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


Reference Question of the Week – 4/29/12

   May 5th, 2012 Brian Herzog

mopI always feel bad when I can't find an answer for a patron, but can still be amused by the situation. One afternoon, an older woman walked up to the desk and asked for help finding reviews of floor mops.

It took me a second to register this - and immediately I was skeptical that we'd be able to find anything at all.

We started with Consumer Reports magazine and their online database. We found reviews of steam mops, but not the old-style floor mop that she was looking for.

Next we tried Amazon and other online review places for "wet floor mops" and other descriptors, and there were lots of the Swiffer-type mops, but again, not what she was looking for. The only thing that came close was the (appropriately-named) Libman Wonder Mop.

She was disappointed, but wasn't surprised, and I really liked the way she expressed this:

Well, I guess it makes sense that something as fancy as the internet doesn't care about mundane things like an old-fashioned floor mop.

In the end, she just decided to go to the hardware store and ask them which they liked - and as long as it was light enough for her to use, it would be good enough.

I was impressed that she was willing to put this much effort into just a minor purchase - but if you mop a lot, I don't suppose it's all that minor after all. Not finding anything for her really made me want to go to the store with her to keep helping, but I hope the hardware store people find something for her.



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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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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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Reference Dept. Goals for FY10

   June 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Dilbert comic about annual reviewsAnother year has passed, which means another round of staff reviews and setting goals for the next fiscal year. Bleh.

In contrast to past years, I was encouraged to be brief. So this years goals are a bit more quantifiable, and a bit less "well, that's part of the job description anyway." You know, the way goals should be.

GOAL #1: Improve access to information resources and library services

  • Weed the reference collection, refine the ref standing order list, and reevaluate how the reference shelving area is used and begin to develop a plan for alternate uses1
  • Work with Tech Services to refine standing order list and evaluate reclassification of subjects to better group similar topics together
  • Continue with staff-assigned sections for weeding, straightening and order suggestions

GOAL #2: Expand and improve the library's technology offerings

  • Work with web committee to migrate website to new content management system2
  • Add more website subject guides to tie together print and electronic resources, and link to expanded offerings of BPL and other MVLC libraries3
  • Work with IT staff towards expanding technology offerings, such as wireless printing and loaning laptops
  • Review current offerings utilizing new technologies, prioritize those needing ongoing maintenance, and document procedures to support maintenance by other staff

GOAL #3: Maintain and/or support web-based resources beyond the library's core collection

  • CommInfo: utilize staff to contact and update organizations every Jan-Feb
  • ChelmsfordVolunteers.org: work with other departments and organizations to keep listings up to date
  • ChelmsfordHistory.org: provide leadership for the Chelmsford History project, coordinating with other organizations and volunteers to locate and index Chelmsford's historical resources
    • Look for ways to better organize and provide access to the library's historical collections, such as the Vertical File, microfilm records, etc.

Admittedly, much of this still falls into the "continuing things we're already doing" category, but that is a large part of my job. And something else covered elsewhere in my review is encouraging all staff to attend at least 5 hours of some kind of training or professional development.

I think it's all doable. I can probably even manage to squeeze in helping patrons at the reference desk, too.

 


Notes:

1. I'd like to interfile the ref books with the circulating non-fiction, and put into the reference area more quiet study rooms or subject tables --Back to Goals--


2. Right now we're using Dreamweaver, but I'd like to see us move to a real CMS - NELA-ITS' CMS Day workshop is this Friday, so yay for good timing --Back to Goals--


3. Patrons like our genealogy subject guide, so I want to make more, incorporating Delicious bookmarks, and also linking to resources at other library to supplement what we offer --Back to Goals--



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StoryTubes 2009

   January 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

storytubes videoLast year I learned about a video-based book review contest for students called StoryTubes. It's happening again this year, and the deadline for submissions is fast approaching.

I think this is a great idea for any librarian or teacher with creative kids and a video camera. All the details are available on their website, but basically a kid makes a video reviewing a book they've read, the video is uploaded to teachertube.com or YouTube.com, and then submissions are judged and the winner announced. But more importantly, kids are involved with creating something that is their own.

And this idea goes along with my "Information in Context" push, in that any video created can be embedded back into the library's website to showcase the kids and their reading - and hopefully encourage more kids to read and review books. If you are able, make a video and enter the contest. Or, at least keep tabs on the entries - last year's were quite entertaining.



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