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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/13/13

   January 19th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Here's my own reference question this week - why are so many of our magazines arriving in the mail torn and mangled?

Usually it takes our patrons a day or two to make the magazines look like this.

The damage is worse than the photograph shows - most of those rips are 20+ pages deep, and these were just three damaged issues we got in the mail delivery in one day. We've been getting them like this (or other variations, from minor tears to just a cover with no pages inside at all) almost daily now for a couple weeks, whereas before it seemed like maybe once a month, if that, a magazine would get damaged in the mail.

The first few I claimed through EBSCO, our magazine subscription aggregator. But finally it seemed like the problem must lie with the Post Office, so I decided to register a complaint there.

I went to USPS.com, and spent probably too much time looking for a "make a complaint" or "ask a question" email form. Eventually I found their Customer Service page, and submitted an email explaining that more and more of my library's magazines were getting damaged during delivery.

Not five minutes after I clicked send - and I'm not kidding, it was like five minutes - the phone rings and it's the local Postmaster for Chelmsford. Holy smokes, now that is impressive.

He said this is happening all through the USPS right now. The problem is that they've been using sorting machine with letters and envelopes for years, and it worked so well (as in, saved money and sped up the mail) that the USPS decided to use it for magazines, too.

However, the machines have not yet been calibrated for magazines, and routinely rip the crap out of them. He apologized, of course, and said they're working on it, but that it will continue until they figure the machines out. I hate answers like that, but I'm sure in this case they're highly motivated - he said they get daily calls from residential customers who are also getting badly damaged magazines delivered.

Anyway, I wanted to share this experience, in case other libraries have also seen their number of damaged magazines jump. And also to commend the USPS for such amazingly prompt customer service. Now just stop ripping up the magazines.

Postscript: something else the USPS could stop is their ridiculous (I felt) "How are we doing?" post-contact survey. It came into my email a couple days after I submitted the form on their website - which, in and of itself, was fine. But I think surveys like that should be five questions long, tops, and take less than a couple minutes. This one just kept going on and on - it even repeated questions, but varied them slightly, as if they wanted to see if I answered consistently. Seriously, this survey was probably 20+ questions and took more than seven minutes to complete. I could have quit at any time, of course, but I went through to the end because I was so fascinated by its complexity. Also, they seemed to know exactly the point at which I got annoyed, because after that point they no longer provided an open text comment box, so I couldn't tell them how much I disliked the survey itself. Oh well.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Online Newsstand Makes Databases Fun

   March 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Update 3/30/12:
Library Journal published an article on the project, EBSCO's objection, and the process of working towards a resolution.

Update 3/20/12:
Good news: EBSCO and Steve have been in contact, and they are currently exploring the possibility of developing a service comparable to the Online Newsstand that would be acceptable to publishers.

Update 3/12/12:
EBSCO contacted Steve and asked him to shut down the Online Newsstand project. They said they had been contacted by a publisher who had concerns, and EBSCO cited the Online Newsstand violating their license agreements.

I'm hoping this is a temporary "let's meet and work this out" kind of deal, and not a "we don't want anyone doing something better than us" situation. After all, EBSCO isn't losing any money (and Steve isn't making money) - if anything, EBSCO and their publishers only benefit from increased database usage, because higher stats make libraries more inclined to renew their database contracts. Not to mention that EBSCO gives out awards to libraries for doing exactly this kind of innovative project (I won one):

Steve has contacted EBSCO to try to get Online Newsstand back online. If you're so inclined, you can contact EBSCO to let them know what you think:

  • Tim Collins, CEO: tcollins@ebscohost.com
  • Mark Herrick, Senior Vice President of Business Development: mherrick@ebscohost.com
  • Ed Roche, Vice President of Field Sales, APK: eroche@ebscohost.com
  • Emily Hayden: Senior Director of Customer Success, ehayden@ebscohost.com
  • Melissa D'Amato, Vice President of Publisher Relations: mkenton@ebscohost.com

Only EBSCO has demanded Online Newsstand be taken down, but to be on the safe side until this is resolved, Steve has also brought down the Gale version as well. What an incredibly unfortunate and unnecessary state of affairs.


Original Post:
Online Newsstand logoDo you wish the great content in your databases was easier to access and more engaging for patrons? Sure, we all do. And now it can be, with the Online Newsstand.

Steve Butzel of the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library developed the Online Newsstand Project to promote some of the great content libraries are already paying for - just by making that content more visible to patrons. Instead of having to go into MasterFILE or Expanded Academic ASAP, patrons can browse their favorite magazines on, well, an online newsstand, right on the library's website. It looks like this:


Pretty neat, huh?

Patrons don't need to know what a database is, or how to use one - they just click the magazine and article they want to read, log in with their library card number, and they're in! Almost as easy as reading an actual magazine.

And the second best thing about this (the first best is how awesome it looks) is that it's free for libraries to use.

Here's how it works: the Online Newsstand doesn't replace databases - it's just another (prettier) way to access their content. Steve compiles a list of the top articles of each magazine issue, along with the direct link to that article in the database. That way, the Online Newsstand can easily display the table of contents for a magazine, which eliminates all the searching and drilling down into publications in databases.

Check it out at the Portsmouth Library, on my library's website, and also on our mobile website (which is great for patrons on the go).

Updating the table of contents for each issue in the Online Newsstand would have been a monumental task. But it occurred to Steve that, since so many libraries are paying for the exact same content in the exact same databases, a bunch of libraries working together could make light work of it.

So, instead of libraries paying to use the Online Newsstand, participating libraries "adopt" a magazine, and they are then responsible for adding the new article titles and links to the Newsstand whenever a new issue is published. The interface Steve created makes this extremely easy - I do The Economist (a weekly magazine) and Outdoor Life (a monthly), and it takes me about ten minutes per issue - tops.

I love the approach of libraries working together. My ten minutes' labor a week benefits other libraries, and also gives my patrons access to the work done by other librarians. This is the true spirit of cooperation that is so emblematic of libraries.

The Online Newsstand is available both for EBSCO and Gale customers. And as more libraries get involved in the project, more and more magazine titles will be added. And again, this doesn't change or affect your relationship with database vendors - it just improves the patron experience of using the resources we're already paying for.

If you're interested (and I hope you are), contact Steve Butzel at sbutzel@gmail.com. And of course I'm happy to talk about how it works in Chelmsford, too.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 11/14/10

   November 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Old House Journal cover 01-2011This wasn't actually a reference question, but can be filed under "things you didn't really question until someone provided an answer that showed you weren't asking the right question."

Occasionally at my library, if falls to me to add new magazine issues that arrive. We have a variety of subscriptions, like any library (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc), and when I'm adding new issues, it always amazes me how early they arrive. Early, that is, based on the cover date of the magazine. I always just chalked this phenomenon up to a ridiculous marketing attempt to appear hyper-current.

Anyway, I was adding magazines in October, when the January 2011 issue of Old House Journal arrived. A month or so in advanced seemed the norm, so a magazine arriving three months early prompted me to tweet:

Tweet about Jan. 2011 Old House Journal arriving in Oct. 2010

A little while later, and with this tweet in mind, my friend Chris emailed me with this:

Huh, TIL (Today I Learned):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsweek#Cover_Date

The date on a magazine is the date it's supposed to be pulled out the shelf, not the publication date or something else.

Wow - that actually makes a certain kind of sense. I tried to verify this with another source, but couldn't find one. However, Wikipedia did provide a little more information in the Cover Date article:

In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the standard practice is to display on magazine covers a date which is some weeks or months in the future from the actual publishing/release date. There are two reasons for this discrepancy: first, to allow magazines to continue appearing "current" to consumers even after they have been on sale for some time (since not all magazines will be sold immediately), and second, to inform newsstands when an unsold magazine can be removed from the stands and returned to the publisher or be destroyed.

Weeklies (such as Time and Newsweek) are generally dated a week ahead. Monthlies (such as National Geographic Magazine) are generally dated a month ahead, and quarterlies are generally dated three months ahead.

In other countries, the cover date usually matches more closely the date of publication, and may indeed be identical where weekly magazines are concerned.

So there you go - I love learning things by accident.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Withdrawing Journals: Ithaka Report

   November 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

magazinesIn case you missed it, Ithaka release a report in September titled "What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization" [pdf].

It's really geared towards academic libraries looking to achieve a balance between digitizing journals for access (and repurposing the floorspace they took up), and retaining print journals for preservation purposes.

Being a medium-size public library, our journals are mostly for popular reading, but we do keep a small magazine archive of past issues. The criteria I use on which titles are kept in the archive is basically:

Does this magazine contain information that someone will find useful in two years?

In most cases, this includes things like cooking magazines (for recipes), home improvement/craft/sport magazines (for ideas and tips), those useful for research (like Vital Speeches of the Day), and of course, Consumer Reports (we also have a large [donated] collection of National Geographic, dating back to 1911). But the archive has limited space, so it gets weeded every year to make room for new issues/titles.

And no discussion of digitized journals would be complete without me mentioning one of my favorite tools, the Boston Public Library's e-Journals by Title search. I make some journal collection development decisions based on what I know I can access through them, and just hope it stays that way.

For more on the Ithaka report, check out their website or Marie Newman's summary on Out of the Jungle.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,