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


Reference Question of the Week – 2/10/13

   February 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Holding a duckOne common question at the reference desk is a patron asking for a specific book by describing the cover - they don't remember the title or author, but know it was "kind of red, with an airplane or a submarine, and maybe something like a roundish square type thing."

Being librarians, we take whatever information the patron can provide and do our best. I know many people dread this type of question (because it's often just impossible), but I sort of enjoy them. Since the expectation of success is so low to begin with, it's a fun challenge, and finding the right book is all the better for it.

In this case, the patron was actually a coworker of mine - she had taken her niece to a different library, and was trying to re-locate a book her niece had picked out and loved, to see if the author had any others. But all she could remember was that it was a newish kids book with a girl holding a duck on the cover.

I first went to Amazon's advanced search with this question. My keyword search was for "girl duck," limit to Condition=New, Format=Printed Books, Pub date after November 2012, and then submitted individual searches for each of the different kid ages one at a time. None of the searches has a likely-looking cover, so I decided to just use "duck" as my keyword (thinking that if a duck is on the cover it must be the important part of the story). I also dropped the idea of using the age limiter in favor of the Subject option limited to Children's Books.

Amazon advanced search page

In that search, result #10 looked promising. I called my coworker over to check, and she was excited - the book she'd seen with her niece was indeed Lulu: Lulu and the Duck in the Park (Book 1), by Hilary McKay and Priscilla Lamont*.

Lulu and the Duck listing on Amazon

Awesome. But then I started to wonder - was Amazon the best tool for this question? There is no really good "look up a book by cover" resource out there, although I would love there to be. LibraryThing started down this road with CoverGuess. The genius of their approach was to gamify the data entry part of tagging cover art, but I don't think a searchable interface has ever been created.

Anyway, out of curiosity I decided to run the same search process in Novelist and the library catalog, to see if I could have successfully located the book with those tools.

Novelist's advanced search is more complex than Amazon's - I used "girl duck" as a keyword, limited to Audience = 0-8 Years, and Publication Date from = November 2012:

Novelist advanced search

In my library's catalog's advanced search, I used "duck" as the keyword, limited to Format = Books, Audience = Kids, and Publication Year after 2011:

Evergreen's adavnced search

And now the results - each one has the number next to it indicating how far down this book was in the search results:

Amazon:

Result #10 on Amazon

Novelist:

Result #2 on Novelist

Library Catalog:

Result #55 in the library catalog

In all cases it was findable, but Novelist ranked it the highest with the fewest search limiters. However, since Novelist is a subscription database, getting to the search interface is a much more cumbersome process than using Amazon. The library catalog is easy to get to and the search interface is reasonable, but burying the book at #55 is bad because many people give up log before the sixth page of search results (thanks for that, Google).

Something else I noticed, and what I think is another strike against the library catalog, was the various sizes of the cover images. Comparatively, the library catalog's cover thumbnail is tiny, and because of this it's not really evident that the girl is holding a duck. Since that's all I had to go on with this search, if I had started with the library catalog, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I don't know why the thumbnails are as small as they are, but it seems the catalog would be improved by making them almost twice the size they are now.

So there you go, my curiosity was sated. Anyone else have a favorite method for finding books by cover descriptions?

 


*I don't know why Amazon has the publication date as September 2013, since the other library apparently had it cataloged and on their shelf. Ah, sweet mysteries of life.



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LCSH: Fallery–Sky

   October 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

cookery signThis announcement was making the rounds yesterday on Twitter, and it seems to qualify as the-sky-is-falling type news:

The Library of Congress is revising their "Cookery" subject heading [pdf], saying:

The use of the term “cookery” will be discontinued in these categories of headings. The term “cooking” will be used instead in most cases.

The "Cookery" example was always the go-to citation for demonstrating how traditional library institutions were out of date, and how Web 2.0 tagging filled a need by linking together books and information based on the way people actually think and speak.

LibraryThing.com has led the way in much of this innovation and development, showing the old timers better ways to serve library patrons. This Cookery change shows that the powers that be are paying attention. So does Ebsco's release of NoveList Select, which mimics LibraryThing for Libraries' functionality by putting NoveList data right into the library catalog (where our patrons already are), instead of making them go somewhere else for it.

People often refer to these traditional library vendors and institutions as dinosaurs, but they seem to be learning from and closing the gap with the inflatable rhino.



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Databases Stats and WebFeat Express Trial

   April 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't really like being a repeater for products and advertising, unless I think they are helpful. I've never used WebFeat before, but from what I know about it, I would love to.

I recently received a marketing email from them, offering a free trial, with a pitch that caught my eye:

...The WebFeat Express 2.0 trial isn’t just a canned demo – you’ll be able to...add your own databases and subject categories...

This is of particular interest to me now. My consortium's reference committee met last week, and we were told that the directors are looking to cut our database budget. The consortium itself only pays for three databases (NoveList and History Reference Center [HRC], both from ebsco, and Overdrive), and want to do away with one of them.

These are three very different resources, so this alarmed me. So, too, did the way they were being compared to each other. We were given a sheet with the cost for each database, the number of sessions for the Ebsco databases, and the number of audiobooks downloaded in Overdrive. They then divided the usage by the cost, to come up with a per usage dollar figure, and suggested cutting the most expensive one.

The figures came out like this:

Database Total Usage Cost Per Use
HRC 3776 $6.28/session
NoveList 3697 $4.69/session
Overdrive 4342 $4.38/checkout

Now, there's all kinds of extra information that goes along with this breakdown. But, based on this comparison, it seems like HRC is the most expensive, so we should get rid of it.

My issue with it, though, is that a session is not the same as a checkout. In the ebsco databases, patrons will access the database (a session), search for their keywords (searches), and then read articles (end product). In Overdrive, patrons will access the catalog (a session), search for audiobooks (searches), and then checkout something (end product).

See that subtle difference? In the comparison above, they are looking at sessions in HRC and NoveList, but the end product in Overdrive - the proverbial apples to oranges comparison. To meaningfully compare these three, I think you have to look at sessions across the board, or searches across the board, or end product across the board.

So, they should compare the audiobook downloads in overdrive to the number of articles viewed in the other two - which I think would significantly bring down that cost per use number. This is my statistics rant. Having an undergrad degree in Market Research, I am sensitive to such things.

But back to WebFeat: regardless of the cost per use breakdowns, I think the real problem is that we generally do a poor job of promoting our databases. Most patrons don't know what "database" means, nor when to use one. And our websites don't help much. This trial lets us see what searching with WebFeat would be like, with the databases we currently subscribe to.

Which is why a product like WebFeat (and SchoolRooms) is great - it incorporates all of these resources into a patron's information search without the patron even realizing it. It gives the patron access to information from resources they didn't know existed, without them having to go out of their way to find it. In the future, I hope library ILS are all designed this way - a single, unified information search.

That should be our bottom line goal, not just bringing down cost per use figures or inflating our database statistics.

database, databases, ebsco, history reference center, libraries, library, novelist, overdrive, public libraries, public library, webfeat, webfeat express, webfeat express trial



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