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


Salem Press Launches The Library Grants Center

   November 17th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Solving the budget puzzleEarlier this week I received the message below from Salem Press. I don't know what kind of distribution their programs get, but I thought this was worth sharing:

THE LIBRARY GRANTS CENTER
A free, no-registration resource for librarians.

Librarians need help finding help. So we scoured the web in search of grants and awards for libraries. We discovered the options extend far beyond free money from national and state sources.

Hundreds of grants are available to libraries of all types from local foundations, family trusts, small and large corporations, professional organizations, and the publishing community. You owe it to your library to find out more about the financial aid available.

http://salempress.com/Store/grants/grants.htm

Basically it's a listing of available funding sources for libraries, with information on national grants, state grants, and a how-to section for the application process.

Just about any potential funding source is a good one when you're in need, so I thought this might be a very useful site for libraries. Thanks to Salem Press for putting it together.



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New York Times x2

   December 11th, 2008 Brian Herzog

New York Times front page from July 29th, 1974Yesterday must have been National New York Times day - I learned two news ways to access articles from the NYT, completely coincidentally.

The first way was the arrival of a book I ordered for our Reference Collection, The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008. The oversized book itself is 300+ front pages from significant days since 1851, and it also comes with every front page contained on a set of DVDs.

Of course, the first thing we did was look up our birthdays, and so far no one was born on a significant day. But we found them in the very easy-to-use, PDF-based, DVDs. No special programs need to be installed, everything worked first time, etc.

Which makes me more comfortable having this book in the Reference Collection - people don't need to take it home if the DVDs work flawlessly on our computers, and the PDFs are ready-formatted to print on 8.5"x11" paper. Reading them is easier electronically when you can zoom in, but the book also comes complete with magnifying lens.

The second way was through Google News search. Not that I was surprised, but I had just never noticed before that Google News added "Archives" links to the left side of the search results page. Clicking into the 1800's, the matches were for-pay links into the Washington Post, but also free full-text links into the NYT. I knew the NYT had made their archive available, but having their articles show up in a context search like this is very useful. Plus, when you click through into the story, there is a link for a PDF version of the original newsprint, which I think qualifies as a primary source.

So, a good day for historical research using the New York Times.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/08

   August 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

One difficult question I get occasionally is "do you have rankings for doctor/lawyers?"

I think what people are expecting is a Consumer Reports-like ranking of these two professions, but unfortunately, we don't have anything exactly like that. We do have some resources for doctors, but lawyers are different.

Scales of JusticeA patron asked me to help her find lawyer rankings this past week. I did find a few websites showing some rankings, but I had no idea how reliable any of them were, and none of them got down to the local level needed by a patron in a small public library. Another thing I found were lots of articles talking about lawyers suing websites about their rankings, so that might explain the scarcity of resources.

In the end, two resources appeared promising, but only one ended up helping:

  • The American Bar Association has a Lawyer Locater, which is powered by martindale.com and LexisNexis. It does provide some information on a lawyer's background, including the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating from their Law Directory. The amount of information varies by lawyer, but in this case, the lawyer my patron was looking for wasn't listed at all
  • The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers provides an attorney status report which, while it doesn't rate lawyers, does indicate when the lawyer was admitted to the bar and if they've had any complaints against them (my patron was shocked to find out her lawyer was admitted to the bar just eight months ago)
  • A third resource the patron left with was the phone number of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Dial-A-Lawyer referral program, which assists private citizens in choosing legal council

The CaduceusFinding resources to research local doctors is slightly easier. This might be because the medical profession is more closely watched than the legal profession, or that people are more willing/able to travel for medical procedures than law suits.

One book I often turn to in our reference collection is America's Top Doctors, which lists doctors by region, specialty, hospital, and by name.

Another nice local resource is the Boston Consumers' Checkbook (which is also available for other cities). This magazine is similar to Consumer Reports, but instead of rating products, it rates services, including many medical services.

Part of the Mass.gov website reports on Health Care Quality and Cost Information. It includes lots of information for patients, but what I usually steer people towards are the "Volume by Surgeon and Hospital" reports - these aren't rankings exactly, but instead show how often a doctor or hospital performs a certain procedure. Other reports also list cost and mortality rates for doctors and hospitals.

Another state-level website is the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine's On-Line Physician Profile Site. Each profile includes general biographical information supplied by the doctor, and also has sections showing any malpractice payments made or any disciplinary and/or criminal actions taken against the doctor.

Additional web resources are:

  • The American Medical Association's doctor finder doesn't provide rankings, but it does show contact and biographical information for both AMA members and non-members (it gives priority to members, it does list non-members if you click the right buttons)
  • DrScore.com lets people score their own doctors and report on their experiences. Although the ratings are voluntary and anonymous, I did notice they indicate "Castle Connolly Top Doctors," which is the America's Top Doctor's resource I mentioned above. And in addition to the ratings, this website is also useful as doctor finder
  • RateMDs.com seems more commercial than DrScore.com, but it also seems to have more ratings and comments. This also has nice feature search for finding local doctors

I list these because they are free and useful, and accessible for my patrons. I'm sure there are many more not-free websites out there too, as well as additional good print resources. I'd appreciate hearing suggestions for more resources in the comments below - thanks.



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Free Online Historical Newspapers

   January 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Access NewspaperARCHIVE logoA few months ago I got an email about a website called Access NewspaperARCHIVE, saying that libraries could signup for free access to historical newspapers, dating back to the 1700s.

Sweet. I'm always looking for good primary source resources, especially online ones (and especially-especially free ones), so I thought I'd check this out. The signup process was a bit odd, having to download and then fax in their signup form [pdf, 418 kb]. I didn't hear anything back from them for months, so one day I just tried their url again (from within the library) and it IP-authenticated me.

So, I took that as us being signed up, and I started playing. The database is neat, as all the newspapers in there are saved as PDF files (see the 7/29/1895 Sandusky Register). And some are older than I could find in our other available resources, so those are two great things in its favor. However, I did see some drawbacks:

  • In-Library use only. And right on the authenticated homepage (the one patrons would see by logging in at the library) is a link to "Sign up for a home account." Which isn't expensive, but it's not free. It's just a little bit underhanded to give libraries a free account and then use that as a vehicle to sell to our patrons. So, I bypass this page and go right to the Browse page
  • No keyword searching. You can only browse by location, date, or newspaper title. Which will be fine for the "what happened on my birthday" questions, or if you were just looking up anything old in your area, but eliminates searching for a topic. And, the browse tool and the results listing are kind of clunky
  • No Massachusetts Newspapers. Which is a pain, since I mainly serve Massachusetts patrons. So, I guess no local historical information for me
  • Front pages only? For the papers I viewed, it wasn't the entire paper but just the front page. That's a pain
  • Not high-quality scans. The newspapers are legible, both on screen and printed, but they are just a little bit too bitmapped. And they are images, rather than text-based, which means no copy/pasting

So, my overall verdict is this: it's an amazing resource for primary source newspapers, and it's free, so it's better than nothing. There are some drawbacks, but I am rarely completely satisfied anyway.

Something else I did like was they had a "Questions? Ask a Librarian" link. This is an email link to whatever email address you supplied on the signup form. Which is good, since my patrons using this will be able to write to me, instead of this company.

Anyway, this is available, so I'm going to give it a try. If anyone has experience with this company or database, please comment below and let us know what you think. Thanks.

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