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

Old Timey Photo Editing

   August 14th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Before and after photos of Cedar Point dock, circa 1900The library in my hometown has a blog, which I read because it's well done and because it's a way for me to stay connected with where my family lives.

I particularly enjoyed one recent post. Someone found a photo in the library's historical archive that had been later doctored for use in a promotional book.

Check the original post for bigger photos. It is interesting to see how the photo, circa 1900, could be altered so well - as opposed to some of the bad work being done now with Photoshop.

This shows that fun can come from library archive, especially photo archives. Also, too, the subject of the photo is interesting. It's the dock of Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, OH. And I am always amazed at how dressing nicely was just a matter of course in that era. People at Cedar Point don't dress like that anymore.

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Internet Accuracy Tips From CQ Researcher

   August 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

CQ Researcher logoMy Library subscribes to a lot of periodicals, but the one I always make a point of checking out each month is CQ Researcher. For professional reasons, I know I should keep an eye on current topics in as many of our periodicals and resources as possible, but CQ Researcher is usually interesting beyond professional reasons.

I like the format, too - the entire slim issue is devoted to a single topic. The most recent issue, August 1st, was devoted to Internet Accuracy.

The section I found particular interesting, titled "How to Evaluate Blogs and Online Information Source," can serve a good checklist for anyone doing internet research. I wish I could reproduce the whole thing, but here's me paraphrasing:

  • Look closely at the URL - the domain name can sometimes tell a lot of about the nature of the website
  • Locate the main website - try deleting everything that comes after the domain suffix (the .com or .edu, etc) and see what the rest of the site is like
  • Can a real person be contacted? - if there isn't an "about me" page or way to contact the author, there's reason to be suspicious
  • Are there additional links? - reliable websites usually link to additional resources, or at least other pages within that site
  • Are there misspellings and typos? - lots of grammatical errors can indicate untrustworthiness, because little errors often coincide with big errors
  • How long has the blogger been at it? - reliable bloggers usually indicate how long they've been writing, and as with anything, bloggers get better over time
  • How many topics does the blog cover? - if the blog has too many categories, then this person is certainly not an expert
  • What is the blog's format? - websites that use the default look or theme may indicate that not much effort has been put into the project, whereas a personal brand shows the blogger cares enough to establish an image

I like this list so much that I'm going to co-op it into a post for my Library's blog - and maybe a bookmark.

The rest of the issue is good, too. The major article talks about the reliability and use of websites like Wikipedia, traditional news outlets, blogs, and what turns up in search engines. There are also sections on where people go for answers (58% go to the internet, 45% to friends and family, 13% to the library), where the most well-informed people get their information (with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report out ranking every other source), and a bibliography, position papers on current topics, and more.

All in all, definitely an issue worth reading. Sadly, their website does not allow open and free access, but check for it at your local library.

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Welcome to SwissArmyLibrarian.net

   February 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Swiss Army Librarian logoFor the first official Swiss Army Librarian post, I wanted to mention a few things about my new home.

I upgraded from WordPress v2.0.1 (which is what herzogbr.net/blog ran) to v2.3.3, and a lot had changed - but happily, most of the changes were for the better. The major outward change is the new theme, but my real goal was to update my code. Now, it's all css-based, and the only code that doesn't validate properly is the flickr badge.

It took a lot of behind-the-scenes fiddling to make this transition happen (Chris, my thank you gift on the way). On my About page I list all the plugins I'm using, and a few other technical details. I also fully explain "why Swiss Army Librarian?," in two parts, but I'll just summarize here:

  1. I've had a Swiss Army knife ever since college, and I use it all the time. Most people who know me couldn't image me without it
  2. If I had to summarize the job responsibilities of a librarian, “swiss army knife” comes pretty close. We’ve got to be ready to handle any request that comes along, and be prepared with whatever tool is needed for the job at hand

During the migration, I found I really enjoyed playing with WordPress plugins and pages. It has gotten me excited to start seriously using WordPress as a CMS for a full website, and not just a blog. My library is looking to update the way we manage our website, so I'm going to be pushing and pulling WordPress to see what it can do.

Alright, that's that. I'd appreciate hearing what people think of the new look, and if you have any tips or tricks on using WordPress as a CMS. And now, back to the regularly scheduled postings...

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Brian’s Got a Brand New Blog

   February 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Swiss Army Librarian logoI've been threatening this for awhile, but I finally got in gear and managed to get it done - I've got a new blog: the SwissArmyLibrarian.net.

The official transition day is Tuesday, Feb. 26th, 2008, so I won't be posting anything until then. I'll talk more about it soon, but before then, please update your feed readers to the new RSS feeds.

And stop by the new domain to take a look and let me know what you think.

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Librarian Blog Rankings

   September 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Earlier this week, the Online Educational Database released its rankings for the top 25 librarian bloggers. Although I am tops with some people, I am not tops with them. Sigh.

But don't despair; I have a theory. As I was looking down the list, I noticed something: they all have a cool, easy-to-use name. librarian.net. LibrarianInBlack. The Travelin' Librarian. See? Compared to them, "herzogbr.net blog : A Hitchhiker's Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk" is a bit cumbersome.

PageRank? Subscribers? Pshaw. I'm convinced that if I just had a catchier name for this blog, I would be much more popular.

I had actually thought about the whole name thing a few months ago, and came up with a couple options. But a friend of mine recommended against adopting one. The logic was this: it might be counter-productive to rename an already established entity, because that would be confusing and erode whatever name recognition already existed. Which makes sense.

But now, not making the top 25-tier, well, that's just the clincher. I've decided I am going to start using a new name - and redesign the entire website, as well (which I've been meaning to do for awhile, anyway). My goal is to design solely with style sheets, and use WordPress as a CMS, to finally move away from my oh-so-'90s static html pages with table-based layout. It'll take a little while, but I'll keep posting my progress.

That being said, I would like to get back to the list of top 25 librarian bloggers. First of all, congratulations to everyone on the list. Thank you for contributing to the overall library world - even Annoyed. Well... maybe.

I was also curious how my blog fared based on the metrics the OEDb used. As near as I can tell, here's where I stand in each category:

Metric My Score*
Google Google PageRank 4
Alexa Alexa Rank 5
Technorati Technorati Authority 5
Bloglines Bloglines Subscribers 1
Total Score: 15

*These numbers are estimations; I just found my rankings, found one of the top 25 that was close, and adjusted from there

So, with an overall score of 15, I'm really not that far out of the running - #24 and #25 both scored 17. Of course, as Jessamyn (a.k.a. #1) points out, the methodology of this study is somewhat questionable, so who knows.

Besides, there's always next year.

blog, blogs, librarian, librarians, libraries, library, online education database, rankings, top 25 librarian bloggers

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Andrea Mercado on Blogs and Wikis

   March 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Andrea MercadoI spent the morning with a small group of Massachusetts librarians learning about how to use a blog or wiki to communicate better amongst library staff. We were graciously hosted by Andrea Mercado, of the Reading Public Library, who is currently developing both a wiki for her library's intranet and a blog for her reference desk's internal use (to replace the spiral notebook).

(and although Andrea is the Reference and Techie Librarian at Reading, this is also the same Andrea that maintains the PLA's blog, blogs at LlibraryTechtonics.info, and has good taste in clothing.)

After a tour of the library, which I really liked (see photos on their flickr account), we got down to business. And again, note that we're talking about tools for staff-only use - using wikis and blogs for patron tools is a topic for another time.

Reference Desk Blog
Andrea first talked about the hows and whys of using a blog as the start page for reference desk computers (it is searchable, everyone can contribute, easy way to organize information, keep other shifts up to day on projects and questions, etc.). She also talked about what blog software to use - she favors WordPress (which also powers my blog as well as my library's), but warned that it may be too powerful (too complex/confusing) for some new users. Others, such as blogger or livejournal are also possible, free, and easier in that you don't have to worry about installation or hosting, but really just won't offer the kind of features and customization that a hosted blog like WordPress can provide.

Wiki As Intranet
We then moved on to wikis, which spent most of our time talking about. Andrea is running an installation of MediaWiki, and she loves it. The goal of this is to make it easier for staff to find (and contribute to) library policies, desk procedures, original files of handouts and presentations, library logos to put on new documents, staff and emergency phone numbers, etc. All of the things that might be laying around in binders or uncategorized on network servers, she wants to centralize and make findable through the wiki.

This seems like a great application for a wiki - the only catch is setting it up so that it does function as an intranet, rather being open to the entire world. Also, again she cautioned us to match the tool to the audience - MediaWiki is very powerful, but another program like pbwiki or Wetpaint might be simpler and more suitable for less technical users.

The meeting was also attened by two libriaians from the Memorial Hall Library in Andover. They've already begun using a wiki for local information, which they called Andover Answers. It is open for patrons to view, but it not currently editable by anyone but MHL librarians. However, they are cleverly using the "discussions" tab at the top of the screen to allow patrons (or anyone) to suggest changes for pages. These suggestions are viewable by everyone, and open for discussion, and then a librarian can research the suggestion and decide whether or not to make the change.

I thought this was a great idea, as so many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting non-librarians edit the information. We're going through something similar with our community information database, and it might be a happy medium.

andover answers, andrea mercado, blog, blogs, libraries, library, mediawiki, memorial hall library, pbwiki, public libraries, public library, reading public library, wiki, wikis, wordpress

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