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


Changing Library Hours on Google

   July 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

googlehoursMCDThis was something I had to figure out for myself - and I was recently asked about it by another library, so I thought I'd share it here.

On the Google search results page, it tries to match your search with a local business, and show you its details on the right - a map, maybe photos, business hours, contact information, etc. I presume they pull this from a variety of sources.

One year, I noticed my library's details showing up there - phone, website, hours, etc. Great, that's Google making things easier for people to find us.

Except, later on our hours changed (we started being open on Sundays), but the hours on Google didn't change. Then one of our Trustees noticed it, asked my Director why our hours were wrong on Google, and that became my project for the day.

This was also what another nearby library recently asked me - their hours were listed on Google, but weren't correct, so how do you change them?

The answer is that you have to "claim" ownership of that business listing by going through the authentication process to prove you're actually entitled to make changes. This then ties the business listing to a Google account, which you can then log into to make changes. It's not hard, and as far as I can tell, is the only way to update it when things change - like if you're open on Sundays in the winter but not the summer, you've got to go in twice a year and manually make the change (lest your Trustees think you're not keeping up with your Internetly duties).

Anyway, here are some pictures. The one on the left is for the JV Fletcher Library (in Westford, MA), which has not yet "claimed" their listing. Ours, on the right, has been claimed - you can tell because theirs has the subtle "Are you the business owner?" link under it:

googlehoursMCDMWF

Once you click that link, you'll be prompted to log in and authenticate. It's been a couple years since I did this, and I don't remember exactly what the authentication process was - although, it could have also changed since then. I also don't entirely understand the hierarchy of various Google products, but I'm sure there is some relationship between business listing, Google accounts, Google+, and I don't know what all.

However, it's worth doing, to get your Google listing associated with an account you can edit. Because of course, if people see it on Google, they assume it's right - so if Google says you're open on Sundays, it's your fault if you're not.



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Check Out The Chelmsford Library on Google Maps

   July 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Update 8/8/13: I got a message from someone at Google who reminded me of an important competent of Indoor Map - it's really designed to work on phones. I've only been checking it online, where it hasn't changed since it went live. But he assured me that using Google Maps on a phone will use your location to place you on the correct floor. Nice. Not having a cell phone, I forget the fancy things they can do.


Update 7/31/13: I just learned something annoying about embeddeding Street View - Internet Explorer automatically jumps to wherever it is on the page. I found a hacky workaround for this, which I've implemented on our About Us page, and it seems to work okay. But hopefully, Google will fix this (it only happens with embedded Street Views in IE, not with regular Google Maps or with any other browser). I did not fix it on this page though, so IE users could see what I'm talking about.


Original Post:

This year, the Chelmsford Library has been involved with two Google mapping projects: Indoor Maps and Indoor Street View.

Indoor Maps
We did Indoor Maps first, which displays a floorplan of your building on Google Maps (instead of just the outline, like the buildings around us). It looks like this:

Google indoor map

This is neat because it lets people online see where things are in your building, at a glance. One catch, however, is that they're still trying to figure out how to handle more than one floor (like our building) - so in the meantime, they only show the ground floor.

The process was interesting: we contacted Google Maps and supplied them with labeled floor plans of each of our buildings (the whole thing was free, so we were able to do our branch too), and they sent a crew1 to take multiple GPS readings around the building to make sure the floor plan images matched up accurately with the map itself.

Pretty neat. But of course, when you say "indoor map" what people really think of is Indoor Street View, so we got approval from our Trustees to do that, too.

Indoor Street View
Since there was a cost associated, and a third-party photographer involved, this process was a little different. The first step was to contact "Google Trusted Photographers" in our area to see if anyone was interested, and what they would charge us. I sent requests to everyone within a reasonable distance, and mostly the quotes were in the $1000-$2000 range, with various discounts because we were a non-profit. We ended up going with CJL Photography of Manchester, NH, because his quote2 was one of the lowest, and he had worked with libraries before we liked his portfolio samples (the struckout link was a mistake on my part).

Now this is where the delays set in. I initially contacted the photographer in January, and had scheduled the photo shoot for February. Then we were hit with a series of snowstorms, which pushed things back. Then, we decided to wait until March because that month we had a really visual art display up in our meeting room. And of course, a few days before he came we got more snow, so he shot the entire inside of the building in March, and then came back in early July3 to do the outdoor shots.

The wait was worth it, I think, and the tour looks phenomenal:


View Larger Map

Photographing the inside took maybe two hours, and we chose to do it early on a Sunday morning when we were closed to the public, so as not to interfere with patrons. The photographer used a camera on a tripod to take a series shots from each "point" on the tour to create the 360 degree view, and then handled all the processing on the backend to color-correct, stitch everything together, and upload it to Google. All library staff had to do was make sure the building looked as nice as possible.

In addition to the tour itself, the photographer also created a Chelmsford Library Google+ page, which also features a series of still shots. The still shots are included in the package, and we're free to use them however we want - on our website, in printed materials, etc. I know this is an obvious statement, but holy smokes there is a world of difference between the library pictures I take with a point-and-shoot camera and what a professional photographer can do.

We're not sure what we'll do with the stills yet, but we've already started using the tour. Besides mentioning it on our Facebook page, we've put it on our About Us page, using it to highlight the mural in our Children's Room, and embedded views of our meeting rooms on our reservation page so people can see what the rooms look like before they book a room.

We're certainly not the first library to appear on Indoor Street View - ebookfriendly did a post in March listing others.

They all look great, and we expect this to be a useful tool for us. Not only as an online tour and historical record of the building, but we're hoping that by showcasing how nice our space is, some of our online-only patrons will be motivated to visit in person. But honestly, I've been pretty content just to click around and play, even when I'm sitting in the library. Being online almost makes it like a video game - now I just need a laser gun. Pew pew.

 


1. I'm sure they had a very precise method, but to us it looked like eight guys randomly wandering around the building for an hour, eyes glued to their smartphones.

2. After the photo shoot, the photographer told me that a business of our size would normally cost about $3000, but libraries would be discounted to around $1000. Our actual cost was a bit lower than that, because I think he underestimated the size of our building with his initial quote, but was good enough to honor it. Incidentally, he was great to work with overall, and I personally would recommend him to other libraries considering this.

3. Which is why you see snow if you look out a window, but see flowers if you walk out of any of the doors.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/21/11

   August 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

This isn't a real reference question, but it's kind of related and I thought people would be interested.

When I was reading The Atlantic article about people not knowing about Ctrl+F, the last paragraph mentioned Google's AGoogleADay.com campaign. I had never heard of this, but it's basically a Google game - here's how they describe it:

A Google A Day directions

The couple questions I've done have been fairly simple, and taken only minutes to answer (although one I had the right answer but Google kept telling me it was incorrect - it might be picky about the format you use to type in the answer).

I enjoy games and challenges like this (librarian!), but it's not like we need to go out of our way to find them. But something I liked about AGoogleADay was that, when it gives you the answer, it also tells you what Google thinks is the right way to find the answer. It's never matched my search strategy, but like they say, "there's no right way to solve it."

To prevent players finding the answer after someone else has posted the question, the game is powered by Deja Google - it's a "wormhole inspired time machine [that] searches the Internet as it existed before the game began ... Because nobody wants someone's recent blog post about finding an answer spoiling their fun." Good thinking.

Something else interesting was the link to Google Inside Search. I'd heard that Google retired Google Labs, and Inside Search seems to be, not exactly a replacement, but a new method for Google to introduce their new tools. My favorite part was the timeline at the bottom, that shows you exactly when different tools launched.

So if it's a slow day at the library, or you're a library student looking to hone your reference skills, give it a try.



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On Google+ and the Role of Social Networks

   July 5th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Last week I received an invitation to join Google+ (Google's version of Facebook). I don't use Facebook and don't entirely trust Google so I won't be creating an account, but it did get me wondering: does the internet need another Facebook?

Usually when I'm online, I'm looking for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. To visualize that process, and hopefully provide some context for a new social network, I came up with this Venn diagram that identifies the available various pools of people...

Venn Diagram for finding answers online

Based on this, it seems like Google+'s goal would be to make the green circle bigger - but I don't think that's what happens. Closed networks, like Facebook and (I presume) Google+, at best only make their portion of the green circle bigger, but often don't even make it into the green circle at all*. This can actually make it harder to find answers, as homopholy might keep us using the most convenient resource, instead of the most appropriate one.

The important thing to remember is not to rely on one tool for everything - closed-loop social networks are good for keeping in touch with friends, but open forums like Ask Metafilter, Ask Slashdot, or Quora are better for non-social answers (but okay for those, too).

So with that, the question is: is Google+ a better way to keep in touch with friends? It seems like the answer would be "no" if the critical mass of your friends are already on Facebook (and unlikely to switch, or unlikely to maintain both). But from initial reviews (also this), it sounds like Google+ has some cool ideas, so its real impact might be gauged by how quickly Facebook adopts the best features.

And the next question is: have any libraries started using Google+ to connect with their patrons?

 


*Note that one of the qualifiers is "people who know what they're talking about" - a social network might make it easier for me to get my question out to people I know, but it doesn't help if no one I know knows the answer to my question (which might just indicate that I socialize with the wrong people).



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Library Blog Search

   August 31st, 2010 Brian Herzog

LISZENSometimes when I am working on a post, I wonder if another library blogger has already covered it - an am afraid I'll look kind of dumb rehashing something.

So I thought, wouldn't it be great to set up a Google custom search engine to search all library-related blogs? Before I did, I checked if anyone already created one, and it turned out Library Zen had - four years ago (I'm even further behind than I thought).

LISZEN Search searches over 500 library blogs, and has an accompanying wiki to keep track. If you write about the library world, add yourself.

Something related that would also be nice is a custom search of just library websites - so it would be easy to quickly see what other library's policies are regarding ebooks, or circulating laptops, or how much they charge for printing, etc. But considering the breadth of libraries and the complexity of maintaining it, just using regular Google might be more realistic.



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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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