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




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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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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GMILCS Gets Fresh

   January 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Reader Ratings with Chili FreshLast week, the Greater Manchester Integrated Library Cooperative System (GMILCS to its friends) became the first large library system to integrate Chili Fresh into its online catalog.

I talked about Chili Fresh last September, when I was helping with some initial testing and design. Unfortunately, my consortium was not in a position to pursue the product at the time, so I'm glad the progressive and flexible GMILCS was able to step in for final testing and be a beta site.

Chili Fresh is neat because it doesn't require sweeping changes to a library catalog to bring about improvements. It is a plug-in that allows patrons to add comments and reviews of books right into the library's catalog, for other patrons to read. We need more tools like this.

A link to the ratings and reviews is shown on both the search results page and the item details page, and the reviews are displayed in a popup window. Although all the data is stored on Chili Fresh servers, the way it is displayed can be customized to match the look of the catalog.

This concept not only provides a valuable readers advisory service, but also gets patrons engaged in the catalog - and, by extension, the library.

I don't want to sound like I'm selling this product - I'm not. But I am selling the idea. ILSs are huge, cumbersome and complex, and often wholly lacking in necessary features. Small plug-ins like this (and LibraryThing for Libraries) add tremendous utility to the tools we provide our patrons, at relatively little cost and involvement from libraries.

Chili Fresh Admin PanelA screenshot of the Chili Fresh admin screen is shown here - click to see a larger view, and for a description of what it allows you to do. More screenshots are on flickr.

Please leave a comment if you know of other tools like this - I'd like to make a list of catalog plug-in tools, because until ILSs catch up with patron needs, libraries need a way to provide these features.

catalog, chili fresh, chilifresh, gmilcs, ils, libraries, library, opac, plug-in, public, reviews



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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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