February 12th, 2015 Brian Herzog
This post should have the subtitle, Turning back the clock, one "feature" at a time.
So the internet is all about sharing, right, no matter how small and insignificant the topic? Here's a small and insignificant tidbit I thought I'd share, because I'm an anti-change curmudgeon and this was actually a major deal to me.
I've started the process of updating all the Firefox browsers in my life to the latest version. Apparently the last time I updated was version 32.0.1, and am now updating to 35.0.1. Mostly everything is fine, but I HATE how the "improved" search bar works.
Most of you will probably be familiar with the old way:
You type in your search terms, and can choose whichever engine you'd like to use. And what you type in stays there, and which engine you choose also stays.
The new way is different:
I feel like listing all the reasons I don't like the new method would be petty and whiny (although not unlike me), so suffice to say the way it works just does not fit my workflow.
But happily, Firefox is open source, and offers a way to change back to the old way. A quick search online lead me to the answer:
- Go into the about:config
- Type oneoff in the Filter box
- Double-click to toggle browser.search.showOneOffButtons to false
- Restart Firefox
The old search bar interface comes back, and once again all is right with the world.
October 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog
I know there are significant issues coming to light this week regarding security and privacy, but this post highlights two far less consequential items. Both are search tips from Lifehacker.
1. Searching for Lyrics
The first is that Bing Now Shows Lyrics at the Top of Your Search Results. This will actually be extremely useful, because I haven't felt comfortable about visiting a lyrics website since about 2000. I don't know why those always seem to be the most virus- and crap-prone websites, but they are.
Of course this doesn't work for every song. In fact, quite literally while I still had the Lifehacker post open, a patron walked up and asked me to print the lyrics for Anything Goes. I was librarian-excited to try out a new tool to answer a question, but this Bing trick didn't work for that song. That's a fairly well-known song - and so are God Bless America and Born In The USA. I don't know what makes Man In The Mirror special, but something apparently. Maybe it's a copyright thing, or maybe the Bing developers are just starting with their favorite artists. But it's still worth trying out when the moment arises. And, it'd good to see Bing being innovative.
2. Searching Individual Websites
The second item is how you can Search Individual Sites on Google by Searching For Their Name. This is something I've been noticing for years, but also not something I've ever really counted on. But if it's planned to be a deliberate feature, I'll try to use it more. At least, it's sure easier that using the "site:" limiter.
Again, it doesn't work for every website. It seems like mainly just big, popular, and news websites have this available, but I also found some notable exceptions.
So that's it - now back to more important things.
August 2nd, 2014 Brian Herzog
This is a question from when my website is down - I only mention that because of the postscript at the end.
I haven't gotten this type of question in awhile, and finding the answer has never come this easily.
A young girl came up to me at the desk asked for "a blue book with fish bowl on cover." She couldn't remember the title except thought it was something like "one at a time." I asked her if she knew the author, and she said it was a blue book with fish bowl on cover. I asked her what the book was about, and she didn't know - she said her teacher was reading it to the class and she liked it.
So, I did a web search for blue book with fish bowl on cover, and the very first image in the results was exactly what she was looking for. Incredible.
I searched our catalog for Out of My Mind, only to find our copy was checked out. I offered to request it for her, but she declined. I hate that.
So the postscript is that this question is from May, apparently when this book (or at least, searches for this book) was more popular. It really was the first search result, and that's what shocked me and made me think it was a post-worthy reference question. I mean, how often does that happen?
While typing up this post though, I had to really look for the cover image in the results, as it had been bumped way down. Maybe I just got lucky, or that library serendipity was strong with me that day. Or maybe Google's search algorithms really are effective in making zeitgeisty things more prominent.
In any case, I could just have easily been asked this question this week, and the process of finding the answer would have been different - which I find interesting.
A reader sent in this tip, which had not occurred to me: instead of including the word "blue" as a search term
, try leaving it out and using Google color search tool
. Much better results - thanks, Jessica!
August 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Back in library school, I remember distinctly being told that patent searches are one of the most difficult types of reference questions, because usually you're trying to find out if something isn't there. However, this patent search was difficult for a different reason.
I think I've mentioned before that one of my hobbies is metal detecting, which I share with my brothers. One of them emailed me this photo of something he had found, saying it was a chunk of metal about the size and shape of an ear with "PAT 154071" stamped in it, and asking if I could help figure out what it came from.
He had already done some online research and had a couple potential patent dates, but wasn't really sure. I love knowing right off the bat the best resource to check, so when I got this message I just typed in http://www.uspto.gov and clicked on "search for patents." The US Patent and Trademark Office has a full-text search, which is great, but since I was looking for a specific patent number, I just went to the Number Search, typed in 154071, and... that's when the problems started.
The first screen to come up said that this patent, dated August 11, 1874, wasn't available in full text, so it would have to be viewed as a scanned image. Which is fine, except viewing the image just prompted me to update my Quicktime plugin.
I tried going through the steps to update it, but I could not get the update to download from the Quicktime website. I tried this on a few different computers at my house and in the library, but all of them (all Windows computers) had the same issue. Next I tried searching for "can't download quicktime" and found someone with the same problem and an alternate link on the Apple website. This time the update did download and seemed to install, but I still couldn't view the image on the PTO website - and still got prompted to update Quicktime.
Frustrated, I went to my last resort: I used one of the library's Apple computers. I got a weird plugin update message too, but the image did display:
Actually, the PTO website said there were two images associated with this patent, but the other one was clearly for a different invention (and different patent number).
So, pretty cool, especially because of all the problems I had getting it. I couldn't tell from the drawing where the piece my brother found came from, but it was still worth the effort.
Since the patent drawing listed names, I thought I'd expand my search online and see what else I could find. I tried various combinations of the names of the inventors and "combined folding chairs and benches," but didn't have any luck.
So, I just tried searching for "patent 154,071," and boy did I get a surprise. The first result was for Google Patents, conveniently displaying the image that I had tried for two days (and had to use a Mac!) to view. I didn't know patent searches were a Google offering, but I suppose all public domain information is probably assimilated by now.
I am disappointed that the Google search was more productive than using the Patent Office's own website, and that they'd use a tool that relies on a problematic plugin.
But since I was at Google, I tried a few few things and found this entry in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, page 214:
February 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog
One common question at the reference desk is a patron asking for a specific book by describing the cover - they don't remember the title or author, but know it was "kind of red, with an airplane or a submarine, and maybe something like a roundish square type thing."
Being librarians, we take whatever information the patron can provide and do our best. I know many people dread this type of question (because it's often just impossible), but I sort of enjoy them. Since the expectation of success is so low to begin with, it's a fun challenge, and finding the right book is all the better for it.
In this case, the patron was actually a coworker of mine - she had taken her niece to a different library, and was trying to re-locate a book her niece had picked out and loved, to see if the author had any others. But all she could remember was that it was a newish kids book with a girl holding a duck on the cover.
I first went to Amazon's advanced search with this question. My keyword search was for "girl duck," limit to Condition=New, Format=Printed Books, Pub date after November 2012, and then submitted individual searches for each of the different kid ages one at a time. None of the searches has a likely-looking cover, so I decided to just use "duck" as my keyword (thinking that if a duck is on the cover it must be the important part of the story). I also dropped the idea of using the age limiter in favor of the Subject option limited to Children's Books.
In that search, result #10 looked promising. I called my coworker over to check, and she was excited - the book she'd seen with her niece was indeed Lulu: Lulu and the Duck in the Park (Book 1), by Hilary McKay and Priscilla Lamont*.
Awesome. But then I started to wonder - was Amazon the best tool for this question? There is no really good "look up a book by cover" resource out there, although I would love there to be. LibraryThing started down this road with CoverGuess. The genius of their approach was to gamify the data entry part of tagging cover art, but I don't think a searchable interface has ever been created.
Anyway, out of curiosity I decided to run the same search process in Novelist and the library catalog, to see if I could have successfully located the book with those tools.
Novelist's advanced search is more complex than Amazon's - I used "girl duck" as a keyword, limited to Audience = 0-8 Years, and Publication Date from = November 2012:
In my library's catalog's advanced search, I used "duck" as the keyword, limited to Format = Books, Audience = Kids, and Publication Year after 2011:
And now the results - each one has the number next to it indicating how far down this book was in the search results:
In all cases it was findable, but Novelist ranked it the highest with the fewest search limiters. However, since Novelist is a subscription database, getting to the search interface is a much more cumbersome process than using Amazon. The library catalog is easy to get to and the search interface is reasonable, but burying the book at #55 is bad because many people give up log before the sixth page of search results (thanks for that, Google).
Something else I noticed, and what I think is another strike against the library catalog, was the various sizes of the cover images. Comparatively, the library catalog's cover thumbnail is tiny, and because of this it's not really evident that the girl is holding a duck. Since that's all I had to go on with this search, if I had started with the library catalog, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I don't know why the thumbnails are as small as they are, but it seems the catalog would be improved by making them almost twice the size they are now.
So there you go, my curiosity was sated. Anyone else have a favorite method for finding books by cover descriptions?
*I don't know why Amazon has the publication date as September 2013, since the other library apparently had it cataloged and on their shelf. Ah, sweet mysteries of life.
July 11th, 2012 Brian Herzog
Over the weekend, Stephanie tweeted:
I thought she was right on (sadly), so I retweeted it. The next day, @OverDriveLibs replied:
Good on them for paying attention and being open to ideas. Since they're listening, I put together the following list that I think would improve the Overdrive experience.
Granted, I know their web interface is somewhat customizable, so different libraries have different looks and slightly different experiences. And, I know they have a mobile interface, which I'm going to ignore for now. I also won't even talk about Overdrive Advantage, because I don't know how much just seems overly complicated to me due to my library being part of a consortium.
- Remove the bookbag entirely.
It doesn't seem like a whole lot of people shop for and then check out a bunch of books at once. In my experience, most people look for one book at a time, and then download it. This process becomes overly complicated by having to add that one book to the bookbag, review the bookbag, then proceed to checkout to download it. I think Overdrive would be so, so much easier to use if, instead of the "add to bookbag" link, people clicked a link that would take them right to the download process.
If you make downloading a book easy enough, and then return people back to where they were after downloading is complete, you don't need a bookbag anyway.
- Combine the loan-period selection screen with the download button screen.
Once someone chooses a book they want to check out, they should be taken to a single screen that lets them choose the loan period AND click a button to download right from that page. Combining these eliminates a step, which would go a long way to making Overdrive easier to use. The whole experience should be:
- search for book, then click the link to get the book
- choose loan period, click "Download" or "Get for Kindle" button
- struggle with DRM software*
- enjoy book
I see no reason why the process couldn't be this streamlined.
- Change "add to bookbag" link text.
With the bookbag gone, the "add to bookbag" link needs to be changed. One problem I've seen patrons have is making sure they choose the right format - because format is specified on the left of the screen, but the link they need to click is on the right.
It seems difficult to make a mistake, but I have watched more than one person do it - especially in this scenario: Someone has a Kindle, and they limit to show only available items. The Kindle item is checked out, but the EPUB line says "add to bookbag" - the person is thinking Kindle, and sees the "add to bookbag" link, so they click it. Likewise, I've also seen people download an ebook thinking they were getting an audiobook.
My suggestions for better link text is:
|add to bookbag
||Download Kindle Ebook
Download EPUB Ebook
Download WMA Audiobook
Download MP3 Audiobook
|place a hold
||Request Kindle Ebook
Request EPUB Ebook
Request WMA Audiobook
Request MP3 Audiobook
I actually go back and forth between "Download Kindle Ebook" and "Checkout Kindle Ebook" - Checkout has better library connotations, but Download is more evocative.
- If someone limits to a format, show only that format.
I hate that a patron can limit to see only Kindle books, and yet EPUBs will still display, if we have both formats for the same title. If someone limits to Kindle, then hide the EPUB line from the image above (and same for audiobooks).
And because format is so important, it should be easier to limit to format - for instance, provide a separate interface for each format that libraries can link to, like, "click here to search for EPUB ebooks." And then, all the patron would see are EPUB ebooks, without them having to further limit to format.
The advanced search format limiter box should include options for "all Ebooks" and "all Audiobooks" options, since someone with an iPad and a Kindle app can use either format. Also, when someone limits to format in advanced search, this should stick even if they click a "Browse by Genre" link too.
Patrons should be able to save their preferred format in their account settings, so they don't have to keep limiting every time they return.
- Change the search algorithm to AND and not OR.
If you search my consortium's Overdrive catalog for "vonnegut last" there are 42 results. However, a search for just "vonnegut" gets four results, and a search for just "last" gets 38. 4+38=42, which means there is no overlap between those search terms. Most people searching for more than one word except to find items containing BOTH of those words.
When our Overdrive catalog was new, and we didn't have a lot of items in the collection, using the OR operator seemed like a cheap trick to make it appear that we had a bigger collection than we did. We're past that now, and clogging up the search results with everything under the sun just adds to why Overdrive is difficult to use.
- Keyword searches should search title and author fields
This refers to the keyword search on the advanced search screen. "Keyword" seems like is should search everything, but it doesn't. Why not? If it's not actually a keyword search (like the basic search box on every page), then call it something else. Or better yet, just replace it with the actual keyword search.
- Add a direct link to the software download page.
The Overdrive Help pages are getting better, but the fact that they periodically change means that library staff even need to refamiliarize themselves with how to help patrons. The most common question that sends me to the Help pages is to download Overdrive Media Console or Adobe Digital Editions. However, none of the options on the Help screen mention downloading software, and I can never remember which one it's hidden behind. Just having a "Download Free Software" option on the Help screen, which leads to a device/OS selection, would be great.
I know this is beyond Overdrive, but getting things set up on an iPad can sometimes get trapped in a loop: in order to install the Overdrive app, you need to create an Adobe ID, but one of the Adobe webpages requires flash, which the iPad does not support, so you have to use a computer to actually accomplish everything. This doesn't happen every time, and I don't know why it does sometimes and not others, but I've seen patrons trapped in this loop more than once - and Overdrive gets the blame every time (justified or not), which just sours the patron on using Overdrive in the future.
I sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since Overdrive asked for input, please suggest what improvements you'd like to see in the comments below or tweet them to @OverDriveLibs.
*DRM is a much larger issue, and not entirely under Overdrive's control - so I won't even discuss it here, and instead just focus on their interface and things they can improve. But let's all enjoy The Brads Why DRM Doesn't Work
comic once again.