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


Check Out Our Library Card Table

   July 25th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Tommy's Library Card TableEarlier this summer, my coworker Tommy got the idea for a library art project: mail a letter to 200+ libraries across the country, asking them to send him one of their library cards.

He enclosed a return envelope, and most of them responded! For the next few weeks, Tommy's envelopes, with new library cards enclosed, poured into the library from all over the country. It was fun to see the variety and creativity of library cards.

Tommy's project was dependent on how many library cards he received. In the end, the number he got fit more or less perfectly on one of the coffee tables in the library, so he got permission to arrange them on a table and cover them with a protective epoxy. It looks great in the library, and the plan is to leave it in the library permanently. Tom also put up a sign on the table explaining what he did - the table is very eye-catching, and has already proved popular with staff and patrons.

Here's the top of the table - click to see a bigger image:

Library Card Table top

Nice work Tom - and thanks to all the library who participated.



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NELA2010: Trends in Reference

   October 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Pingsheng Chen and Laura KohlSession notes from a great NELA2010 interactive discussion on reference and where it's headed:

A panel of experienced reference librarians explores the ever-changing landscape of reference service, with particular emphasis on implementing new and emerging technologies. Panelists include Laura Kohl from Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, Eleanor Sathan from Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA, and Pingsheng Chen from Worcester (MA) Public Library.

Laura Kohl - What Bryant University is Doing

  • Offer text (using a Droid rather than online), email, IM
  • Goal has been to differentiate librarians from Google and add value "Librarians: the thinking search engine"
  • Bryant's mission is to be high-touch and hands-on - they don't just offer access, they provide instruction to make sure people know how to use things
  • All reference desks computers are dual monitor/keyboard (one faces staff, one faces patron), so it's easy for students to participate in the search, rather than just watch
  • Use Jing to create on-the-fly instructional screencasts for chat and email reference questions. These are uploaded to Jing's server, which archives them for reuse

How to patrons know what is available? Marketing all over the place.

  • Word of mouth - go into classrooms, tell people it's okay to interrupt us"
  • Hang up tear-off sheets all around campus (including in the bathrooms)
  • Have imprinted scrap paper at the desk with library contact information at the bottom
  • Use Moo Cards for business cards to hand out. Also used clear labels to add more contact information to the back of the standard business cards
  • On Twitter, Facebook (include redundant links to everything, which helps when regular website is unavailable), integrate into Blackboard
  • Use digital signage using rotating powerpoints, images, or anything else - these are in the library and throughout campus
  • QR codes on signs to go to websites or download contact information into students' smart phones

How to measure success?

  • Qualitative - comments from students (email, texts, etc)
  • Quantitative - track stats (face-to-face, phone, text, email, IM) - face-to-face is going down but students staying longer, and IMs are way up

Pingsheng Chen - What Worcester Library is Doing

Worcester is 3rd largest city in New England (behind Boston and Providence)

Trend 1: People need a librarian more than every

  • Across the country, library use is going up
  • Nature of questions have changed - fewer questions that can be handled in the traditional way, and knowing the collection is no longer enough

Trend 2: Reference librarians are reinventing themselves to make a wide range of new reference services available to meet users' current expectations

  • Provide learning opportunities for users, especially for job seekers (computer books, job search/resume help, workshops)
  • Provide personal assistance for job seekers or others (consult with a librarian, resume/cover letter help, set up LinkedIn or email account)
  • Provide virtual reference services - email, chat (QuestionPoint), text (My Info Quest), ebooks and databases for online 24x7 reference (and build Gale bookshelf)
  • Use web 2.0 and social networking tools to provide help in more than one way and in more than one place - blog, wiki, delicious links, Bookletters, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (do them all, because patrons have their own preferences)

Trend 3: Reference services have a bright but challenging future. So, with less money and less staff, we must...

  • provide public and free access to ideas and information
  • stay current with new technologies and new resources and be able to teach users those information tools and skills
  • offer a wide range of reference services to meet users where they are and connect people to information that matters in their lives
  • Bottom line: meet users' current expectations (it's about their experience)


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Gaming at the Library, Old School Style

   October 30th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Patrons playing on game tableLast month, my library added to our collection a nice new game table. It was donated in memory of a long-time patron who enjoyed board games.

It's a very nice table - all wood, "pub height," and the different game boards are self-contained in the table top. The included games are:

  • Chess
  • Checkers
  • Scrabble
  • Backgammon
  • Monopoly

We set it up in the Teen area and are circulating game piece sets from the reference desk. We also did a "games" display near the desk to promote the table.

The problem is, no one has used it yet to play games. I see people sitting at it to study by the windows, but the five sets of game pieces have yet to be checked out. Something like this might take awhile to catch on, and we've been toying with the idea of starting a chess club.

But regardless, I like having it. It's a nice way to remember a patron we all miss, and it encourages people to use the library for more than just academic research - it's a place in the community people can come to relax and enjoy someone else's company.



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Plugged-In Study Tables

   February 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Study Carrel AfterOver the two years I've worked at my library, I've seen an increasing number of patrons bringing in their own laptops. We've offered wireless access and many years, but now we're offering just a little bit more.

In addition to work tables in the library, we also have a number of study carrels for people to use. The tables we purchased were designed with both power plugs and ethernet jacks built into them, but the study carrels were not. Since the study carrels were near walls that had jacks, we thought that was good enough.

However, the arrangement of the carrels (which are two little cubicles arranged back to back) meant that one patron had easy access to the plug, while the other had to interrupt the first patron and loop wires over the walls to get access.

We thought we could do better than this, and set about checking our vendors and the internet for purpose-built after-market power boxes, that had both AC power and an ethernet jack - and that were low-profile enough to not encroach on the desk space. We found some, but most were $200+, which was too much. So instead, we built our own.

Using pieces and parts from the hardware store and Radio Shack, we made four boxes, one for each carrel, and each box had two power plugs and one internet jack. The pieces are all common and low-tech, so assembling them was no problem. And, not including ethernet cables (which we already had), they cost about $25 each.

So now, for a very low price, patrons can use their laptops with or without a wireless card, and with or without their battery power (as well as charge their cell phone or power some other device) and not have to drape cords over another patron.

See photos: before, after, and a close up of a box.

That's one small step for the library, one giant leap for the patron who kept asking us why we didn't have outlets in the carrels.



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