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




Video Everywhere

   November 6th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Too Much Joy's Donna Everywhere videoIn the last few weeks, I've seen a lot of announcements concerning video content being added to online resources. Both InfoTrac and NewsBank have recently made email announcements about content they've each added to their databases.

InfoTrac added many full-text resources to the General and Academic OneFiles, some of which include video segments. NewsBank's announcement was more thorough - here's an excerpt from the email:

In response to the rising demand in libraries, NewsBank is adding video news content to our online news resources-at no additional charge to our customers. The complete package from respected media distributor Voxant includes the following sources: The Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as coverage from Canadian Broadcasting, Agence France Press and more. Your institution will have access to video clips from all or a select group of these sources, depending on your subscription.

Beginning on Monday, October 20, the videos clips will be added to NewsBank resources. Users will be able to:

  • Play news videos within the NewsBank interface, in the same space used to display text articles
  • Select specific videos from a comprehensive results lists that also includes NewsBank articles, or restrict their search to "video only"
  • Access recent and archived news videos at your institution or remotely
  • Email links of specific videos to friends, or embed them in a presentation

I find it curious that they say this is in response to demand from libraries. From the few tests I did, most of this newly added video content is already available free online, so I'm not sure where this demand was coming from (or why the vendors choose to listen to this particular demand instead of other things libraries have been demanding).

If a patron wants to watch a news show online, I can't see myself showing them how to navigate the library website to find the right database, log in with their library card, navigate the database for the right title, and then find the episode. It is just easier for me and the patron to use the station's own website or YouTube as a resource.

And speaking of YouTube, Library Stuff linked to a YouTube announcement on c|net today: "YouTube will begin offering feature films produced by at least one of the biggest Hollywood movie studios possibly as early as next month." Combine that with Hulu.com and other websites, and that's a lot of available video content.

For the database vendors though, I would prefer they concentrating on making their resources more user-friendly and useful by "uniquing" them, instead of providing content that is already available from other sources.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/08

   August 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

One difficult question I get occasionally is "do you have rankings for doctor/lawyers?"

I think what people are expecting is a Consumer Reports-like ranking of these two professions, but unfortunately, we don't have anything exactly like that. We do have some resources for doctors, but lawyers are different.

Scales of JusticeA patron asked me to help her find lawyer rankings this past week. I did find a few websites showing some rankings, but I had no idea how reliable any of them were, and none of them got down to the local level needed by a patron in a small public library. Another thing I found were lots of articles talking about lawyers suing websites about their rankings, so that might explain the scarcity of resources.

In the end, two resources appeared promising, but only one ended up helping:

  • The American Bar Association has a Lawyer Locater, which is powered by martindale.com and LexisNexis. It does provide some information on a lawyer's background, including the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating from their Law Directory. The amount of information varies by lawyer, but in this case, the lawyer my patron was looking for wasn't listed at all
  • The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers provides an attorney status report which, while it doesn't rate lawyers, does indicate when the lawyer was admitted to the bar and if they've had any complaints against them (my patron was shocked to find out her lawyer was admitted to the bar just eight months ago)
  • A third resource the patron left with was the phone number of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Dial-A-Lawyer referral program, which assists private citizens in choosing legal council

The CaduceusFinding resources to research local doctors is slightly easier. This might be because the medical profession is more closely watched than the legal profession, or that people are more willing/able to travel for medical procedures than law suits.

One book I often turn to in our reference collection is America's Top Doctors, which lists doctors by region, specialty, hospital, and by name.

Another nice local resource is the Boston Consumers' Checkbook (which is also available for other cities). This magazine is similar to Consumer Reports, but instead of rating products, it rates services, including many medical services.

Part of the Mass.gov website reports on Health Care Quality and Cost Information. It includes lots of information for patients, but what I usually steer people towards are the "Volume by Surgeon and Hospital" reports - these aren't rankings exactly, but instead show how often a doctor or hospital performs a certain procedure. Other reports also list cost and mortality rates for doctors and hospitals.

Another state-level website is the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine's On-Line Physician Profile Site. Each profile includes general biographical information supplied by the doctor, and also has sections showing any malpractice payments made or any disciplinary and/or criminal actions taken against the doctor.

Additional web resources are:

  • The American Medical Association's doctor finder doesn't provide rankings, but it does show contact and biographical information for both AMA members and non-members (it gives priority to members, it does list non-members if you click the right buttons)
  • DrScore.com lets people score their own doctors and report on their experiences. Although the ratings are voluntary and anonymous, I did notice they indicate "Castle Connolly Top Doctors," which is the America's Top Doctor's resource I mentioned above. And in addition to the ratings, this website is also useful as doctor finder
  • RateMDs.com seems more commercial than DrScore.com, but it also seems to have more ratings and comments. This also has nice feature search for finding local doctors

I list these because they are free and useful, and accessible for my patrons. I'm sure there are many more not-free websites out there too, as well as additional good print resources. I'd appreciate hearing suggestions for more resources in the comments below - thanks.



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Every Resource Its Question

   July 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Get Fuzzy comic strip from 7/6/08I had family visiting me for the July 4th weekend, and something they did that I never do was buy a Sunday paper.

I read the local weekly papers, but never buy a big Sunday paper. The travesty of this is that I don't get to read the Sunday comics - so of course that was the first section I grabbed when I saw the paper sitting on the breakfast table.

I only bring this up because a comic strip I've never seen before was very relevant to library work. Check it out, because it's funny, and true.



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Information Wants To Be Free

   March 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

free informationIn the wake of the recent announcements of companies ditching DRM* as a mechanism to control access to audio files, the New York Times is reporting that Sports Illustrated is opening up access to its entire archive.

The Times did this itself not too long ago, as did Atlantic Monthly, but SI's project is supposed to go a step further - not just text, but they're making available their photographs and video and everything. They're also including a handy search interface that lets people search by athlete, team, coach, year, etc.

Hopefully, more and more periodicals will start making their archives available, too (after all, Information Wants To Be Free). This of course would dramatically change the relationships libraries have with long-time vendors like EBSCO, NewsBank and Proquest, but information is information. If all the information is free, then the real value-added piece becomes the interface.

By the way, I found about this through The Huffington Post. I've also read recently about a few more free online resources:

*update: OverDrive just announced (at PLA, anyway) that they, too, are finally moving in the right direction. In June they'll start offering mp3 files - which, best of all, will be iPod-compatible. And they'll finally come out with a Mac interface, too. Read the entire announcement [pdf, 70kb].



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