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


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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Overhearing Cell Phone Conversations, And The Annoyance Therein

   June 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Cell Phone SignA little while ago I saw an interesting post on Lifehacker about why hearing a cell phone conversation is so annoying. I'd heard this theory before, and agree with it - at least, in my own anecdotal experience, overhearing a cell phone call is way more distracting than overhearing two people having a conversation.

I'd even add one more element to their list: phone calls are more distracting than a conversation because of the pauses. When two people are having a conversation, since one or the other is constantly talking, it becomes sort of a constant background noise (which is easy for me to block out, say, while reading on a train). But overhearing just one half of a phone call, an irregular sequence of noise-pause-noise-pause, is impossible for me to filter out because each time the person starts talking again is a new distraction.

Anyway, for all these reasons, cell phones in a quiet space like a library are always going to be a problem - even in a not-necessarily-quiet library like mine. Until we can get a good white noise generator* that would drowned it out, perhaps what we really need are dedicated spaces for people to have cell phone conversations.

So, thanks to Stephanie for pointing out the cell phone phone booth:

Cell Zone Cell Phone Booth

I did a little digging and found that these are available from Salemi Industries - but according to a write up from 2006(!), they cost $2,400 to $3,500.

I'm sure a few of these would help, but if we're talking that kind of money, I'd still prefer a fountain.

 


*All my requests for a fountain in front of the Reference Desk have so far been denied.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/8/12

   January 14th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Cell phone with headphones plugged inI found this question interesting, even though I couldn't help much. An older woman came up to the desk one afternoon and said:

I have message from my granddaughter on my cell phone that I would like to save. How can I record that to a CD so I can listen to it whenever I want?

As you might suspect, I'm decently competent when it comes to tech questions, but I know nothing about cell phones. However, I suspected there must be some web interface she could log into and see all of her account's voicemail as mp3 files or something - at least, I hoped there was. Short of that, there was always the low-tech method of simply holding her phone close to a tape recorder.

Her carrier was AT&T, so I called the local AT&T store and asked them about downloading voicemail files - this is the guy's response:

No, we don't have anything like that - just tell her to hold her phone up to a tape recorder*.

Man. Yeah, I'm sure it'll work, but the quality would probably be pretty bad. So, I tried searching online for recording voicemail from cell phone and after reading a few posts, I found the obvious answer of using the phone's headphone jack to plug into a computer and use that to record.

The Ask MetaFiler post was particularly informative, as it provided multiple options including a list of the different hardware and software options available. Of course, we didn't have any of this in the library, so I couldn't help the woman directly. But it did provide me with enough information to call around to a few local computer repair shops, and ask them if they had the equipment and ability to record her message for her.

Of the shops I called, one said they'd do it for $10 and one said they'd do it for free, and the woman was very happy. She said she's try the free one first, and if it didn't sound good enough, she'd try the other.

It's kind of too bad we didn't have the right cable to do this - now I'm really curious to see if it works (but not enough to actually get my own cell phone).

 


*The guy at the AT&T store also did say that if the woman was being threatened she should take it to the Police, but that wasn't the case.



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Detecting and Redirecting Mobile Devices

   December 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comRemember a few months ago, when I was inspired by Steve Butzel's presentation at NELA2010 and created a mobile version of my library's website? I bet you have that date marked on your calendar.

Anyway, one lingering problem I had was some mechanism to automatically detect mobile devices when they visited our website, and reroute them to the mobile version instead of the full web version. I finally had some time this week and was able to accomplish that - aided by the fact that it was easier than I expected.

The ultimate goal is to redesign our entire site along the lines Brett suggested, by creating a stylesheet specifically for mobile devices. Brad pointed out that the Canton Public Library employs this, awesomely: visit their site and slowly make your browser window smaller, and watch the website flip from "full web" mode to "mobile" mode.

That was more than I could handle this week, so I opted for the detect-and-redirect approach. I had found online instructions using both javascript and php, and I went with the php method because

  • I think php is more reliable than javascript, because javascript depends on the browser whereas php runs on our server
  • Php is more fun, and I know our server runs php

The website offering the php method is http://detectmobilebrowsers.mobi, and very happily they make it available free for non-profits. Here's what I did:

  1. Read and reread their website
  2. Downloaded the main bit of code, and uploaded it to our web server
  3. Used their Function Generator to create the snippet of code to paste into the top of our homepage. I chose to treat all of their options as a mobile browser, and redirect them to http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile - the resulting code looked like this:
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    

    (this should be two lines of code, but it wraps because of the width of my blog - if you use this code, make sure the second and third lines above are actually one long line)

  4. I copy/pasted that code into our index.html homepage. However, because this is php code, it had to go between php tags, (<?php and ?>), so the complete code I actually added to the top of our page was:
    <?php 
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    ?>
    

    (again, see note above about line wrapping)

  5. Note that the path in the "require_once" line must match where on your web server you actually saved the mobile_device_detect.php file (downloaded in Step 2)
  6. Now, the last step was a little tricky, because it involves editing the .htaccess on the server. It's easy though, and one of their faq answers explains it.

    Basically, .html files don't normally run php code - .php files do that. So if our homepage was index.php instead of index.html, I could have skipped this step. Instead, in order to make .html pages execute php, I had to add a few lines to our server's .htaccess file - which was no trouble at all - and then everything worked splendidly

That is, at least, so far. I've done some testing with mobile devices and (as suggested) with the User Agent Switcher Firefox add-on, and all of that has worked. But please, if you have a mobile device, visit our homepage (http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org) and let me know if you don't get redirected to our mobile site.

A couple other notes:

  • I also added a link to the mobile site in the upper-left corner of the homepage, in case the redirect doesn't work
  • I only added this auto-detect to the homepage. I thought about adding it to every page, but our full site has a lot of information our mobile site doesn't - especially descriptions of our events. If I added the redirect to every single page, people with mobile devices basically wouldn't have access to any of that. So, my thinking is to provide mobile users with the (robust) basics, but if they want more than that they'll have to endure our not-great coding until we're able to redesign the entire site to be mobile-friendly

This was easier than I was expecting, which makes me think I missed something.

Update: someone pointed out a gap in my logic. On the mobile site, there is a link to "Visit our main site" which linked back to our full homepage. However, since the homepage redirected people to the mobile site, anyone clicking that link from the mobile site just got looped right back to the mobile site. So, I changed that link to go to our About page. Again, this is a good reason to just have mobile-friendly stylesheets like Brett and Brad suggest above.



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Creating a Mobile Library Website

   October 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comYou're probably sick of hearing about things I picked up at NELA2010, but I'm not done yet.

In the very last session of the conference, Steve Butzel from the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library demonstrated the Online Newsstand he created to boost their online magazine usage. That was neat in itself, but what I really took away from his talk was that I needed to - and easily could - create a version of our website specifically designed for mobile phones.

He showed theirs (in beta), which is simple and awesome. It inspired me to give it a try.

I started on http://chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile/ yesterday, and am still working on it yet (in fact, I haven't even told anyone at my library yet that I'm doing it - surprise!).

I don't have a cell phone and so haven't tested this on a smartphone yet. I have been using testiphone.com (an online tool Steve highlighted - there are other tools, too), so please give it a try and let me know how it works.

Steve's point was that it could be very simple - hours, directions, events, a contact link, and a purchase suggestion link for patrons who are in a bookstore (great for people with apps like RedLaser). Here's the logic of what to include:

  • Hours
  • Directions (right now it just links to Google Maps, but I need to also include a link for our branch library)
  • Ask a Librarian (haven't created this yet, but it will be a simple email form)
  • Purchase Suggestion (also not done, but will be a simple form)
  • Upcoming Events (our calendar was not at all mobile-friendly, so I just grabbed the rss feed and ran it through feed2js.org to create just a list of our upcoming events. There could be separate feeds for adult events, childrens events, etc., but that might be overkill)
  • Link to the catalog (I also embedded a catalog search, but that might be too much. And I found the catalog isn't entirely mobile-friendly either - we'll be moving to the Evergreen ILS soon, so I'll wait and see on this, otherwise I'd investigate LibAnywhere from LibraryThing, which Steve also mentioned)
  • Link back to the main library website for everything else

The next trick will be getting our regular homepage to automatically detect mobile devices and reroute them to the mobile website. I haven't even attempted this yet, but have done a little research.

Apparently, cell phones and smartphones aren't just a fad after all, so having a website that works well on these devices is just as important as a browser-based website - and this will only become more important as a way to serve our patrons on their terms. I was happy with how easy it was. Now I need to find out what my coworkers think.



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Mobile App for Searching Libraries

   February 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redlaser logoNot having a cell phone, I can be a bit behind when it comes mobile apps - but this is still cool even to tech-no's like me.

My former co-worker Chris pointed out the iPhone app RedLaser, that turns the iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner. The app was designed to do instant price checks while you're in a store, to see if you could buy something cheaper online.

He also found that the database it scans can be customized - which means it could be modded to search a library catalog (among other things).

So a patron with an iPhone (or an Android) could be shopping in a bookstore, see a book they'd like to read, and instantly scan it to see if it's available at their local library. Great stuff.

But wait, there's more...
Another colleague, Scott Kehoe of NMRLS, posted about making customized versions that can search the MVLC (my library consortium), MassCat and the NOBLE consortium catalog. His post shows how he did it, links to Delicious for the customized databases, and explains how you can customize it yourself.

I think this is a great thing to promote to patrons, but they need to be careful about walking around bookstores scanning barcodes. I've heard many stores will throw people out if they appear to be doing "research" (recording a store's prices or looking for country of origin). Also, about this app, one bookstore owner was quoted as saying:

If I see any lecherous internet bottomfeeders using my store as a display case for a discount website, I will politely ask them to leave.

As the world of mobile devices becomes more compatible with the world of ebooks, the next step will be to create customs searches of places like Overdrive and Project Gutenberg, so that patrons can not just locate but also download the desired book immediately. I tend to think instant gratification is not a good thing, but in this day and age, it is certainly easy to support.

For a few more library-related apps, check out Aaron's post on Walking Paper.



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