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


Library Website 404 Pages

   September 18th, 2007 Brian Herzog

404 screenshotSparked by a discussion in the ning Library 2.0 forum, I recently revamped my Library's 404 error webpage (what displays when the webpage someone is looking for is not found).

Until earlier this year, we just had the standard "404 error: file not found" page, which is common and boring. I had made it a little more interesting just by adding our logo and some helpful information. But Darlene's call for injecting humor and casualness in this situation got me to rethink it, and I came up with our current page.

Libraries are always fighting the traditional stuffy stereotype, and little things like this can make the patron experience more interesting and memorable. Also, it really was fairly easy to do, and I think in this case, a little effort goes a long way (of course, ideally, this page would never be seen).

But let your 404 page be seen - Darlene also started a flickr Library 404 Page group, so please add your screenshots. Also, some live, non-library examples are available at sendcoffe.com.

And before anyone asks: I didn't put too much thought into the books in the photo. This is just the shelf closest to the Reference Desk. But really, I think these titles lend themselves pretty well to the process of discovery of something missing - plus, this is the "self-help" section.

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Boston Globe Covers Libraries

   August 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

The Boston Globe logoA pair of articles appeared in last Sunday's (7/29) Boston Globe about the state of libraries.

The first, "Good Circulation..." is summed up nicely by the article's opening paragraph:

"Library directors remember the talk, not long ago, of technology rendering libraries obsolete. But statistics show that the opposite has occurred."

The second, "...for those who can afford it," is a bit more dire in tone.

"It's the ones who need it the most that get hit the hardest," [Mary Beth Pallis, Director of the Dunstable Free Public Library] said. "Libraries are the great equalizer: Anyone can use the library no matter how much money you make. I'm worried that may be disappearing."

This is the paradoxical reality that libraries face. I bet most people would say that libraries are important to a community, yet community funding is never a guaranteed thing.

Also in the paper was a chart of with circulation details on the 34 libraries in the Globe's Northwest delivery area. It compares each library's circulation levels in 1999 and 2006.

Some stats for the Chelmsford Library:

Circulation Increase over 1999
Print 61%
Audiobook 121%
DVD 64%
All materials 69%
Loans to other libraries 607%
Loans from other libraries 1,230%

There are reasons behind these numbers: 1999 was the last year before a building project more than tripled the size of the library. Chelmsford is well funded, which means we have longer hours and more parking than some libraries. And, being part of a consortium, in Massachusetts, means that we serve anyone who comes in the door, not just our 32,000 local residents.

Of course, I really hope it's because these patrons just know the value of libraries.

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Preparing the Empire Falls Parade Float

   July 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Float photoI don't know if this is bad luck, along the same lines seeing a bride before her wedding, but here are a couple "before" photos of my library's float for Chelmsford's 4th of July Parade [pdf].

Since we did a One Town, One Book program this year featuring Richard Russo's Empire Falls, that's the theme chosen for the float. It is supposed to look like the inside of the Empire Grill, a diner featured in the story, and people will be dressed in character passing out copies of the book, pins and magnets.

On the right side of the picture is the diner's door, and on the far left is a backdrop painted to look like an average scene from a New England mill town (the backdrop is also a wooden Very Large Book). The dinery part will be in the middle, complete with counter, table, chairs, menus, ketchup bottles, etc.

I'm sure it will look better at the parade tomorrow.

Float photoAnd for my part, instead of riding on the float, I made the "Empire Grill" sign. It is supposed to look like a neon diner sign, but I think it looks like what it is - some plastic tubing spray-painted neon orange nailed to a piece of plywood spray-painted black. But at least people will be far away, and it'll be moving.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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Problems with Flickr’s Map

   May 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

flickr screenshotWhen I upload photos to flickr, I always try to place them on the map, if appropriate. When I started a flickr account for my library, I noticed that there was a problem with the map.

I work at the library in the town of Chelmsford, MA, which is situated right next door to the city of Lowell, MA. Lowell is much bigger, and if it had a "metro area," Chelmsford would be a part of it.

However, after having lived her for a couple years, I know that the two communities are very different. High school rivalries, traffic problems - heck, I even hear Chelmsford library patrons complain about Lowell patrons and the Lowell library. Community loyalty here runs as deep as the Merrimack River.

So, I was sort of startled to see flickr claiming that all the photos mapped for the library's account (which were taken in Chelmsford) were listed by flickr as "Taken in Lowell, Massachusetts" (as circled in red in the photo above).

When placing photos on their map, flickr encourages you to place it as locally as possible. Because of that, I was surprised to see their local locations that inaccurate. I wrote to flickr, explaining the situation and asking if they could be more accurate with their map. Here's the response I received (from two different flickr support techs on the same day, two days after I sent my message):

Hi Brian,

We are aware that there are some locations that might be reflecting an adjacent city or town, or an incorrect place name. In some cases a place name might reflect a town name that is no longer in use. Flickr uses map data from Yahoo! which in turn is provided by third party providers (most online maps you see are sourced this way).

We are developing methods to allow you, the knowledgeable member, to be able to contribute to local adjustments. We don't have a particular date in mind when we would be able to offer this, but please understand it is something we hope to provide in the very near future.

Regards

Not exactly the "hi, we're flickr, and we can do anything" kind of response I was hoping for, but I do understand the issue. I guess I just have to hold on until this feature becomes available, and explain to our patrons why it looks like the Chelmsford Library is actually in the city next door.
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