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


Reference Question of the Week – 11/2/14

   November 8th, 2014 Brian Herzog

wall street journal signI like reference interactions where the initial question really just ends up being an ice-breaker for a series of bonus tangents. Well, sometimes I like those.

In this case, a patron came up to the desk carrying a back issue of the Wall Street Journal and asked,

Can I check this out? I want to take it home to compare it to the online version, because I think they're not giving me everything online that they are in the newspaper. I cancelled my newspaper subscription and just do the online now, but an online subscription is the same price as the newspaper and I don't think they include all the articles that are in the real paper.

I don't know the specifics of the WSJ's pricing structure, but I suspect that this patron is correct. I noticed this years ago with our online subscription the Lowell Sun database - articles people swore they saw in the print paper were not coming up in the database (and it wasn't hard for me to verify).

At the time, I called Newsbank to ask them about it, and they said that yes, that is correct. They only have the rights to put Lowell Sun-generated content into their database - so, any syndicated content like AP articles, comics, puzzles, etc, will not appear online. This was a few years ago and in a different context, but the Newsbank person said we'd never see an online version of anything that has everything the print edition has.

I relayed this to the patron, and he appeared to feel vindicated.

He also was extremely interested in the previously-unknown-to-him fact that we had online access to the Lowell Sun - and the Boston Globe, and the New York Times. I showed him how to log in from home with his library card, so that was a happy little tangent. Then he had another tangent for me:

Well, that's okay anyway about the Wall Street Journal articles. Sometimes what I can do is look at the headlines on the Wall Street Journal website, and if an article I want to read is one you have to pay for, then I just search for that headline in Google and usually it links to the full article for free. I don't know why, and it's not all the time, but usually.

So then we had a little talk about paywalls and Google access, for which I had no good answer. But while listening to him, I suspect that some of the articles he links to from Google weren't actually on the WSJ website, just news articles from other sources that had very similar headlines.

What I did not tell him about was the Element Inspector trick - a method for editing a website's code to remove the "sign in to read the full article" blocking mechanism. However, after the patron left I did try out both that trick and his search-for-the-headline-on-Google technique, and I couldn't get either of them to work for WSJ.com articles. Which isn't too surprising - if anyone is going to put a lot of effort into making sure casual circumvention can't be used to access their content, it'll be online newspapers.

Anyway, so instead of taking the back issue of the newspaper home, he just sat down at one of our computers and spent some time comparing the print headlines to the articles available on WSJ.com. I didn't talk to him again though, so I don't know what he discovered.

But another delightful bonus from this question is the idea of letting patrons take home old issues of newspapers. We don't catalog them at all, so all our newspapers are in-library only. I've never been asked this before, but it's certainly a good one for our No Log, to see if we get to yes on it. We already use the honor system for our collection of Cliff Notes, so it might work for old newspapers too.



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Libraries Holding Privacy Literacy Workshops for Patrons

   September 18th, 2014 Brian Herzog

rad ref logoYou may have seen this, but it bears cross-posting:

Librarians in Massachusetts are working to give their patrons a chance to opt-out of pervasive surveillance. Partnering with the ACLU of Massachusetts, area librarians have been teaching and taking workshops on how freedom of speech and the right to privacy are compromised by the surveillance of online and digital communications -- and what new privacy-protecting services they can offer patrons to shield them from unwanted spying of their library activity.

Read the full article on Boing Boing - please, read it. Good stuff.

It's important also to know this isn't a one time have-a-workshop-and-everything-is-fixed situation. Online privacy and security evolves constantly - a good example is Overdrive's recent announcement of changes to their app.

On the one hand they said they can do away with Adobe IDs, but on the other they want to start forcing patrons to register with Overdrive. It's increasingly common for patron information to be controlled by third-parties, but it's still not a good thing - and definitely something patrons should know about. And if it's not their librarians telling them, who will?

Thanks for pushing this, Alessandro!



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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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A Couple Handy Online Image Editing Tools

   May 29th, 2013 Brian Herzog

It's been awhile since I've talked about image editing tools. My favorite website for quick and easy editing (cropping, resizing, etc) is still Pixenate, but I recently read about Clipping Magic - and it is amazingly awesome.

Here's how it works: upload your image, draw a green line through the part of the photo you want to keep, draw a red line through the background you want to remove, and you're done:

clipping magic demo

The live preview on the right lets you adjust your lines to get as close as possible to what you want - and since you can change your line size and zoom in on the image, you can really fine-tune it.

I've been using Photoshop for years to do exactly this, and this is way quicker. Photoshop is still better of course, but like Pixenate and other web-based tools, I have access to this no matter where I am in the library (Photoshop is only installed on the computer on my desk in the office, which I rarely actually use).

Unfortunately, it looks like Clipping Magic is only free while it's in development. Hopefully it'll stay that way, but try it out while you can.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/15/12

   April 21st, 2012 Brian Herzog

Virtual catOne evening this week, a patron walked up to the desk and said,

Can you find me a website to adopt a cat? But not a real cat.

What he wanted was an online virtual pet. I had never looked for this before, but a search for adopt a cyber cat returned lots of results.

We looked at a few sites*, but he ultimately chose adoptme.com, because it had the best graphics. For the next forty-five minutes, he sat at the computer playing and chatting with it, and every once in awhile he'd come up to the desk to tell us something the cat did or said.

But the last time was the funniest: he came up and said, "the cat said I talk too much." Maybe he exhausted the repertoire of the artificial intelligence of the program that responds to chat messages, and that was how the program forced the conversation to end.

He wasn't deterred though - he left, saying he couldn't wait to come back the next day to play with the cat some more.

 


*One that didn't make the cut, but made me laugh, was virtualkitty.com. Their Create an Account screen included this field:

Pick an Emergency Web Address (URL):
(You will be sent to this address if you click the special emergency button while playing with your cat. We recommend your company website, or something business related, in case you need it to look like you are working on something else.)



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Automate the Internet with If This Then That

   November 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog

ifttt logo - Put the internet to work for youThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile. I haven't gotten a chance to use it yet, but wanted to share it because I think it's neat.

The website http://ifttt.com, which stands for "If This Then That," allows you to makes things happen online as a result of something else happening. The If/Then is a reference to logical causality, and in this case basically means,"if this one thing happens on the internet, then do this other thing automatically."

They explain it very well on their "About" page (I put "About" in quotes because their actual URL made me laugh and is so much better than "/about").

Anyway, there already are some tools that offer consequence-action services (like Google Alerts, getting an email if someone comments on your flickr photos, using Twitterfeed to automatically tweet blog posts, etc). But this one seems the most versatile, because it isn't service-dependent, it does more than just notifications, and it lets you manage all your notifications from one service.

I'm hoping to use it to automate some of what the library does online (as seen in our Online Marketing Flowchart). There are lots of triggers and actions available, and it seems limited only by your imagination. But of course, like with any online tool, the more you use it, the bigger impact you'll feel if it suddenly goes away - which never stopped me before.

Also, like LibraryElf, this is a tool I think patrons can use on an individual basis - I say this because it offers notifications by text, phone, and email, and triggers can be calendar events, feeds, and more.



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