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


Linking from the Catalog to Google Books

   May 24th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Today I'd like to gather peoples' opinions about something.

This coming weekend my consortium is migrating to the Evergreen ILS - so we're down to the wire to decide which features to launch with and which to turn on later, or not at all. One feature libraries are divided over is including a link to Google Books.

The link shows up in two places (below are some screenshots, but you can also test it live on our demo server). First and foremost, it displays for almost every book on the search results page:

Link to Browse Google Books in Evergreen catalog

Secondly, for some records (although not all), there are additional links to Google on the item details page - sometimes the "Google Preview" icon appears under the book cover, and sometimes the "Preview" tab occurs at the bottom. When patrons click that tab, the book's preview is embedded right in the catalog. I haven't figured out the rhyme or reason behind the Preview tab appearing - not all books have it, even books that are available free online.

Google Books preview embedded in Evergreen catalog

I'd really like to know what other people think about including these links in the catalog. For me, I knew instantly how I felt, but have been struggling to put my reasoning into words. Here goes:

  1. Google Books "Preview" tab on item details page
    • should stay
    • it is clearly adding value to the catalog and providing a service for patrons, to see into the book online
    • should be improved to include all books that have preview or full text online
  2. "Browse in Google Books Search" link on the search results page
    • should be removed
    • I don't like how prominent it is - more noticeable than our "Place Hold" link
    • from my testing, about 90% of the books with this link do not have any kind of "view online" option - which means this is nothing but a "buy it online somewhere" link
    • as far as I can tell, even though we're essentially linking to a bookstore, we're not getting any kind of kickback from driving sales to them (and away from our collection)
    • should we be linking to a bookseller at all? If so, why not the local bookstore instead?
    • when there is no online preview, all the Google Books page offers is reviews, similar books, and some other information - all of which we already have in the catalog
    • doesn't the link imply endorsement and approval of Google Books?
    • isn't the Google Books project still tied up in courts to determine how legal it is?

So this is basically where I am - what do you think?



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/15/10

   August 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Google Books search linkThis question might get me into a little trouble* but it's a good example of the importance of librarians, so here goes:

The phone rang, and the person on the other end said she was a librarian fresh out of library school, working at elementary school in Colorado, and having trouble locating some poems her teachers wanted for class. She knew the titles and authors, but couldn't find the actual text in her library or online. She called me because she likes my website and hoped I could help.

My first suggestion was Granger's Index to poetry - it wasn't in her collection but was in her local public library. But because online resources are more useful for these long-distance questions, and it was a very quiet afternoon at work, after we hung up I thought I'd try searching for the text myself, too.

The four poems she was looking for were Eating the World, Last Kiss and Statue by Ralph Fletcher, and Spaghetti by Cynthia Rylant. I started by searching for title/author combinations, grouped together with quotes (ie, "ralph fletcher" "eating the world"). I was somewhat surprised that, even after going through the few pages of results, the texts weren't there.

Then I thought maybe they were scanned as part of the Google Books project, so I clicked the link on each page to switch to searching Google Books (see image above). And if I was surprised at not finding the texts in a regular web search, I was doubly surprised to find they were the first or second result when searching Google Books.

So far, including the phone call, this all took me literally less than ten minutes.

I emailed the four story links to the librarian, and she replied that they were exactly what she needed. So that's nice.

But I do think this is also a nice example of why librarians remain relevant in the internet age - an inexperienced searcher may not have known to enclose the author names and titles in quotation marks, or may not have known to try the more specialized Google Books search when the first attempt produced no results (keeping in mind that there are also lots of non-Google tools available, too), or may not have recognized the answer even though it was in a form other than what they were expecting (these poems turned out to be short stories).

This is especially true in light of the recent Northwestern University study that shows "digital natives" aren't actually all that web-savvy. The study's results seemed to imply that kids expect the internet to present them with the answer to their question, rather than expect to be engaged in the information search and critically evaluate resources themselves.

My favorite quote:

During the study, one of the researchers asked a study participant, "What is this website?" The student answered, "Oh, I don't know. The first thing that came up."

If it were someone from the iGeneration searching for these stories, it seems likely they would have stopped after the first search, empty-handed. So, yes, there certainly is, and will be, a need for librarians and experienced information searchers.

 


*Since I work in a public library, my tax-funded salary is intended to be spent on helping local patrons. It's hard for me to say "no" when people ask for help, but I do not (and ethically can not) make a habit of helping other librarians with their questions on work time - unless, of course, I'm contacted to check a resource my library owns. There are forums that can help with questions like this, such as Unshelved Answers, the PUBLIB mailing list, the Internet Public Library question form, Ask Metafilter, and many others of varying degree of credibility. Something I love about librarianship is the collaborative and cooperative nature of the profession, but I guess there has to be limits, too.



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Printing Books on Demand

   November 17th, 2009 Brian Herzog

POD Printer at Harvard Book StoreA couple weeks ago I posted about new options for printing books, in which I mentioned Google's Expresso book-on-demand printer. I found out that the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge has one, so I went to check it out.

I still really like this as a source for out-of-print books to fill out a library's collection, so my "test book" was The History of Chelmsford, written by Wilson Waters in 1917. My library has lots of copies of this, but I chose it because:

  • I knew it was in Google Books
  • It is huge (almost 1000 pages) and I wanted to see how well the book-on-demand printer handled it
  • It has text, maps, illustrations and photographs, and I was curious to see how they reproduced

The people at the Harvard Book Store were incredibly nice and informative. I told them who I was and what I was doing, and the owner Jeff and shop assistant Amanda explained each step of the process to me, as well as told me about their experience so far with the service.

Typically, the process (photos) is completely automated and books take less than ten minutes to print start to finish (including download time), and cost $8 (which is the price announced by Google in a press conference, so the store is honoring it). However, since the book I wanted was so long, everything was expanded: downloading alone took five minutes, and it had to be printed in two volumes, because the printer can only handle about 500 pages at a time. Since it had to be divided, Amanda had to find the best place to split the book, and then do some quick calculations to figure out how thick each textblock would be to make sure the covers fit properly. And due to the extra labor involved, my two books cost $10 each, with the whole process taking about 40 minutes.

A few other interesting points:

  • There were no ghost hands, but some of the pages were not cropped correctly - this caused them to be shrunk when printed, and in some cases the page numbers got trimmed off
  • It seems like the quality of the printing was excellent - the only real variable is the quality of the scan
  • The paper they use is acid-free and feels slightly glossy. I asked how long they expect the paperback covers and binding to last, but it's so new they're not sure
  • Color is only available for the covers - book pages are b&w only
  • I asked if they consider themselves "the publisher" for these books, and the answer was no - they are "the printer" because being a publisher involves more legal responsibility for the content of the books
  • Jeff said they've had the printer for about a month and a half, and it is used three or four 15-40 times a day (which was more often than I expected, but then again, the store is right across the street from Harvard. Nerds.)
  • Their catalog interface doesn't just search Google Books, but allows the printing of any book in the public domain, as well as self-published books
  • I don't want this to sound like a commercial for the store, but Jeff said he'd be interested in working with libraries - contact him for details

I tried to photograph the interesting parts, so check out my Books-on-Demand Printer flickr set or watch the slideshow below:

Related



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Options for Printing Books

   November 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library print blocksIt's funny how things happen in threes*:

  1. A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague about Google Books, and I made a comment like, "since Google is scanning all these old books, if they allow some kind of print-to-bind option, it would mean that no book would ever be out-of-print again." The idea intrigued me, so I looked around and found an article saying Google is doing exactly that.
     
  2. A week or so later, a post on LibraryStuff.net talked about HP and the University of Michigan teaming up for a print-on-demand service of their library books.
     
  3. And then this week, a friend of mine tweeted about free print-your-own mini books from Featherproof books.

The first two are useful and technologically interesting, but my reaction was, "I'm happy that exists somewhere in the world, but it'll probably never apply to me and my medium-size library" (except perhaps it might be a way to replace missing books from our Local History collection).

But the third one is cool in a Make/ReadyMade sort of way, and my reaction was, "hey, we could do that here." Chelmsford's Teen Librarian is participating in NaNoWriMo, and printing the kids' final books in this style would be a lot of fun. Plus, putting them on the Library's website means that their friends could print them too - and it's a much more interesting format than just 8.5x11 term-paper-looking printings.

It'd be great if there were web-based software that would do the formatting for you - just copy/paste in the text, and if flowed everything to the right page and orientation - but I'm guessing there is not. So in the meantime, I'll see what I can do with Publisher.

 


*Did you see 30 Rock last week? Ha.



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