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


Some Highlights from #PLA2014

   March 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

pla2014It's been a long week already, and I'm still getting caught up. But for anyone interested, here are some of the highlights I took away from PLA2014 last week in Indianapolis. Well, besides that it was a great conference and I got to meet a lot of neat people.

Handout and slides for the programs are available on the conference website - search or scroll to find the program, and then they're available on the right in multiple formats.

Website Tips

  • instead of doing one grand website redesign every five or so years, and keeping things frozen in between, use the iterative design process (like Amazon, Yahoo, etc): always be making little changes to improve the website. Don't make changes just to change things, but don't be afraid to make minor improvements any time, instead of waiting for years
  • perform a content audit to identify your site's important content, organize it, and then build your site's navigation and design around that
  • break up webpages and avoid big blocks of text - use headings, vary paragraph lengths, make bulleted lists, and use line-spacing of 1.5
  • avoid passive voice, use "we/you/us," instead of "patrons" and "the library"
  • 50% of the content on most websites is never used - focus on search, hours, locations, events, and contact information, and use newsletters to distribute other content
  • When it comes to CMSs, ExpressionEngine, although not free, is definitely worth a look - it's powerful but can be made to be easy to use

Engaging Patrons and the Community

  • look at the expertise of your staff (professional strengths and personal interests), and then grow that by sending them to outside groups - if you have someone interested in craft beers, have them join a craft beer group and have them be a resource/library liaison, and grow them into "community specialists"
  • if you have a problem/opportunity in the library, use that as a hiring guideline for the future. For example, if your library has a problem with rowdy teens, seek out a YA librarian who is great at teen programming; if you have high mystery circulation, hire someone who can do great mystery readers advisory
  • use technology to free up staff time - get self-checks to allow circ staff to spend more time helping
  • train volunteers to run programs and offer services staff can't (tech drop-in times, in-depth genealogy research, etc)
  • if you want to attract a certain demographic (20/30 year olds), tailor programming and marketing to them. Don't advertise a program as "for 20 and 30 year olds," just advertise it where they're likely to see it - flyers in pubs, gyms, coffee houses, day care centers, and engage them in social media. Also, focus on programs that would interest them and fit into their schedule: retro-movies or popular television marathons (Big Bang Theory) on Friday nights, adult craft time (like LifeHacker or MAKE Magazine - and even suggest they bring their own supplies), "intergenerational storytime" (having Darth Vader read to kids)
  • reach out to the business community: go to chamber of commerce or business association meetings, give presentations on how they can benefit from databases, hold programs that support and highlight them

Vendor Highlights
I spent a lot of time in the vendor hall this year, and learned about some neat new things:

  • 3M self-checks can integrate with NoveList Select, which means you can print reading suggestions on receipts based on what patrons are checking out. This is awesome, and I wish it worked with our regular ILS receipts. Requirements are a 3M self-check (with a Windows 7 computer), NoveList Select subscription, they recommend a 19" monitor, and after the first year the integration costs $249 (from 3M)
  • Envisionware LPT:One integrates with PrinterOn for print-from-anywhere service. We have both of these products, LPT:One for our public printing in the library and PrinterOn for allowing patrons to print to the library from home, but right now they are separate. This integration means print-from-home jobs can show up right in the normal print queue, so patrons don't have to have staff release their print jobs for them
  • I know I've seen this before, but the idea of StackMap.com is great - putting a "Find It" button in your catalog next to the call number, and showing patrons a floor map to help them find their item in the building. This is something else I wish was just a natural part of library catalogs
  • An update to people counter technology - at least to me - was SenSource, which has equipment cooler than just the electronic eye by the front door. They have that, but a few fancy twists I learned about were:
    • a wifi-enabled sensor, which doesn't need to be hard-wired into the network. This will allow putting sensors just about anywhere your wifi network reaches, and also can be networked between different buildings, and can be monitored all from one central location
    • a thermal sensor, which doesn't just count the number of times a beam is broken, but actually counts the heat signatures of people passing below it. Theoretically, this should be much more accurate
    • an "active" sensor, which is really a video camera (pointed straight down from the ceiling). Their software can then detect and count shapes, and is even sensitive enough to differentiate tall from short people, to get a rough adults-to-kids ratio. Another feature is "audit" mode, which allows staff to go back and review the video, and count people manually, so verify the software's count is accurate. The salesman did say that since this camera is pointed straight down, it's really not useful as a security camera, but I thought it was pretty neat anyway

One negative about this conference was that so many of the sessions were packed-full, and people were getting locked-out of things they wanted to see. I know it's hard to anticipate what will be the big draw, but it's still frustrating not to go to something you really want to see.

Whew. It's hard to recap an entire conference, because many of the most valuable conversations were those in the hall between sessions, or over lunch, or even in the elevator. But I hope this is helpful - another tip is that Indianapolis is a really nice city.



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Recap from #nelaconf13

   October 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog

nela2013I was at the New England Library Association's annual conference this past weekend, and had a great time meeting people and finding out what's going on around the region. This year's conference had a very complete website with links to handouts and notes, as well as an ongoing blog of notes from attendees, and the hashtag #nelaconf13 was interesting too.

I blogged the sessions I attended, below, and am looking forward to reading the posts from other sessions too:

A few of my favorite moments from NELA didn't make it into the notes:

  • While addressing concerns of data privacy and security when using cloud-based library services, Michael York, State Librarian of New Hampshire, simply said: that ship has sailed - no one should expect any privacy or security anymore.
  • Also, Michael drives the state delivery van whenever the primary driver is off on vacation - how cool is that?
  • Overheard: "we're doing R&D, which in the library world means 'rip-off and duplicate'"
  • Based on what I learned from the feng shui program, we need more plants in the library
  • The 3M Cloud Library integrated into the Polaris ILS is amazing - checkout of ebooks is seamless, and holds and checkouts show up right in the patron's account, along side other library items. And, 3M handles Adobe Digital Editions at the vendor level, which means patrons never need to mess with it - this is how all ebook vendors should operate
  • An amazing true story: a couple years ago in New Hampshire, a patron requested an item through early one morning. The library that owned it got the request shortly thereafter and pulled the book. Shortly after that, the delivery van arrived, picking up the request. And, it just so happened that the next stop on the route was the library where the patron's item was to be delivered - when they got it, the patron was notified his item was ready to be picked up. So, due to the coincidence of timing, this patron got his request in a matter of hours - and reacted by calling for funding cuts to libraries, because he felt they didn't need to be spending so much money on this gold-plated delivery system.

It really was a good three days (not to mention good nights in Portland, too), and I'm looking forward to going to next year's conference in Marlborough Boxborough, MA - see you there.



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#nelaconf12 Notes and Insights

   October 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

New England Library AssociationI spent the first part of this week at the New England Library Association 2012 annual conference, which I found I enjoyed more than others in recent memory. Partly it was due to talking with way more people than I usually do, but the guys from ByWater Solutions, Koha developers, also picked up my lunch tab one day, which is awesome - thanks Nate.

Anyway, I mostly stuck to the technology track this time, which seemed like it was all ebooks all the time. Often, that turned into Overdrive-bashing (for past practices), but there was also a lot of looking to the future of what-could-be. Here are a few notes I wrote down from the various sessions over the three days:

  • Followup on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    Last week I posted about this case now before the Supreme Court, and mentioned that Alan Wexelblat of Copyfight would be speaking at NELA. This was probably the hands-down absolute best session I attended, and if you ever get the chance to see Alan speak, jump at it.

    He offered more insight on the speculating I did last week - for one thing, this case will be limited to items imported from overseas, and only items that have (or can be) copyrighted. So, things like iPhones (which are patented, not copyrighted) and clothes (which are not copyrighted at all) will not be affected (so no "Garage Sale Police: SVU" any time soon).

    Alan also said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in Wiley's favor, albeit with a very narrow ruling. Arguments between October 29th, so keep an eye on it.

  • The (not so bright) future of ereaders
    In more than one session, I heard people say that 2012 was the peak for dedicated ereaders. They will start to decline in 2013, and from here on out, ebooks will be read on smartphones and tablets, because ebooks will cease to be something special or unusual and just part of peoples' normal lives. As people get more and more used to doing everything on one device, dedicated devices - like ereaders - will be left behind.

    Dedicated ereaders have the advantage with cheaper prices and better eink displays, but hardware prices are always falling, and the more people use smartphones and tablets, the more they become accustomed to those displays. Besides, Betamax was better quality than VHS, and it still lost out.

    Except maybe in libraries, since the libraries that circulate hardware will only want patrons using them for ebooks. But the death of ereaders was still an interesting observation (and again, a widely-held one, it seemed).

  • But if you are buying ereaders...
    A few speakers gave kind of best-practices reviews of ereader lending programs in their libraries. One recommendation was that, if you are buying ereaders to lend to patrons, definitely get the extended warranty.

    Another model for ereader/ebook lending was to give patrons a gift card in addition to loaning them an ereader. That way, patrons do your ebook collection development for you. And, since the books are being purchased, patrons aren't limited to just what is available through Overdrive, and instead they get to read whatever bestseller they want, right now. A couple libraries in Massachusetts are doing this, and they have not had any problems - the gift card is tied to the library's Amazon account, and patrons are told not to buy more than three ebooks.

    However, again, there was the recommendation to buy tablets, not dedicated ereaders at all - they will have a longer useful life.

  • The (ever brightening) future of ebooks
    Another common opinion was that ebooks really are a major revolution in publishing, whether we like it or not. And by revolution, we're really talking evolution along the lines of cave walls > clay tablets > papyrus scrolls > bound books > ebooks. However, ebooks won't necessarily totally supersede print in our lifetime - more likely, they will be viewed as different experiences, not as mutually-exclusive.

    A great example of this was keynote speaker T. Scott Plutchak's story of reading picture books to his granddaughter. She has one favorite book, which they have both in print and on his iPad. She always wants him to read it to her, but sometimes she wants the interactive play of the iPad, and sometimes she wants the traditional page-turning of the print book. I like the view that it's not all or nothing - print and ebooks can coexist. And kids don't see them as competitors, just different. I think I've said this before, but I still use both pencils and pens, and I also still listen to the radio every day. Pencils and the radio are good for certain applications, pens and keyboards and television and internet good for others.

    Another analogy I liked was that ebooks are a total revolution in technology, along the lines of sheet music > phonograph recordings. Before Edison, music was distributed as sheet music - people bought it and then played the piano themselves in their own parlors. But after the phonograph, people could buy and listen to a recording. This is a fundamental change in how people interacted with music - it removed the personal experience of playing it, and standardized what version of the song people heard. This isn't a direct ebook correlation, but the basic "this is a fundamental shift in how people interact with stories" is worth considering.

    However, one of the funniest lines at the conference came up when a speaker was trying to make the point that new technology does often replace old technology: "yes, people still raise horses, but how many of you rode a horse here today?" Ha.

  • DRM is the problem.
    Universally, the cause of all ebook-related problems right now is DRM. Not copyright, not technology, not piracy - just DRM. So, the recommendations were always: buy DRM-free ebooks - publishers like TOR and HumbleBundle are leading the way and need to be supported.
  • Create your own electronic content
    For libraries in Massachusetts, contact the Boston Public Library to get on board with BPL's local resource digitization program. For free, libraries, historical societies, town offices, etc. can have their annual reports, yearbooks, special collections, whatevers digitized by BPL and Internet Archive staff. The items will become part of the Digital Commonwealth and Internet Archive collections, and will be freely available online. This is definitely worth checking out - send a message to digital@bpl.org for more information.

    Good quotes relating to this were, "copyright is like a speed limit - it's flexible, so going a little over is okay." And, "copyright is often a gray area - and to us, gray means GO!"

  • Training - it's what we do
    Lastly, lots of talk about training and tech support - library staff training patrons to use ebooks, the reference desk evolving into a community technology help desk, etc. These ideas are not new, but they bear repeating, because I do think this is the future for libraries.

    I did hear one new idea though: one speaker found he was having trouble training senior citizens to use their brand new ereaders, because they had no computer experience whatsoever. No matter how patient and repetitive he was, he could just not communicate with them in the way they needed. So, he got the idea to train one of their peers - a senior woman who volunteered at the library - and then had her show other seniors how to use technology. He said results were instant and fantastic, because she, being from their generation, was naturally more attuned to speaking at their level. Great idea, up until he told us what he called it: "The Old Lady Support Group."

In all, it was a great conference. My only complaint is that I couldn't get to all the sessions I wanted to see. Presentations are being posted online, so please check them out for more information.



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Book-Related Diversions and Professional Development

   July 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Here is an assortment of things people have sent me recently, or just random items from the internet (so I can clear out my "to blog" folder):



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What I Learned at CIL2011

   March 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Computers in Libraries 2011 logoI had a great time at the Computers in Libraries 2011 conference last week - I met nice and smart people, attended good sessions (read my notes), learned a lot, and hopefully helped a few people by giving a workshop with Nicole Engard.

After a week of digesting, I wanted to share the three main points I took away from the conference. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Simplify your website
This was mentioned in multiple sessions (also good stuff here), and sadly it bears repeating - library websites should not be junk drawers, hanging on to everything everything everything just in case some might want it. They might, but it makes your site so cluttered that they'll never find it anyway.

Another related principle is Aaron Schmidt's idea gradual redesign - instead of just one day - boom - entirely changing everything, do things gradually. Consolidate content, reorganize navigation, etc, in stages - it's easier for users to adapt to a few things at a time, and staff get to see continual progress, rather than having to wait until the entire project is done. I want start implementing this approach for our redesign project.

2. Libraries are about the experience
You know how you hear something and read something again and again, and then you hear it one more time and you finally understand what it means? That happened to me at CiL with the idea of User Experience (UX). Again, Aaron Schmidt has been out in front on this for awhile, but I only every thought of it in the context of using websites.

What dawned on me is that, in the library, the patron experience is everything - to us and to them. People don't use libraries because they like the idea of libraries - people use libraries for the experience they can find there. Whether it is curling up a print book to experience a story, or attending a lecture, or a storytime, or using our free internet access, or idly chatting with the circ staff about new books, what people are after is the experience.

Perhaps this isn't too novel unless you think of it this way: libraries aren't about books, or information, or programming, or even community - libraries are about experience. Patrons can experience our community space or our content, but it's their emotional perception that is key. Of course, different patrons experience different services in different ways, but it's our job to make sure they are good experiences.

3. The only good DRM is no DRM
When I was babbling about the HarperCollins fiasco, I focused mostly on their ridiculous policy approach, and didn't talk much about DRM itself. It's the technology that makes self-destructing ebooks possible, sure, but I considered it just a tool - a misused one, but not the real root of the problem.

But the Librarian in Black's "dead technologies" talk changed my mind. I wish I recorded her to share here - everyone should see it. DRM is the main problem with ebooks - and not even in a technological way. The problem is that publishers who are afraid to let go of old models insist on using DRM to cripple the potential of ebooks. I love analogies, and here's a good one: does your refrigerator limit the kind of ice cream you can buy, or get rid of it after a certain amount of time? No, so why would we allow it with ebooks?

We should not stand to be treated like criminals - that's what DRM does. Any effective and robust ebook model cannot implement DRM. I am not remotely as passionate or as eloquent as Sarah, but now I'm just as motivated.

end drm logo


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CIL2011: Cool Tools – Measuring, Visualizing, and Analyzing What Libraries Do

   March 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Darlene Fichter, Research Services Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Jeff Wisniewski, Web Services Librarian, University of Pittsburgh
Michael DeMars, California State University–Fullerton

 

Darlene - Counting is easy, knowing is hard

We must looks for signs of success, and places where we're falling down.

Good tools for detailed information:
Type in your library's name, and it searches the web to find comments posted about that you
it also shows trends/frequency of postings (be sure to use all phrases/names your patrons might call you)

Good tools for snapshot information:
Provides an overview of how many times you are mentioned on different sites

  • howsociable.com - gives raw numbers by social took
  • addictomatic.com - builds pages on the fly of the most recent results from various websites
  • socialmention.com - smaller userbase, so only really valuable for larger organizations, but it's one of the best. this also measures:
    • Strength: likelihood of being discussed
    • Passion: is there a fanbase that repeatedly talks about you
    • Sentiment: ration of positive mentions to negative ones

    Since we don't know what metrics they use, it's better to follow these as trends than as absolute numbers (if numbers change dramatically, something big must have happened - what?)

Also, just type your library's name (and variations) into Bing and Google and see what comes up - are people saying positive or negative things? What do your sites say about you?

 

Jeff - Tools for reviewing activity

Google Analytics In Page analytics

  • Available from content section
  • Visualizes activity by overlaying it on your webpage

Facebook Insights

  • Quantitative: fans, users, page views
  • Engagement: likes, comments

Klout

  • measurement of overall online influence
  • from 1 to 100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence
  • pulls data mainly from Facebook and Twitter and other large social sites

Mywebcareer

  • discover, evaluate and monitor your professional online brand
  • gives you a FICO-like career score (350-850) for your personal brand

twendz

  • tool that analyzes activity and sentiment using keywords on Twitter

Google Places

  • Activity: views, impressions
  • Actions: maps, driving directions, clicks to website
  • Be sure to officially claim your small business listing, to make sure it is correct

Hootsuite

  • social media dashboard - lets you post once to multiple social outlets (Twitter, Facebook, etc)
  • recently added analytics so you can track effects related to your updates (again, in one place, instead of having to go to all of them to check)
  • there is a pay and free, and even though a lot more is in the pay version, the free is pretty good

 

Mike - Using web metrics tools to inform web design decisions

Answering the question: who are they, where are they, and what are they thinking?

The website redesign project - use a formalized process with patrons as center stage, instead of just sitting around a room arguing about which font to use

Google Analytics - it's worth setting up

  • they give you a small bit of code that you past in your site, and instantly starts tracking activity
  • it gives you rich data on how your site is used - activity, times, locations, popular resources,
    this gives you actual numbers, so you don't need to rely on national standards which may not actually reflect the makeup of your community
  • gives you real data to make decisions, instead of basing everything on anecdotes (where people come from, what their connection is, how people are finding you [search engines, keywords], etc) - this gives a voice to the patrons you never see
  • having a short time-spent-on-site metric is a good thing, because it means people are coming to your website, finding the database/website/resource they need, and linking out to it
  • it will tell you what device people are using, and thus if you need a mobile website (and which devices to focus on)


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