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




Reference Question of the Week – 1/25/09

   January 31st, 2009 Brian Herzog

google may harm your computerThis is the question of the morning:

Is the internet broken?

Apparently, Google was having trouble this morning. Every search result from a Google search (even google.com) is tagged as "This site may harm your computer" and links to the Google page to that effect. From what I can tell, every single site on the internet is being blocked from Google search results.

A little while later, the message became "Forbidden" - I'm guessing this is a result of Google employees working feverishly to correct this problem. So far, I haven't found any news stories about this, but I'm sure it'll be explained before long.

In the meantime, I've been teaching people how to type "yahoo.com" into the address bar instead of the Google search box - I told you this chart was accurate.



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Uses of Google

   January 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

It's funny when the interweb incidentally produces something this accurate:

Uses of Google

Via LibraryStuff.net



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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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Reference Question of the Week – 10/19/08

   October 25th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Jobs listings on Craigslist websiteBefore I get into this week's reference question, I want to point out that this is my 100th Reference Question of the Week - that's almost two years of weekly reference questions. My, my, doesn't the time just fly when you are giving patrons directions to the bathrooms?

In honor of such a momentous event, I thought I'd share one of the reference questions I just dread. I get variants of this question occasionally, but last week all the components came together in a perfect storm of reference question difficulty:

Patron: I've never used a computer before, so can you help me find a job on craigslist?

Sigh. For non-reference librarians, here's why this simple request is especially hard:

  1. Almost any kind of job-related request can be difficult
  2. Most of the job resources available in the library are online, so having no computer experience is automatically a setback
  3. Craigslist? It is certainly a valid job search tool, but there are other places I'd be more comfortable starting off a computer novice (she never did tell me how she got referred to craigslist)

Lots of people would jump on a question like this and consider it a golden teaching moment. Which I tried to do, but I was alone on a busy Thursday morning and I didn't have the amount of uninterrupted time it would take to teach the patron to use a mouse and then educate her enough about the internet and craigslist to find a job safely.

But happily, she was a fast learner, and really took to the mouse and using the browser. Since she asked for craigslists, I showed her how to get there and use it, and while doing so also told her about other job search websites she could try. We also have a handout for career resources, and pretty soon she sent me away so she could look on her own.

She left before I could talk to her again, but she stayed at least forty-five minutes on the computer. Which is not bad for a first timer. Even if nothing from her first search pans out, I hope at least she knows the library is a resource for job searching.

More About Online Job Searching
Something I've been noticing for awhile is that it seems that online job applications are becoming more and more complex. Lots of large companies are requiring applicants to fill out an online application instead of providing a resume.

The problem with this is, from my and the patron's point of view, many patrons have trouble with the website or application form itself. Some get so frustrated that they quit halfway through, cursing the company for not just taking their resume. I wonder if companies are doing this intentionally, because filling out these applications requires a certain level of computer skills, and so it weed out anyone who isn't computer savvy enough to finish it.

I've helped a few people complete what even I thought was a difficult form, and I wonder if I'm really helping them or not. If the job really does require that level of computer skill, and I spend a half an hour basically filling out the form for them, are they just wasting their time on a job they don't have a hope of getting?

Because of this need (and especially in the current economic climate), my library lately has been partnering with the local career center to hold series of job search workshops. These range from updating resumes to online searching to interviewing to networking to reentering the work force. They've been well attended, and all the library has had to do is provide the space - people from the Lowell Career Center plan and run the programs.

I feel like we can never do enough for patrons looking for jobs, but that this is one of the key roles a library plays in the community.



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AllMyFaves (Are Belong To Us)

   August 5th, 2008 Brian Herzog

All My Faves websiteSomeone sent me a link to AllMyFaves.com recently - at first I ignored it, but now I kind of like it.

It's a visual list of popular website, broken up into cataegories like Video, Maps, Search, Travel, etc. It reminds me of the early days of Yahoo, with two guys making a directory of useful internet websites. But seeing everything on one screen is helpful (and being a visual person, I like the logos).

And that's it's compiled by "a team of experts," I can reasonably presume that these are the "important" websites in each category (at least, important to someone). Which is great for me to learn of a new website, or to use as a cheat-sheet to see what the kids are using. Plus, it helps with reference questions like "what's another website like Facebook and MySpace."

I did notice they didn't have a "Books" category, so I made my own:

Books


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Reference Question of the Week – 6/15/08

   June 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

YouTube logoThis is a reference question I've been holding onto for awhile, hoping I'd have an answer to share. I don't, so now I'm hoping someone else might.

A patron came to the desk asking for help with YouTube. He's one of our regulars, and has a bit of a compulsive personality. He's also a big fan of The Doors: he's working on a book, buys whatever merchandise he can from eBay, and watches any related video on YouTube - or rather, tries to.

One day, he came to the desk and said:

When I search for "the doors" on YouTube, there are over 79,000 videos. However, It only shows the first 50 pages of search results, which is only the first 500 videos. How can I watch the rest?

I had never clicked this far into any search returns in my life. So I tried it out, and sure enough, he was right. I played a bit, but couldn't find any way to get past this barrier to the rest of the videos.

I searched their Help Center with no success, and so sent in the question via their Contact Form. I also searched the general internet, but couldn't find anything relating to this issue.

This was on April 25th, 2008. So far, I haven't heard anything back from YouTube or Google. I resubmitted the question a couple weeks later, but again, no response.

I've played with this search limit again recently, and it looks like now YouTube cuts off the returned videos in the 540's, which is on page 28. The pagination shows out to page 31, and implies there is more, but when you click beyond page 28 the pagination and video numbering starts over at 1.

I can understand the technical limitations and the necessity of an upper cap on returned search matches. But with no explanation or message that there is a limit, and this confusing/resetting pagination, this patron feels YouTube is teasing him personally, and cheating him out of these other 78,500+ videos.

Does anyone have an answer I can pass on to the patron? Thanks.



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