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


Promoting Library Services Through Live-Staging

   April 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Real Person (not an actor) shirtMy parents downsized from a house to a condo last year, so we went through the process of getting the house ready to sell. Which means, each room had to be "staged" to show prospective buyers the house's potential.

But you know, I thought, why stop at just arranging pillows on a couch to suggest how comfortable it would be to take a nap in a sun-lit nook, or strategically placing chairs to show how enjoyable it would be to relax in a certain room? I mean, instead of just staging furniture and decorations, why not just use actual people to flat-out perform these nice homey tableaux? I call it "live-staging."

My suggestion was met with eye rolls all around, but I'm finally getting to implement this idea - at my library.

See, one thing that always astounds me in the library are the patrons who say things like, "wow, I've never been on this floor before," or happen to notice our very prominently-displayed public fax machine and say, "I had no idea the library had a fax machine!"

I'm always trying to think of better ways to publicize everything the library offers, and it occured to me that live-staging is the perfect method.

So, my library hired a group of actors to live-stage library resources.

For instance, one will very conspicuously (and enthusiastically) use the fax machine. Another will "discover" that the library offers ebooks and ask staff for more information in a very noticeable way. Two will play chess to promote our gaming table, while another will excitedly find out about home-access for our databases, and someone else will talk up an upcoming evening program.

Really, the possibilities are endless. And the actors are excited too - we've given them the resources we want to highlight, and general guidelines about how to get the attention of other patrons without actually being annoying about it. Otherwise though, they're free to ad-lib and interact with patrons and staff however they feel will best draw attention to these services (and we're not telling staff who the actors are).

So as not to be too obvious, we'll be rotating different actors and services, so our cast of actors is currently up in the hundreds. After all, we didn't want our patrons seeing "reruns" of the same "patron" learning over and over that we have a typewriter.

I can hardly wait to see how this works. It launches today and will run for the entire month of April. We did a benchmark survey last year, to find out which services people know about and use. We'll do the same survey again after this live-staging, and I am 100% positive patrons' awareness will be through the roof.

After all, we're paying for these actors with our entire year's materials budget, so it better work.



Tags: , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12

   April 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

No PornThis isn't exactly a reference question, but it is something reference staff deal with all the time. A patron came up to the desk and said,

That man on the last computer over there is looking at porn.

This seems to go in waves for us, but we probably average three or four porn complaints a month. The way we handle this in my library is to print out our Appropriate Library Behavior policy, and highlight the line that says,

The library is a public building and objectionable or pornographic images that can be seen by others (either intentionally or accidentally, and either on screen on in print) are not permissible.

I then give it to the patron in question, while at the same time saying something like, "another patron complained about something they saw on your screen. Since this is a public building, you must make sure that anything on your screen is appropriate for all ages."

At least, this is how we handle first-time offenders - we don't accuse them of anything, we don't kick them out, we just make it clear that anything they do must be clean enough for kids and the general public. We approach it this way because porn isn't illegal, but very subjective, and just not something we can allow at the library.

But it got me thinking: there are other things the library can't accommodate, for one reason or another: color photocopying, notary service, etc. In these cases, we have little handouts at the reference desk that list other locations in town that can accommodate those needs.

So, I thought, why don't we also make a handout for the porn people, listing other places in the area that cater to Adult Services? Here's what I came up with:

Adult Services bookmark

From now on, whenever a patron complains about someone looking at porn, in addition to giving them a copy of the official library policy, I'm also going to give them one of these handouts - that way, we're maintaining our yes-based policy and fulfilling a core library function by referring them to the most appropriate resource.

It's formatted to print three per page - feel free to download and edit one for your library [ppt], or check out the PDF version.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 3/27/11

   April 2nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Lifehacker QR Code #1Instead of a reference question, here's something in honor of April 1st:

Yesterday, Lifehacker posted an April Fools QR Code Internet Scavenger Hunt - the point is to find and decode a series of QR codes hidden on various websites. But the trick is that you not only need to decipher the clues, but use reference skills to search and find the right websites.

It was fun, and the information provided in the clues is remarkably similar to library reference transactions - cryptic and obscure, but usually enough to go on.

So test out your reference skills - it's fun. It's also a very good example of how a library can use QR codes for an enjoyable and engaging project.

It would have also been interesting to sort of track peoples' search techniques and strategies, to see if librarians are any better at something like this than anyone else.

Bonus
The article also linked to a handy online QR code decoder - neat.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Library Clones Librarian

   April 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Facing another round a budget cuts for this coming fiscal year, my library had to lay off all of our reference staff, except for me.

However, in an effort to continue to meet patron need at the Reference Desk, the library is capitalizing on Massachusetts' strength in the biomedical technology industry by partnering with biotech firms to create librarian clones. The advantages are numerous:

  • multiplying the effect of a library degree
  • staff training is streamlined
  • communication within the department is excellent
  • we all share a single social security number so we also share a single salary
  • all of us are covered by a single benefits package
  • our wardrobe is interchangeable

This week was the first reference shift for the clones - here's a snapshot of the day:

Assistance of the Clones

If this cloning experiment works for the Reference Department, it may be expanded to additional departments during future budget cuts. We also might begin to selectively clone patrons, based on quality of questions, reading tastes, adherence to library policies, and how many pet peeves they commit.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Online Book Signings

   April 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Although the Kindle and other ebook devices are growing steadily in popularity, there is one advantage that libraries and bookstores still have: author visits and book signings.

Getting to listen to and meet an author in person is a great experience. And it's something that you can only do in person - right? Not any more. Amazon has announced a new program in an effort to recreate this experience for its Kindle customers.

The new "Online Book Signings" portion of their Digital Text Platform lets Kindle customers watch a live webcast of an author talking about their book, and ask the author questions via realtime chat.

But the best part is that people who buy a Kindle version of the book will also be able to get it personalized and signed by the author. A demo (Kindle not required) of three titles is below - click a title, type in your name, and then download the signed book to your Kindle. Pretty neat.

The World Is Flat cover
The World Is Flat
by Thomas L. Friedman
The Graveyard Book cover
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Just After Sunset cover
Just After Sunset
by Stephen King

This might start a whole new market for digital autographs - so collect all three!



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Another Announcement from OverDrive

   April 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

OverDrive logoHot on the heels of its announcement of mp3-based and iPod-compatible audiobooks, Overdrive is introducing a new product line: Large Print Audiobooks.

Designed to cater to the elderly and vision-impaired library patrons (just like our print large print collections), OverDrive has contracted with various large print book vendors to convert their catalogs into large print audio versions.

I think it is great that vendors aren't always trying to cast wide nets to scoop up as much profit as possible, but instead are providing products based on the needs of our smaller patron groups.

The only catch is that, like large print books, the audiobook files will be larger than their normal versions. Also, larger headphones are required, too, to accommodate the extra sound.

Still, it's great. You can keep up with more announcements on the OverDrive News page.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,