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


Reference Question of the Week – 11/25/12

   December 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

This isn't a reference question, but it is something desk staff face on a daily basis.

The clip below comes from an episode of Family Guy from a few weeks ago - initially I cringed at negatively portraying public libraries, but then I realized just how amazingly accurate it was. The librarian could be nicer though:

I'm sure every library has its "regulars," but I was struck by how well the writers captured a typical interaction - how, no matter what, it's almost impossible for staff to extricate themselves. Now that is a skill I would love to learn.

I've asked if we could have some kind of button installed under the desk that would just make the phone ring, so we could use that as a reason to break off the aimless and never-ending conversations. No progress yet on a button, so I need to come up with other ideas.



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Cloud of Survey Comments from Library Patrons

   September 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A few months ago, my library conducted a survey of our patrons. We wanted it to be short+useful, so we called it the "60 Second Survey" and limited it to five questions, on things like which services people liked/used, best way to contact them about programs and events, etc.

Of course, the last question was the open-ended "Tell us what you think" question. 255 people provided comments, which made for very interesting reading.

Last week while a coworker was talking about the Wordle cover letter cloud, we got the idea to do a cloud based on the survey comments. Here it is (larger version to see smaller words):

Library Patron Survey Comments cloud

We had read the comments so we knew it was generally positive, but the visual impact of seeing things like this made us feel pretty good. A cloud is so much more concise than 255 individual comments, and we were very happy to see things like "friendly" and "helpful" rise to the top since those are areas we strive to emphasize.

Anyway, I don't mean this as a "We're #1" gloaty post - I just wanted to share because it was so positive. And, it's also a great visual, so we're going to include it in the Town Annual Report, as well as create a poster to display in the library, post on Facebook, etc. A t-shirt might be going too far, but we'll see. I like t-shirts.

I know I'm late to the Wordle game, but now I can't help trying to come up with other things to convert to clouds.



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More On-The-Item Patron Reviews

   April 4th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A few months ago, someone donated DVDs to the library that had their personal reviews stuck to the covers. In that same theme, we recently found one of the library's Twilight books had been "reviewed" (rather harshly) in the same manner:

Twilight with stickers on cover

Twilight stickers closeup

Although I still like the idea of patron interaction and reviewing books in context, this doesn't exactly qualify. The Avery label scraps made me laugh though.



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Reviews in Context in the Physical World

   August 16th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Something the whole Web 2.0 revolution introduced was the ability for websites to include user-reviews right along side product/company information. Yelp.com is my favorite example, listing a restaurant's address and details, and reviews from diners about their experience. This, perhaps more than most things, changed the nature of how people use the internet (and how companies on the internet use people).

So anyway, this past weekend was one of my library's drop-off days for our annual Friends of the Library book sale. While going through some of the donations on Saturday, I found the movies below - the previous owner added their own review right to the cover.

I don't know if this was for personal use, or staff reviews from a video store, or someone writing reviews for a family member to read, but I love the idea. It's the same as posting reviews on Amazon, Yelp, or in the library catalog, but just in the physical world.

On-item user review
On-item user review
On-item user review
On-item user review

Every once in awhile I'll request a book from another library, or buy an old library book at a used book sale, and stuck inside the front cover will be a review from a newspaper or magazine. I would love it if my library could do this, but the volume of new items just makes this practice unsustainable. Not only would it be helpful for patrons, it would also remind me why I bought the book in the first place.

Of course, since I do most of my selection via RSS feeds, instead of by reading physical journals, I guess it wouldn't work anyway. Sigh.



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We’re Starting Up A Jelly

   July 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Jelly logoThere's a new program starting this week at my library - a Jelly.

What's a Jelly?!
A Jelly is a casual yet organized assembly of people who choose to work in a social atmosphere - with other interesting and creative people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off.

The idea for the Chelmsford Jelly actually originated with a patron. He approached our programming librarian and asked if the library could host a Jelly. After researching online to find out what the heck a Jelly was, we agreed - we're providing a room and some publicity, and he's doing everything else. He's also set up a meetup page for the Jelly to manage it.

I think the idea of "coworking" is a good one. There are lots of people now who, for whatever reason, do work at home, in coffee shops, in parks, whatever, instead of going into an office. There is a lot of freedom in that, but sometimes it helps to be around people who are also doing work. The coworking approach is just that - working around other people who are also working. They're not necessarily working together, just near each other - near enough to enjoy each other's company, use as a sounding board, share lunch, and share the experience of working. Basically, social networking in person.

For us, the Jelly will meet every third Friday from 11:30-4:30. We're not sure how successful it will be, but since the library's core mission is providing community space for patrons (and this program requires extremely little effort on our part), we want to support this program as much as possible.

Update: At our first Jelly, I think there were about 4-5 people who came to work, and stay for part or all of the day. But I was told there was a steady stream of other people who just popped their heads in to see what it was, or, as one man said, "to see what kind of people come to these things." I think this will become more popular as word spreads over time, so I'll post an addition update after a few sessions.



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Displaying Circulation History in the Catalog

   May 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Catalog card with commentsMy last post and peoples' comments got me thinking about displaying the circulation history of items, and how it might make items more interesting.

I don't know how many library patrons consider the fact that other people have used an item before them (unless, of course, they find some evidence of that use). But if we started showing the cost-per-circ, it might prompt some people to wonder about the X number of people who also were interested in the same thing as them.

Obviously, libraries couldn't cross any privacy lines, but I do think there are ways to highlight the "shared resources" aspect of the library, and to emphasize a sense of community among our patrons.

Some ideas for what could be shown:

  • Detailed stats on cost-per-circ (including a breakdown on the library's cost for that item - price we paid for it, processing cost, etc) - and, as Walt said, this would be particularly interesting for databases
  • Number of local checkouts vs. ILLs and network transfers (along with current number of holds)
  • Along with number of checkouts, calculate the popularity ranking vs. total library items checkouts
  • Date the item was added to the collection, and date of last checkout (and check-in)
  • Some catalogs by default have an opt-in reading history for patrons; they should also have an opt-in way to make their checkout history public, on an item-by-item basis
  • Some catalogs, and some third-party plugins (like ChiliFresh and LibraryThing for Libraries), allow patrons to include their review and rating for items right in the catalog record
  • Ebook readers should be able to leave comments and notes in the ebook, which subsequent patrons could either turn on or off depending on if they wanted to see them

Some of this information is available in our staff view, and I use it all the time - why not make it available to the public, too?

One drawback to making this kind of item information available is that we might get a lot more "weeding suggestions" from patrons, on items they don't feel have provided enough value to the library (or that have been used too much). Of course, I get this to some degree already, so it's just a matter of having - and employing - a good collection development policy.

Does anyone's catalog include features like these? How do patrons like them?



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