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




Google Offers Secure Searching

   June 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Locks and glassesI read last week that Google is now offering an encrypted search option, and was surprised the story didn't get more coverage.

Anyone wanting to use it needs to go to https://www.google.com (note the https:), and it appears it only applies to web searching - not images or the other searches. Read more at:

This is good for those library patrons who want extra privacy while searching the internet. However, online privacy increasingly seems to be an illusion (remember, Google will still see and track these searches - this just cuts down on other people monitoring the searches).

via



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Mobile App for Searching Libraries

   February 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redlaser logoNot having a cell phone, I can be a bit behind when it comes mobile apps - but this is still cool even to tech-no's like me.

My former co-worker Chris pointed out the iPhone app RedLaser, that turns the iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner. The app was designed to do instant price checks while you're in a store, to see if you could buy something cheaper online.

He also found that the database it scans can be customized - which means it could be modded to search a library catalog (among other things).

So a patron with an iPhone (or an Android) could be shopping in a bookstore, see a book they'd like to read, and instantly scan it to see if it's available at their local library. Great stuff.

But wait, there's more...
Another colleague, Scott Kehoe of NMRLS, posted about making customized versions that can search the MVLC (my library consortium), MassCat and the NOBLE consortium catalog. His post shows how he did it, links to Delicious for the customized databases, and explains how you can customize it yourself.

I think this is a great thing to promote to patrons, but they need to be careful about walking around bookstores scanning barcodes. I've heard many stores will throw people out if they appear to be doing "research" (recording a store's prices or looking for country of origin). Also, about this app, one bookstore owner was quoted as saying:

If I see any lecherous internet bottomfeeders using my store as a display case for a discount website, I will politely ask them to leave.

As the world of mobile devices becomes more compatible with the world of ebooks, the next step will be to create customs searches of places like Overdrive and Project Gutenberg, so that patrons can not just locate but also download the desired book immediately. I tend to think instant gratification is not a good thing, but in this day and age, it is certainly easy to support.

For a few more library-related apps, check out Aaron's post on Walking Paper.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/3/10

   January 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

You Can't Do That on Television sceneAbout 30 minutes before we closed one night, a patron came to the desk and asked:

How do I find a website that starts with "F"?

When I asked him what he meant, he said he was on a website last week that had Armenian Christmas music, but all he could remember was that the web address started with "F" - maybe "fru" or "fron" or maybe not.

Remember that show on Nickelodeon, You Can't Do That On Television, with the teacher who always said, "Where does the school board get them and why do they keep sending them to me?" Yeah.

I was pretty sure that Google's [site:] operator didn't work with wildcards, but I tried searching for "armenian music site:f*" anyway. That did not work, so I searched to find out how wildcards can be used with Google's limiters. A nice forum posting mentioned the [inurl:] operator, which seemed perfect (if you don't already use them, read about operators and other tips for searching Google).

I re-searched for "armenian music inurl:www.f" and that worked - it showed all websites that mentioned Armenian music and have a web address that starts with "www.f".

Of course there are holes in this tactic: the site might not start with "www.", the site might not mention the words "armenian music," the site might not be in English, etc.

I gave him these caveats when I showed him how to use [inurl:], but he was still excited. He tried a few combinations of "armenian" and "christmas" and "music," but he hadn't found the right website before closing time. I actually haven't seen him since, so I'm not sure if he ultimately found it or not. It's kind of a needle in a haystack situation, and it feel like all I did was give him a very small magnet.



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Google and Predictive Searching

   December 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Google Autocomplete for Swiss Army L...Jessamyn links to an interesting article about Google's switch to personalized searching - really, check it out, because it will impact patrons using public computers.

But it also reminded me of how much more prevalent Google's autocomplete feature has seemed lately. I know it's been around for awhile, but I've noticed it more for some reason, and have also been seeing it in Google's ads on Hulu.com (which I oddly could not find to link to), failblog, YouTube* and elsewhere.

So I got curious about what the Google zeitgeist would say about library-related phrases - here's what I found:

Libraries are

Librarians are

The library is
(a band)

My Librarian is
(a children's book)

Librarians never
(They just check out? They get weeded? They become overdue?)

And I had to try this too:
Brian is
(I think most of these are Family Guy references.)

Update 1/11/10: Using Google suggestions, check out the difference between what girlfriends and boyfriends are thinking.

 


*The one at 2:39 is my favorite. Actually, a lot of them are probably song lyrics, but how often do you come across a Dead Milkmen reference?



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Edelweiss Interactive Publisher Catalogs

   October 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

EdelweissI don't think this is a new thing, but my Director recently showed me Edelweiss Interactive Publisher Catalogs.

It appears to be geared more towards bookstores than libraries, but Edelweiss is a free product from Above the Treeline for searching book vendors' catalogs. The goal seems to be to avoid wasting the paper of printed publisher catalogs, which I am all for. Searching can be filtered to limit to certain publishers or topics, and that is useful, but sometimes, flipping through a printed catalog is just better.

More features and explanation from their homepage:

Why edelweiss?

  • Paper catalogs are out of date and inaccurate before the ink is dry.
  • Reduce expenses and environmental costs by eliminating wasteful catalog printing and reaching more, and more targeted customers.
  • The American Booksellers Association has endorsed edelweiss as the preferred solution for its membership.
  • Search keywords, authors, excerpts, and more across all participating publishers and catalogs.
  • Easily tag, filter, sort, view, and export title lists in custom formats.
  • Exchange notes, comments, and suggested order quantities between peers, publisher sales reps, and retailers.

So what's the difference between searching this and searching Amazon? The filtering for one, but the last point could make collaborative ordering easier. However, we use an entirely different system at my library, and are unlikely to change.



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MA Libraries Moving Towards Open Source

   August 4th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Veruca SaltI've mentioned this in passing, but here's some insider information on the prospect of Massachusetts libraries adopting an open source state-wide catalog.

The update comes courtesy of my consortium's monthly newsletter, the August 2009 MVLC Connections [pdf]*. It's a good article, reviewing current OSS ILS options, how they differ from traditional library catalogs, and what it will take to get one in place.

However, one paragraph set off some alarm bells:

Once the platform has been selected, the second phase of the project – assessing user requirements and system development needs - will begin. This is the point in the project where library staff will begin to be heavily involved.

Here's what bothers me: shouldn't "assessing user requirements and system development needs" be necessary to select a platform in the first place? I'm just worried that the plan is for a lot of major decisions to be made before there is any input from front-line librarians. It's kind of like your mechanic deciding with the dealer which make and model of car you have to buy, then asking for your input on the color and whether or not you want power windows.

But don't get me wrong: this is great news, especially for MVLC libraries (the ILS we're using is woefully dated and inadequate). However, with this project as big as it is, changes won't happen until 2011 at the earliest - which means the time patrons and staff have to continue to put up with not-good-enough software is being measured in years instead of months.

So if I'm sounding like Veruca Salt**, it's because I have to apologize to patrons on a daily basis for such a difficult catalog interface. I know there are much better systems out there, and I can hardly wait. I don't care how, I want it now.

Read more about the pros and cons of OSS (via iLibrarian)

 


*Dear Irony: You have to download the newsletter from my server, because the original, containing this article about the future of libraries, is locked up on a password-protected "wiki," which no one is allowed to edit.

**I just noticed that the wall in the background of the photo is the same as my website background - huh.



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