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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/27/15

   October 3rd, 2015 Brian Herzog

no help dialog boxThis interaction actually happened a couple months ago, but I just now found that I had saved it as a draft.

A patron called in one day saying he needed help opening an ebook. Of course I was thinking Overdrive, but after a bit of a discussion, I learned the real story.

He had bought an ebook directly from some self-publishing website (not Amazon), and was trying to open it on his Samsung Android tablet using the Kindle app. And it wasn't working. He had downloaded it on his PC and was trying to transfer via USB to his tablet, but the computer wouldn't recognize the device.

The patron gave me the URL so at least I could see what he was talking about, and learned it was a .mobi ebook. I had hoped the website would have some instructions on opening their ebook, but no such luck. Since I wasn't getting anywhere over the phone, I told him to stop by the Reference Desk next time he came to the library and we'd figure it out.

Please Note: I say this to people all the time. I truly mean it and want to help them, but at the same time, often I need time to research whatever the problem is because I just have no idea. Generally it gives me a couple days to a week to prepare for them, so I look much smarter when they do finally come in.

There happened to be a lull at the desk right then, so I did a quick search on how to open .mobi files on Android and found a very helpful website. Nice, now I'd be ready if this patron ever does come in.

Which was good, because not fifteen minutes later this patron walks up to the desk.

The first thing we did was redownload the ebook directly to the device, instead of using the PC > USB > device route. Next, we followed the steps outlined on the website I found - and it worked perfectly.

The patron was thoroughly impressed - and of course happy. So that's all well and good, a librarian job well done. But, it's what the patron said next that really made my day:

Thanks. Now I can call the company and tell them how to do it. Ha, I would have thought they'd have known this if they are selling these ebooks.


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Overdrive App Adds Option for Dyslexic Font

   April 9th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Overdrive dyslexic font optionA coworker send me this post from the Overdrive blog:

Standard font typefaces are often difficult to read for people with dyslexia as the letters are hard to differentiate and words tend to jumble together. Dyslexic fonts provide greater contrast in letters which solves this problem.

This new font option will make reading easier for students with dyslexia as well as library patrons who struggle with the condition. Determining letters is now much easier, allowing readers to concentrate on the book’s content instead.

This seems like a great enhancement. It also seems like one of things where you say, "now why didn't someone think of this sooner?" I didn't, but it does seem obvious now. And, I think, a very easy feature to implement, since it's just a different font. So that's great - way to go, Overdrive, and way to go science!

Hopefully all devices and apps will add this in order to help the people that need it.

Thanks Jen!

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Another Great Feature for a Library App

   September 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

mute buttonAt the risk of this blog becoming a list of things only interesting to me, here's another cool new-to-me app I just recently learned about.

It's called Mr. Silent, and it lets you auto-mute your phone based on time, location, or contact. It seems like a fairly obvious idea, but apparently this one works better than most - it integrates with your phone's calendar, contacts list, and GPS, and has a nice interface.

So now see, if I were designing the perfect library app, this feature would definitely be in there. As an opt-in thing, of course, but how nice would it be if people could set their phones to automatically go to vibrate when they were at the library? You could even gamify it by rewarding people by moving them up higher on wait lists for every time their phone ringer gets turned off by this app. Or something. I would trade all the hot dogs in the world for this to be a universal thing.

Plus, combine it with the location-based notes feature from a couple weeks ago, and you'd really have something.

Existing library apps are pretty good at covering the basics of catalog search, events calendar, and static information like hours and stuff. And Boopsie's self-check feature is also pretty awesome.

One other feature I'd like to integrate into a library app is an updatable resource map - one that library staff (or anyone I suppose) could add information to. For instance, local points of interest for a walking tour, where public bathrooms are, pay phones, free wifi, etc. Although I guess if you're already using your phone, looking for a pay phone or wifi might be irrelevant. Hmm, one of these days I'll get the hang of cell phones.

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Leaving Location-Specific Messages Seems Like A Neat Idea

   August 21st, 2014 Brian Herzog

screen568x568People probably get tired of me saying this, but in cases like this I feel like I need to apologize for not having a cell phone but talking about apps anyway.

I read on LifeHacker last week about an app called Knit. It lets users tie a message to a specific location, so that when another user gets to that spot, they see the message.

It can't be as seamless and effortless as my imagination makes it out to be, but I think this is an awesome idea. And since libraries are all about providing contextually-relevant information, this seems like a very useful idea.

My guess is that it's not accurate enough to use in the stacks, but wouldn't it be neat that if someone walks into the local history room they'd get a message about online resources?

But even better would be to use it outside the library. Leave notes with historical information around town and create a self-guided tour; if the library has off-site events (which we sometimes do), leave notes in those places for the upcoming events; leave notes in parks and train stations about downloading ebooks or digital magazines. Like an automatic QR code people don't need to scan, or a virtual sign someone might actually read.

Of course, there's got to be some catch, because it seems this will immediately become a new form of spam advertising, with every step or highway exit being inundated with who knows what (if you can broadcast to all users, rather than picking a specific person). So it'd be neat if this functionality could be integrated into an existing library app, to provide some control over what patrons are sent. Still though, I thought this was a neat idea.

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Text Message App for Public Libraries

   May 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

I received a marketing email recently about TxtReads, a new text message service app for libraries. My immediate reaction was quite mixed.

Technically, it looks like a great thing - it allows patrons to interact with their library account via simple, plain-English text messages. So if they want to look up a book, place a hold, etc., it's very easy for them to do - and without having to log into the catalog.

So, all good, right? Well, I spotted some negative points, too.

When I visited their website, their primary marketing message kind of shocked me:

TxtReads will change your next trip to your local bookstore. Simply use your mobile phone and send two text messages: One to see if the book you found is available at the library, and the second to place a hold.

Certainly this sort of functionality is possible with existing library apps and mobile sites (I've even built it into my library's mobile website), but promoting it so prominently like this kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Showrooming is such a problem for brick-and-mortar retail stores that some are charging people to even come into their store, and refunding it only if they buy something.

Libraries and bookstores are not competitors, and in fact have the opportunity to enjoy close relationships. But this activity - and blatantly encouraging it - could kill real-life bookstores, which in turn will hurt the book world and, as a result, libraries too.

Secondly, this text feature is so good that it makes me mad that our catalog doesn't already have this functionality built into it. I would much rather have integrated features than a mish-mash of third-party addons - I know that's hardly the reality, but still something to strive for. So, before signing up for this app, my first stop would be to check in with out ILS developers to see if they can make it happen internally.

I suppose that right there is its own type of showrooming - oh well.

At any rate, neat features in a clean-looking app. Just, I don't know, I don't like their marketing approach.

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Mobile Option: Boopsie For Libraries

   February 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boopise for... LibrariesI don't know how I missed this before, but only recently Boopsie for libraries reached my radar screen - it's a company that will create a mobile version of a library's website and catalog.

There are other options* out there, but Boopsie seems like a great and easy alternative to creating your own mobile website. And even better, they also mobile-ize the catalog, which I couldn't do (although apparently non-catalog services are more popular with mobile patrons).

Pricing seemed reasonable (for what you get) - a library near me is in the process of signing up, and reported the cost is in the few-thousand dollar range (or, it would be roughly $10,000 for our whole 36-library consortium to sign up). Lots of libraries are already using them - Sarah has a good write-up on San Jose's experience, and WorldCat and ALA also use their app.

I'm not trying to pitch Boopise, so much as I'm pitching the importance of libraries having a way to serve mobile patrons - using vendors like this* are an option for libraries who can't do it themselves.


*Library Anywhere from LibraryThing is another mobile website+catalog solution, and seems to be cheaper than Boopsie

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