for - even though it was available through other (not free) sources. And probably in both cases, it was me being a bad librarian for not having known this beforehand, or evaluated the library editions more thoroughly when I signed us up for them.
I'm sorry for concluding such a long post without some great insight or happy ending. It was just a odd coincidence that these two situations happened at the same time, and with the same (unsatisfying) resolution.
*By which I mean, get stolen.
August 3rd, 2010 Brian Herzog
I thought I'd pass this along in case anyone is interested - The American Physical Society is offering online access to their journals free to public libraries.
I haven't decided if my library will take advantage of the offer, because these journals seem more academic that what our patrons are usually after, and also, it's in-library access only. But on the plus side, it's free, and this is a good direction for publishers to be headed.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APS ONLINE JOURNALS AVAILABLE FREE IN U.S. PUBLIC LIBRARIES
Ridge, NY, 28 July 2010: The American Physical Society (APS) announces a new public access initiative that will give readers and researchers in public libraries in the United States full use of all online APS journals, from the most recent articles back to the first issue in 1893, a collection including over 400,000 scientific research papers. APS will provide this access at no cost to participating public libraries, as a contribution to public engagement with the ongoing development of scientific understanding.
APS Publisher Joseph Serene observed that "public libraries have long played a central role in our country's intellectual life, and we hope that through this initiative they will become an important avenue for the general public to reach our research journals, which until now have been available only through the subscriptions at research institutions that currently cover the significant costs of peer review and online publication."
Librarians can obtain access by accepting a simple online site license and providing valid IP addresses of public-use computers in their libraries (http://librarians.aps.org/account/public_access_new). The license requires that public library users must be in the library when they read the APS journals or download articles. Initially the program will be offered to U.S. public libraries, but it may include additional countries in the future.
"The Public Library program is entirely consistent with the APS objective to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics," said Gene Sprouse, APS Editor in Chief. "Our goal is to provide access to
everyone who wants and needs our journals and this shift in policy represents the first of several steps the APS is taking towards that goal."
--Contact: Amy Halsted, Special Assistant to the Editor in Chief, email@example.com, 631-591-4232
--About the APS: The American Physical Society is the world's largest professional body of physicists, representing close to 48,000 physicists in academia and industry worldwide. It has offices in Ridge, NY; Washington, DC; and College Park, MD. For more information: www.aps.org.
Tags: access, american physical society, aps physics, database, databases, free, journal, journals, libraries, Library, online, public, resource, Resources
June 22nd, 2010 Brian Herzog
Last week at a meeting of area reference librarians, the topic of research databases came up - which ones we like, which we wish patrons would use more, etc.
One librarian remarked that her favorite database is one of the most expensive, but doesn't get used much so she's considering cutting it. She happened to mention the price they're paying, which got everyone's attention.
That particular database vendor bases their pricing on population. For her town of 32,000, they're paying over $7,000 for that database. My town is exactly the same size, but we pay only $4,400 - and another town, of 25,000, pays over $5,000. What?
Then we started relating other database pricing anecdotes:
- A sales rep told one librarian a database cost $4,000. When the librarian said she couldn't even come close to that, the sales rep asked, "well, what can you afford?" - she said $1,500, and the rep made the deal for that price
- One vendor said they don't like losing customers, so when I called to cancel a database, they gave it to me for free provided I kept access to the others I had from them
- Another vendor gives volume discounts, so when I called to cancel two of the three databases we got from them, he said buying just the one database (without the volume discount) would be more expensive than getting all three
I hate this. Don't get me wrong - I like the database sales reps I work with - I just don't understand the business model behind databases. And the difference between charging a library $4,000 for something instead of $1,500 seems like price gouging.
It's great that reps are able to work with small-budget libraries, but it would be so much easier to have fixed, posted prices, rather than everyone paying different rates (isn't that one of the things that got the health care industry in trouble?).
All the librarians at the meeting agreed to compare notes and prices, so we can try to save money the next time we renew our contracts. I hate to haggle and negotiate for prices, but now I feel like it would be fiscally irresponsible of me not to - and never accept the first quote. Since what we pay is public record anyway, maybe libraries should post their database contracts in a central place, so we can all get better deals.
(And just as a funny aside: while I was looking for a photo to accompany this post, this clever one cracked me up. Ah, sales - it's why I left the business world for librarianship.)
Tags: access, contract, contracts, database, databases, libraries, Library, online, public, purchase, purchasing, Resources, subscription
June 8th, 2010 Brian Herzog
Last week, my Director gave me a letter she received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) with good news - the database access they provide through Gale and Proquest now offer geolocation authentication for any computer in Massachusetts.
Good for patrons:
- Just click a link on the library's website to get into the database - whether the patron is in the library or at home (within Massachusetts), they get right into the database without having to also enter their library card barcode or anything else
- If they're traveling outside of Massachusetts, they can still access the database using the same link, because they'll be prompted to enter their card number
- Patrons from other states who are traveling in Massachusetts can access all of our databases without having to be in the library - any internet connection within the state will do
Good for librarians:
- We just need to put a single link on our website that works for both in-library and at-home access - much easier to manage
- Each link includes a library identifier, so we still get usage stats on anyone using the links on our website
- The MBLC provides a list of all the links for each library (ours look like this), so we just need to copy/paste them onto our website and it works
MA libraries have until Oct. 31, 2010 to get the new links posted, because that's when the old links stop working. If you need help, or didn't get a letter like this, contact Marlene Heroux and the MBLC. And libraries outside of MA, contact Gale and Proquest to see how to get this to happen for you, too. They can do it, so ask for it.
Way to go, MBLC!
Tags: access, authentication, database, databases, geoauthentication, geolocation, libraries, Library, massachusetts board of library commissioners, mblc, public, remote