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




Using The Tools At Hand

   July 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Volunteers logoA project we've been kicking around at my library for a long time is creating some kind of town-wide centralized volunteer listing. The library is a natural place for such a resource, but it's a big project.

To fill this need, we just launched ChelmsfordVolunteers.org. The end product was not really the goal we set out with - and I don't think it's the last version of the resource, either.

Originally, we wanted a tool that would list groups in the area that need volunteers, and also a calendar of upcoming events with volunteer opportunities. We also wanted the local organizations to be able to update their listing and event information themselves, without any library staff intervention.

As part of a grant, a local high school student explored a few different software options. We started with a WordPress version, then a Drupal version, then a WebCalendar version, but we kept running into the same problem: the tool did either the database part well, or the events calendar part well, but not both. Each solution also had other pros and cons, which is why we kept looking at different options.

The current iteration of volunteer listing actually uses two existing tools, which are combined under one domain name (chelmsfordvolunteers.org). From a single web page, we link to each tool, but tried to make it look like it was all integrated together.

The two tools are the Community Information database, which is run by the consortium and is (supposed to) list all non-profit groups in all communities of the consortium. I edited the records of the Chelmsford organizations to make sure they all had a reference to "volunteers," and these records provide all the contact information for the groups.

The other tool is the Calcium Calendar from Brown Bear. The library has been using this as our main events calendar for years, so it was easy to set up another one just for volunteer events.

Between these two tools, we've got both an events listing and an organizations database, although they are not connected. Using Comm Info is nice in that we don't need to maintain two records for each organizations, but we are limited at the same time to only non-profit groups - which excludes some hospitals and other businesses that offer volunteer opportunities.

Another drawback of the current setup is that the organizations do not have direct access to update their information and events. We set up two web forms to handle submissions and updates, but it's an extra layer and more of a hassle for everyone involved than it needs to be.

But it works, and it's better than nothing until we find the ideal solution. So if anyone knows of a tool that will fill this need, or another library doing something similar, I would appreciate hearing about it.



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Maybe LCSH isn’t so bad…

   December 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Insulation and Weatherizing book on Amazon.comIn preparation for this colder weather, my library had a book display about home insulation, heating efficiency, and weatherizing. This prompted me to purchase a few new books, but I found something I never expected.

When looking for books similar to what the library already has, one of the tools I use is Amazon.com. That might be library blasphemy, but between Amazon's various suggestion services, its subject categories, and a greasemonkey script for directly checking our catalog, it's a quick and dirty way to find what I'm looking for.

As you might think, it's certainly not 100% reliable. But this time, I happened across one book with subjects that puts even "cookery" to shame.

The book in question is Insulate and Weatherize, by Bruce Harley. My library already has a copy, and I was looking at it on Amazon for updates. But I was astounded when I came to their subject listings (keep in mind, this is a home improvement-type book on insulation and weatherizing a house):
Amazon Home Insulation Subjects

"Cloning?" "Babysitters?" "Juvenile fiction?" And my favorite, "Life on other planets?" I know Amazon's sole function is to push as much stuff as possible at visitors to maximize sales, but come on. At least it was good for a laugh.

amazon, amazon.com, chelmsford, greasemonkey, headings, libraries, library, public, subject, subjects



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Providing Access to Information, with a Shovel

   December 13th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Outside Shoveling - Be Back SoonLike much of the country today, Chelmsford was hit by the "fast-moving, intense" snow storm. And, throughout most of the storm, my library stayed open.

Even though I do not know what they are, the powers-that-be in Chelmsford Town Hall decreed that we remain open until 5:00 pm. For eastern Massachusetts, that was five hours into the storm, after dark, and after about six inches of snow. Wouldn't it be better to send staff home before the storm, so they can drive home before rush hour, in the daylight, and not in a blizzard? But I complain.

Anyway, we stayed open, and I spent most of the afternoon shoveling the steps and walks, making sure patron still had the regular access to information that it is a librarian's duty to provide. A few pictures from the day are shown here:
Library in Snow 12-2007


The Library Is Open

</whine>
blizzard, chelmsford, closing, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, shoveling, snow, storm



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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.

404, 404 error, chelmsford, chelmsford library, error page, librarian, librarians, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, web page, website



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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.

boston, boston globe, chelmsford, chelmsford library, libraries, library, public libraries, public library



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/8/07

   July 14th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford High School Football PlayersA patron came in and asked a very reasonable question:

Can you show me where you keep the high school yearbooks?

Ahem. You'd think that the public library in any town would have a complete set of the town's high school yearbooks, but here, in Chelmsford, that is not the case, and it has been a pet peeve of mine since I started working here.

We have yearbooks for the years 1944-1951, 1961, 1975, 1982, 1988-1992, 1996, and even though I've been trying to work through contacts at the high school, we still haven't gotten the Class of 2007's yearbook yet. If someone is looking for one we don't have, all I can do is refer them to the school's office, which has a complete set.

However, in this case, the patron had a bit more information. She said a friend of hers told her the school's photographer had pictures up on their website, which you could view of purchase. Huh.

After a bit of digging, we found that Chelmsford High uses Burlington Studio of Photography, which did indeed have online photographs from many schools, including Chelmsford. This find made the patron happy, as she was able to browse around and find a few shots of her son, without having to purchase the entire yearbook.

But it made me wonder, too, about whether all these kids signed waivers for their photos to be published online. And besides, it's really not quite the same, picking and choosing like that, instead of having the complete yearbook. Perhaps I'm just old-fashion; perhaps today kids leave comments on other kids' online profiles, rather than signing their yearbooks.

chelmsford, chs, high school, high school yearbook, high school yearbooks, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, yearbook, yearbooks



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