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


Watching Movies on Netflix and Copyright Issues

   August 11th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Pull quote from WBUR storyOn my drive to work this morning, I heard a story on the radio on how people are upset about the holes in Netflix's collection.

I've been hearing this same thing from friends, that more and more often lately the movies they want are just not available through Netflix - either as a DVD or streaming. The story attributes this to the changing contracts concerning entertainment producers and online delivery, and a related story also covered broadband issues.

The main thrust of the story seemed to be just informational - sort of, "this is happening, get used to it."

Sadly, they didn't mention public libraries as a resource for DVDs - we have lots of movies and shows not legally available to borrow elsewhere. I left a quick comment on their story:

As a public librarian, I always encourage people to check out their local library's DVD collection. If they don't have what you want, ask your librarian to order it!

I tried not to be glib, but happily, the holes in a library's collection are usually* due just to selection oversights (of which I am guilty) - which is easily remedied by being responsive patron requests.

At least, for now. Copyright battles are raging, as media companies try every tact they can to protect their revenue streams - including changing existing laws, which could affect first sale doctrine and fair use rights.

I don't have any direct links to these issues, but I would encourage everyone to pay attention to the issues the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is tracking, especially those dealing with Intellectual Property. When a copyright-related bill is making its way through Congress, the EFF details what effects it will have, and what action can be taken to protect access to information.

Another great copyright resource to follow is the Copyfight blog - it's not strictly library issues, but it is all about copyright.

Funny how a short story on the radio can have an impact on your entire day.


 

*In addition to the movies we missed purchasing, another source of holes in the collection is always theft.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/24/11

   April 30th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Silver Mercury DimeOne slow afternoon, and elderly woman called and asked,

Can you tell me how many silver dimes it takes to make an ounce of silver?

I said sure, and started an internet search. Initially I searched for "silver dimes in an ounce site:.gov" hoping that a Government site would have the most authoratative information on the different metal composition of different coins, and provide a nice chart to equate silver coins to pure silver ounce. But after skimming the first couple pages of results, I was getting nowhere fast.

I dropped the "site:.gov," which produced a ton of results - by comparing various answers, which were all roughly the same, I felt confident to give her the answer that it takes 14 dimes make an ounce of silver.

To this she said,

Thank you, that's wonderful. If it's not too much trouble, could you also tell me how many silver quarters make an ounce? You see, my husband always kept a jar of silver coins, and he told me never to touch them. He said the silver in them was worth more than the coins, so to never spend them. I heard that the price of silver is getting high now, and with my husband gone, I wanted to know if it was time to cash them in.

I ran the same search for quarters (6 quarters) and also for nickels (18 nickels - I did not know that nickels minted during WWII were made of silver).

While I was looking for these, the woman kept talking about her husband, and why he collected coins.

He always said that you can't lose with coins, because you have options. He said the value of the silver in them will always be the highest. But, there's also the value to coin collectors if you have something rare. And, if all else fails, at least you can still spend them as dimes and quarters. You can buy a block of silver, but you can't spend it at a store - at least you'll always be able to spend coins in a pinch.

This whole call had an air of sorrow to it, because I got the feeling that her husband had died awhile ago, and she had hung on to these coins with that memory of him. But with her investigating the value of the silver, it felt as if she was ready to cash out because she needed the money - and the thought of an elderly woman taking a mason jar full of her late husband's coin collection to a cash-for-gold place just made me sad.

But this cheered me up: she asked me to look up the current price of silver (about $48/ounce), then did some quick math and said,

Well, that's either $1.40 in dimes or $1.50 in quarters - I've got a lot more dimes anyway, so I'm going to turn in enough to buy myself something nice. This'll be the best $1.40 I ever spent.

Ha - that brightened my entire day.

After I hung up with her, I kept searching to see what else I could find. Coinflation.com offers some good tools - a handy listing of the face value and silver value of circulated coins (which also links to individual pages about each type of coin), and a silver coin calculator in which you enter the number of different types of coins and it tells you how much they are worth.

Some people might remember that one of my hobbies is metal detecting (fitting for a reference librarian, right?) - it turns out that the four Mercury dimes I've found are worth $13.87 in silver. Neat (but I'm keeping them).



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Out With The Old, In With The New

   January 4th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Emptying the Reference AreaThis project has been underway at my library for the last month or two, and the beginning of a new year seems like a very appropriate time to mention it. We are in the process of removing our Reference shelves so we can repurpose the space.

This is a major project for us. It was brought about by two main factors:

  • The community primarily uses my library for popular materials and assistance with projects (homework, hobbies, etc) - hardly anyone does in-library research, so our Reference collection hardly every got used
  • Our patrons are constantly asking to reserve our (single) quiet study room, and we often had more requests for it than we could accommodate

So, we came up with a plan to build three new 8' x 8' study rooms. Big enough for one or two people, but small enough that we could fit more than one into the available space.

To make space for them, we developed a new approach (for us) to our Reference collection. For the last month or so, I've been weeding with these new criteria:

  • Anything that seemed like a reference book and could be easily photocopied - World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, Farmer's Almanac, Statistical Abstract of the United States - remained "Reference" and will be shelved close to the Reference Desk (more on shelving in a minute)
  • Anything that seemed like a reference book but required more reading is being recataloged with a new "7 Day Loan" designation. These books will circulate for only 7 days (instead of our regular 3 week loan for books), but cannot be renewed or requested by other libraries. The goal here is to make the books more useful to people by letting patrons take them home when needed, but make the circulation rules such that the books will also get back on the shelves quickly and so be available when other patrons or staff need them. Also, very importantly, these will be interfiled on our regular non-fiction shelves, so all information on a subject will be same place*
  • Anything that wasn't pure reference, and didn't seem like something someone would need to lay their hands on immediately, was recataloged as regular circulating non-fiction. There were far more of these than the 7 Day Loan books, which I thought was a good thing
  • Everything else got weeded. I've been wanting to do this for the last few years, so have been slowly deemphasizing the Reference Collection by putting new books as they came in into our circulating collection. As a result, quite a few Reference books could be deleted because we already had newer editions in the circulating collection. Others got deleted because it was a duplicate copy, we had lots of other material on the subject, we had better resources available online, or it was simply outdated (I've been ordering new items as updates). Another criteria was the good old "dust test" - if blowing on the book produced a plume of dust, I took that as a sign that it was not used, and only kept it if I felt it was absolutely vital. This process illustrated how bad of a job I did with regularly weeding the Reference Collection, because we had lots of shelf space to keep things

My goal for this project, in addition to providing study space that our community is demanding, is to increase the usefulness of our entire collection by letting patrons use it the way they want to - at home. Also, by interfiling all of our material, hopefully the "reference" books will get a new lease on life, as many patrons previously couldn't even be enticed into the Reference area - more than once I handed a patron a reference book open to the page that answered their question, but since they couldn't take it home they wouldn't even look at it.

Of course, there have been problems, too. Most notably, we don't have the space on our non-fiction shelves to absorb all of the Reference books we're shifting down there. This prompted major weeding of the circulating collection (which, again, was probably overdue).

Another solution was to pull out discreet subjects and reshelve them elsewhere in the library. The study rooms we're building won't take up all of the floor space in the Reference area, so we're putting in three new index tables and using them as "subject tables." These subjects will be auto repair (629.287), career (331.702 and 650.14), genealogy (929, plus a few other hand-chosen items), and maps (mostly our oversized atlases, but also geography reference like the Columbia Gazetteer). All of the general encyclopedias and other books that are remaining true Reference items will also be on one of these tables.

Another issue has been peoples' concern about how many books we're getting rid of. It certainly has been a lot, and I understand why it might shock some people. But I'm evaluating the entire collection almost on a book-by-book basis, so I have a reason for every decision I made. Like I said above, usually it's because the book is out-of-date or we have enough complimentary materials and don't have room for everything. Again though, if I had been weeding properly all along, it wouldn't be such a monumental task right now.

We're still in the process of weeding, recataloging, and shifting. Construction of the new rooms is suppose to start next week, and everything should be finished by the end of the month. Transition periods are always difficult, but I think once things are finished our collection will be much better and more useful.

Something else that makes me happy is that all of these changes were driven by patron behavior. I'm glad that we can adapt to the changing needs our our community.

 


*Damn you, Oversized Books - you are the bane of my existence. Sadly, much of our recataloged Reference collection is ending up on our Oversized shelves, but that is a project for a later date.



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Historical Photo Collection Survey Results

   September 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Historical postcard of the Chelmsford LibraryThanks to everyone who completed the historical photo collection survey. The Nashua Library got answers about 13 different collections, which will help them create their own collection policy.

Kersten Matera from the Nashua Library was kind of enough to compile and summarize the results (below) - a PDF of the full results and individual answers [156KB] is also available.

I was particularly interested in seeing what kind of fees libraries are charging for digital copies of their images collections. To this I asked the question: If the public wants a high-resolution digital copy of an image, will you provide that to them?

  • 42% of libraries do not offer high-resolution copies
  • 33% offer copies for free
  • 25% charge a fee (e.g. $10, $20, $24)

Interesting to note that a call in to Kinko's furnished me with their scanning prices: $6.99 if they scan it and put it onto your storage device, or, an additional $9.99 to burn it onto a CD for you.

Other questions that were asked on the Historical Photos survey included whether or not the library would provide a physical copy of an item in the collection

  • 5 libraries said they charge between $.10 and $.25 for what I took to mean a copy on regular paper which is printed using the library's printer
  • 4 libraries charge a rate more in line with what a photo shop would charge (i.e. $5.00-24.00)
  • 2 libraries do not provide copies
  • 1 library will provide them for free

When asked about possible tools to help with a Historical Photos collection, responses included: Flickr, Content DM, Facebook, a library's OPAC (in this case, Polaris), Illinois State Digital Archive, Local History Digital Archive, websites created specifically for such things, and library websites.

How much of your historical photos collection is digitized?

  • All of the collection:16.7%
  • Some:66.7%
  • None:16.7%

Is the collection available/viewable online?

  • All are viewable online:25%
  • Some:58.3%
  • None:16.7%

If the public wants a physical copy of an image in your collection, will you provide that to them?

  • No:16.7%
  • Yes, for free:8.3%
  • Yes, for a charge:75%

Do you have any mark (e.g. a watermark) on the image that marks it as being part of your collection?

  • Yes:66.7%
  • No:33.3%

No library had a limit to the number of digital copies they would provide.

Thanks again to all who participated!



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Historical Photo Collections Survey

   September 14th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Historical postcard of the Chelmsford LibraryHi everyone - I'm hoping you can help out with a quick survey. Kersten Matera from the Nashua (NH) Public Library is compiling data on how libraries handle digitized collections of historical photos.

Please, take a couple minutes to fill out the survey below. It's always interesting to compare how libraries handle similar tasks, and I'm particularly curious to learn what software libraries use to share their digital collections.

When the survey is complete, Kersten and I will post the results for everyone to check out - thanks for helping:

And for what it's worth, my library has put our historical photograph collection (such as it is - it's not something we actively collect) on our flickr account, which patrons and others can use free of charge, provided they comply with our CC license.



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Withdrawing Journals: Ithaka Report

   November 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

magazinesIn case you missed it, Ithaka release a report in September titled "What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization" [pdf].

It's really geared towards academic libraries looking to achieve a balance between digitizing journals for access (and repurposing the floorspace they took up), and retaining print journals for preservation purposes.

Being a medium-size public library, our journals are mostly for popular reading, but we do keep a small magazine archive of past issues. The criteria I use on which titles are kept in the archive is basically:

Does this magazine contain information that someone will find useful in two years?

In most cases, this includes things like cooking magazines (for recipes), home improvement/craft/sport magazines (for ideas and tips), those useful for research (like Vital Speeches of the Day), and of course, Consumer Reports (we also have a large [donated] collection of National Geographic, dating back to 1911). But the archive has limited space, so it gets weeded every year to make room for new issues/titles.

And no discussion of digitized journals would be complete without me mentioning one of my favorite tools, the Boston Public Library's e-Journals by Title search. I make some journal collection development decisions based on what I know I can access through them, and just hope it stays that way.

For more on the Ithaka report, check out their website or Marie Newman's summary on Out of the Jungle.



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