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


Check Out The Chelmsford Library on Google Maps

   July 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Update 8/8/13: I got a message from someone at Google who reminded me of an important competent of Indoor Map - it's really designed to work on phones. I've only been checking it online, where it hasn't changed since it went live. But he assured me that using Google Maps on a phone will use your location to place you on the correct floor. Nice. Not having a cell phone, I forget the fancy things they can do.


Update 7/31/13: I just learned something annoying about embeddeding Street View - Internet Explorer automatically jumps to wherever it is on the page. I found a hacky workaround for this, which I've implemented on our About Us page, and it seems to work okay. But hopefully, Google will fix this (it only happens with embedded Street Views in IE, not with regular Google Maps or with any other browser). I did not fix it on this page though, so IE users could see what I'm talking about.


Original Post:

This year, the Chelmsford Library has been involved with two Google mapping projects: Indoor Maps and Indoor Street View.

Indoor Maps
We did Indoor Maps first, which displays a floorplan of your building on Google Maps (instead of just the outline, like the buildings around us). It looks like this:

Google indoor map

This is neat because it lets people online see where things are in your building, at a glance. One catch, however, is that they're still trying to figure out how to handle more than one floor (like our building) - so in the meantime, they only show the ground floor.

The process was interesting: we contacted Google Maps and supplied them with labeled floor plans of each of our buildings (the whole thing was free, so we were able to do our branch too), and they sent a crew1 to take multiple GPS readings around the building to make sure the floor plan images matched up accurately with the map itself.

Pretty neat. But of course, when you say "indoor map" what people really think of is Indoor Street View, so we got approval from our Trustees to do that, too.

Indoor Street View
Since there was a cost associated, and a third-party photographer involved, this process was a little different. The first step was to contact "Google Trusted Photographers" in our area to see if anyone was interested, and what they would charge us. I sent requests to everyone within a reasonable distance, and mostly the quotes were in the $1000-$2000 range, with various discounts because we were a non-profit. We ended up going with CJL Photography of Manchester, NH, because his quote2 was one of the lowest, and he had worked with libraries before we liked his portfolio samples (the struckout link was a mistake on my part).

Now this is where the delays set in. I initially contacted the photographer in January, and had scheduled the photo shoot for February. Then we were hit with a series of snowstorms, which pushed things back. Then, we decided to wait until March because that month we had a really visual art display up in our meeting room. And of course, a few days before he came we got more snow, so he shot the entire inside of the building in March, and then came back in early July3 to do the outdoor shots.

The wait was worth it, I think, and the tour looks phenomenal:


View Larger Map

Photographing the inside took maybe two hours, and we chose to do it early on a Sunday morning when we were closed to the public, so as not to interfere with patrons. The photographer used a camera on a tripod to take a series shots from each "point" on the tour to create the 360 degree view, and then handled all the processing on the backend to color-correct, stitch everything together, and upload it to Google. All library staff had to do was make sure the building looked as nice as possible.

In addition to the tour itself, the photographer also created a Chelmsford Library Google+ page, which also features a series of still shots. The still shots are included in the package, and we're free to use them however we want - on our website, in printed materials, etc. I know this is an obvious statement, but holy smokes there is a world of difference between the library pictures I take with a point-and-shoot camera and what a professional photographer can do.

We're not sure what we'll do with the stills yet, but we've already started using the tour. Besides mentioning it on our Facebook page, we've put it on our About Us page, using it to highlight the mural in our Children's Room, and embedded views of our meeting rooms on our reservation page so people can see what the rooms look like before they book a room.

We're certainly not the first library to appear on Indoor Street View - ebookfriendly did a post in March listing others.

They all look great, and we expect this to be a useful tool for us. Not only as an online tour and historical record of the building, but we're hoping that by showcasing how nice our space is, some of our online-only patrons will be motivated to visit in person. But honestly, I've been pretty content just to click around and play, even when I'm sitting in the library. Being online almost makes it like a video game - now I just need a laser gun. Pew pew.

 


1. I'm sure they had a very precise method, but to us it looked like eight guys randomly wandering around the building for an hour, eyes glued to their smartphones.

2. After the photo shoot, the photographer told me that a business of our size would normally cost about $3000, but libraries would be discounted to around $1000. Our actual cost was a bit lower than that, because I think he underestimated the size of our building with his initial quote, but was good enough to honor it. Incidentally, he was great to work with overall, and I personally would recommend him to other libraries considering this.

3. Which is why you see snow if you look out a window, but see flowers if you walk out of any of the doors.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/22/09

   March 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

A patron called in and said:

I was coming back to Chelmsford from Boston, and on the highway I saw a sign that said "Fish Brook." I didn't know there was a Fish Brook in Chelmsford; do you have a list of all the brooks in town?

The only thing I could think of that would have the names of brooks on it was a map of town. I pulled out two that we have in Ready Reference and started reading to her all the names of the brooks, streams and rivers. This was a problem for two reasons:

  1. When I read a name the patron was unfamiliar with, she insisted I describe where in town the brook started and ended. It turns out that this is very difficult to do, and proves that a picture really is worth a thousand words (or at least a good five minutes)
  2. Some of the streams had different names on the different maps. This didn't seem too unusual to me for New England, but the patron would not accept it - she wanted only the official names

I told her I'd find out what the official names were and I'd call her back. But after I thought about it for a few minutes, I realized I had no idea how the official names were decided. I'm sure the names originally came from the early settlers and later residents, but if something had more than one name (or more than one spelling), I thought there would have to be a single official name for everything (for example, there is a pond in town called both Heart Pond [because it is shaped like a heart] and Hart Pond [because the Hart family owned it long ago]).

I emailed a member of the Town's Conservation Commission, thinking they would know all about the natural features of town, and the process by which a name becomes official. The response was prompt, but a little surprising:

...It is pretty much rule of thumb that the USGS map will have the most accurate information. I would guess that the names were created by the original settlers and referenced on the very first maps of the town...

...from my experience streams, ponds and lakes are often named unofficially by local residents through common usage over the years. And those names may or may not end up on a map. Rivers may also be named in a similar way but since they cross municipal boundaries the names more than likely come from the state level. However, locally the town officials may officially name a body of water. For example the Board of Selectman renamed Chrystal Lake, Freeman Lake in honor of one of our former State Representatives, Bruce Freeman back in the '70's I believe...

The email had the USGS map of Chelmsford attached, which I emailed to the patron. I didn't hear back, so hope that means she got her answer - but none of the maps I used showed a "Fish Brook" in Chelmsford. In fact, they didn't show water of any kind where she described seeing the sign.

And I guess that email answers my question - I just thought there would be more paperwork involved. It looks like the only time there's any kind of official name is when local politicians want to make history by changing the historical name to honor someone.

Otherwise, what something is called is just what it's always been called - even if that is more than one thing (incidentally, Freeman Lake is also known as Newfield Pond).



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/27/08

   May 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Google Street View of LaundromatOne of thing I love about my job is the absurd way unlikely resources sometimes need to be cobbled together to answer a question.

A patron called the desk asking for the phone number of a laundromat/cleaners in town. She knew it was just down the street from the library, and I pass it every day, but neither one of us could remember the name.

It was lunch time at the library, so there are no coworkers around to ask. I checked the yellow pages under laundromat, cleaners and dry cleaners, but the only businesses listed were not at the address we're looking for. I tried a few internet searches for "laundromat chelmsford" and the like, but had no immediate luck.

If there was another person to cover the desk, I would have just walked up the street and called her back with the information. But it was this thought - seeing the sign from the street - that gave me the brilliant idea of trying Google Street View.

I typed the Library's address into Google Maps, switched over to Street View, and then walked the little yellow man up the block to the laundromat. From this view, I could make out the name of the business (actually, I got lucky and their van was parked in the lot), and from there I could look them up in the white pages.

The patron was not only happy to get the phone number, but amazed at hearing about Street View for the first time. She was so interested that we stayed on the phone for another five minutes while I explained what it was, how it worked, and how she could get to it on her own.

Interesting postscript to this story:
The Chelmsford Library is located on an "island" between two one-way streets. However, this is poorly marked, and I sometimes see non-local cars going the wrong direction. Apparently, whoever was driving the Google photo car is also not from around here. By rotating the Street View down to see the car itself, you can tell by the side mirrors that it's driving the wrong direction - but best of all, you can follow the car's hasty U-turn in the library staff parking lot. Happily this did not cause an accident, but I'm surprised Google publishes photographic evidence of its drivers breaking traffic laws.



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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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