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


How To Search The Web (in 2000)

   July 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

We just subscribed to the Safari computer ebooks database, so I started weeding our print computer book collection. It's a heavily-used collection, but I found a few books that made me laugh.

Not that they were bad books, just out-of-date for the computer field. Case in point is How to search the web, edited by Robert S. Want, ©2000. Flipping through it was a walk down memory lane - heck, right on the cover were listed search engines that I used to use a lot and now had forgotten about (but I do miss Infoseek):

How to search the web book cover

The book itself was obviously useful in its time, and now is an interesting look back at the past. Among other information, it contains b&w screenshots of each of the search engines' homepages, reminding us what the web looked like 10 years ago - directory browsing is certainly less popular these days:

Yahoo
Yahoo homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
Yahoo Today
Ask Jeeves
Ask Jeeves homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
Ask Jeeves Today (ask.com)
AltaVista
AltaVista homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
AltaVista Today

And this was on the shelf in a library that weeds regularly - who knows what gems are waiting in larger libraries that have the space to keep lots of things.

On another note, my parents will be visiting for the Fourth of July, so I won't be posting again until later next week. I hope you have a good holiday (non-Americans, I hope your regular days are good, too).



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.



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A Brian By Any Other Name

   September 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Did you read recently about MIT's Personas tool, that visualizes what the internet knows about you? The profile for my name looks like this (click for bigger):

Brian Herzog's Profile

Interesting, but what does it mean? I'm not quite sure. Especially when I realized it grouped all Brian Herzogs together.

Which reminded me there's more than one Brian Herzog out there. Of course, there's lots of us on MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn (but not me on the first two), and I'm following all the Brian Herzogs on Twitter, just to see what I was up to.

Occasionally I look myself up on WhitePages to remember past addresses I've had, and recently (?) they added a neat national name distribution map, to show where I am most densely populated (I'm the only me in MA). ZabaSearch links to a compilation of my past addresses - well, some of them, and some listed weren't mine (I know this is their business, but I was surprised to see it - it must come from Post Office Change Of Address forms?).

In the spirit of Me or Not Me?, I started pulling together all of the Me Brian Herzog information out there at herzogbr.net. Also, here's a few Not Me Brian Herzogs:

And finally, here's a few other name-related/internet-profile bits and bobs:

Give it a try - find out how much can be found about you and not yous.



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Uses of Google

   January 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

It's funny when the interweb incidentally produces something this accurate:

Uses of Google

Via LibraryStuff.net



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/7/08

   December 13th, 2008 Brian Herzog

I Assure You We're Open sheet sign from Clerks movieDue to the ice storm that came through the area on Friday, there is a tie for most popular reference question today:

Hey, are you open?

and

Do you have internet?

My answer all day has been, "we're open, we have lights and heat, and everything is working normally except our internet connection is down*."

Needless to say, it's been a quiet day: not unbusy, just quiet - most of our work tables and all of our comfortable chairs are filled with people researching and reading, which all but goes unnoticed on a regular day. And because lots of area residents are still without power, there's even a couple people napping in the corners, just happy to be someplace warm.

The next most popular reference question has been:

Do you know how I can keep my pipes from freezing?

Most area residents lost power on Friday, 12/12/08, and although many homes are now back on, there are still plenty who are looking at two or three days without power. Temperatures are predicted to be in the teens and twenties for the next few days, so freezing pipes is a major concern.

The best advice came from Home Maintenance for Dummies. Before loaning it out to the first person who asked this morning, I photocopied the necessary page to keep a "reference copy" at the desk. It recommends:

A faucet left dripping at the fixture farthest from the main water inlet allows just enough warm water movement within the pies to reduce the chance of a freeze...

Insulating pipes that are above ground (those that are most susceptible to freezing) prevents them from freezing during most moderate-to-medium chills - even when the faucets are off. This includes pips in the subarea or basement and especially any that might be in the attic.

If your kitchen or bathroom sink faucets are prone to freezing, leave the cabinet doors open at night. This allows warm air to circulate in the cabinet and warm the pipes.

The last tip won't help much for a house that is at 39 degrees, but it's good to keep in mind anyway.

Hopefully the power to my house is back on by the time I get home, otherwise I might sleep at the library tonight.


*I'm sure you're asking, "No intertnet? Then how'd you post this?" As a reference librarian, I know the laundromat up the street has great wireless internet.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/16/08

   November 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

let me Google that for you imageI'm going to be visiting my family for the week of Thanksgiving, so this will be my last post until I get back. So instead of a regular reference question today, here's a tool people can use when they're asked questions.

It's not just Google, it's let me Google that for you. Of course I would never use this with a patron, but it's "teaching moment" kind of tool, to remind people that Google is good for certain kinds of questions (it's entertaining, but also borders on snarky).

The way it works is this: visit the website and type in the question you were asked - say, What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Click the search button, and you get a link to send back to the person who asked you the question, which shows them how they could found the answer themselves.

Just out of curiosity, I thought I'd run a few recent Reference Questions of the Week through it, to see how my answers compared with Google's:

Google will not replace librarians, because librarians help people in was that Google can't. And by the way, there is a similar website, but it has a bad word in the URL. Thanks, Chris.



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