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




Free Access to Ancestry.com’s Military Resources

   November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ancestry.com logoIn honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.

An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including

...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.

Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.

via LibraryStuff



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Library Events Calendar Roundup

   October 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog


library calendarAn important function of the library is communicating our upcoming events to the community. There are lots of ways to do this, one of which is by having an online calendar.

Of course, there are also lots of software for online calendars and for patrons to reserve meeting rooms. My library just switched calendars, and so did the Blue Hill (ME) Public Library. Since we each evaluated a number of different calendar options, Rich Boulet and I combined our notes, in the hopes of saving other libraries a bit of legwork when looking at calendars.

There are more calendars than what is listed here (in no particular order), and our pro/con notes reflect the needs, requirements and situations of our individual libraries. If you have questions about how we made our decisions, you can contact me through my contact form, and Rich through Blue Hill Library's staff page.

Library Insight     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Groton (MA) Public Library for example
  • Patrons can submit room requests online
  • Comes with 1200 images
  • Marquee of upcoming available for index page
  • SIP2 compliant
  • Will not disclose how many clients use product, but says they are "in 20 states"
  • $695/year plus $600 setup fee
  • Contact: Steve Bolduc / 978-808-1089
  • More info: http://libraryinsight.com/products/rmInsight.htm

Google Calendar     (Rich)

Evanced     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Chelmsford (MA) Public Library and Blue Hill (ME) Public Library (calendar, room reservation) for examples
  • Looks like most comprehensive product available
  • Used by Maine State Library, Web Junction and many public libraries
  • Allows user-initiated requests for room reservation
  • Allows attendee registration and cancellation
  • Somewhat pricey relative to others in market, but unlimited in number of listed events, and no module pricing (except credit card processing is extra)
  • Allows some design customization, to make it look like your website
  • Most powerful calendar search options
  • Locally-hosted installation requires Microsoft IIS 4.0 or higher and has more up-front costs, plus 18%/year maintenance fees
  • Remotely hosted solution carries ongoing subscription costs
  • Seamless integration between web calendar and room reservation software allows users to click off on room policy
  • Calendar allows events to be downloaded to Outlook
  • Offers customizable rss feeds based n search criteria
  • Can be used to track program stats
  • Contact: Claudia Hackworth / 317-352-2188 x109
  • More info & demos: http://evancedsolutions.com/demo.asp

Calandarix     (Rich)

  • See Rockport (ME) Public Library for example
  • Very attractive and very affordable web calendar
  • Does not apparently allow patron-initiated requesting of rooms
  • Compatible with Apache or IIS
  • No remote hosting option, requires local install
  • Cost: Advanced edition is $50 for non-profits; also comes in a
    free basic version
  • More info: http://www.calendarix.com

Eventkeeper     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Hingham (MA) Public Library for example
  • Seems to do everything that Evanced does, but in a very different style
  • Pricing is generally less than Evanced, but is somewhat variable based on modules and number of events
  • Can customize and brand calendar for additional one-time fee, integrate it more with the look and feel of the rest of your web site
  • Also "EK Feed" can can be rss feed marquee of upcoming events for library's homepage
  • Only available as remotely hosted product, no local installation
  • Currently have 1200 customers
  • Exceptional customer support
  • Can be used to track program statistics
  • No maintenance fees (other than annual hosting)
  • Eventkeeper: $275/year; EK Rooms: $250/year; EK Feed (marquee)
  • Contact: Jim Stewart / 508-942-4209
  • More info: http://www.eventkeeper.com

Meeting Room Manager     (Rich)

ConnectDaily     (Brian)

  • See San Bruno (CA) Library for example
  • Reasonably priced
  • Remotely hosted with varying contract lengths
  • Allows a great deal of design customization, to integrate with the look of your website
  • Serves as both a calendar and meeting room reservation system
  • A limitation is that it is designed as an "in-house" product (example, a school would use it for the teachers to reserve meeting rooms). It does have a public room reservation form, but take a little work to customize to be easy enough for the public to use
  • Allows for multiple calendars (Childrens, Adult, Teen, etc) all to be fed up into one master calendar
  • Events available in rss and iCal formats
  • More info: http://www.mhsoftware.com/connectdaily.htm

Calcium     (Brian)



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Tracking ILL Requests

   September 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

library mailMy brother sent me a package via UPS on Thursday, and it arrived on Monday. The neat thing, of course, is that we both could track its progress online (backup link).

It occurred to me that this would be a great feature for a library ILS. Most systems I've seen will only give the current status of a request, which is often cryptic to staff and totally indecipherable to patrons (ie, "recieved," "transit," "recorded," "check shelves," etc).

But sending patrons a link via email or text to track their request step-by-step in plain English could benefit them to no end. Not only would it give them an idea of where their item is and when to expect it, but it would also expose what all is involved in delivering their request to them. But it would be invaluable for staff, too, being able to see all of this information at a glance, for both assisting patrons and troubleshooting the delivery process.

And I bet some patrons would also be please to watch their request be returned to the library of origin after they're done with it.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but I'm definitely going to lobby to include it as a feature if my consortium adopts an open source ILS. And this feature will be exponentially more helpful if, as planned, the entire state moves to that same ILS.



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Reference Readiness : A Manual for Librarians and Students

   August 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ready Reference coverI was weeding the reference collection when I came across Ready Reference : A Manual for Librarians and Students. It was published in 1984, so I flipped through it thinking the viewpoint of ready reference from 25 years ago might be humorously outdated.

I was wrong. I was 10 when this book was published, but I still use many of the resources author Agnes Ann Hede recommends.

Each chapter in the book is devoted to different types of resources, and describes the best books in each area. As you would expect, most of the book focuses on print:

  • Dictionaries: 31 pages
  • Encyclopedias: 23 pages
  • Indexes, Serials and Directories: 26 pages
  • Bibliographies: 32 pages
  • Computer Sources and Services: 5 pages

I did get a laugh from the page comparisons, but it was certainly appropriate for 1984.

However, when I read the Computer section, I was amazed by how relevant it still is. There was no "computers are a difficult fad we just need to humor" mentality. In fact, the language she used is exactly what is commonly used today. She speaks of "getting into" databases, and casually refers to online searching (not on-line searching or "online" searching).

And her characterization and advice concerning balancing print and online resources is as true today as it was then:

[T]o be today's "compleat librarian," you must add to those [print] sources the increasingly abundant resources offered through computer technology.

The sad part is that this advice, 25 years later, is still not being fully embraced by the profession.

I debated, but ultimately weeded this book. As much as I liked it, it certainly was outdated, even though we do have the current copies of many of the print resources it recommends. But take a look to see if your library has this book. And weed your reference collection!



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Interesting Database: Dabbledb

   May 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

daddbledb.com logoA few weeks ago I was searching for a quick and easy online database, and stumbled across DabbleDB.

It looks like it's been around for awhile, and after watching their 8-minute demo video, I was really impressed. It seems incredibly easy to use, and excels at turning those flat spreadsheets into the databases we all want them to be. Plus, being online, it is amazingly easy to create simple and powerful web forms to work with the data.

I was looking for an online database to create a searchable catalog for our Town-Wide History Project. After looking around and talking with the other groups involved, iwe're going to use PastPerfect Online instead, but I'm kind of sad not to get to play with DabbleDB. For a little more tech info on it, check out this post on TechCrunch.

If you've got 8 minutes, watch the demo video - it's all good, but my favorite parts are towards the end: how easy it is to move data around (the email example) and their interface for building web forms. I can hardly wait to get some time to develop an online search tool using DabbleDB - hmm, maybe our Vertical File?

Update: found another video on YouTube:

And I also remembered that we're building a spreadsheet of obituaries that have appeared in the local newspaper - another perfect application for this database.



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Online Book Signings

   April 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Although the Kindle and other ebook devices are growing steadily in popularity, there is one advantage that libraries and bookstores still have: author visits and book signings.

Getting to listen to and meet an author in person is a great experience. And it's something that you can only do in person - right? Not any more. Amazon has announced a new program in an effort to recreate this experience for its Kindle customers.

The new "Online Book Signings" portion of their Digital Text Platform lets Kindle customers watch a live webcast of an author talking about their book, and ask the author questions via realtime chat.

But the best part is that people who buy a Kindle version of the book will also be able to get it personalized and signed by the author. A demo (Kindle not required) of three titles is below - click a title, type in your name, and then download the signed book to your Kindle. Pretty neat.

The World Is Flat cover
The World Is Flat
by Thomas L. Friedman
The Graveyard Book cover
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Just After Sunset cover
Just After Sunset
by Stephen King

This might start a whole new market for digital autographs - so collect all three!



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