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




Most Popular Computer Ebooks (at my library)

   September 22nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Safari Computer EbooksSince getting back to work this week, I've been trying to get caught up on emails and feeds.

Stephen's Lighthouse linked to the top 25 most downloaded titles on Overdrive - which reminded me that I had recently done our year-end database usage stats, and compiled highest-access titles for our Safari Computer Ebooks database.

Our top 12 most-accessed books were:

Title, Author Accessed
Sams Teach Yourself Java in 24 Hours, Fifth Edition, by Rogers Cadenhead 706
CISSP Exam Cram, Second Edition, by Michael Gregg 684
CISSP Study Guide, by Eric Conrad, Seth Misenar, Joshua Feldman 677
The Green Screen Handbook, by Jeff Foster 577
Java: A Beginner's Tutorial, by Budi Kurniawan 462
Adobe InDesign CS5 On Demand, by Steve Johnson - Perspection, Inc. 358
SAP MM HANDBOOK, by Kogent Learning Solutions, Inc. 356
Microsoft Excel 2010 Step by Step, by Curtis D. Frye 340
Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours, by Lauren Darcey, Shane Conder 305
Beginning iPhone and iPad Web Apps: Scripting with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, by Chris Apers, Daniel Paterson 278
Ruby on Rails 3 Tutorial: Learn Rails by Example, by Michael Hartl 270
IT Systems Management, Second Edition, by Rich Schiesser 220

The Safari stats interface doesn't make it really easy to identify this. Finding the number of sessions isn't too bad*, but we have to report the total number of "circulations" for these ebooks - which to me means the number of times each one was accessed.

I was able to run one report that seemed like a master total usage report, which I think indicated that 433 of our ebooks have been "hit" a total of 12,256 times.

Also interesting, if I'm reading these reports right, those 433 books are only about 1/8 of the collection, meaning 7/8 never got touched even once. Also, of those 433, 250 were accessed five or fewer times (totaling 410 circs), and the top twelve books (which all had >200 "hits") have a combined total of 5233 circs. Which means that 12 books account for a little under half of our total activity.

That is shocking, but also should be a fairly good indicator of what the leading technologies are right now (at least for my patrons, and among the selections available in our Safari catalog) - and a good reason to supplement our Safari access with print copies.

 


*Incidentally, we had 963 patron user sessions for FY11



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LISNews Series on IT Security in Libraries

   August 30th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Everybody Cooperate for Safety First signOver on LISNews, Blake has a series of posts on IT security in libraries, and it's absolutely worth checking out. So far there are five parts:

  1. IT Security For Libraries
  2. Practical Tips For Online Privacy
  3. Practical Advice On Choosing Good Passwords
  4. Staying Safe Online
  5. 20 Common Security Myths

It's good for library staff to know and abide by this information, but it is also very useful material for building a online safety program for the public.

Another of my favorite security-related posts is the Email Scam Competency Test, to see if you can tell legitimate email messages from scams. At the end of the test, click the "why" links to see the clues for telling the difference.



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Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online

   August 4th, 2011 Brian Herzog

My library just launched our long-overdue Facebook page. In the course of preparing it, we had a discussion about why we needed a Facebook page, what we wanted to use it for, and how it related to everything else we were doing online.

This led to the realization that no one really understood exactly what all we were doing online. We have a website, Twitter account, blog, email newsletters, flickr account, and now Facebook, but no clear policy as to what gets posted where, when information is duplicated, how things are updated, etc.

To help understand how our various types of information are represented online, I created the diagram below - it's probably not 100% complete, but it does cover most of our bases:

Flowchart of flow of online information

On the left are our different types of information (MacKay is our branch library), and the arrows show how that information flows through different electronic tools. There isn't necessarily a hierarchy at work*, other than perhaps the automatic updates necessarily come after the manual updates. Otherwise, the boxes are laid out just so they all fit on the page.

After discussing this, we uncovered two philosophies at work:

  1. use the different end tools - website, Facebook, Twitter - for unique content, so as not to duplicate things and essentially "spam" our patrons that use more than one service (for example, you can see above that no event information is posted to Facebook)
  2. publish all of our content almost equally through all of our channels, so we're sure to reach all our patrons regardless of which tool they choose to use

I don't think they are mutually-exclusive, but it does take a lot of work and forethought to do it well. I also think that more of what we do could be automated, as cutting down on the manual postings would save staff time.

Do other libraries have similar online information relationships? I imagine things range from very structured to a free-for-all to orphan accounts galore, but I'm curious to hear what other libraries are doing, to get ideas on how to do it better at my library.

 


*Something to note on the diagram is our "secret" Twitter account. We have a primary Twitter account we encourage patrons to follow and we use for regular tweets. The secret account is one we use only to post messages directly to our homepage. The reason for two, and why I don't really want anyone following to the homepage updater one, is that clearing the message off the homepage requires sending a blank tweet - it's not the end of the world if anyone follows it, but the blank tweets do look odd. Besides, everything posted to it gets posted through our primary account anyway.



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Hack Library School

   February 24th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Hack Library SchoolHere's something to check out: Hack Library School.

It's mainly a tech sandbox for library school students, but since today's students are tomorrow's librarians, keeping up with what they're doing is well worth the time. Librarianship is increasingly technology-based, and libhackers are well-positioned to be the innovators and leaders.

From the website:

The Web is our Campus.

This is an invitation to participate in the redefinitions of library school using the web as a collaborative space outside of any specific university or organization. Imagine standards and foundations of the profession that we will create, decided upon by us, outside of the institutional framework. Ideas like the democratization of the semantic web, crowdsourcing, and folksonomies allow projects like this to exist and we should be taking advantage of it. What will the information professions be next year if we define it for ourselves today? If we had a voice in the development of curriculum, what would that degree entail? This is our challenge to you; participate or come up with a better idea. How would you hack library school?

Besides, they rank Swiss Army Librarian at #5 of library blog to follow, so you know they've got good taste.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/17/10

   October 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Volunteer facts bookmarkThis week's question is actually one I needed to answer myself - it's a little bit random, so bear with me.

My library just held our annual thank-you dinner for all of our adult volunteers. To illustrate "the value of volunteers" (in other words, how much money volunteers save us) my director and I came up with a "volunteer stats" bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] to hand out.

We had 241 volunteers last year, with a total of 5804 volunteer hours. We figured if we paid them each $15/hour, their labor would have cost the library $87,060. Just to add another little fact to the bookmark, I wanted to figure out just how tall $87,060 was in $100 bills.

So of course, I turned to the internet. I did a search for something like how tall is a stack of money, and after clicking on a few results, I found a forum posting that provided the Excel formulas needed to calculate not just the height of a stack of bills, but also the cubic volume and value of different denominations. Neat.

I copy/pasted the formulas into an Excel spreadsheet* [xls], and after a little tweaking, had my answer. And just to double-check it, I went back to the internet to find a "known value" (in this case, the height of $1 million in $100's). It checked out, so I had my fact for the bookmark, and a job well done, right?

Well, not so fast: being me, I thought, "hey, wouldn't it be awesome to turn this Excel spreadsheet into a web form that other people could play with? After all, that was so popular the last time."

Volunteer bookmark front

But this was all happening late in the day on Thursday, and I didn't have time to figure out how to convert the Excel formulas into javascript. So once again, I turn to the internet, thinking, "I just bet there's some easy spreadsheet-to-javascript converter out there."

And it turns out, there is: I found SpreadsheetConverter.com, which does exactly that. After you download the software, it converts spreadsheets to a web-ready format with just a click of a button - pretty neat.

But even better was their free demo offer, where you email them your spreadsheet and they convert it for you. Within 24 hours they sent back the converted webpage, and it works great - just enter the height** of your money stack below, and the spreadsheet tells you the value of various denominations, for both a single stack and a cubic block of bills.

One condition of the free demo is that it is for evaluation purposes only, so evaluate away and keep this tool in mind if you ever need to throw a spreadsheet up on your website - it can save you a lot of time. Too bad I didn't know about it when I was coding the Library Use Value Calculator.

The thank-you dinner went well, and the bookmarks were a big hit. Yay for volunteers.

 


*Feel free to download, edit and reuse our volunteer bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] or the Excel spreadsheet* [xls] if you like.

**This was designed to figure out height in inches - to use different measurements, the form below will convert those values into inches:





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Historical Photo Collection Survey Results

   September 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Historical postcard of the Chelmsford LibraryThanks to everyone who completed the historical photo collection survey. The Nashua Library got answers about 13 different collections, which will help them create their own collection policy.

Kersten Matera from the Nashua Library was kind of enough to compile and summarize the results (below) - a PDF of the full results and individual answers [156KB] is also available.

I was particularly interested in seeing what kind of fees libraries are charging for digital copies of their images collections. To this I asked the question: If the public wants a high-resolution digital copy of an image, will you provide that to them?

  • 42% of libraries do not offer high-resolution copies
  • 33% offer copies for free
  • 25% charge a fee (e.g. $10, $20, $24)

Interesting to note that a call in to Kinko's furnished me with their scanning prices: $6.99 if they scan it and put it onto your storage device, or, an additional $9.99 to burn it onto a CD for you.

Other questions that were asked on the Historical Photos survey included whether or not the library would provide a physical copy of an item in the collection

  • 5 libraries said they charge between $.10 and $.25 for what I took to mean a copy on regular paper which is printed using the library's printer
  • 4 libraries charge a rate more in line with what a photo shop would charge (i.e. $5.00-24.00)
  • 2 libraries do not provide copies
  • 1 library will provide them for free

When asked about possible tools to help with a Historical Photos collection, responses included: Flickr, Content DM, Facebook, a library's OPAC (in this case, Polaris), Illinois State Digital Archive, Local History Digital Archive, websites created specifically for such things, and library websites.

How much of your historical photos collection is digitized?

  • All of the collection:16.7%
  • Some:66.7%
  • None:16.7%

Is the collection available/viewable online?

  • All are viewable online:25%
  • Some:58.3%
  • None:16.7%

If the public wants a physical copy of an image in your collection, will you provide that to them?

  • No:16.7%
  • Yes, for free:8.3%
  • Yes, for a charge:75%

Do you have any mark (e.g. a watermark) on the image that marks it as being part of your collection?

  • Yes:66.7%
  • No:33.3%

No library had a limit to the number of digital copies they would provide.

Thanks again to all who participated!



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