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


Random Notes on a Tech Program for Seniors

   November 19th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Watch for Seniors signI don't often give presentation-based programs for patrons at my library, but last week I assisted one of my coworkers with a "Using Library Ebooks" program at our local Senior Center. A few things stood out to me during this program that I didn't anticipate, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here.

(But again, I don't do this very often, so it might be old news to people that do.)

First of all, we were invited to do this tech program at the Senior Center - they're always happy to have speakers visit them, and seniors seem to be the demographic that we help the most with ebooks and mobile devices. It seemed like a win-win.

The plan was to do a short presentation with slides, then live demonstrations downloading to devices, and finally hands-on helping the seniors with their devices they brought with them. Unfortunately, the Senior Center's wi-fi was down, which pretty much killed any live demo or helping we planned because no one could get online.

My coworker stretched out her slides as long as she could, and then we just talked with the seniors and answered the questions. Although things didn't go as planned, I felt it went really well. The thing about just sitting around talking is that the people felt comfortable enough to ask us just about anything.

So, based on this experience, here's what I learned for next time:

  • Don't count on wi-fi - this is true for any presentation really, and having backup slides is just good practice. But in our case, having slides that had screenshots of the different websites we were talking about was invaluable, because we could still show what the sites looked like, where important links were, etc.
  • Make a Large Print Presentation - many seniors read Large Print books for a reason, so it makes sense that they'd be more comfortable with Large Print slides too. Even though it's projected up on a wall, it's still easy to accidentally make the type small to cram a lot of information on a slide. In a few cases I noticed the seniors leaning in towards the screen to read the slides, so this is definitely something I'll keep in mind for future presentations to seniors.

    A little harder to manage are screenshots, because you can only get so big with those. But one option is to pull a zoomed shot of the part of the page you want to highlight, so people can read it - but to also show the full page and where that zoomed shot fits in. I could see just a series of enlarged fragments being confusing.

  • Do these talks before Christmas - conventional wisdom over the last few years has been to offer ebook workshops right after the holidays, in order to help all those people who just received devices as gifts. This program was in early November, and something interesting came up: it was perfect timing, because it caught all of these seniors before they went South to Florida for the winter.

    That hadn't really occurred to me before, and if we waited until January for this program we would have missed them. Obviously not everyone goes to Florida for the winter, but in our case it really is a strategy to accommodate.

    Another nice benefit of mobile seniors is that they aren't limited to just what this library offers. Chances are the library in where ever they're going also offers ebooks, and it's worth their time to stop in there to ask about it. Some of the seniors in our program own property in Florida and some only rented, so they may or may not be able to get library cards down there depending on library policy. But we can help them with the Collier County Public Library's Overdrive catalog as easily as we can our own, and they seemed to appreciate it.

  • Be ready to talk about anything - this isn't really something you can prepare for, but it's good to allow time for wide-ranging conversations. In our case, when my coworker mentioned using Adobe Digital Editions, one senior gentleman said he must not be able to use ebooks after all because his computer at home has been telling him to update is Adobe and he can't.

    That led to a bit of an explanation on the differences between Adobe the company, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Digital Editions. It took some time, but in the end the seniors seem to understand why all of those are different things and not really related, and a problem with Flash doesn't mean he can't read ebooks. Of course I'd talk about this with anyone who asked, but having the freedom to spend some time on this seemed to benefit everyone.

  • If at all possible, work on their devices - I think every one of our attendees brought their own device, and they also each had unique questions about their experience (and problems) so far. I felt bad that we couldn't get online and address each one of them, because people in general aren't usually interested in the overall Way Things Should Be, they're interested in the very specific Ways It Is For Them.
  • Bring handouts - my coworker brought copies of her slides as handouts, but what we forgot were the ebook step-by-step booklets we have at the library. I also forgot to bring business cards with my contact information so people could easily contact us for one-on-one tech help appointments. Everyone was very interested in those, and said they'd be stopping by the library for more personal assistance. Which is great, but I feel bad that we didn't think ahead to make it easier for them to do so.

Overall I think it was a very successful program. The six or so attendees really seemed to benefit, and my coworker and I enjoyed the casual instruction. If anyone else has helpful tips to make programs better, please let me know in the comments.



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Overdrive is Spreading, and Libraries are Along for the Ride

   July 3rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

bing-overdriveThis seems like something that shouldn't be big news, but I think it's cool and long overdue.

I read on Go To Hellman one of those "finally..." posts - Eric had a great idea a long time ago, and now suddenly it's been implemented. The idea:

I imagined that popular websites would use fancy links to let their readers get books from their local libraries. And that search engines would prefer these links because their users would love to have access to their library books.

And now it seems that Overdrive is making this happen - in two ways:

  1. When you do an apparent book search Bing (like, the girl with the dragon tattoo book, the right sidebar has a "Read this book" section that includes preview & download links to Overdrive. It even suggests libraries based on your IP, so you can check it out - in my case, it guessed right with "Merrimack Vally Library Consortium"
  2. With the "read online" feature that was added to Overdrive during their last upgrade, people also have easy access to an excerpt. You can see it in the Bing example, and embedded in this Huffington Post book review (also with a "Get book" link)

Good stuff. Not exactly new - LibraryThing, WorldCat, and other book websites have been linking to libraries for years. But this really brings libraries to the forefront of your casual internet browser in a much bigger way - and it doesn't just link to a catalog record for a print item, it's immediate electronic gratification.

It's not everywhere yet - when I tested it tonight, the same search on Google had links to purchase the book from a variety of places, but none to libraries.

And also, these links only go to Overdrive, which, in many cases, is only a fraction of a library's electronic resources (which itself is only a fraction of our overall collection). Still, it's a start, and I'm excited.

Now we just need to get people to use Bing.



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Massachusetts State-wide Ebook Platform: Coming Soon!

   April 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Library EbooksHere's something that will hopefully have a significant impact on libraries in the future: there's a state-wide ebook initiative getting underway in Massachusetts.

This project was begun after hearing about the Douglas County (CO) Libraries "host your own ebooks" platform (and why). However, instead of just a single library system, Massachusetts wants to involve all the libraries in the Commonwealth.

Also, the end goal is a little different than Douglas County. Instead of hosting all the content we buy ourselves, the Massachusetts Library System (who is spearheading the project with support from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners) is looking to develop a "discovery layer" interface that can search multiple vendors' ebook catalogs.

That way, patrons will just have one place to search all available ebooks, no matter which publisher or vendor they come from. This is good because the project includes all types of libraries - public, academic, school, special - which all have different ebook requirements. In the public world, people like to download fiction; in the school world, simultaneous online access to textbooks is required. This model is designed to accommodate the gamut.

My library is one of 50 pilot libraries that will begin testing this summer. The initial collection should be approximately 10,000 titles, negotiated directly with as many content providers as possible.

The current status of the initiative is, I believe, that proposals from vendors are still coming in. The project seems like it has a very quick timeline (see the project timeline & FAQ [pdf]), but I think that's a good thing.

In addition to the Colorado project, the Califa Consortium in California is also engaged in a similar endeavor. The Massachusetts project is unique in that it is the only state-wide program. Hopefully, as projects like this become larger and more numerous, libraries across the country will be able to adopt or join to give libraries a larger voice in the future of ebooks.

This is definitely something I'll be talking more about in the future. It's still early days yet (for the pilot libraries), but we're excited to get going.



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Infographic: Can Print Books and Ebook Coexist?

   February 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This infographic came out earlier this month, but I thought it had some interesting statistics on the coexistence of ebooks and print books:

Print vs. Ebook infographic


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A New Overdrive Interface is Coming, Are You Ready?

   October 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Overdrive's Next Generation Digital Library - See Book Read BookI think I'm a little behind the curve on this, but since there were so many great comments on how to improve the Overdrive interface, I thought this would be worth talking about.

It looks like the new Overdrive interface really is coming, scheduled to hit libraries during the holidays - perhaps the worst time for staff to be learning a new interface, but if it's progress, it's worth it.

I haven't seen Overdrive's Webinar on the new interface, but I do plan to watch it as soon as I find a spare 60 minutes.

However, other librarians in my consortium have watched it, and it looks like there's some good stuff in there. Most interesting to me is the "one-click download" requiring no software installation or activation. That's huge. Apparently that component isn't quite ready yet, but should make our patrons lives (and therefore our lives) much, much, much easier.

But one of the new features did bother me. The new interface apparently includes a "Buy It Now" button, which will be located directly under the "Add to Cart" button. The Boston Public Library has been demo'ing the new interface for most of this year, and here's what it looks like (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" screenshot

When someone clicks that green "Buy It Now," a windows pops up with a list of stores (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" popup window

Pardon my French, but I fucking hate this. There's been conflicting reports about whether this "Buy It Now" button is optional or not, but I sincerely hope it can be turned off.

Certainly there's an argument to be made for it: if publishers know libraries are going to directly be driving customers to them, they might be more inclined to actually deal with libraries. There's also the convenience to the patrons who don't want to wait for the library's copy to be returned, and can afford to just go buy it themselves.

This seems wrong to me. It makes libraries Overdrive's bitches, because now we're drumming up retail business by preying on immediate gratification. Which is absolutely idiotic, because technologically there is no reason anyone should ever have to wait for an ebook. Implementing this feature just encourages the backward-thinking currently gripping the ebook world as they try to cling to past revenue models.

What would be awesome is if the patrons were given the option of buying a copy for the library. They get it first, then they can donate it to the library for others to use, if they want.

There's also the line that libraries will be getting a kickback from such sales, in the form of Overdrive credit. This is a complete non-starter for me, so I won't even address the idea of libraries profiting from our shortcomings.

But speaking of revenue streams, it looks like the new Overdrive interface also prominently features banner ads - here's the BPL's advanced search page (click for bigger):

Overdrive featuring banner ads

Notice the two "Advertisement" right under the black menu bar? Sigh.

But I don't want to be all doom and gloom. In all fairness, I haven't seen the webinar and don't know a lot of the facts - this is just all from using BPL's site. When I called BPL, they were much more positive than I felt. The "Buy It Now" button was initially a little jarring for them, but they've had no problems or complaints, and do see credits quarterly, which shows patrons have no qualms about using it.

I am also not sure what other new features are included in the new interface, but since Mike Lovett of Overdrive was so encouraging in his comments last time, I'm hopeful the good outweighs the bad (or better yet, all of the "bad" is opt-in).

So, I encourage everyone to check out the Overdrive Next Generation Digital Library webinar. And as always, keep a running list of "how to make this better" to send to Overdrive to incorporate into the next iteration.

And for further reading on ebook topics, here's a few recent things to check out:



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/1/12

   April 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Sleep modeOne night this week, a father brought his eight year old daughter to the desk, along with her new laptop and Nook Touch, and asked that I show her how to download ebooks. This was, hands down, the most interesting ebook instruction I've ever given.

Happily, everything went smoothly - usually the biggest hurdle is actually finding an ebook the patron is interested in downloading, but in this case, there were quite a few kids books that caught her eye (she struggled to decide between Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket and Barbie and the Three Musketeers).

We checked out and downloaded one, but when it came time to transfer it to the Nook, the father realized that he had left the Nook's cable out in the car. The daughter stayed at the desk with me while he ran out to get in. While we were waiting, I asked the girl if she had any homework to do that night.

She said she had expanding math to do, which they were just learning and she really didn't understand. I told her I had never heard of "expanding math" before (which was true), and asked her if she could show me. We got some scrap paper and a pencil, and the practice problem she came up with was 104 - 57. She explained it as she worked it out, and when she was finished the paper looked something like this:

104 = 10090 + 0 + 14    
- 57 = 0 + 50 + 7    

    90 + 0 + 7    
        50        
        40 + 7 = 47

This seemed slightly over-complicated, but I was able to follow her, and she actually explained it quite well. I had just never heard it called "expanding math," I guess. But when her father came back, his reaction made me laugh. He just stared at the paper, and commented that he's never seen her doing homework like that.

Anyway, cable in hand, we were back to ebooks. We plugged in the Nook, transferred the ebook with no problem, and they were delighted to see the text and pictures on the Nook's color screen. They went through the whole process again, this time downloading Go, Dog. Go! for her little brother, and again, everything worked smoothly.

The dad reminded the girl that she had homework, and said it was time to go. He started putting the Nook away, and told her to pack up the laptop. When she clicked Start > Shut Down, I overheard this exchange:

Father: Oh, you don't need to shut it all the way down, just put it to sleep.
Daughter: I don't like putting it to sleep.
Father: Why not?
Daughter: [leaning over and whispering] Sometimes it has bad dreams.

Again, a puzzled look on the dad's face, but mixed with a little humor, because it was a random and funny comment.

After they finished packing everything up, the only thing left on the desk was the scrap paper with the girl's math problem on it. The dad picked it up to take with him, saying,

Father: Come on, it's time for you to teach me how to do your homework.

And they walked away from the reference desk holding each other's hand.

All in all, this was one of the most ridiculously saccharin slice-of-family-life scenes I have witnessed at the library. The bad dreams comment kind of bothered me, but hopefully they will bond while doing her homework together.



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