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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Reference Question of the Week – 6/10/12

   June 16th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Hot Glue Gun bent object artI was sitting at the reference desk one day this week, when my coworker answered the phone. After speaking to the patron for a little while, she turned to me and said:

Brian, this patron wants to know if it's okay for her daughter and another student to meet at the library to work on a project - and they need to use a hot glue gun.

The first two things that popped into my head were "mess" and "burned kids," but really I didn't see any reason to say no. I suggested they at least reserve a study room, to contain any potential mess and also prevent anyone else from accidentally bumping into it.

My coworker relayed my permission to the patron, talked for a little while longer, and hung up. Then she turned to me, smiling, and told me the punch line:

The patron's daughter is working on this project with a boy in her class. It's the boy's glue gun, but the patron didn't want her daughter and the boy alone at his house, so she said they had to come to the library.

Ha - a totally legitimate concern, I know, but yet another reminder why ebooks will not destroy libraries.

Anyway, the good news is that the kids showed up later that day, stayed for a few hours working on their project, and left. I checked the room after they were done, and it was in perfect shape (although it smelled a little funny). But yay for another library success.



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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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Great Video to Help Raise Money for a Library

   March 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Just a quick post to share this great video, in case you haven't seen it already: the M. N. Spear Library in the Western Massachusetts town of Shutesbury put it together to help raise money for a new building.

[video link]

Whether or not you donate is up to you, but I thought this was an excellent example of a library being creative with new media: the video is great, they're encouraging sharing it, they involved their patrons, and it's fun.

Update 3/27/12:
Speaking of great library videos, I hope you've seen this one too:

[video link]



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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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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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