May 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
This is a neat thing, but is such a large project that I'm still not exactly sure how to explain it all.
At the end of last year, my library created a new position for a dedicated readers advisory person. Since this was a brand new position, we've had to reconfigure the way we do things. Another benefit, though, is that it got everyone in the library thinking about how we can improve readers advisory across the board.
Our Childrens Room really upped their game in this area. They'd long maintained in-house readalike lists, both for specific books and for subjects. Eventually these lists migrated from papers in binders to online lists created using our catalog's "bookbag" feature.
Which is all well and good, but what they really wanted to do was improve access to these lists, and make it easier for patrons to find them on their own.
The best way to promote these lists, they felt, was to print out labels with the list URLs (and QR codes) on them, and stick them in each book that was on the list. I know other libraries use QR code labels in their collections (notably the Dover [MA] Town Library), but I don't know how many are mass-sticking the actual books. And they're trying to stick them in the books as close to the end of the story as possible, so that patrons find them immediately after finishing a good story:
Along the way, we ran into a few snags that had to be dealt with, and I think our solutions worked pretty well.
Our catalog's bookbag URLs are pretty messy and unfriendly (ie, https://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=53439;page=0;locg=18;depth=0), so we wanted to use a URL shortening service to clean them up. The Childrens staff first started with Goo.gl, and reviewed a few others, but hit a major roadblock: with those services, once a short URL is created, you can't change the destination.
This was a problem for us because not too long ago, we had a catalog upgrade that changed the URLs of every single one of our bookbags. This meant that if we had stuck QR code labels in thousands of books, they would all have to be redone with new labels for the new bookbag URLs.
I looked around for an alternative, and found an open source solution yourls.org (Your Own URL Shortener). That was awesome, and with instructions from Lifehacker, I had it up and running on our web server in like fifteen minutes.
However, it kind of defeats the purpose of a URL shortener when you're starting with a URL as long as chelmsfordlibrary.org, so we decided to get a whole new domain name for this project. We kicked around a lot of ideas, but the best one we came up with - short(ish), and memorable - was readmore.in.
Now, the .in is the country code for India, but readmore was available at the domain name service we used, so we went with it. But best of all, it makes for great readers advisory URLs: readmore.in/adventure, readmore.in/magictreehouse, etc. Even though those aren't super short, they're easy to remember, and that's the important thing.
With yourls running on the readmore.in domain, now we can always point readmore.in/poetry or whatever to the right place, even if the underlying bookbag link changes.
And to make the QR code creation process easier, I also installed a open source QR code creator (phpqrcode) on our web server. There are lots of free services out there, but hosting our own lets us pre-set all the output settings, so all staff need to do is paste in the URL, click "create," and then right-click on the QR code to paste it into the label template. It's already the right size, encoding, and everything else.
I admit there was a lot of technical playing to make this happen - but, now that everything is set up, staff is whizzing through the creation and labeling process. Of course, this is an on-going project, but we're hoping it is something from which patrons will really benefit.
Tags: chelmsford, libraries, Library, public, qr, qr code, readers advisory, readmore, readmore.in, url shortener, yourls
May 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog
My library tracks desk statistics only one week each quarter, putting tick marks on a tally sheet whenever people ask desk staff a question.
We also use these sheets to create a "no list" - a record of any time we have to tell a patron "no" for any reason (to help improve our yes-based policy). Usually, the reasons are "no, we don't have that book/subject," but also things like "no scanner" or "no jumper cables" show up.
Last time we did this, one staff person wrote down, "no juicing books." To me, "juicing" has always meant taking steroids, but in this case I guessed they meant making your own fruit and vegetable juices at home. So, I wanted to fill this hole in our collection by ordering a few juicing books.
My first stop for topics like this - popular topics I want to purchase quickly - is to search Amazon. I always use the Advanced Search so I can limit to new printed books, in this case published after 1/1/13 - there are quite a few.
But I was surprised, as I started to click into titles that looked good, just how many were CreateSpace books. It's not unusual to see them on Amazon of course, but they generally don't make up 80-90% of new books on a topic. But in this case, that was easily the percentage.
I found a few non-self-published books to purchase, but also ordered the CreateSpace title Juicing Recipes From Fitlife.TV Star Drew Canole For Vitality and Health. Our Selection policy specifically mentioned we don't buy self-published books, but in this case it was by far the most highly-reviewed book on the topic, so I figured our patrons would like it too.
With the rise of ebooks, I suspect lots of libraries will have to amend their "no self-pubs" policies, as self-published books - and quality self-published ebooks - become more prevalent. We'll still need to apply some selection criteria, but at the same time, I suppose the risk is lower - hopefully these ebooks will be cheaper, and we won't have to worry about them falling apart quickly.
Regardless, I think I will always consider "juicing" an undesirable activity, so I can't help but do a double-take on a title like Juicing with Kids. Not entirely unlike my perennial favorite bit of irony, Homeschooling for Dummies.
May 8th, 2013 Brian Herzog
My library received an email last week that I thought was fun and wanted to share:
My name is Heather Gaines and I am the event coordinator for adult programs at the O'Fallon Public Library located in Illinois. Our summer reading program will be kicking off soon and I would like to recruit you as a helper! The theme this year is "Have Book-Will Travel."
I had an idea that would bring America to our patrons in a fun and colorful way. For your part I would like to ask you to do one small thing. Would you be willing to send us a postcard from your great city, state, or even a unique local spot?
Once collected, I will share them with all our patrons, with the hope that they too will see what amazing places there are to discover across America. On the back of the postcard, please write a small blurb about what location is pictured or about the state it is from.
If for any reason you do not or are not able to participate in this endeavor, please email me back so I may contact another library in your home state.
You may send more than one postcard if you so choose!
Our address is as follows:
O'Fallon Public Library
Attn: Heather Gaines
120 Civic Plaza
O'Fallon, IL 62269
Thank you and have a great day!
What a great idea - we were happy to participate, and Heather said she'd welcome everyone to send them postcards. It reminded me of my coworker's Library Card Table, which also relied on the kindness and cooperation of other libraries across the county.
And, talking about postcards is a good segue: starting tomorrow I'll be on vacation visiting family in Ohio, so no reference question until next week - see you then.
May 4th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I have no idea how many patrons librarians help over the course of a day or year, but it's true that every single one of them has a unique story.
A few months ago a patron asked for help uploading photos of himself to a website. It turned out it was an actor's auditioning website, and the photos were head shots and full body shots for casting agents to pick from for extras in movies. Uploading the photos wasn't too difficult, but it took some doing to get them right-side-up and sorted correctly. I helped the patron for maybe ten minutes, he thanked me and left, and I didn't think any more about it.
This past Wednesday the patron came back in to thank me. He was excited, saying he got the part in the movie, filmed three scenes, and it was a magical experience. I don't know if he came straight from the set or what, but he was clearly still on cloud nine.
The film is American Hustle - there's not much information on IMBD, other than it has a bunch of big names in it and it's due to be a Christmas blockbuster. Apparently it was filming in Philadelphia but had to find a new location, so they came up to Boston and Worcester - hence the need for more local extras.
The patron said he shot scenes with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. The film is loaded with stars, but I can't wait to see it just to try to spot this patron.
May 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog
I received a marketing email recently about TxtReads, a new text message service app for libraries. My immediate reaction was quite mixed.
Technically, it looks like a great thing - it allows patrons to interact with their library account via simple, plain-English text messages. So if they want to look up a book, place a hold, etc., it's very easy for them to do - and without having to log into the catalog.
So, all good, right? Well, I spotted some negative points, too.
When I visited their website, their primary marketing message kind of shocked me:
TxtReads will change your next trip to your local bookstore. Simply use your mobile phone and send two text messages: One to see if the book you found is available at the library, and the second to place a hold.
Certainly this sort of functionality is possible with existing library apps and mobile sites (I've even built it into my library's mobile website), but promoting it so prominently like this kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Showrooming is such a problem for brick-and-mortar retail stores that some are charging people to even come into their store, and refunding it only if they buy something.
Libraries and bookstores are not competitors, and in fact have the opportunity to enjoy close relationships. But this activity - and blatantly encouraging it - could kill real-life bookstores, which in turn will hurt the book world and, as a result, libraries too.
Secondly, this text feature is so good that it makes me mad that our catalog doesn't already have this functionality built into it. I would much rather have integrated features than a mish-mash of third-party addons - I know that's hardly the reality, but still something to strive for. So, before signing up for this app, my first stop would be to check in with out ILS developers to see if they can make it happen internally.
I suppose that right there is its own type of showrooming - oh well.
At any rate, neat features in a clean-looking app. Just, I don't know, I don't like their marketing approach.
Tags: app, apps, libraries, Library, message, messaging, mobile, public, text, texting, txtreads
April 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A patron came up to the desk, saying she had an email question.
After a bit of a convoluted story, it boiled down to this: she was applying for a job, and emailed her information to their HR person. But she never got called for an interview, because the HR person said she had never received the patron's information. The patron wanted to know if there was a way to prove that the HR person did get it, because she knows she sent it.
The patron seemed to be fairly knowledgeable about computers and email, but I explained anyway that it is certainly possible for something not to get delivered, or get blocked for whatever reason, or go into a spam folder, etc.
Having a message in her own Sent folder would indicate when it was sent. That can probably be manipulated so I don't know if it'd be admissible in court, but in this case it might be good enough if the HR person was willing to listen.
But what the patron really wanted was confirmation that the HR person received the email. I didn't know how to find out after-the-fact (other than subpoenaing their server logs), so I told her about delivery receipts and read receipts. These are the little confirmation messages that come back to let you know someone got and opened your message.
Since it was the closest thing to what she wanted, we went into her email account so I could show her how to use them. However I explained that these aren't foolproof either - not all email clients will honor them. In fact, the email client I use offers a setting to ignore them.
She had both a Gmail and a Yahoo account, and it turns out - much to my surprise - neither one lets you request receipts.
I did some quick checking online, and it seems like Yahoo doesn't offer receipts at all, and Gmail only with their business accounts (not the free version).
Well, like I said, I was surprised. I tried searching for ways to make it happen anyway, and it looks like there are only two options: use an email client like Thunderbird or Outlook (which, for a patron using a library's public computer, isn't actually an option), or use one of the many email receipt services out there. Another website I found had some trickier solutions, but were too complicated for our purposes. There's also Boomerang for Gmail, but since that needs to be installed in the browser, it likewise wasn't appropriate.
Until this day I didn't even know these existed, so I have no idea how well they work. The patron was interested in the free web-based services, but only future-tense. Unfortunately, it looked like she was out of luck with her original question. I think she knew that before she even asked, but hoped librarians had some magic we could work - I hate disappointing patrons.