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




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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Search Engine Blind Taste Test

   June 18th, 2009 Brian Herzog

blind search screenEven though I use Google for web searching most of the time, I do use other search engines, and I wonder how the results compare.

With the launch of Microsoft's new Bing search engine, a Microsoft employee must have been wondering the same thing - so he created a neat Blind Search tool (and states this is not a Microsoft project).

Type in a search term, and Blind Search shows you the results from Google, Yahoo and Bing - but without telling you which engine produced each list. So without brand bias, you decide which results list includes the most relevant websites.

And the best part is the reveal, when you "vote" and see which search engine the results came from.

I played a bit, and surprisingly, Google didn't always provide the most relevant results. As the creator states, this seems most useful as an observational curiosity, but it certainly is fun and interesting (or, it gives people a way to find pron three times faster).

via Closed Stacks



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Building Better Google Searches

   January 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog

google logo in legosSpeaking of learning things, Chris sent me a link that lists special strategies and syntax for searching Google more efficiently.

I use a couple of them all the time (especially site:), but I definitely spotted a few that will be extremely helpful:

  • +[stop word] - having the plus sign before a "stop word" (such as +not) forces the search to include that word, instead of ignoring it
  • inurl: and intitle: - similar to site:, but this limits the search to words just in the web address or title field. Very useful for increasing relevancy on obscure information
  • related: - lists websites that are "related" to the domain you search for (ie, related:swissarmylibrarian.net). This seems just oddly interesting, but there has got to be a very good application

The page also gives some great examples of how these can be combined. It's always good to learn how to search smarter, and it's certainly a conversation starter when patrons see me typing in these weird codes and getting better results than they do - always on the lookout for those teaching moments.

Thanks Chris, and to the faculty of the Valencia Community College for compiling the list. There are also other lists, too, but this one was very helpful.



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