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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/5/12

   February 11th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Non-Fiction DVDs Have Moved signI freely admit to being entertained by immature things, but the sheer unexpectedness of this discovery will hopefully make everyone laugh.

A few weeks ago, my library decided to revamp our DVD collection: the "fiction" DVDs were split into separate sections for Feature Films and for TV Series, and all the non-fiction DVDs were interfiled, by Dewey, with the non-fiction books.

This has elicited mixed reactions from patrons, as they adjust to looking for documentaries and exercise videos in a new place. However, interfiling with the non-fiction books also sort of put me in charge of them - or rather, since Reference is now the closest desk to them, we're the ones who get asked why we don't have DVDs on particular topics.

So something new for me in the last week or so has been to fill some of the holes in our non-fiction DVD collection by finding DVDs to purchase on the specific subjects patrons had asked for. That's what I was doing this week - looking for videos on massage therapy, prenatal yoga, travel (we definitely do not have enough travel DVDs) - when I stumbled across something odd.

I was searching on Amazon, and had found a few good prenatal yoga DVDs. Great. So I started looking for DVDs on massage therapy, but wasn't having as much luck. I broadened my search to just massage, and was mildly surprised (although I suppose I shouldn't have been) to see all manner of "sensual massage" DVDs. Interesting, but not what I was looking for.

Amazon's default sorting method is by Relevance, so I thought if I tried something else - Average Customer Review or Most Popular - I'd find DVDs that our patrons might be interested in. The Average Customer Review sorting was productive. Then I switched to sort by Most Popular, and that's when I learned the most popular massage video on Amazon is:

Pure Nude Yoga - Zen Garden Goddess

And a little further down on the list was:

Pure Nude Yoga - Worship the Sun

One of the greatest things about being a librarian is that you learn something new every day. I had no idea nude yoga existed, nor that it was available as an on-demand video download from Amazon, nor nor that it would be Amazon's most popular "massage" video.

Although I'm sure this would also be popular with my patrons, this did not make the selection cut for the library.

More on Interfiling DVDs and Books
Incidentally, for those interested, we made this change to our DVD collection to try to make it easier for people browsing for movies to watch. All of the television series and anime DVDs got a TV Series sticker, and are now on different shelves, separate from the feature films. We have a lot of TV shows, so this greatly reduces the number of DVDs someone has to look through just to find a good movie to watch that evening.

The comments I've heard so far regarding the non-fiction DVDs (aside from the fact that people had memorized where their favorites were) is that it's now more difficult for someone who wants to browse documentaries. As a result, we may pull all the documentary DVDs - the ones you can watch for entertainment or edutainment - and create a "Documentaries" section by the Feature Films and TV Series DVDs. On the other hand, the people looking for exercise or travel DVDs have really liked having all the related books in the same place, so those will probably stay. This will take some fine-tuning, but eventually I'm sure we can reach the happy medium.



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Library Media Box and Other Vending Machines

   September 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library Media iBoxMy friend Chris forwarded me a news story about a DVD vending machine being installed in the library in Strongsville, Ohio - but instead of a RedBox, it vends the library's DVDs.

Some libraries do have a RedBox, but that approach never sat well with me - it seemed like an uncomfortable competitive fit. But an easy-access vending machine that distributes library materials? Great.

I contacted the Cuyahoga County Public Library system for more information, and here's what I learned:

  • The machine holds 700 DVDs (or CDs, and larger capacity also available), and uses special black cases instead of regular DVD cases
  • Theirs is from Public Information Kiosk, Inc. (distributed by 3M), and they chose it over competitors (Brodart also has one) because they felt it had the most RedBox-like interface, thus should be easy for people to use. Also, PIK developed some custom graphics for them, and looks sleeker and snazzier all around, rather than just looking like a regular vending machine
  • The machine is indoor-only, so they placed it between the inner and outer doors of the library lobby - the outer doors remain unlocked 24 hours a day, so patrons always have access to the machine
  • It's still new to them so they're slowly rolling out features, but the machine is designed to handle checkouts, checkins, and even holds placed through the online catalog - neat
  • One drawback they have noticed is the machine's use of the company's own 2D barcode system, instead of the library's barcodes - this requires extra work in cataloging, and also causes some inaccuracies with records (showing the wrong cover art when there is more than one movie with the same name, movies showing up in unexpected places in the genre listing [ie, Wall-E listed as sci-fi])
  • More details on the product spec sheet [pdf]

This is the first of two machines they purchased, with an LSTA grant from the State of Ohio intended to explore ways to meet the needs of underserved patrons. These machines are ideal for serving patrons where a library branch can't be built.

The second machine will be installed in a local hospital, serving as another 24x7 library location. Similarly, a library in Iowa is considering installing one in the headquarters of a large local business - another nice example of bringing the library to the patrons (although it also sounds like something you'd find in the Googleplex).

These vending machines serve other uses too - after conducting a patron survey on how to deal with DVD theft, the Arapahoe Library District in Colorado in the process of installing installed them to help protect their collection.

Library Vending MachineAnd other libraries have been using vending machines for awhile. In Connecticut, the Oliver Wolcott Library has had one since 2010.

However, my favorite is what the Ottawa Public Library is doing - putting vending machines at their commuter rail stations and community centers (via).

In the age of downloadable ebooks and streaming video, using vending machines to distribute physical library materials might already seem outdated. But don't forget, public libraries serve a spectrum of patrons, all with different interests and needs. After all, despite the popularity of smartphones, our public fax machine is used just about every day (our microfilm machine and typewriter aren't exactly idle, either).

Anything we can do to make library services available outside the library's building and operating hours - in a variety of ways to meet a variety of patron needs - is a good thing.



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Reviews in Context in the Physical World

   August 16th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Something the whole Web 2.0 revolution introduced was the ability for websites to include user-reviews right along side product/company information. Yelp.com is my favorite example, listing a restaurant's address and details, and reviews from diners about their experience. This, perhaps more than most things, changed the nature of how people use the internet (and how companies on the internet use people).

So anyway, this past weekend was one of my library's drop-off days for our annual Friends of the Library book sale. While going through some of the donations on Saturday, I found the movies below - the previous owner added their own review right to the cover.

I don't know if this was for personal use, or staff reviews from a video store, or someone writing reviews for a family member to read, but I love the idea. It's the same as posting reviews on Amazon, Yelp, or in the library catalog, but just in the physical world.

On-item user review
On-item user review
On-item user review
On-item user review

Every once in awhile I'll request a book from another library, or buy an old library book at a used book sale, and stuck inside the front cover will be a review from a newspaper or magazine. I would love it if my library could do this, but the volume of new items just makes this practice unsustainable. Not only would it be helpful for patrons, it would also remind me why I bought the book in the first place.

Of course, since I do most of my selection via RSS feeds, instead of by reading physical journals, I guess it wouldn't work anyway. Sigh.



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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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Loan Period: One Guilty Conscience

   January 13th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Returned DVDs with note "I'm sorry took these w/out checking them out"Over the last few years, we've noticed a rise in DVD thefts at my library. It seemed to happen in waves - once in awhile, we'd suddenly notice ten or so empty DVD cases on the shelf.

In general we're pretty relaxed at my library, and try to err on the side of good customer service. However, as the empty cases built up, staff started investigating ways to curtail the thefts.

But the kicker was that, when we ran the numbers, all of the security options we looked at (cameras, dummy cameras, security cases, a DVD jukebox, keeping DVDs behind the desk, etc.) were actually more expensive than just buying replacement DVDs. At least, this was true for the rate of theft we were seeing.

It seems counter-intuitive, and a little aggravating, but this is the route we took. The Circ staff was especially frustrated by the apparent "do nothing" approach, but we reviewed the numbers multiple times over the years, and replacement was always the cheapest option. Well, that combined stepped-up monitoring by staff.

And then something happened that no one expected: a stack of DVDs with a note attached ended up in our bookbox. Apparently, whoever had been stealing them got a conscience (or else, as one popular theory holds, his mother found them*). And then, a week later, a second stack of disks showed up.

We had been saving the empty cases all along, so re-adding them to the collection was easy. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and we'll end up with all of our DVDs back - just a couple years late. And we haven't noticed many missing lately, so the increased staff monitoring also seems to be working.

 


*Most of the DVDs that were stolen were Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell/American Pie-type movies, which implies the culprit(s) is probably high school boys.



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