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


Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

   October 25th, 2011 Brian Herzog

SF Signal presents A Guide to Navigating NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy BooksThis isn't new, but I read on Slashdot last week that NPR listeners voted for the top 100 science fiction & fantasy books of all time.

But the website SF Signal saw a problem: the 100 science fiction & fantasy books were from all over the genres, and had basically no rhyme or reason. So they created a readers advisory flowchart, to help readers select which of the 100 they'd be most interested in reading by answering a few questions.

A 100-book flowchart graphic is massively huge (see below), so they also made an interactive version - it's great, and worth a look:

Flowchart for choosing science fiction and fantasy books

Does anyone know of other interactive "choose-your-own-adventure" type readers advisory tools out there?



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Make Online Tutorials with Tildee

   October 20th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Tildee.com: You Explain. They Understand.I was flipping through the October issue of Computers in Libraries and found that Donna F. Ekart's Tech Tips for Every Librarian column certainly lived up to its name - not only was my library mentioned in the column, but she also profiled a tool I'd never heard of before (and can certainly use).

We were mentioned for the Library Use Value Calculator, and I was happy she included it as an easy-to-implement tool for libraries.

The tool that was new to me is Tildee.com, a very quick and easy way to make online step-by-step tutorials. Sure there are other ways to do the same thing, but this was really, really easy - type in your text for each step, upload an image/map/video if you want, and you're done. That's it.

In about two minutes I made one showing patrons how to log into their catalog account.

I think if I spent more than two minutes at it, it would look a little better, but still - two minutes. They also have a nice listing of other tutorials (how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how to use Animoto) to give you some ideas. And it's got a bunch of social media tie-ins too, for easily promoting your tutorial.

I did have some trouble uploading images the first time, but it worked itself out. Something I'd love to see added is the ability to add circles and arrows or otherwise highlight portions of uploaded images - like being able to point to a "Login" link. You can always add that to the image before you upload it, but it'd still be a nice feature.

I think this tool is a great compliment to creating screencasts, because sometimes combining text and images (or videos, maps, whatever) is more suitable than just a video - and better than just emailing someone the steps.

See, even us techie people have a lot to learn (hence why I read Computers in Libraries).



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Web Tool for Filling in PDF Forms

   February 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

FillAnyPDF.com logoFile this web tool under "why didn't someone think of this before?" FillAnyPDF.com lets you upload any pdf or image file (such as a blank form), type on it, and then save the completed form as a new pdf file.

It's not perfect, but it's easier than a typewriter. I'll use this both for patrons and myself, and I'm still surprised there aren't tons of these sites out there.

via LibraryStuff



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Interesting Database: Dabbledb

   May 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

daddbledb.com logoA few weeks ago I was searching for a quick and easy online database, and stumbled across DabbleDB.

It looks like it's been around for awhile, and after watching their 8-minute demo video, I was really impressed. It seems incredibly easy to use, and excels at turning those flat spreadsheets into the databases we all want them to be. Plus, being online, it is amazingly easy to create simple and powerful web forms to work with the data.

I was looking for an online database to create a searchable catalog for our Town-Wide History Project. After looking around and talking with the other groups involved, iwe're going to use PastPerfect Online instead, but I'm kind of sad not to get to play with DabbleDB. For a little more tech info on it, check out this post on TechCrunch.

If you've got 8 minutes, watch the demo video - it's all good, but my favorite parts are towards the end: how easy it is to move data around (the email example) and their interface for building web forms. I can hardly wait to get some time to develop an online search tool using DabbleDB - hmm, maybe our Vertical File?

Update: found another video on YouTube:

And I also remembered that we're building a spreadsheet of obituaries that have appeared in the local newspaper - another perfect application for this database.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/5/08

   October 11th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Lowe's logoThis week's question is actually one with me as the patron (well, in this case, customer). I was so impressed with the person who helped me, and how she helped me, that I thought I'd share. However, to keep her from getting into trouble, I'm going to change a few facts to protect her identity.

On the weekends lately I've been working on a project building boardwalks through a swampy park in Chelmsford (hey, librarians need fresh air too). I needed to rent a cordless circular saw, and in the process of calling around to local places that rent tools, I called a Lowe's Home Improvement store. After I explained what I needed, the customer service associate I spoke with said:

I'm sorry, but that is not a tool we rent. Furthermore, it is against Lowe's store policy for associates to suggest places like Taylor Rental at 555-555-5555, so I'm very sorry I can't help you.

I was laughing so hard I could barely say thank you and good-bye, and I think she appreciated it. I know I did - no rules were broken, and the customer service was friendly, informative, useful, and very memorable.

Because of this good experience, I'll definitely be shopping at that Lowe's in the future, despite their unhelpful official store policy. Just an example of why good customer service, and caring and helpful employees, is so important.



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Webpage Highlighter Tool

   April 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Awesome Highlighter logoHere's a neat web tool I've been waiting to use ever since I read about it a few weeks ago on the Library 2.0 Ning group - the Awesome Highlighter.

It lets you highlight a portion of a webpage, send someone a link, and then they can see exactly what you highlighted. Great for virtual reference work, but also just good in general.

One of our more tech-savvy patrons emailed me asking if there was an easy way to search the Library's catalog right from book's page on Amazon. There is, using Firefox and Greasemonkey, and it is outlined on my Library's Tech Tools page.

But instead of just sending him the link to the Tech Tools page, I ran it through the Awesome Highlighter, so I could send him a highlighted page, with focus on exactly the portion of the page I wanted him to see. Not that he wouldn't have found it on his own, but it just makes it a little bit easier - especially the "jump to highlights" link at the top.

On the Ning page, there's some discussion about the highlighter working or not working depending on whether the user is signed in. I've only used it a couple times, but I haven't had any trouble. The great thing is that someone from the company is participating in the discussion, so hopefully whatever bugs do exist will be corrected as a result - much like Jessamyn's comments on SWIFT.

If we never speak up, then we'll never get tools that do exactly what we need (I'll refrain from inserting my ILS soapbox here).



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