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


Reference Question of the Week – 3/6/11

   March 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

ALA Library logoInstead of one of my reference questions, this week, I wanted to share this:

Through a chance email conversation with the ALA librarian Karen Muller, I learned the ALA not only maintains a library of its own, but the American Libraries magazine also posts online some of its more interesting reference questions.

They're interesting, so check it out.

Also, I was curious, so I read more about the ALA library, including its mission:

The primary mission of the ALA Library is to help the staff of the American Library Association serve ALA members, and thereafter, the needs of the members of ALA, other libraries, and members of the public seeking information on librarianship. The ALA Library is a small special library with a collection that focuses exclusively on the history of and issues within libraries and librarianship. The Library's staff will respond to reference and information requests in accordance with this mission and collection scope.

Their website deserves some exploring, and has interesting information, including

Of course, it could just be me that was in the dark about all this. They're also on Facebook and Twitter, and with 12,000+ Twitter followers, maybe I'm just the last to know.



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A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks

   March 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boycott paintingI've stayed mostly quiet on this whole HarperCollins/Overdrive ebooks situation, mainly because what I have to say is negative, and doesn't add much to what others already said. But I noticed a couple things in the last few days that I wanted to share.

First, my consortium is (one of many) considering boycotting HarperCollins ebooks. This makes me happy: happy in that I think it's a good move, but also happy in that lots of other librarians are thinking like me.

Also, Sarah has had a couple good posts - one from Thursday about the ALA's apparent inaction on this issue, and another Monday with a sample letter to express opposition to HarperCollins' policy.

But it seems as if the ALA isn't as totally out to lunch on this issue as they may seem. Michael is blogging the ALA's Electronic Content Access Task Force Retreat (official ALA page). The first post didn't mention this ebook debacle directly, but I can't imagine a group of librarians meeting to discuss electronic content access and not tackling this issue head-on, so I have hope.

Something else I recently learned about is the ALA's Emerging Issues website, which has a section devoted to ebooks. There's not much meat there yet, but at least it shows this issue is on the ALA radar, which is also a cause for hope.

Ultimately, I don't know how this will play out, but I can't really see library access coming out on top when it comes to ebooks - at least not without legislative action. But I do strongly believe that this should be the modern watershed moment for the ALA - if you can't be the voice of American libraries and resource clearinghouse on such a critical issue, there is no real reason for your existence.

For some more views on ebook lending, check out Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking (via LISNews), and the Ebook Library's non-linear lending model - perhaps the way forward is in one of those.

Update 3/9/11:
I saw the dispatch below on a listserv after I posted this:

American Library Association tackles new challenges in the e-environment
March 08, 2011

Recent action from the publishing world in the e-book marketplace has re-ignited interest and sparked many questions from librarians, publishers, vendors, and readers. Two ALA member task forces - the presidential task force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) and the E-book Task Force - were recently created to address these complex and evolving issues. EQUACC met this week in Washington, D.C., to provide ALA with guidance and recommendations for a coordinated ALA response to the challenging issues.

In light of recent publisher changes affecting libraries' ability to provide e-books to the public (e.g., restricting lending of e-books to a limited number of circulations) and the refusal of some publishers to sell e-content to libraries entirely, the task force will:

  • Work to establish meetings between ALA leadership and publisher and author associations to discuss model lending and purchase options for libraries.
  • Establish mechanisms for interactive and ongoing communication for ALA members to voice concerns and pose questions to ALA leadership.
  • Establish communication and solicit input with other ALA member divisions and units, including the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In addition to the above, the task force recommends that ALA pursue the following:

  • Conduct an environmental scan to understand the current landscape and project future scenarios.
  • Work with appropriate partners within and outside of ALA to improve access to electronic information for all, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.
  • Identify and support new and emerging model projects for delivering e-content to the public.
  • Develop a national public relations and education campaign highlighting the importance of libraries as essential access points for electronic content.

ALA members and the public can communicate with ALA on these issues through a new website dedicated to the challenges and potential solutions in libraries for improved access to electronic content. This site will be live within 10 days, and the URL to be announced at launch. These efforts reflect on libraries' long-standing principles on equitable access to information, reader privacy, intellectual freedom, and the lawful right of libraries to purchase and lend materials to the public.

ALA calls upon all stakeholders to join us in crafting 21st century solutions that will ensure equitable access to information for all.

Also, Jessamyn linked to http://readersbillofrights.info/, which is worth checking out.



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Check to ALA from 1919

   June 10th, 2010 Brian Herzog

1919 check written to the ALAIn 2008, Chelmsford started a town-wide history project, to index the historical records in all the various locations around town. We're still chugging along, and a volunteer found something interesting in the library's archives.

This check for $1.50 was written by the treasurer of the North Chelmsford Library Association to the ALA Publishing Board in 1919. The back of the check is interesting, too. We're still discovering things in the archive, so I'm hopeful we'll be able to figure out what this check was for.

There's three more things about this, if you're interested:

  1. The signature on the check is Stuart MacKay, brother of Anna C. MacKay, who the Anna C. MacKay Branch Library in North Chelmsford is named after. North Chelmsford has been, and is now, very supportive of the library, and I like this continuity of history. Also interesting that he was working on Christmas Eve.
  2. Also uncovered in the archive are circulation records from the early 1900's - including every book each patron checked out. An interesting philosophical question is this: at what point do library records go from being a matter of patron privacy to a matter of historical record or curiosity?
  3. For our indexing project, we're using Past Perfect, and will be providing access through Past Perfect Online (but nothing's been uploaded yet). Until that's ready, we're using a Google Custom Search Engine to index all the existing online resources we could find. It works well enough for the time being, and I know this is going to be a long-term project, but I'm looking forward to having a real index available.

Neat, huh?



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ALA’s New 404 Page

   October 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

ALA's new 404 page screencaptureMost of the talk about ALA's new website redesign has died down, but I noticed something this week I want to comment on.

On the whole, I think the new site is a vast improvement over the old one. And with any new site, I understand they're still shaking out the bugs, and dealing with lots of dead links.

But: for my previous post, I wanted to find information from the ALA about library activity rising in time of economic trouble. A search on Google linked to something sounding exactly like what I was looking for on the ALA site. However, the link was broken.

By searching the ALA site itself for the title displayed in the Google results, I ultimately found the article's new location. Which is fine, but I have to say I am disappointed with the new website's 404 page.

When the 404 "Page Not Found" page loads, the most dominate thing on the page is the search box right in the center. So of course I clicked on this to search for the page I wanted. But - surprise - it's not a functioning search box. It's just an image of what the search box at the top of the page looks like. Of course the text above this image tells you to use the one at the top, but who reads? I don't - especially when a dominate image draws my attention away from the text.

So ALA, how about making the search box in the center a functioning search box, instead of just teasing us? It would add utility to the page, and make the 404 page incrementally just that much more user-friendly.

But otherwise, I think this is a pretty good 404 page, as far as they go. It customized and nice-looking, and gives some tips for finding what you're looking for. It also includes an email address to contact a person for help, which is great. I think I only noticed this because I talked about library website 404 pages before, and gave my library a fancy-pants 404 page.

I don't understand why it doesn't show up all the time, but maybe that's in the works, too.



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