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


Reference Question of the Week – 5/3/15

   May 9th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Hitler in Indiana JonesA patron came up to the Reference Desk with a book tucked under his arm. This was odd because usually when someone has a book question, they hold the book up, or out, so I can see what it is - but this time, the patron was definitely guarding it. After I greeted him, he said,

This may sound silly, but I'm serious - if I check this out, I'm not going to get put on some kind of watch list or anything am I?

And as he said it, he revealed to me the book under his arm: Mein Kampf.

I kind of laughed and said, "no; at least, not as far as I know."

I then explained how our catalog is managed by the MVLC network, and what data it tracks. The patron said he'd heard the urban legends of books being tracked - like in the movies Se7en and Conspiracy Theory (two movies I thoroughly enjoyed, so this is clearly my kind of patron).

Then the patron explained why he wanted it: he was working on a project about the holocaust, researching whether a case could be made that it actually started when that book was published, rather than later when the deaths and atrocities of the concentration camps began. I don't think I've really heard anyone talk about the holocaust in terms of prejudice and discrimination, but it certainly makes sense and it was interesting to listen to him.

And I think me listening to him kind of humanized the library a bit too, and comforted him enough to know that he could safely check that book out without fear of No Such Agency taking an interest in him.

But again - that is true only as far as I know. But what I do know, specifically because of things like this, is that it is important to support the EFF, or at least read the information they put out - such as What Every Librarian Needs to Know About HTTPS. Because even if we're not monitoring our patrons, we could still be inadvertently allowing it to happen.



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A Better Way To Measure Library Use?

   February 5th, 2015 Brian Herzog

MeasureTheFutureHeader2I saw a post on LISNews today about a new Measure the Future initiative to build hardware sensors to better track how people use libraries. They say,

Imagine having a Google-Analytics-style dashboard for your library building: number of visits, what patrons browsed, what parts of the library were busy during which parts of the day, and more. Measure the Future is going to make that happen by using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage that is now invisible. Making these invisible occurrences explicit will allow librarians to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for their patrons.

On the one hand, I love this idea, because actual data can reveal amazing things. However at the same time, the idea of sensors all over the building tracking patrons sets off my privacy alarms. I'm sure it'll all be anonymous data, but Big Brother (even when it's Big Library) will still be in the back of my mind.

I didn't see too much technical detail on what the sensors will look like or how they will be integrated in libraries. But I think this is a great idea, and am looking forward to seeing their progress.



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Tracking ILL Requests

   September 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

library mailMy brother sent me a package via UPS on Thursday, and it arrived on Monday. The neat thing, of course, is that we both could track its progress online (backup link).

It occurred to me that this would be a great feature for a library ILS. Most systems I've seen will only give the current status of a request, which is often cryptic to staff and totally indecipherable to patrons (ie, "recieved," "transit," "recorded," "check shelves," etc).

But sending patrons a link via email or text to track their request step-by-step in plain English could benefit them to no end. Not only would it give them an idea of where their item is and when to expect it, but it would also expose what all is involved in delivering their request to them. But it would be invaluable for staff, too, being able to see all of this information at a glance, for both assisting patrons and troubleshooting the delivery process.

And I bet some patrons would also be please to watch their request be returned to the library of origin after they're done with it.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but I'm definitely going to lobby to include it as a feature if my consortium adopts an open source ILS. And this feature will be exponentially more helpful if, as planned, the entire state moves to that same ILS.



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