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


Online Newsstand Makes Databases Fun

   March 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Update 3/30/12:
Library Journal published an article on the project, EBSCO's objection, and the process of working towards a resolution.

Update 3/20/12:
Good news: EBSCO and Steve have been in contact, and they are currently exploring the possibility of developing a service comparable to the Online Newsstand that would be acceptable to publishers.

Update 3/12/12:
EBSCO contacted Steve and asked him to shut down the Online Newsstand project. They said they had been contacted by a publisher who had concerns, and EBSCO cited the Online Newsstand violating their license agreements.

I'm hoping this is a temporary "let's meet and work this out" kind of deal, and not a "we don't want anyone doing something better than us" situation. After all, EBSCO isn't losing any money (and Steve isn't making money) - if anything, EBSCO and their publishers only benefit from increased database usage, because higher stats make libraries more inclined to renew their database contracts. Not to mention that EBSCO gives out awards to libraries for doing exactly this kind of innovative project (I won one):

Steve has contacted EBSCO to try to get Online Newsstand back online. If you're so inclined, you can contact EBSCO to let them know what you think:

  • Tim Collins, CEO: tcollins@ebscohost.com
  • Mark Herrick, Senior Vice President of Business Development: mherrick@ebscohost.com
  • Ed Roche, Vice President of Field Sales, APK: eroche@ebscohost.com
  • Emily Hayden: Senior Director of Customer Success, ehayden@ebscohost.com
  • Melissa D'Amato, Vice President of Publisher Relations: mkenton@ebscohost.com

Only EBSCO has demanded Online Newsstand be taken down, but to be on the safe side until this is resolved, Steve has also brought down the Gale version as well. What an incredibly unfortunate and unnecessary state of affairs.


Original Post:
Online Newsstand logoDo you wish the great content in your databases was easier to access and more engaging for patrons? Sure, we all do. And now it can be, with the Online Newsstand.

Steve Butzel of the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library developed the Online Newsstand Project to promote some of the great content libraries are already paying for - just by making that content more visible to patrons. Instead of having to go into MasterFILE or Expanded Academic ASAP, patrons can browse their favorite magazines on, well, an online newsstand, right on the library's website. It looks like this:


Pretty neat, huh?

Patrons don't need to know what a database is, or how to use one - they just click the magazine and article they want to read, log in with their library card number, and they're in! Almost as easy as reading an actual magazine.

And the second best thing about this (the first best is how awesome it looks) is that it's free for libraries to use.

Here's how it works: the Online Newsstand doesn't replace databases - it's just another (prettier) way to access their content. Steve compiles a list of the top articles of each magazine issue, along with the direct link to that article in the database. That way, the Online Newsstand can easily display the table of contents for a magazine, which eliminates all the searching and drilling down into publications in databases.

Check it out at the Portsmouth Library, on my library's website, and also on our mobile website (which is great for patrons on the go).

Updating the table of contents for each issue in the Online Newsstand would have been a monumental task. But it occurred to Steve that, since so many libraries are paying for the exact same content in the exact same databases, a bunch of libraries working together could make light work of it.

So, instead of libraries paying to use the Online Newsstand, participating libraries "adopt" a magazine, and they are then responsible for adding the new article titles and links to the Newsstand whenever a new issue is published. The interface Steve created makes this extremely easy - I do The Economist (a weekly magazine) and Outdoor Life (a monthly), and it takes me about ten minutes per issue - tops.

I love the approach of libraries working together. My ten minutes' labor a week benefits other libraries, and also gives my patrons access to the work done by other librarians. This is the true spirit of cooperation that is so emblematic of libraries.

The Online Newsstand is available both for EBSCO and Gale customers. And as more libraries get involved in the project, more and more magazine titles will be added. And again, this doesn't change or affect your relationship with database vendors - it just improves the patron experience of using the resources we're already paying for.

If you're interested (and I hope you are), contact Steve Butzel at sbutzel@gmail.com. And of course I'm happy to talk about how it works in Chelmsford, too.



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Detecting and Redirecting Mobile Devices

   December 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comRemember a few months ago, when I was inspired by Steve Butzel's presentation at NELA2010 and created a mobile version of my library's website? I bet you have that date marked on your calendar.

Anyway, one lingering problem I had was some mechanism to automatically detect mobile devices when they visited our website, and reroute them to the mobile version instead of the full web version. I finally had some time this week and was able to accomplish that - aided by the fact that it was easier than I expected.

The ultimate goal is to redesign our entire site along the lines Brett suggested, by creating a stylesheet specifically for mobile devices. Brad pointed out that the Canton Public Library employs this, awesomely: visit their site and slowly make your browser window smaller, and watch the website flip from "full web" mode to "mobile" mode.

That was more than I could handle this week, so I opted for the detect-and-redirect approach. I had found online instructions using both javascript and php, and I went with the php method because

  • I think php is more reliable than javascript, because javascript depends on the browser whereas php runs on our server
  • Php is more fun, and I know our server runs php

The website offering the php method is http://detectmobilebrowsers.mobi, and very happily they make it available free for non-profits. Here's what I did:

  1. Read and reread their website
  2. Downloaded the main bit of code, and uploaded it to our web server
  3. Used their Function Generator to create the snippet of code to paste into the top of our homepage. I chose to treat all of their options as a mobile browser, and redirect them to http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile - the resulting code looked like this:
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    

    (this should be two lines of code, but it wraps because of the width of my blog - if you use this code, make sure the second and third lines above are actually one long line)

  4. I copy/pasted that code into our index.html homepage. However, because this is php code, it had to go between php tags, (<?php and ?>), so the complete code I actually added to the top of our page was:
    <?php 
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    ?>
    

    (again, see note above about line wrapping)

  5. Note that the path in the "require_once" line must match where on your web server you actually saved the mobile_device_detect.php file (downloaded in Step 2)
  6. Now, the last step was a little tricky, because it involves editing the .htaccess on the server. It's easy though, and one of their faq answers explains it.

    Basically, .html files don't normally run php code - .php files do that. So if our homepage was index.php instead of index.html, I could have skipped this step. Instead, in order to make .html pages execute php, I had to add a few lines to our server's .htaccess file - which was no trouble at all - and then everything worked splendidly

That is, at least, so far. I've done some testing with mobile devices and (as suggested) with the User Agent Switcher Firefox add-on, and all of that has worked. But please, if you have a mobile device, visit our homepage (http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org) and let me know if you don't get redirected to our mobile site.

A couple other notes:

  • I also added a link to the mobile site in the upper-left corner of the homepage, in case the redirect doesn't work
  • I only added this auto-detect to the homepage. I thought about adding it to every page, but our full site has a lot of information our mobile site doesn't - especially descriptions of our events. If I added the redirect to every single page, people with mobile devices basically wouldn't have access to any of that. So, my thinking is to provide mobile users with the (robust) basics, but if they want more than that they'll have to endure our not-great coding until we're able to redesign the entire site to be mobile-friendly

This was easier than I was expecting, which makes me think I missed something.

Update: someone pointed out a gap in my logic. On the mobile site, there is a link to "Visit our main site" which linked back to our full homepage. However, since the homepage redirected people to the mobile site, anyone clicking that link from the mobile site just got looped right back to the mobile site. So, I changed that link to go to our About page. Again, this is a good reason to just have mobile-friendly stylesheets like Brett and Brad suggest above.



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Creating a Mobile Library Website

   October 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comYou're probably sick of hearing about things I picked up at NELA2010, but I'm not done yet.

In the very last session of the conference, Steve Butzel from the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library demonstrated the Online Newsstand he created to boost their online magazine usage. That was neat in itself, but what I really took away from his talk was that I needed to - and easily could - create a version of our website specifically designed for mobile phones.

He showed theirs (in beta), which is simple and awesome. It inspired me to give it a try.

I started on http://chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile/ yesterday, and am still working on it yet (in fact, I haven't even told anyone at my library yet that I'm doing it - surprise!).

I don't have a cell phone and so haven't tested this on a smartphone yet. I have been using testiphone.com (an online tool Steve highlighted - there are other tools, too), so please give it a try and let me know how it works.

Steve's point was that it could be very simple - hours, directions, events, a contact link, and a purchase suggestion link for patrons who are in a bookstore (great for people with apps like RedLaser). Here's the logic of what to include:

  • Hours
  • Directions (right now it just links to Google Maps, but I need to also include a link for our branch library)
  • Ask a Librarian (haven't created this yet, but it will be a simple email form)
  • Purchase Suggestion (also not done, but will be a simple form)
  • Upcoming Events (our calendar was not at all mobile-friendly, so I just grabbed the rss feed and ran it through feed2js.org to create just a list of our upcoming events. There could be separate feeds for adult events, childrens events, etc., but that might be overkill)
  • Link to the catalog (I also embedded a catalog search, but that might be too much. And I found the catalog isn't entirely mobile-friendly either - we'll be moving to the Evergreen ILS soon, so I'll wait and see on this, otherwise I'd investigate LibAnywhere from LibraryThing, which Steve also mentioned)
  • Link back to the main library website for everything else

The next trick will be getting our regular homepage to automatically detect mobile devices and reroute them to the mobile website. I haven't even attempted this yet, but have done a little research.

Apparently, cell phones and smartphones aren't just a fad after all, so having a website that works well on these devices is just as important as a browser-based website - and this will only become more important as a way to serve our patrons on their terms. I was happy with how easy it was. Now I need to find out what my coworkers think.



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