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

My Visit to ReferenceUSA

   October 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

ReferenceUSA's phone book libraryLast week I was in Omaha, NE, at the headquarters of InfoUSA (which produces the ReferenceUSA database) to participate with other public librarians in a "customer conference."

Their goal was to get feedback from us on how we (and our patrons) use ReferenceUSA, and what we felt could be changed or added to improve the database. They also gave us a sneak peak at a bunch of new product offerings, as well as a tour of their facility and an overview of how they actually construct their database (and other products - they also produce the Polk City Directories).

I felt a bit out of place in the group of librarians they assembled. Here I am, representing Chelmsford, MA (pop. 32,000), and the other librarians are from places like Dallas, Denver, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Annapolis - all bigger library systems by far. Most of them were also business specialists, and if it weren't for my undergraduate marketing degree, I would have been lost somewhere between the "SWOT analysis" and "B2C channel positioning." But we all had experiences and viewpoints to share, so it worked out.

The Process for Data Integrity
Upon the conclusion of the conference, my overall opinion was that I was very impressed. I had always trusted their data, in the same way I more or less trust the data and articles in the other databases the library subscribes to. But after the tour of their work area, their claim of "99% accuracy" really means something.

They subscribe to over 6,000 phone books from across the country (which they have in a resource library - see photo above), and then, using a variety of processes, move that information into their database. A lot of it is automated, with most of their software being proprietary and home-grown. But the emphasis was clearly on using actual people to review the data make intelligent decisions to ensure accuracy. And then those peoples' work was checked, and the checker's work was checked. Which all makes for a high degree of accuracy.

Some notes about the data:

  • Data for their consumer database comes almost entirely from white pages. Since there is no reliable source for cell phone numbers, those are not in ReferenceUSA
  • All consumer data is scoured against national and state "do not call" lists, as well as the DMA's "do not mail" lists (so, even if a person is listed in the phone book, they won't be in ReferenceUSA if they've properly registered to protect their information)
  • ReferenceUSA is easily reached to add/remove/change records, either business or consumer
  • It is difficult to remove people who have died - their main sources are death benefit check records, but since these are often sent to next of kin at different addresses, it is hard to reconcile that back to the deceased's home address and social security number
  • They've been adding "store front images" of businesses in the database. There are over 3 million so far (each business has one close up shot and one wide shot)
  • Address changes (people who move) are identified via the Post Office's National Change of Address system, magazine subscription lists, credit card billing lists, and prison rolls
  • In the case of moves, they keep previous address records for at least five years, but this information is not in the database or otherwise available to the public
  • The competitor report in the business module is compiled based on SIC and geography. So, if you want to see all the competitors of a local pet store, it's great; but if you want to see a bigger or national company's competitors, it's not much help at all

New features in the business module:

  • New data points include the number of PCs per location, square footage per location, and the gender of the executives
  • Annual reports are now included in the database, as are the last three years historical financial data
  • More powerful custom field selection/sorting for downloading records (hard to explain, but it's pretty slick)
  • They added all public libraries and branches into the database, based on ALA's library directory (neat)

Up-and-coming things for the next 6-8 months:

  • section 508 compliance (mostly ALT tags)
  • Adding US territories (Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands) to the business file
  • Adding a search for brands and products, so you can find out which parent company manufacturers and sells them
  • Enhanced mapping, which will allow searching by map, plotting data points and drawing corridor grids (as in, "let me see all business of this type between point A and point B")
  • A historical module, with last 10 years worth of business financial data
  • An analytical module, with industry reports, size of business, etc (this is what my notes say, but I forget what it actually means)
  • Increased data points in the financial section (such as auditors, cash flow, etc)
  • Executive biographies
  • A guided search, which prompts you to design a properly-formed search (only available on some modules initially)

New Products coming out soon:

  • New Movers module (people who have moved recently)
  • New Homeowners module (people who have recently purchased a house)
  • Business to Consumer Research module (for business to identify customers based on "lifestyle choices," such as hunters, skiiers, pet owners, etc)
  • New Business module (which pulls data from city, county, utility and tax records, which business have to file before they open - which means that these new businesses will be in the database before they even open their doors. This is great for insurers or other business-to-business companies, but also can answer "what restaurants are coming to town?" 50,000 business are added weekly, and they stay in this database for two years
  • EmployersUSA (a rebranded version of ReferenceUSA, specially geared for job seekers

I have some photos from the visit, most of which were provided by ReferenceUSA, as their facility and processes are industry secrets.

The trip to Omaha was also fun because I stayed in the Embassy Suites, and got to visit the Omaha Library and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

I don't want this to sound like a sales pitch for them, but I will say this: contact your sales rep and ask about being included in the next customer conference. It's worth it.

business, consumer, dataabse, infousa, libraries, library, ne, nebraska, omaha, public libraries, public library, referenceusa

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/14/07

   October 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

America's Top-Rated CitiesA patron called in wanting to know current crime statistics concerning murder, robberies and burglaries in Louisville, KY.

This particular patron has been considering moving somewhere for over a year, so we have a standard set of resources we refer to for city information.

One is a 4-volume set of books called America's Top-Rated Cities, which I like, but which didn't have the crime stats the way the patron wanted.

Another is the Sperling's BestPlaces website, which allows visitors to compare cities. However, their crime stats aren't very detailed.

The other standard is to search for crime statistics on the city's official website (Louisville, KY), but that wasn't much help in this case.

So, next was a general internet search, and a few of the more helpful websites were:

The last one (a personal blog, so hurray for "reference 2.0") referenced an FBI crime statistics report, so I went to the FBI's website to look for it.

After a quick search I found the Crime in the United States 2006 report, and linked to its Table 8: Known Offenses for State, City, which ultimately lead to to the Crime Stats for Kentucky's cities.

This was exactly what the patron was looking for, and I had it printed out and waiting for him when he came in. And next time, it won't take me nearly as long to answer this question.

crime statistics, crime stats, kentucky, ky, libraries, library, louisvile, louisville ky, public libraries, public library, reference 2.0, reference question

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NELA2007 – Tuesday Recap

   October 16th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Speaking to an Empty RoomMy second day at NELA2007 (Tuesday, the last day of the conference), was a quick one. I just went to two morning sessions, and then left after lunch (I had to come home to pack for my trip tomorrow morning to Omaha).

I blogged both sessions today, and posted them on the NELA2007 blog. They were:

Also, I posted some photographs of the Publick House. I really liked that place.

Right, now I need to go unpack, repack, and whatever else I can fit in before my flight.

annual conference, conference, libraries, library, nela, nela2007, public libraries, public library, publick house, scriblio

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NELA2007 – Monday Recap

   October 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

NELA Conference tableToday was a fun day. The wireless was spotty all day (luckily, my awesome hotel, the Publick House, has better wireless connectivity), but the sessions were good.

Here's what I went to:

I'm sorry for any spelling or other mistakes you find in the posts - I've never live blogged before, and it's hard. Especially when you only type with four fingers.

Also check out some conference photographs. I'll upload some pictures of my room tomorrow, too - it really must be the best place in town to stay.

Okay, now I'm off to meet librarians for dinner, and then we're going to see the showing of The Hollywood Librarian. More tomorrow.

conference, libraries, library, nela, nela2007, public libraries, public library, publick house

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/7/07

   October 13th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Everyday Math for Dummies book coverA patron and her son come to the desk, and she asks if we had math text books. During the reference interview, I learned that the patron didn't actually want a math text book.

What she wanted was a way to help her sixth grade son, who was struggling with math in school. We do have text books for the junior high classes, but we also have more general math books, and the Learning Express Library database, which has skills lessons and practice test.

While showing her the available resources, the patron stopped me and said:

"Don't you have something like Math for Dummies? That's kind of the level he's at."

Keep in mind that her son was standing right next to me. I felt so bad for him. Perhaps we should have been looking for a How Not To Destroy Your Child's Self-Esteem for Dummies book.

On a related note: a few weeks ago, someone came in asking if we had Homeschooling for Dummies. We do, and the Idiot's Guide, too, but I wonder: should "dummies" and "idiots" be teaching our future generations? I know "you can learn a lot from a dummy," but still.

dummies, dummies books, dummy, idiot's guides, idiots, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question

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Trips to NELA and Omaha

   October 11th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Next week is going to be a busy week for me - I have two back-to-back trips planned.

NELA2007NELA Annual Conference
On Monday and Tuesday I'll be in Sturbridge, MA, for the New England Library Association's 2007 annual conference. I went last year (session notes) and of course had a great time.

This year I'm also attending as an official conference blogger. A group of us will be posting notes from (hopefully all) the sessions to the NELA2007 blog, so add the feed to your reader to catch all the action.

There's also a flickr pool, for those of you who like looking and photos of librarians.

ReferenceUSA logoReferenceUSA Conference
On Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be in Omaha, NE, participating in a conference held by ReferenceUSA. They invited about 20 librarians from across the country to come and meet with their product development team. I think we'll be talking about how their database is currently used by libraries, and what new avenues they could pursue to improve delivering their content to our patrons.

That should be a fun trip. I even have friends in Omaha, but they chose that particular week to fly to Japan. Sheesh.

It'll be an active week, and if you can't reach me, this is why. But if you happen to see me anywhere along the way, please come up and say hi.

libraries, library, nela, nela2007, public libraries, public library, referenceusa

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