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


Text Message App for Public Libraries

   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.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/8/12

   January 14th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Cell phone with headphones plugged inI found this question interesting, even though I couldn't help much. An older woman came up to the desk one afternoon and said:

I have message from my granddaughter on my cell phone that I would like to save. How can I record that to a CD so I can listen to it whenever I want?

As you might suspect, I'm decently competent when it comes to tech questions, but I know nothing about cell phones. However, I suspected there must be some web interface she could log into and see all of her account's voicemail as mp3 files or something - at least, I hoped there was. Short of that, there was always the low-tech method of simply holding her phone close to a tape recorder.

Her carrier was AT&T, so I called the local AT&T store and asked them about downloading voicemail files - this is the guy's response:

No, we don't have anything like that - just tell her to hold her phone up to a tape recorder*.

Man. Yeah, I'm sure it'll work, but the quality would probably be pretty bad. So, I tried searching online for recording voicemail from cell phone and after reading a few posts, I found the obvious answer of using the phone's headphone jack to plug into a computer and use that to record.

The Ask MetaFiler post was particularly informative, as it provided multiple options including a list of the different hardware and software options available. Of course, we didn't have any of this in the library, so I couldn't help the woman directly. But it did provide me with enough information to call around to a few local computer repair shops, and ask them if they had the equipment and ability to record her message for her.

Of the shops I called, one said they'd do it for $10 and one said they'd do it for free, and the woman was very happy. She said she's try the free one first, and if it didn't sound good enough, she'd try the other.

It's kind of too bad we didn't have the right cable to do this - now I'm really curious to see if it works (but not enough to actually get my own cell phone).

 


*The guy at the AT&T store also did say that if the woman was being threatened she should take it to the Police, but that wasn't the case.



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An Anecdotal Experiment With Privacy

   March 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

For the last few years at my library, our public computers all looked the same - Windows XP with a custom wallpaper displaying instructions on how to print. Our setup looked like this:

Wallpaper with printing instructions

A month or so ago, we upgraded to Windows 7, and thought we'd also change the wallpaper.

Our goal in this was to improve patron privacy. The timer software we use is Time Limit Manager (TLM), by Fortress Grand (the little "Time Remaining" clock at the top of the screen above). I like this software because it is very customer service oriented, and patrons don't need to log in with a barcode to start their session - they can just sit down, click "I Agree" to our policies, and go. The timer is basically a courtesy reminder, and for the most part we can get away with using the honor system (TLM does offer additional features for when push comes to shove).

But the main problem we were seeing wasn't that people wouldn't leave the computer - it was that patrons weren't ending their session when they left the computer. This set up the scenario where a second patron could come along and just continuing using the session of the previous patron.

This never caused a real problem in my library, but the potential was there, so we thought the upgrade would be a good time to address it.

With the Windows 7 rollout, we designed new wallpaper, hoping to prompt people end their session when they were finished with the computer. The new wallpaper looks like this:

Wallpaper with privacy reminder

The result? Absolutely no change whatsoever.

I didn't do a scientific survey, but just from the number of times staff has to end the session at an abandoned computer, the privacy reminder didn't seem to affect anyone at all.

I can't believe people aren't seeing this message, so it's tough not to conclude that, at least in my library, most patrons don't care much about their privacy.

So, I wanted to ask the question here - what do other libraries do to get patrons to end their session?



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Positive Marketing

   July 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

I feel bad following up yesterday's fun Library Day in the Life project with a sort-of negative post, but I found the image below on another library's website and it bothered me:

Never on Sunday

The information is important, but the headline and image are very off-putting - and this message is prominently displayed on the library's homepage, above the fold.

Marketing is important to me, 1) because information and image are vital to an organization, and 2) it is something libraries have complete control over. There must be a way to convey Sunday hours to patrons with a positive spin, or at least a neutral one. "Never on Sunday" is a song, but probably not everyone gets that. And the red circle-slash on a book image should just never appear on a library website.

I know this sort of thing gets abused in the business and political worlds, but marketing isn't lying - it's telling people what you want them to know, and why it's important they know it. Libraries are all about serving the public, so almost everything we do is marketing - and since we depend on public perception for our survival, it is important to get it right.



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