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

Creating a Mobile Library Website

   October 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comYou're probably sick of hearing about things I picked up at NELA2010, but I'm not done yet.

In the very last session of the conference, Steve Butzel from the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library demonstrated the Online Newsstand he created to boost their online magazine usage. That was neat in itself, but what I really took away from his talk was that I needed to - and easily could - create a version of our website specifically designed for mobile phones.

He showed theirs (in beta), which is simple and awesome. It inspired me to give it a try.

I started on http://chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile/ yesterday, and am still working on it yet (in fact, I haven't even told anyone at my library yet that I'm doing it - surprise!).

I don't have a cell phone and so haven't tested this on a smartphone yet. I have been using testiphone.com (an online tool Steve highlighted - there are other tools, too), so please give it a try and let me know how it works.

Steve's point was that it could be very simple - hours, directions, events, a contact link, and a purchase suggestion link for patrons who are in a bookstore (great for people with apps like RedLaser). Here's the logic of what to include:

  • Hours
  • Directions (right now it just links to Google Maps, but I need to also include a link for our branch library)
  • Ask a Librarian (haven't created this yet, but it will be a simple email form)
  • Purchase Suggestion (also not done, but will be a simple form)
  • Upcoming Events (our calendar was not at all mobile-friendly, so I just grabbed the rss feed and ran it through feed2js.org to create just a list of our upcoming events. There could be separate feeds for adult events, childrens events, etc., but that might be overkill)
  • Link to the catalog (I also embedded a catalog search, but that might be too much. And I found the catalog isn't entirely mobile-friendly either - we'll be moving to the Evergreen ILS soon, so I'll wait and see on this, otherwise I'd investigate LibAnywhere from LibraryThing, which Steve also mentioned)
  • Link back to the main library website for everything else

The next trick will be getting our regular homepage to automatically detect mobile devices and reroute them to the mobile website. I haven't even attempted this yet, but have done a little research.

Apparently, cell phones and smartphones aren't just a fad after all, so having a website that works well on these devices is just as important as a browser-based website - and this will only become more important as a way to serve our patrons on their terms. I was happy with how easy it was. Now I need to find out what my coworkers think.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/26/10

   October 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Can-and-string telephoneEarlier this year we got rid of the pay phone in our lobby (too expensive), so we've become more permissive with letting people (especially kids) use the desk phones to make calls.

I always ask people beforehand if it's a local call, because historically, local calls are no problem, but long distance calls are limited.

This isn't really a reference question, but I get asked this all the time and I'm honestly curious about it - here's a typical exchange (keep in mind I work at the library in Chelmsford, MA, which is in area code 978):

Patron: Can I use the phone?
Me: Sure, is it a local call?
Patron: Uh, I just need to call my mom.
Me: Okay, what's the number? [I always dial for them, to make sure they get an outside line and don't dial 911 accidentally, which does happen with our phone system]
Patron: It's 603-423...

As I get older (and as kids get younger), I've been noticing that fewer and fewer kids have any idea what you're talking about when you say "local call."

When they say "603" (New Hampshire) or "617" (Boston), I will sometimes say something to the effect of, "hey, a different area code is not a local call," and the response from kids is invariably, "we live in Chelmsford, it's my mom's cell phone."

I don't have a cell phone, so I don't know if there is such a thing as local and long distance calls on them, or if everything is charged the same (or just depends on time of day). But wow, the whole local/long distance thing was a big part of my childhood, so it's kind of stunning to think of kids growing up with no concept of that. Depending on how often people move around, a kid's friends could all have cell phones with different area code numbers, and have no idea why*.

But then again, I guess people don't really dial numbers any more anyway - it's just scrolling through the contacts list and clicking a name. Which means the reasoning behind area codes is destined to become historical trivia like the interstate numbering system, or an anachronistic relic like the phrase, "don't touch that dial."


*Tangentially, an old rant of mine is how the FCC dropped the ball when they started issuing phone numbers for cell phones. Instead of issuing cell phone numbers with area code where the phone was registered, and thus running out of numbers and having to slice up area codes and develop new codes (giving rise to situations where the "area" codes make no geographic logic, like 440 in Ohio), they should have created new area codes just for mobile phones. Which would have also helped out with making sure cell phones were always on the Do Not Call List, as they could just forbid those area codes from being called.

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Mobile App for Searching Libraries

   February 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redlaser logoNot having a cell phone, I can be a bit behind when it comes mobile apps - but this is still cool even to tech-no's like me.

My former co-worker Chris pointed out the iPhone app RedLaser, that turns the iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner. The app was designed to do instant price checks while you're in a store, to see if you could buy something cheaper online.

He also found that the database it scans can be customized - which means it could be modded to search a library catalog (among other things).

So a patron with an iPhone (or an Android) could be shopping in a bookstore, see a book they'd like to read, and instantly scan it to see if it's available at their local library. Great stuff.

But wait, there's more...
Another colleague, Scott Kehoe of NMRLS, posted about making customized versions that can search the MVLC (my library consortium), MassCat and the NOBLE consortium catalog. His post shows how he did it, links to Delicious for the customized databases, and explains how you can customize it yourself.

I think this is a great thing to promote to patrons, but they need to be careful about walking around bookstores scanning barcodes. I've heard many stores will throw people out if they appear to be doing "research" (recording a store's prices or looking for country of origin). Also, about this app, one bookstore owner was quoted as saying:

If I see any lecherous internet bottomfeeders using my store as a display case for a discount website, I will politely ask them to leave.

As the world of mobile devices becomes more compatible with the world of ebooks, the next step will be to create customs searches of places like Overdrive and Project Gutenberg, so that patrons can not just locate but also download the desired book immediately. I tend to think instant gratification is not a good thing, but in this day and age, it is certainly easy to support.

For a few more library-related apps, check out Aaron's post on Walking Paper.

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Phone Book Follies

   August 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

The Phone Book ListingsSo apparently, in 34 years, I've never looked up in the phone book a business name starting with the word "The."

While looking up a phone number of someone whose name started with "Terr," I happened to glance at the rest of the page. I was surprised to notice that there were business listings filed under "the" - The Pizza Place, The Family Eye Care Center, etc.

Since listings like this in a library catalog would be an error, it caught my eye. It seems like it should be wrong for a phone book, too, but I could understand there are business where "The" is an official part of their name.

But I was amazed I'd never noticed this before. Just to make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked up some of these businesses where I would have thought they'd be - under "P" for Pizza, "F" for Family, etc. Some were listed, and some weren't. How strange.

So I checked the other phone books we have, to see if all the publishers did it that way. I found that some businesses are listed under "The," some aren't, and some are under both. And then I found something even stranger.

Test Test in the phone bookOn the "T" page of one of the books, there were listings for "Test Test." This is something I commonly do when entering junk information to test a new system, and I was thoroughly entertained to see it published in a phone book.

All of the various "Test" entries were listed at the same address, but with different phone numbers. Curiosity got the better of me, and I tried a few of the numbers - but they all just went right to a generic voicemail. These "Test" entries were listed in the other phone books, too, so I'm guessing it tracks back to whoever complied the data originally and sold their database to the publishers. Ha.

But again, this underscores the important of knowing the appropriateness and limitations of your resources.

And so, now the world knows that I can entertain myself for a good twenty minutes reading the telephone book.

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Have Phone, Will Read

   December 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Have phone, will readIn honor of the holiday season, here's a post about quality family time:

My friend Carrie lives in South Carolina, and her family lives in Ohio. One of her nephews is learning to read, and most of the time, her family tells her, he does fine. But once in awhile when someone sits down with him, he'll throw a tantrum, act up, hit the person he's supposed to be reading to, etc. - basically, act like a boy who isn't in the mood to read.

So Carrie got the idea to have him read to her over the phone.

He's always excited to talk to her on the phone anyway, so he was happy to read to her, too. Her nephew picks the book, and they each check out a copy from their local libraries so Carrie can help him.

And in the process, they found he did a much better job reading to her than when he reads to someone in person. Perhaps it's because he feels pressured when he's reading to someone in person, or perhaps tantrums and hitting have no effect over the phone. If he's not in the mood, they just hang up, and he doesn't get the attention he normally gets when he acts that way.

Carrie said that not only has his reading has improved since they started this, but they also talk more often - a few times a week. And since they use free minutes on cell phones, it doesn't cost anything.

I've heard of libraries offering storytime-by-phone, but learning-to-read-by-phone might be too time-intensive for libraries to offer. But it's a great thing for geographically-distant relatives. I fall into that category, and in a couple years I'll try it with my nephews (but I'm still not getting a cell phone).

learning, learning to read, libraries, library, phone, public, reading

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Reference Question of the Week – 11/11/07

   November 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Modified AT & T logo: Death Star with 'Your World. Delivered. To the N.S.A.A patron called in, on her cell phone, while driving*, and asked:

Can you look up and see who a phone number belongs to?

Big Brother-type questions always give me the creeps. I know there are legitimate reasons to do this, but still.

Anyway, since it wasn't a local phone number (which means I couldn't use our Polk Directory), I turned to the internet. It occurred to that I have not done a reverse phone number lookup in at least two years, so I wasn't sure if the websites I used to use were still around.

I did a general search for "reverse phone lookup" and recognized a couple domains: InfoSpace, WhitePages.com and AnyWho.

For this reference question, I typed the number into AnyWho, and it provided me with a first initial and a last name. I read this off to the patron, she said thanks, and then promptly hung up.

Still curious, I tried typing that number into the other two, to see if they all just had the first initial. WhitePages.com gave me a full first name (in addition to the last name and address), and InfoSpace found no matches. Our ReferenceUSA database also provided the complete information, but since it takes a bunch of extra steps to log in to library subscription databases, in this case the free web was easier.

This isn't a very difficult reference question, but it's good to review these tools every so often, to know how they compare to each other. Of course, I still added all three to my library's del.icio.us account.

*Interestingly, my library does not have a policy about talking to people who are driving. I personally hate it when people use cell phones while driving, but I also don't like the idea of telling a patron "no" or asking them to call back later. But, in the interest of not killing innocent people, I'd be willing to do it.

libraries, library, phone, public libraries, public library, reference question, reverse lookup, reverse phone lookup, reverse telephone lookup, review, telephone

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