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


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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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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Reference Question of the Week – 2/5/12

   February 11th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Non-Fiction DVDs Have Moved signI freely admit to being entertained by immature things, but the sheer unexpectedness of this discovery will hopefully make everyone laugh.

A few weeks ago, my library decided to revamp our DVD collection: the "fiction" DVDs were split into separate sections for Feature Films and for TV Series, and all the non-fiction DVDs were interfiled, by Dewey, with the non-fiction books.

This has elicited mixed reactions from patrons, as they adjust to looking for documentaries and exercise videos in a new place. However, interfiling with the non-fiction books also sort of put me in charge of them - or rather, since Reference is now the closest desk to them, we're the ones who get asked why we don't have DVDs on particular topics.

So something new for me in the last week or so has been to fill some of the holes in our non-fiction DVD collection by finding DVDs to purchase on the specific subjects patrons had asked for. That's what I was doing this week - looking for videos on massage therapy, prenatal yoga, travel (we definitely do not have enough travel DVDs) - when I stumbled across something odd.

I was searching on Amazon, and had found a few good prenatal yoga DVDs. Great. So I started looking for DVDs on massage therapy, but wasn't having as much luck. I broadened my search to just massage, and was mildly surprised (although I suppose I shouldn't have been) to see all manner of "sensual massage" DVDs. Interesting, but not what I was looking for.

Amazon's default sorting method is by Relevance, so I thought if I tried something else - Average Customer Review or Most Popular - I'd find DVDs that our patrons might be interested in. The Average Customer Review sorting was productive. Then I switched to sort by Most Popular, and that's when I learned the most popular massage video on Amazon is:

Pure Nude Yoga - Zen Garden Goddess

And a little further down on the list was:

Pure Nude Yoga - Worship the Sun

One of the greatest things about being a librarian is that you learn something new every day. I had no idea nude yoga existed, nor that it was available as an on-demand video download from Amazon, nor nor that it would be Amazon's most popular "massage" video.

Although I'm sure this would also be popular with my patrons, this did not make the selection cut for the library.

More on Interfiling DVDs and Books
Incidentally, for those interested, we made this change to our DVD collection to try to make it easier for people browsing for movies to watch. All of the television series and anime DVDs got a TV Series sticker, and are now on different shelves, separate from the feature films. We have a lot of TV shows, so this greatly reduces the number of DVDs someone has to look through just to find a good movie to watch that evening.

The comments I've heard so far regarding the non-fiction DVDs (aside from the fact that people had memorized where their favorites were) is that it's now more difficult for someone who wants to browse documentaries. As a result, we may pull all the documentary DVDs - the ones you can watch for entertainment or edutainment - and create a "Documentaries" section by the Feature Films and TV Series DVDs. On the other hand, the people looking for exercise or travel DVDs have really liked having all the related books in the same place, so those will probably stay. This will take some fine-tuning, but eventually I'm sure we can reach the happy medium.



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Kindles, Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership

   July 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Kindle, burningHopefully by now everyone has read David Pogue's NYT article about Amazon deleting Orwell's books from its customers' Kindles. Even though it's been covered elsewhere, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

First, yes, it was shocking Amazon did this. Not that they could do it, but that, 1) they felt it was necessary, and 2) they just went ahead and did it. @librarythingtim linked to a good explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Hopefully libraries considering adding Kindles to their collections will take note. I'm not against ebooks, but I think too many people equate them physical books - and they are not that.

They are information, and libraries are right to pay attention to them. But customers, obviously, don't own them in the same sense they own a physical book. Ebook vendors have gone out of their way to convince us of this, but DRM technology is simply designed to the contrary.

In the library world, ebooks are more akin to databases than real books. We have access, not ownership. Database contents and interfaces change beyond our control (although usually we're notified first), but we're okay with that, because we understand that. Overdrive downloadable audiobooks are very similar - Overdrive says we "own" the books we buy from them, but if we ended our contract and lost access to their interface (or they went out of business), how useful would those ebooks be?

So I think it's the same with the Kindle. It's a technology not at all designed for libraries anyway, but lots of patrons are asking about it. However, what would library staff say to the patron who brought in their on-loan Kindle to complain that 1984 is just gone?

Or worse, what if down the road Amazon decides it doesn't like libraries loaning Kindles loaded with books, and just shuts down libraries' accounts and deletes their books? It might credit the money to their accounts, but is that only good towards the Kindle Store? And what could the library do with their expensive, empty gadgets?

But I do think libraries need to try to make this work. We just need to recognize that we have very little control in this arena. And then, we can develop policies and procedures around it, or we can work to change it. I vote for change.



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Free Alternatives to Bestselling Software

   June 4th, 2009 Brian Herzog

free as in beerI saw this post and liked it for two reasons:

  1. I use a lot of this free software, and although I trust it, for some reason it makes me feel better about using it knowing that other people do too
  2. For libraries looking to expand their public computer offerings or security, these are no-cost ways of trying things out. Also, resources like LiveMocha (and others) are good to know about to supplement library services

Amazon's bestseller lists are always intriguing - putting the "buyer's advisory" twist on it, and with all free software, no less, is neat.

Via iLibrarian (<---subscribe to their feed, really)



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Online Book Signings

   April 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Although the Kindle and other ebook devices are growing steadily in popularity, there is one advantage that libraries and bookstores still have: author visits and book signings.

Getting to listen to and meet an author in person is a great experience. And it's something that you can only do in person - right? Not any more. Amazon has announced a new program in an effort to recreate this experience for its Kindle customers.

The new "Online Book Signings" portion of their Digital Text Platform lets Kindle customers watch a live webcast of an author talking about their book, and ask the author questions via realtime chat.

But the best part is that people who buy a Kindle version of the book will also be able to get it personalized and signed by the author. A demo (Kindle not required) of three titles is below - click a title, type in your name, and then download the signed book to your Kindle. Pretty neat.

The World Is Flat cover
The World Is Flat
by Thomas L. Friedman
The Graveyard Book cover
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Just After Sunset cover
Just After Sunset
by Stephen King

This might start a whole new market for digital autographs - so collect all three!



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