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




Kid Book Reviews on StoryTubes

   June 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

StoryTubes book review video imageA librarian in Maine recently posted to MELIBS-L that one of their local patrons was a finalist for the 2008 StoryTubes contest. I had never heard of this contest, but I like projects where patrons get involved, so I checked it out. I loved it.

Kids make a video of themselves reviewing a book on a particular theme (that week's was "Facts, Fads and Phenoms") and submit it to StoryTubes. Finalists get posted on the website (via YouTube), website visitors vote, and four winner win $500 in books (and their sponsoring school or library receives $1,000 in books).

This year's contest is winding down, and I'm sorry I missed it. It's sponsored by publishers and libraries, and the finalist videos are great (my two favorite are below, and more here).

But even outside this contest, I think this would be a fun thing to do in the library. All it would take is a basic digital camera and a YouTube account, and I can see parents, kids and librarians getting really into it. It gives kids an opportunity to create, and in a public way. You always hear the phrase, "it'll be something to tell your grandkids about." This gives kids something to be proud of and tell their grandparents about.

Your Chickens: A Kids Guide to Raising and Showing

Essential Visual History of the World



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Staff Performance Review Time

   May 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

The end of May is always staff performance review time in my library, and it seems unpleasant for everyone. Staff doesn't like it, department heads don't like it, and town hall doesn't seem to like it. So why do we do it?

One reason is because we always have done it. But other reason, as cheesy as it sounds, is because it really can help. Whether it provides an opportunity to address an ongoing problem, a pat on the back for a staff person who otherwise might go unnoticed, or just to make you sit down and really think about the way things are going in the library, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, performance reviews and setting goals are beneficial.

That being said, I loath them. And I'm even lucky - I only have four staff people at the reference desk, and they're all pretty good.

This year, the union requested we use a new, much more simplified form for staff reviews (down from eight pages to three). As department heads, we modified a form that the town already used in other departments and customized it for library staff. The most challenging part was defining which each job criteria entailed, but I think the result works pretty well:

And as ever year, I developed goals for the reference department for the coming fiscal year (if anyone is keeping track, you might notice much repetition from last year):

Reference Department Goals for FY2009

  1. Continue to improve patron access to information resources1
    • Look at ways to improve access to the collection
      • Continue to weed and refine print reference materials to coordinate with non-fiction collection
      • Continue to work with Tech Services to improve standing order list and recataloging of computer books to better group similar topics together2
      • Finish weeding and shifting of the non-fiction collection, and then maintain collection by implementing a continual review through assigning sections to staff members for weeding, shelf-reading, straightening, order suggestions, etc.
      • Continue to add online access listing to the website's comprehensive print periodicals listing
      • Add more website "Subject Guides" to tie together print and electronic resources3
      • Continue promoting database usage through existing methods (bookmarks, signs, links, staff training, etc.) as well as new technologies, and link to expanded offerings of BPL and other MVLC libraries
    • Continue with website improvements, both to Reference section and all of website
      • Work as part of web committee to revamp entire website to meet new design goals and accessibility standards
      • Assist with development of town-wide events calendar
    • Provide better access to the Vertical File, now that indexing is complete and files reorganized4
    • Maintain Chelmsford listings in MVLC's Comm Info database and try to improve data and access
    • Work with Childrens, Teen and Community Services departments to finally launch and maintain a local online volunteer resource5
    • Work with IT on patron-related technology issues, such as timer software for public computers, internet access issues, printing from wireless computers, public faxing, etc.
    • Help coordinate town-wide historical records project to improve access to historical resources both inside and outside of the library
  2. Continue to refine desk area and operations
    • Ensure all procedures and policies are documented and easily available to desk staff
    • Review new technologies and tools to see if paper-based methods can be improved upon
  3. Concentrate on professional development
    • Keep current on journals, literature and blogs, for articles, book reviews and library trends
    • Attend MVLC, NMRLS, NELA and other regional reference meetings
    • Participate in staff, local, regional and national training opportunities
    • Promote training opportunities to staff

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
5/22/08

Footnotes

  1. Like last year, my base assumption is that there is no different between print and electronic resources - back to note 1
  2. Such as, we want to make sure all "powerpoint" books are together, all "sql" books are together, etc., instead of being shelved by dewey and then by author - back to note 2
  3. By this I mean creating subject pages that list research databases, print resources, and links to websites (via del.icio.us), to display all related materials in one place (like this) - back to note 3
  4. Reference staff went through and indexed everything in the vertical file into an Excel spreadsheet, and now we just need to find a way to make that easily searchable by patrons - back to note 4
  5. Our Chelmsford Volunteers resource has been in the works for almost a year; any comments are suggestions are welcome - back to note 5


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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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Book Review Search

   August 9th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Google Custom SearchI've been trying for awhile to come up with a good way to use Google's Custom Search, and I think I found one.

I created a search for online book reviews. It can be a reader's advisory tool, help librarians with selection, or aid book groups in looking for information on their current selection. Give it a try:

Search for Book Reviews
Google Custom Search
(hint: enclose book titles in quotes to improve results; i.e.: "Cat's Cradle")

Despite my Very Large Skepticism of Google in general, the tool itself is very easy to set up and is potentially extremely useful (especially for librarians). Basically, it lets you limit searching to a select group of websites - in this case, book review websites. In fact, my biggest problem was in choosing which websites to include in the search (see below for my initial list).

One complaint I do have is that I can't control how included websites are ranked. For instance, I included amazon.com on the list, because it has a variety of reviews. In almost every search amazon.com shows up first. I would rather see them ranked below the non-commercial review websites, but Google's search algorithm always puts amazon.com on top [update: see comments below].

So, let me know what you think, and which very obvious websites I forgot to add. I've also embedded this search in my Library's Reading Room web pages, and plan on maintaining it as a readers advisory tool.

Thanks to Kate for pointing out this tool in the first place.

List of domains searched:

book, book review, book review search, book reviews, books, google, google custom search, library, public libraries, public library, reader advisory, readers advisory, review, reviews



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Annual Review & Reference Dept. Goals

   May 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I had my Annual Review last week, for which I had to come up with goals for the Reference Department for the coming year (my library is a July 1st-June 30th fiscal year). Since these goals pretty much shape my daily work life in the library, which in turns shapes what I end up posting here, I thought sharing these goals might be interesting.

I'm happy to report that I got a great review - I am very lucky to be working in a well-funded and progressive library. Something else I noticed while working on this: with all the talk about, and effort I put into, using Library 2.0 tools, there is still a heck a lot of a public librarian's job that Library 2.0 doesn't address. Which is a good thing to realize, I think.

I have a few comments (of course) on the various goals, which are footnoted. This is also available as a non-footnoted pdf.

Reference Department Goals for FY2008

  1. Improve patron access to library materials1
    • Look for ways to improve access to the collection
      • Weed and refine print reference materials for better coordination with non-fiction collection (possibly interfile reference books with non-fiction books)
      • Keep reference collection weeded, shelf-read and up-to-date
      • Continue to work with Tech Services to improve standing order list and procedures2
      • Implement a continual review of non-fiction collection, including assigning sections to staff members for weeding, shelf-reading, straightening, ordering suggestions, etc. Try to find an automated tool (perhaps FileMaker) to make weeding easier and more accurate
      • Improve organization and access to periodicals collection by creating a comprehensive, up-to-date and dynamic periodicals listing, referencing both print and online access3
      • Add more website "Subject Guides" in a format most suitable for patron “findability”
      • Continue promoting database usage through existing methods (bookmarks, signs, links, staff training, etc.) as well as new technologies (federated searching4, etc.)
    • Continue with website improvements, both to Reference section and all of website
      • Look for new tools or technologies to make adding and maintaining content easier5
      • Strive for entire website to meet both design goals and accessibility standards6
      • Continue to offer direct work and assistance on other areas of website (Reading Room, Children’s Mural page, etc.)
      • Evaluate "site search" feature
    • Provide better indexing of and access to the Vertical File
    • Look at options to improve security in and use of the Oversize area
    • Work with Barbara Morrison on patron-related technology issues, such as timer software for public computers, internet access issues, printing from wireless computers, etc.
    • Continue to refine tax forms offerings and organization
  2. Continue to improve desk area and operations
    • Ensure all procedures and policies are documented and easily available to desk staff
    • Review new technologies to see if paper-based methods can be improved upon7
    • Continue looking for areas of the desk that can be cleaned or better organized
  3. Concentrate on professional development
    • Keep current on journals, literature and blogs, for articles, book reviews and library trends
    • Attend MVLC, NMRLS, NELA and other regional reference meetings8
    • Participate in staff, local, regional and national training opportunities
      • Promote training opportunities to staff9

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
5/24/07

Footnotes

  1. This year, I am making no distinction between print and electronic sources when it comes to "library materials." Last year I did, but I think that is unnecessary and does patrons (and ourselves) a disservice - back to note 1
  2. Perhaps this is blasphemous, but I really don't enjoy doing selection very much. I find standing orders very efficient, which leaves me more time to find the valuable but unusual and oddball reference works - back to note 2
  3. I wish our catalog was better at this, but it's just not. Hopefully, when we migrate away from Horizon, we'll get an ILS that works the way a library needs - back to note 3
  4. Ditto from note 3 - back to note 4
  5. We've just begun this process, and have gotten most of our current homepage design reworked using XHTML 1.0 Strict coding standards - back to note 5
  6. My goal here is to find a content management system that allows people with no coding skills to update our website. This should be an easy thing, as there's lots of software options, and it would make everyone's jobs easier (and our site look and perform better). However, just getting staff buy-in has been difficult - people are reluctant to give up The Way Things Have Been Done, because they're comfortable with them - back to note 6
  7. These two points really go together - everything done at the desk should be documented, and also be documented in a way that i easily findable (as in, a wiki rather than our never-up-to-date three-ring binder) - back to note 7
  8. This one won't be a problem this year - I go to more meetings than ever, it seems - back to note 8
  9. Staff training might actually be the biggest goal of the year. Updating and changing things is great, but I need to keep my staff current and comfortable with everything, too; which is often the biggest challenge, as our staff is so large - back to note 9
  10. annual review, department goals, goal, goals, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, review



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