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




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in 1984, so I flipped through it thinking the viewpoint of ready reference from 25 years ago might be humorously outdated.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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Video Everywhere

   November 6th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Too Much Joy's Donna Everywhere videoIn the last few weeks, I've seen a lot of announcements concerning video content being added to online resources. Both InfoTrac and NewsBank have recently made email announcements about content they've each added to their databases.

InfoTrac added many full-text resources to the General and Academic OneFiles, some of which include video segments. NewsBank's announcement was more thorough - here's an excerpt from the email:

In response to the rising demand in libraries, NewsBank is adding video news content to our online news resources-at no additional charge to our customers. The complete package from respected media distributor Voxant includes the following sources: The Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as coverage from Canadian Broadcasting, Agence France Press and more. Your institution will have access to video clips from all or a select group of these sources, depending on your subscription.

Beginning on Monday, October 20, the videos clips will be added to NewsBank resources. Users will be able to:

  • Play news videos within the NewsBank interface, in the same space used to display text articles
  • Select specific videos from a comprehensive results lists that also includes NewsBank articles, or restrict their search to "video only"
  • Access recent and archived news videos at your institution or remotely
  • Email links of specific videos to friends, or embed them in a presentation

I find it curious that they say this is in response to demand from libraries. From the few tests I did, most of this newly added video content is already available free online, so I'm not sure where this demand was coming from (or why the vendors choose to listen to this particular demand instead of other things libraries have been demanding).

If a patron wants to watch a news show online, I can't see myself showing them how to navigate the library website to find the right database, log in with their library card, navigate the database for the right title, and then find the episode. It is just easier for me and the patron to use the station's own website or YouTube as a resource.

And speaking of YouTube, Library Stuff linked to a YouTube announcement on c|net today: "YouTube will begin offering feature films produced by at least one of the biggest Hollywood movie studios possibly as early as next month." Combine that with Hulu.com and other websites, and that's a lot of available video content.

For the database vendors though, I would prefer they concentrating on making their resources more user-friendly and useful by "uniquing" them, instead of providing content that is already available from other sources.



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Online Polls, and Voting for the One Book

   November 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford One Book logoFor the third year in a row, my library is conducting a One Book program. The way we choose the book is to have a committee narrow down all suggestions to three finalists, and then let townspeople vote (today, election day) to decide the winner.

The voting is done by visiting the schools and passing out ballots, and also by setting up tables at some of the actual polling places around town. We do this not only to get the townspeople to vote, but also to raise awareness of the program and the library.

This year, we're also doing online voting. We created a "ballot" on our website (more on this below), and also set up a "voting booth" just inside the the library's front door. We evaluated five different options for free online polls, and in the end decided to use PollDaddy (it's also what Elizabeth Thomsen recommends).

[Note: for the purposes of this post, I'm linking to example polls, not our real polls - I don't want our totals being thrown off, after all]

Review of Online Poll Options
PollDaddy logoI want to point out that all of these polling websites provided the code to embed the poll right in our website (an example of making the library website more interactive and interesting by providing "information in context").

Each poll also had pros and cons, and here's a quick rundown of what we liked and didn't like. Keep in mind that these preferences are based on our needs for running a voting project - for a different kind of poll, we'd have different criteria.

AddPoll:

  • Pro: control over layout (can add book covers or catalog links); prevents repeat voting
  • Con: results loads in different page (includes ads)

FlexiPoll:

  • Pro: most visually-appealing
  • Con: requires flash plug-in; interface slightly confusing; can't change look; links to other peoples' polls; does not prevent repeat voting

PollCode:

  • Pro: control over layout (can add book covers and catalog links); prevents repeat voting
  • Con: results loads in different page (includes ads)

SurveyMonkey:

  • Pro: most features and options
  • Con: have to create an account; too powerful for this simple application

PollDaddy:

  • Pro: randomizes order; results shown on same page; prevents repeat voting; can add book covers
  • Con: can't change layout after selection style; have to create an account

Library's One Book Voting boothOne Book Online Voting
So based on these criteria, we went with PollDaddy. The only major omission after I got everything set up was that there was nowhere to include summaries of the books (unless it was part of the book cover image). Because of this, each ballot had to be two columns, one with summaries and one with the voting. Not perfect, but acceptable.

Something else I liked about PollDaddy were all the options it offered, and we had to use them differently in this case. Although our website ballot and library voting booth ballot essentially look the same, I had to create different polls to run each. The reason for this is that we don't allow multiple votes on the website ballot, but since we're using the same computer for the library voting booth (shown here), we did need to allow multiple voting.

Other settings we're using for these polls are to randomize the answers, set a closing date of midnight tonight, turn off comments (un-2.0, I know, but comments are not needed in this case), and to embed the book covers to make checking the right radio button easier. I really like that the results are displayed on the same page as the ballot, so the patron is always within our website, and isn't exposed to someone else's advertisements.

So far, the polls have been open for about four hours, and the voting is going well. The library voting booth is definitely attracting attention. Not only am I looking forward to finding out which book won, but also how many votes we get through the website.



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