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

An Old Solution to a New Problem

   December 8th, 2016 Brian Herzog

One of those on-going discussions in the library world is how to display new books.

Well, new-new books are easy: when something is recently published, it goes in the new book room, or on the new book shelf, for six months or a year or whatever you're library's practice is. And usually, it also gets marked with some kind of sticker so pages know to shelve it as "New" rather than in the regular collection.

The question has been - at least for me - what is the best way to handle books that are not recently-published, but that are still new to the library (and therefore possibly new to our patrons)?

If I missed ordering something when it first came out, and then a patron donates a copy, should it go into the new book room like a new book (even though it's not "new"), or should it just go right into the regular collection (even though people might miss it there)? I've heard arguments both ways on this, but the Jackson (NH) Public Library has a great (and obvious) solution that just never occurred to me.

They do put these old-but-new-to-the-library books into the new book room - and just mark them "NEW-ish." Brilliant.

This labeling lets people know the books aren't just published, but also allows the people who browse the new book room (rather than search the catalog) to easily find them. And that's the important thing.

This might be commonplace in other libraries too, but like I said, it never occurred to me before. Now I just need to convince the staff at my library to go for it. We'll see.

Way to go, staff at the Jackson Library.

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Tips for New Library Employees

   September 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Advice DeskJust recently, someone who follows my blog sent me this email:

I have just started a job as a library reference assistant in a public library system in a city of over 500,000 people. I will be in one of the busier neighborhood libraries (there are around a dozen neighborhood libraries and a central library).

Any tips/advice for a new library reference assistant with only patron experience (and that, only checking out books, no reference usage) in a library?

First, I was happy to hear someone managed to get a library job, despite the "librarian shortage" the ALA is talking about (discussed at Closed Stacks and by Jessamyn, and contradicted by my library's recent experience filling an opening).

Anyway, I thought I'd put together a Top 5 list for advice for new library employees. It's tricky, as library jobs can be so different, but here's the advice (mostly reference-related) I came up with - please submit more advice in the comments:

  1. Don't be afraid to tell the patron you're new, and might not know something
  2. Don't be afraid to ask coworkers for help (this will also save the patron's time)
  3. When working on a difficult or complex question with a patron, I will get the patron started in one area (say, browsing the right Dewey section) while I go back and continue searching on my own. I find it much easier to think when a patron isn't standing there staring at me, and I think they get more out of it by being involved in the search
  4. During downtime, learn your library's policies and about what resources & tools available to you - the catalog, vertical files, information at the reference desk, etc. (this is especially true for local information, which always seems like the hardest thing to find)
  5. Practice - a little while ago I posted a couple tests used for hiring and training new staff - the more experience you have and the more familiar you are with the quirks of your tools, the more comfortable and helpful you'll be

The Librarian by Day has more good advice for library staff, new and old, in the bottom portion of her post about library skills.

And on the lighter side of interviewing for a library position, here's a classic Monty Python sketch - humorous, yes, but most of what the interviewers say is still spot on:

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ALA’s New 404 Page

   October 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

ALA's new 404 page screencaptureMost of the talk about ALA's new website redesign has died down, but I noticed something this week I want to comment on.

On the whole, I think the new site is a vast improvement over the old one. And with any new site, I understand they're still shaking out the bugs, and dealing with lots of dead links.

But: for my previous post, I wanted to find information from the ALA about library activity rising in time of economic trouble. A search on Google linked to something sounding exactly like what I was looking for on the ALA site. However, the link was broken.

By searching the ALA site itself for the title displayed in the Google results, I ultimately found the article's new location. Which is fine, but I have to say I am disappointed with the new website's 404 page.

When the 404 "Page Not Found" page loads, the most dominate thing on the page is the search box right in the center. So of course I clicked on this to search for the page I wanted. But - surprise - it's not a functioning search box. It's just an image of what the search box at the top of the page looks like. Of course the text above this image tells you to use the one at the top, but who reads? I don't - especially when a dominate image draws my attention away from the text.

So ALA, how about making the search box in the center a functioning search box, instead of just teasing us? It would add utility to the page, and make the 404 page incrementally just that much more user-friendly.

But otherwise, I think this is a pretty good 404 page, as far as they go. It customized and nice-looking, and gives some tips for finding what you're looking for. It also includes an email address to contact a person for help, which is great. I think I only noticed this because I talked about library website 404 pages before, and gave my library a fancy-pants 404 page.

I don't understand why it doesn't show up all the time, but maybe that's in the works, too.

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