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




Reference Question of the Week – 2/13/11

   February 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Academics use these to measure their degrees (sorry - I have a weakness for bad jokes)One afternoon, a middle school-age patron asked to borrow a protractor. Normally, requests like this aren't a problem - we have lots of school tools and office supply stuff that we let people use all the time. But this time, I looked everywhere - Reference, YA, Childrens, and our supply closet - and there wasn't a protractor anywhere.

After my search, I went back to the table where the patron was sitting with her tutor to apologize for not having one for her. As I did, kind of spur of the moment, I offered to see if I could find one online to print out - if that was okay with them.

The student and tutor both kind of looked stunned, but then said sure, a printed one would probably work fine - although they both seemed kind of skeptical.

I went back to the desk and searched Google Images for "protractor" (limited to Large size since I was going to print it).

The very first result seemed perfect, so I printed it and took it, along with a pair of scissors, over to their table.

As I handed it to them, I think it finally dawned on them what I was doing - and that they now had to cut it out. They both were laughing and kind of delighted with the novelty of adding a craft project to math homework.

An hour or so later when they were finished, the student came to return the scissors to the desk. I asked her if it worked okay, and she smiled and said she liked it so much she was going to save it to take to school.

Meanwhile, my homework is to go to the dollar store to get a protractor to leave at the Reference Desk.



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Encyclopedia Britannica 3.0

   March 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

A couple years ago, Encyclopedia Britannica was on an anti-Wikipedia kick, fearing, I think, that this would be the fate of print encyclopedias:

Britannica Broom

I'm happy (and not surprised) to report this didn't happen. I believe the same will prove true with the notion of ebooks making print books obsolete. This is a big world, and things have a way of finding their own niche. Radio lives on despite television (and movies and computers), pencils live on despite pens, candles live on despite electricity, bicycles live on despite cars, etc.

Many of the books I own are older than I am, and I'm sure they'll still be around (and in use) after I'm gone.

via



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Printing Books on Demand

   November 17th, 2009 Brian Herzog

POD Printer at Harvard Book StoreA couple weeks ago I posted about new options for printing books, in which I mentioned Google's Expresso book-on-demand printer. I found out that the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge has one, so I went to check it out.

I still really like this as a source for out-of-print books to fill out a library's collection, so my "test book" was The History of Chelmsford, written by Wilson Waters in 1917. My library has lots of copies of this, but I chose it because:

  • I knew it was in Google Books
  • It is huge (almost 1000 pages) and I wanted to see how well the book-on-demand printer handled it
  • It has text, maps, illustrations and photographs, and I was curious to see how they reproduced

The people at the Harvard Book Store were incredibly nice and informative. I told them who I was and what I was doing, and the owner Jeff and shop assistant Amanda explained each step of the process to me, as well as told me about their experience so far with the service.

Typically, the process (photos) is completely automated and books take less than ten minutes to print start to finish (including download time), and cost $8 (which is the price announced by Google in a press conference, so the store is honoring it). However, since the book I wanted was so long, everything was expanded: downloading alone took five minutes, and it had to be printed in two volumes, because the printer can only handle about 500 pages at a time. Since it had to be divided, Amanda had to find the best place to split the book, and then do some quick calculations to figure out how thick each textblock would be to make sure the covers fit properly. And due to the extra labor involved, my two books cost $10 each, with the whole process taking about 40 minutes.

A few other interesting points:

  • There were no ghost hands, but some of the pages were not cropped correctly - this caused them to be shrunk when printed, and in some cases the page numbers got trimmed off
  • It seems like the quality of the printing was excellent - the only real variable is the quality of the scan
  • The paper they use is acid-free and feels slightly glossy. I asked how long they expect the paperback covers and binding to last, but it's so new they're not sure
  • Color is only available for the covers - book pages are b&w only
  • I asked if they consider themselves "the publisher" for these books, and the answer was no - they are "the printer" because being a publisher involves more legal responsibility for the content of the books
  • Jeff said they've had the printer for about a month and a half, and it is used three or four 15-40 times a day (which was more often than I expected, but then again, the store is right across the street from Harvard. Nerds.)
  • Their catalog interface doesn't just search Google Books, but allows the printing of any book in the public domain, as well as self-published books
  • I don't want this to sound like a commercial for the store, but Jeff said he'd be interested in working with libraries - contact him for details

I tried to photograph the interesting parts, so check out my Books-on-Demand Printer flickr set or watch the slideshow below:

Related



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Withdrawing Journals: Ithaka Report

   November 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

magazinesIn case you missed it, Ithaka release a report in September titled "What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization" [pdf].

It's really geared towards academic libraries looking to achieve a balance between digitizing journals for access (and repurposing the floorspace they took up), and retaining print journals for preservation purposes.

Being a medium-size public library, our journals are mostly for popular reading, but we do keep a small magazine archive of past issues. The criteria I use on which titles are kept in the archive is basically:

Does this magazine contain information that someone will find useful in two years?

In most cases, this includes things like cooking magazines (for recipes), home improvement/craft/sport magazines (for ideas and tips), those useful for research (like Vital Speeches of the Day), and of course, Consumer Reports (we also have a large [donated] collection of National Geographic, dating back to 1911). But the archive has limited space, so it gets weeded every year to make room for new issues/titles.

And no discussion of digitized journals would be complete without me mentioning one of my favorite tools, the Boston Public Library's e-Journals by Title search. I make some journal collection development decisions based on what I know I can access through them, and just hope it stays that way.

For more on the Ithaka report, check out their website or Marie Newman's summary on Out of the Jungle.



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Options for Printing Books

   November 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library print blocksIt's funny how things happen in threes*:

  1. A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague about Google Books, and I made a comment like, "since Google is scanning all these old books, if they allow some kind of print-to-bind option, it would mean that no book would ever be out-of-print again." The idea intrigued me, so I looked around and found an article saying Google is doing exactly that.
     
  2. A week or so later, a post on LibraryStuff.net talked about HP and the University of Michigan teaming up for a print-on-demand service of their library books.
     
  3. And then this week, a friend of mine tweeted about free print-your-own mini books from Featherproof books.

The first two are useful and technologically interesting, but my reaction was, "I'm happy that exists somewhere in the world, but it'll probably never apply to me and my medium-size library" (except perhaps it might be a way to replace missing books from our Local History collection).

But the third one is cool in a Make/ReadyMade sort of way, and my reaction was, "hey, we could do that here." Chelmsford's Teen Librarian is participating in NaNoWriMo, and printing the kids' final books in this style would be a lot of fun. Plus, putting them on the Library's website means that their friends could print them too - and it's a much more interesting format than just 8.5x11 term-paper-looking printings.

It'd be great if there were web-based software that would do the formatting for you - just copy/paste in the text, and if flowed everything to the right page and orientation - but I'm guessing there is not. So in the meantime, I'll see what I can do with Publisher.

 


*Did you see 30 Rock last week? Ha.



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What’s In Your Ready Ref?

   September 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ready Reference CollectionI've been working on an answer to Debbie's comment about a guide to ready reference, but am sorry to say I haven't been able to find one.

Searches on the web found a lot of great ready reference lists of websites, but not print books. Amazon lists some, but I don't have them to review. I remember having such lists in my library school text books, so maybe that's the best place to look.

But as I thought about this, and looked at what's on the ready reference shelf at my library, I concluded two things:

  1. To be effective, the ready reference collection needs to be tailored to the library and its patrons. My current ready reference collection is very different from the one we had behind the desk of the Kent State University Library when I worked there, but they are equally appropriate
  2. The best thing to do might just be to ask other librarians which print ready reference resources they like and use

So in the spirit of the second one, here's an overview of resources on the ready reference shelf in my library. If you're so inclined, please share what you've got on your shelf - I'd really be curious to know.

For staff to help answer computer questions:

Things that don't really get used but I feel we should have:

Quick Facts & Referencey books (for annual resources, we keep the current year in ready reference and move past years to the reference collection):

Government Information:

Business Directories:

Local Information:

Shelved right next to the desk

Granted, many of these only get used once or twice a year, if that, and almost all have online versions (or equivalents). But I really like being able to answer a question just by grabbing a book within reach, showing a patron how to look it up, and then let them sit at a table absorbing the information. I don't know, it feels more tangible and satisfying than relying on Google for everything.



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