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




New Massachusetts Library Directory

   January 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Massachusetts Libraries logoThe Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has just launched mass.gov/libraries, to go along with a new public awareness campaign for Massachusetts libraries.

Sometimes "top-down" efforts like this end up being a waste of time and resources, but I actually do think I will use this new website. For one thing, it is simple and clean, which makes it easy to see what information is available. I like that.

Also, it is very limited in scope: it is information about the public libraries in Massachusetts and the services those libraries offer. So even though their slogan is "There's something for everyone," they don't try to be "everything to everyone" - no subject listings, no web search boxes, etc.

The target of this website is Massachusetts residents, and the focus is to connect those people with their local library - or better yet, its online resources - and to maybe answer a few library questions along the way.

Here's what this site offers:

  • A directory of Massachusetts libraries, searchable by Town name or zip code
  • The contact information of the libraries, their hours, and whether or not wi-fi is available
  • A single login box for subscription databases funded by the state government
    (with one particularly neat feature being that when I logged in, the site knew I was logging in with a Chelmsford Library card, so it also automatically offered me a search of the Chelmsford catalog in addition to the subscription databases [though I didn't like they called it "Primary Search" instead of something more obvious and logical like "Library Catalog"])
  • A link to MassAnswers, our 24/7 online "chat with a librarian" service
  • Some basic general library-related information, contained in "Fast Facts" and "FAQ" sections. The Fast Facts were a lot of statistics, ie:
    • number of libraries (370), branches (106) and bookmobiles (4)
    • total holdings: 43.8 million books, magazines, videos, etc.
    • reference questions per week: 99,529

    Some examples from the FAQ are:

    • How can I get a library card?
    • Can I borrow from other libraries in Massachusetts?
    • How do I find library materials online?

They even included an article about why using library resources is better than Google for homework and student research.

I can see a lot of librarians using this, simply to find the contact information of other libraries, but I also like the single login box for database searching.

I also think patrons could easily use this website, too, but the key there is in the patrons finding it. This is the first year of a three-year marketing campaign, but aside from emails sent directly to librarians, I haven't seen anything.

awareness, campaign, libraries, library, ma, marketing, mass, massachusetts, mblc, public



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/4/07

   November 10th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Group of Indians in headdressesWhile sitting at the desk, two older Indian men (from India - this is important) approach me.

One didn't speak English very well, and so hardly said anything. The other man asked me if there were any Indian centers in the area.

Due to their appearance and accents (an Indian accent over proper British English), I assumed that they were recent immigrants, and were asking if there were any cultural centers or support organizations for people from India. When I asked a few clarifying questions to this affect, I found I was absolutely wrong.

It turns out that they lived in India and were visiting the Boston area on vacation. What they wanted was to visit a re-created Native American Indian village, to see how Indians lived before Europeans settled the area.

I didn't know of any right off, but I know the kind of place (such as the SunWatch Indian Village in Dayton, OH, where I went to college). I did a couple internet searches, but a search for "native american village massachusetts" wasn't very helpful and a search for "indian site massachusetts" turned up Indian restaurants.

When the men saw I wasn't finding anything right away, one of them offered some advice:

No, no, not "indian" like me. We want to see bows and arrows. Try searching for "red indian."

As racially-insensitive as America can be, "red indian" is just not a term we use in this country. It made me laugh because it's definitely a British thing to say - it's even said in the Mary Poppins movie.

I explained how that phrase isn't used here, but he insisted I try it anyway - again, nothing.

After that, we got more creative, and ended up finding a few resources - but I have to say that I am surprised at the scarcity of such a thing in this part of the country. Here's what we found, including history and art museums:

This list isn't exactly what the patrons wanted (and I don't think they were up for a drive to Dayton). But by doing this search with them, I think they felt comfortable that we came up with a pretty good list of what is out there. I still feel like there should be more, but they left happy - the Plimoth Plantation site being their first stop.

indian, indians, libraries, library, ma, mass, massachusetts, native american, native americans, public libraries, public library, red indian, red indians, reference question, village, villages



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/19/07

   August 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog
Boston Herald logoVS.
Mass.gov logo

This question is more interesting to me for the resource it turned up than for the question itself...

A coworker and I were both at the reference desk when a patron walked up and asked,

Can you find a list of what all state employees are paid?

Since there were two of us there, we both started looking, each in our own way.

My Approach
I started with a Google search à la state employee payroll site:mass.gov (I've been getting a lot of mileage out of Google's "site:" search ever since I learned about it). However, even with trying different keywords, I wasn't getting anywhere.

My Coworker's Approach
My coworker just did an open Google search for Massachusetts State Employee Payroll, and found an amazing website with the first result. Apparently, the Boston Herald provides all of this information in a neat little searchable payroll database.

The patron was very pleased with that, and with the speedy turnaround. And we all had a good time looking up a few people.

However, feeling like this was the fast-food version of the answer, I still went back to Mass.gov to see if I could verify the information from an official source. I spent about twenty minutes over the course of the rest of the day looking, but never did find it.

I'm sure with a few phone calls or emails, I could have turned it up, but it's amazing how much better secondary sources are sometimes than the obvious primary resource.

boston herald, libraries, library, ma, mass.gov, massachusetts, payroll, public libraries, public library, reference question, state employees



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/3/07

   June 9th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Photo of Forefathers Burying Ground, Chelmsford, MAA patron emailed the Library, asking us to help research an aunt of hers that died. She has the obituary, which said her aunt was buried in cemetery in Chelmsford, but the patron didn't know which.

In our Local History Room, we have a book compiled by a member of the Historical Society, transcribing the head stones in Chelmsford's two oldest cemeteries. These are also still active cemeteries for the Town's long-time resident families, but this woman's relative was not listed in the book.

Thinking that the Town's Cemetery Department might have an updated listing, I went to their website to get their phone number. But to my surprise, I found that they had an online database of everyone buried in all town cemeteries. Way to go, Town of Chelmsford. The patron's aunt was listed, and she was very happy to find this.

It would be great if they would expand this with the text of the headstones or even a photograph, but I know that's asking a lot.

cemeteries, cemetery, chelmsford, libraries, library, ma, public libraries, public library, reference question, town of chelmsford



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Saugus, MA Library Closes

   May 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Saugus Public LibraryIt's been a threat for a while, and now it looks like the time has arrived: the library in Saugus, MA, has closed until further notice.

A friend of mine lives in the town, and I'm a librarian in Massachusetts, so I've heard a lot about this. At some point the town found its budget could not support the library's $500,000 cost. Various fees and taxes were proposed to preserve library funding, but none got support when they came to a vote.

The Library Director closed the library over the weekend due to a staff shortage, and now it is closed indefinitely. The staff who have not already left for other jobs have been told by the Town Manager to use up their vacation time before they all get fired.

Ever wonder what it would be like to live somewhere without a public library? Move to Saugus. Perhaps if enough people do, voting on library funding will come out differently.
close, closed, closure, libraries, library, ma, mass, massachusetts, public libraries, public library, saugus, saugus public library, spl



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Problems with Flickr’s Map

   May 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

flickr screenshotWhen I upload photos to flickr, I always try to place them on the map, if appropriate. When I started a flickr account for my library, I noticed that there was a problem with the map.

I work at the library in the town of Chelmsford, MA, which is situated right next door to the city of Lowell, MA. Lowell is much bigger, and if it had a "metro area," Chelmsford would be a part of it.

However, after having lived her for a couple years, I know that the two communities are very different. High school rivalries, traffic problems - heck, I even hear Chelmsford library patrons complain about Lowell patrons and the Lowell library. Community loyalty here runs as deep as the Merrimack River.

So, I was sort of startled to see flickr claiming that all the photos mapped for the library's account (which were taken in Chelmsford) were listed by flickr as "Taken in Lowell, Massachusetts" (as circled in red in the photo above).

When placing photos on their map, flickr encourages you to place it as locally as possible. Because of that, I was surprised to see their local locations that inaccurate. I wrote to flickr, explaining the situation and asking if they could be more accurate with their map. Here's the response I received (from two different flickr support techs on the same day, two days after I sent my message):

Hi Brian,

We are aware that there are some locations that might be reflecting an adjacent city or town, or an incorrect place name. In some cases a place name might reflect a town name that is no longer in use. Flickr uses map data from Yahoo! which in turn is provided by third party providers (most online maps you see are sourced this way).

We are developing methods to allow you, the knowledgeable member, to be able to contribute to local adjustments. We don't have a particular date in mind when we would be able to offer this, but please understand it is something we hope to provide in the very near future.

Regards

Not exactly the "hi, we're flickr, and we can do anything" kind of response I was hoping for, but I do understand the issue. I guess I just have to hold on until this feature becomes available, and explain to our patrons why it looks like the Chelmsford Library is actually in the city next door.
chelmsford, chelmsford library, chelmsford ma, flickr, flickr map, lowell, lowell ma, ma, map, mapping, maps, mass, massachusetts



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