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


What Do You Think About E-Cigarettes in Libraries?

   August 21st, 2013 Brian Herzog

e-cigaretteMassachusetts has a state-wide library email discussion list, and lately I've been following with interest a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes should be allowed in libraries.

The sentiment seems to be coming down on the "not allowed" side, which is where I am, too. I have not encountered one in my library, but other Massachusetts libraries have - one even felt the "e-smoker" (a.k.a., apparently, "vaper") was actually trying to pick a policy fight because he had a bunch of pro-e-cigarette material at the ready.

I've done some light research on this since the discussion started, and was surprised to find out the FDA's position is basically "needs more study, so in the meantime we're erring on the side of caution." The Mayo Clinic feels the same way: "Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes."

That alone is enough to sway me into the "not in libraries" camp, but I was also curious about the effectiveness of them as a smoking cessation tool. Marketing for e-cigarettes seems to be all over the map, from cessation to a healthier alternative to a method to still accommodate the smoking habit in smoke-free zones. Which is what marketing is supposed to do: appeal to everyone and anyone in order to sell sell sell.

However, WebMD had an interesting point regarding cessation and health-related side-effects:

Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users' nicotine habits, says Michael Eriksen, ScD, director of the institute of public health at Atlanta's Georgia State University and former director of CDC's office of smoking and health.

"I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products," Eriksen tells WebMD. "If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you can't smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking. We'll just be encouraging people to use more nicotine."

This might be true because of how e-cigarettes work (also from WebMD):

  • The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
  • Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
  • The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also activates a light at the "lit" end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
  • The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
  • The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
  • When the user exhales, there's a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.

And if nothing else, it's that last part that, I think, is also a problem for libraries. My library has a policy that prohibits the "use of tobacco products," which may or may not cover e-cigarettes (which actually contain no tobacco). However, I think the vapor put out by e-cigarettes would certainly fall under the "other activities which disrupt the library" part of the policy, because it looks enough like smoking that I'm sure many patrons would not be comfortable with it.

One message to the discussion list said their municipality had already banned them entirely. I'm curious if other libraries have encountered e-cigarettes, and what the library position is. Please let me know what you think in the comments (and being a non-smoker, I'm also interested in the smoker's viewpoint on this).



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Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online

   August 4th, 2011 Brian Herzog

My library just launched our long-overdue Facebook page. In the course of preparing it, we had a discussion about why we needed a Facebook page, what we wanted to use it for, and how it related to everything else we were doing online.

This led to the realization that no one really understood exactly what all we were doing online. We have a website, Twitter account, blog, email newsletters, flickr account, and now Facebook, but no clear policy as to what gets posted where, when information is duplicated, how things are updated, etc.

To help understand how our various types of information are represented online, I created the diagram below - it's probably not 100% complete, but it does cover most of our bases:

Flowchart of flow of online information

On the left are our different types of information (MacKay is our branch library), and the arrows show how that information flows through different electronic tools. There isn't necessarily a hierarchy at work*, other than perhaps the automatic updates necessarily come after the manual updates. Otherwise, the boxes are laid out just so they all fit on the page.

After discussing this, we uncovered two philosophies at work:

  1. use the different end tools - website, Facebook, Twitter - for unique content, so as not to duplicate things and essentially "spam" our patrons that use more than one service (for example, you can see above that no event information is posted to Facebook)
  2. publish all of our content almost equally through all of our channels, so we're sure to reach all our patrons regardless of which tool they choose to use

I don't think they are mutually-exclusive, but it does take a lot of work and forethought to do it well. I also think that more of what we do could be automated, as cutting down on the manual postings would save staff time.

Do other libraries have similar online information relationships? I imagine things range from very structured to a free-for-all to orphan accounts galore, but I'm curious to hear what other libraries are doing, to get ideas on how to do it better at my library.

 


*Something to note on the diagram is our "secret" Twitter account. We have a primary Twitter account we encourage patrons to follow and we use for regular tweets. The secret account is one we use only to post messages directly to our homepage. The reason for two, and why I don't really want anyone following to the homepage updater one, is that clearing the message off the homepage requires sending a blank tweet - it's not the end of the world if anyone follows it, but the blank tweets do look odd. Besides, everything posted to it gets posted through our primary account anyway.



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Library Renewal: Developing Econtent Options

   January 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library RenewalHave you heard about Library Renewal? It's been percolating on liblogs lately, and sounds like a great (and sorely needed) initiative.

From their website:

Our goal is to find new econtent solutions for libraries, while staying true to their larger mission.

Concise and focused, and something libraries really do need. They will be hosting a series of events, will offer speakers, and invite librarians to participate via Twitter, Facebook, blog, and their mailing list.

An initiative like this is long overdue for libraries. A lot of the services we offer are not quite good enough, let alone outstanding - and it is only by banding together that we'll be able to force positive change. Thanks to the Library Renewal board for getting things started.



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Stephen King on the Kindle

   January 24th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Amazon.com's KindleI know a lot has already been said about the Kindle, Amazon's new book reader. I more or less gave it all a miss, because I am kind of a Luddite when it comes to techno-toys. Go figure.

But a friend of mine forwarded me an article from this week's Entertainment Weekly, in which Stephen King reviews the Kindle. This caught my attention because King has long been out front exploring and playing in the post-print/electronic book world.

It's a short article, and worth reading. King's bottom line is:

[It's] a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong with that?

His point is that, although a physical book does have its own intrinsic value, it's the text, the story or the information, that's the most important thing. I agree. He says that in the case of the Kindle, once you get used to the device, you forget about it and let the story encompass your attention.

He wasn't "using a Kindle," he was reading a story. And that's what's important.

Phonepedia logoAnother recent development in the "it's the information, not the package" department is Phonepedia. Casey mashed up a voice-recognition front-end with Wikipedia. People call a phone number, ask a question, and the Wikipedia article answering that question is then texted/emailed to them. Information Without Borders in action.

But back to the Kindle: from what I gather (from outside the article now), the biggest drawback seems to be that Kindle-compatible books can only be purchased from Amazon, and only used on the Kindle. Their Whispernet apparently makes it very easy to do, but when you're locked into a technology like that, it essentially is building in a short lifespan. Just ask anyone who bought a laser disc.

From a consumer point of view, it seems like a neat product. But from a library point of view, it just doesn't seem applicable. The adjustable font size is great, as are automatic subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. But for for circulating books to patrons, it just doesn't seem to fit.

amazon, bisson, books, casey, ebooks, electronic, kindle, king, libraries, library, phonepedia, public, stephen



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