September 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This week is more of a technical question than a reference question, because the research part was already done by the time I got involved. But I still think it's an interesting situation.
A coworker of mine has been researching the history of West Chelmsford, in the hopes of opening a new museum in that part of town inside an old train depot building. The most interesting event in West Chelmsford's history, I think, is this: in 1911, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was passing through town by train, on the way to neighboring Lowell for a show, when the train derailed near the future-museum depot building. A few animals died, many had to be rounded up from the surroundings by the cowboys, and then Buffalo Bill, since the train was wrecked, marched the whole show through the streets to finish the journey to Lowell.
My coworker found a scanned newspaper article from the time in Google News, but couldn't figure out how to print it. This is when I got involved - as tech support to print the article for her to add to the future museum's file.
I don't think I had attempted this before, but sure enough, Google doesn't offer a direct way to print articles from this interface. There was a way to link to them and a few different viewing options, but that was it - even File > Print didn't print anything for us.
When faced with this kind of situation, my failsafe is always to use the Print Screen key. First you click the Full Screen button in the Google interface to see as much of the article at a time as possible, and then pressing the Print Screen key captures everything on the screen and puts it on the clipboard. Next I pasted the image into MSPaint (as it is the only graphics program installed on the Reference Desk computer) and cropped it to just the article I wanted, and saved it.
Since the article was three screens long, I had to do this a couple more times to get the entire thing - saved as three separate files. The final step was to insert all three of these into PowerPoint, line up all the seams so it looked like one continuous image, and create a PDF file from the result. The PowerPoint step would have been unnecessary if I had Photoshop or anything more advanced that MSPaint on my computer, but you use the tools you've got.
And I think the resulting PDF looks pretty good [pdf] - it is formatted to print on legal paper to make the text big enough to read easily, and my coworker was very happy to get it. This is just for her initial research, and hopefully she'll be able to track down the actual primary resource for the eventual exhibit in the museum.
Still, I thought it was a useful technique for librarians. I think many people already know this trick, so, yes, mainly I just thought the actual article itself funny and interesting and wanted to share.
September 25th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here are a couple recent blog posts I found interesting, both dealing with organizing a collection.
First, Cory posted an idea on BoingBoing about ditching gender divisions in kids clothing stores and organizing everything by genre*: adventurous, heroic, funny, cute, clever, edgy, casual, etc.
I think this is a great idea, not just for organization but also, as Cory cites, for toning down the girl=pink/boy=blue approach in general. Not to mention that when I'm out looking for a birthday gift for one of my nieces, I always feel slightly creepy being a single guy looking at little girl clothes.
Second, the Dewey blog from OCLC has a couple of posts on using QR code signs as real-life "See Also" references in the stacks (part 1, part 2). The idea is to link logically-associated subjects in way that makes it easy for patrons to find:
For example, let’s say you have a patron looking at the materials on retirement at 306.38. S/he wonders, “Is this all they have?” And then they notice nearby something like the following:
The positive-me really does think this is a good and helpful idea. However, the cynical-me thinks that this highlights everything that is wrong with the Dewey Decimal System, and is just applying a band-aid instead of actually solving the problem by revamping the entire system to just put similar subjects next to each other in the first place.
I know that is no small undertaking, and can probably never be fully achieved in the physical world. If you're interested in the QR code See Also project, OCLC is (was?) looking for libraries to pilot this system - email Rebecca Green at firstname.lastname@example.org with "DDC signage pilot" in the subject line. And my thanks-in-advance to any libraries that do - any improvement that makes library collection organization easier for patrons is time well spent.
*Personally, my favorite clothing-store system is the thrift shop method of organizing by color within sizes - all the red shirts together, then all the white shirts, etc. Because usually when I'm looking for clothes, I'm looking for tan pants, or a blue shirt, and this makes it so much easier. Department stores, that divide the store up by brands, drive me crazy - looking for tan pants means I have to look in six different places! How terribly inefficient.
Tags: access, childrens, clothes, collection, ddc, dewey decimal system, information, kids, libraries, Library, organization, public, see also
September 21st, 2013 Brian Herzog
I hear this reference question maybe two or three times a year, and it's one that I equally enjoy and despise. Despise because I tend to have a very low success rate with them, but enjoy because I know that if I weren't a librarian, I'd be calling my library to ask the exact same question.
Through the online contact form of the library's ChelmsfordHistory.org website this week came this question:
I'm trying to figure out who originally built my grandmothers house. [It was] built in 1946. I would like to get a name and or pictures of the original structure and the original owner.
This is probably a common question anywhere that has old houses, and lots of people want to know the history of their home. And for some houses, a lot of that work has been done. Our local Historical Commission has made available online a tremendous amount of information from their survey of old homes, but rarely does the patron asking live in one of these. And in this case, finding a photo of the original home - and the owner! - seemed like a particularly tall order.
I don't think I've ever been asked who the builder of a home was, and it seemed like the only possible record of that might have been on the original building permit issued by the Town. I called the Building Inspectors office in Town Hall and spoke to the Building Commissioner, explaining what I was looking for. Although he was helpful, unfortunately the records he has only go back to the 1960s, and he didn't know if older Town records of building permits even still existed.
In the end, he suggested I look for the original deed through the county's Registrar of Deeds. He said that often the first record of sale is from the builder to the first owner - which I didn't know but makes sense. I've only ever used their land records website for current who-owns-this-property type questions, and again struck out because their online records only go back to 1976.
So at this point, I emailed the patron back explaining what I had (not) found so far. I gave her the contact information for the Registrar of Deeds though, because her contacting them directly - or, more likely, her going there in person - might be able to produce the records back to 1946. With that, hopefully, she'll get the names of the builder and original occupant.
As for photos though... since her home wasn't an old one in an historic neighborhood, I think the only source for photos may be family photos of previous residents. I don't know if the patron is motivated enough to track down the family of the original owner, but it might produce some photographs. Also, if the builder is still in business, they may have photos or plans for the original house too. I don't know how much her house has changed since it was built, but if the the builder built multiple homes in the area, there may be some that used the same plans and are still in their original condition, which may give an idea of what her house originally looked like.
I apologized for not being much help, because I felt like I was really grasping at straws at the end. Hopefully she'll have luck with the Registrar of Deeds - and hopefullyier, I'll find a new and helpful "history of my house" resource before the next question like this comes in.
September 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I love this video from the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA:
It's short yet informative, and I bet any patron watching it will be surprised to learn the library offers something they didn't already know about.
Plus, of course, "Steven, as the man" has just enough of a strangely idiosyncratic delivery and off-beat humor to make it irresistible to watch all the way through. Nicely done, Forbes Library.
September 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's one of those questions where I wish I had gotten the patron's contact information, because not only did I find out after the fact that I gave him bad information, but I also found a good answer later on, too.
One afternoon someone from the Circ Desk called down to Reference. She said there was a patron who wanted to donate money to an online charity, but all he had was cash and he wanted to know if we could help him.
I immediately started to mental spin through all the ways I knew of to pay for something online, and none of them originated with an actual fistful of dollars. The best idea I could come up with on the spot was some kind of prepaid credit card, which is not something the library offers (but I know there are lots out there). However, right across the street from us is a bank, so I just recommended he go over and check with them, optimistically hoping a bank product would be some kind of cash card he could use.
After work that day curiosity got the better of me, so I walked over to the bank and asked them this question myself - and I was surprised that the teller's answer was "no." She said the closest thing they had were regular debit cards, but those are tied to an account. She said they do get requests for something like a prepaid cash card, because lots of bank customers don't want to expose their account information online at all - but they just didn't offer any kind of "internet gift card."
That phrase made some connection for me, and got me wondering if PayPal offered a gift card, much like I see eBay and Amazon gift cards for sale at cash registers. Sure enough, they do! I also found Green Dot MoneyPak, CoinStar, PayNearMe.com, and CashPayment.com.
Drat that I didn't think of this when the patron was in the library. Of course, he'd still have to find a nearby participating retail location, and the charity would have to accept one of these, but at least there is a way to turn cash into an internet-friendly form.
September 11th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I was tinkering with fickr over the weekend, and it wasn't letting me do what I wanted to do. So, I hit Ctrl+U to view the source code and instead of what I was looking for, I found this:
What a great way for a computer company to target the kind of people it wants to hire - the people who look at source code.
Not that there is any shortage of applicants for library jobs, but with any great idea, I immediately want to steal it to apply to the library world. Although the question is, where could a library put a message like this that hard-core candidates would naturally find, but casual patrons wouldn't? In a MARC record? The webpage listing the library's policies?
In all honesty, we could probably just hang a big sign in the library saying as much, because it seems like only librarians read the signs in libraries. I am now going to be preoccupied with this all week.