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


Reference Question of the Week – 6/20/10

   June 26th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Answers logoInstead of a reference question this week, here's a question posed to Unshelved Answers this week:

[What is your] most ironic/moronic question?

A number of librarians have posted almost painful exchanges they've had with patrons - mine is:

A patron came in and asked for information on homeschooling her kids. I showed her the section, and ten minutes later I saw her leaving with our copy of Homeschooling for Dummies - come on, should a "dummy" really be teaching kids?

Check it out and post one of your own.



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What would you do if you weren’t a librarian?

   February 25th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Occupational Outlook HandbookAn interesting question posed at Unshelved Answers:

Given the changes in the economy and the re-organization/downsizing of many public library systems these days, public librarian jobs are few and far between. So, if you could no longer work as a librarian, what work would you do?

Read the rest of the question (including the parameters), and other peoples' answers, and give it some thought.

I posted my answer (too wordy as usual), but who knows what I'd end up doing in this situation - paperboy? volunteer fireman? park ranger? fry cook on Venus? I'm really not sure.



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Potential, Tested

   February 26th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08In December, I had a series of posts concerning Overdrive's mp3 audiobooks. At the time, they were brand-new to my library, and I hadn't had a chance to experiment with them. Now I have.

Since Overdrive was previously so top-heavy with the DRM, I was curious just how "mp3" their mp3 files would be - would they be totally open like mp3 files should be, or would they be pseudo-mp3s, still with some kind of DRM wrapper or innards?

I never feel like I really understand something until I'm able to take it apart and put it back together to see where the flaws are, so here are the results of my experimenting:

During the checkout process (which still requires five clicks to accomplish after finding a book and entering my library card number), Overdrive hits you with their mp3 terms of service. Items 3 and 4 below are what really come into play here:

The title(s) and file(s) in MP3 format ("Content") you have selected to download are licensed to your Library under an agreement with OverDrive, Inc. who is authorized to supply the Library with the Content by publishers and other copyright holders. Prior to accessing the Content, you are required to accept and agree to be bound to the Terms of Use as described below.

Please read the following carefully and click 'Yes' to accept to continue for access to the titles or 'No' to decline should you not agree.

  1. I agree to be bound by the applicable laws that apply to my use of the Content and the library download media service ("Service"). I acknowledge that the Content embodies the intellectual property of a third party and is protected by law. All rights, titles, and interest in the Content are reserved, and I do not acquire any ownership rights in the Content as a result of downloading Content.
  2. I will only use the Content for my own personal, non-commercial use. I will not, perform, sell, distribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, sub-license, or otherwise transfer the Content.
  3. The license granted to me to use the Content is for a one-time limited right to borrow the Content for a specific, library designated, limited duration ("Lending Period"). I agree and acknowledge that at the end of the Lending Period all rights to access the Content expire and terminate.
  4. At the end of the Lending Period, I will delete and/or destroy any and all copies of the Content, including any copies that may have been transferred to, or created on portable devices, storage media, removable drives, CDs & DVDs.
  5. I acknowledge that the library is providing access to the Content as a service to me so long as I and other users of this Service abide by these Terms of Use. In the event the library, OverDrive, or rights holder determine you or other users of this Service are violating these Terms of Use, the Library and/or OverDrive reserves the right to suspend or terminate your ability to use the Service and to borrow Content.

Click 'Yes' to indicate that you agree to these terms and to proceed to checkout.

Click 'No' to indicate that you do not agree to these terms. You will be directed back to your bookbag where you can remove MP3 title(s) should you want to check out titles in other formats.

The legal limits are clear, but I still wanted to know what was possible. My patrons ask me these things, and I think an informed answer is better than "I dunno, I never tried it."

So I downloaded the rights and the mp3 files for the book Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and waited our two week loan period. After the two weeks, when I tried to open the book through the Overdrive Media Console (OMC), the software deleted any obvious trace of the mp3 files from my computer. If I wanted to listen to the book again, I would have to download all 327MB of it again - which is no small time investment.

I was surprised that the OMC deleted it, but decided that since the software knew the path to the mp3 files, it might be the only weapon Overdrive has to enforce their terms of service.

So I downloaded the book again. This time, in addition to opening the book through the Media Console, I also copied the mp3 files into a different directory, and saved one to a flash drive. I wanted to see if Overdrive would seek-and-destroy any and all copies of the files, or just the copies it knew about in the one designated directory.

After another two weeks, I open the files in the OMC, and they were duly deleted. However, when I browsed to the files in the alternate directory with Winamp, those played just fine. The files on the flash drive played, too (I don't have an iPod so I couldn't test what happens there - but my guess is nothing).

This reaffirms that these are in fact true mp3 files. Overdrive is therefore relying on the delete-what-we-can-reach tactic, and that Overdrive users have agreed to the terms of service and so are obligated to delete anything the OMC can't reach.

So once again, the Unshelved strip is in effect - in the world of publishers and copyright, there is a stark difference between possible and legal.



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/14/08

   December 20th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08When I started this blog, I never really expected anyone to read it. Even now, I know a few of my coworkers check in to see what I'm saying about them, but otherwise I'm surprised when someone from the library community notices what I say.

So I was doubly surprised to meet a patron who reads my blog (you know who you are).

Last week, a patron came in to ask me about the new iPod-friendly mp3 files now available to MVLC patrons through Overdrive. He had read my announcement(s) with interest, but was especially interested in this comment from Jeff:

...There is actually four different ways you can hack the drm to get permanent check-outs too.

The first thing I thought of was this Unshelved cartoon, and explained to the patron that although something may be technically possible, that doesn't make it legal. And that library staff cannot show people how to break the law.

He was disappointed, but usually people interested in hacking enjoy challenges, so I think he's going to try to figure out what Jeff was talking about on his own.


ps: For those keeping track of such things, I'm traveling to Ohio for the week of Christmas to see my family. I'll be back in the new year - see you then, and I hope you have a nice holiday.




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Web Design for Libraries

   August 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Unsleved ComicThe Unshelved comic strip is generally pretty good, but this particular strip (and the next few days) really made me laugh.

As a librarian and a web designer, I can certainly relate. But increasingly, based on what I'm hearing at various meetings around the region, the budget itself isn't the real issue - it's staff and time. Either libraries have a staff member who knows how to maintain a website but doesn't have the time to do it, or they have someone willing and able time-wise, but who doesn't have the actual skills necessary to maintain a good website.

What librarians I know keep asking for (in desperation, in some cases), is an easy and quick way to update content on their website.

They don't necessarily want to outsource, don't want to heap all the responsibility onto one staff member, and also don't want to spread around responsibility (because that usually diminishes the quality and coherentness of the site).

CMS tools like Joomla and Drupal keep getting talked about, as do blog software like WordPress. There's a growing buzz about Scriblio too, but no one seems to know enough about it to view it as anything but a distant glimmer. Libraries in my consortium are considering moving from Frontpage to Dreamweaver, which seems to me to be more of a lateral move than an actual improvement.

All of these have a learning curve, plus time and effort to migrate/recreate the existing website. Which I think is acceptable, if the library knew that maintenance, once there, will not require a great deal of knowledge or time.

Library 2.0 tools are great, as they save the patron's time and let them get a better web experience without requiring a lot of web-savviness. But saving patrons effort usually means the library is doing more work, and a lot of us, again, don't have the time or skill to integrate these tools into our websites.

And this is just websites - online catalogs are a whole different story.

Errg. A solution? Anybody?

</frustration>

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Where The Naked People Are

   July 5th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Unshelved comicI love it when completely unconnected things converge to create a complimentary coincidence. Conspiracy? Come on...

Today's confluence involves the Unshelved comic from 6/29/07 (click the image to read the entire strip), and the book I'm currently reading, Sewer, Gas & Electric, by Matt Ruff.

The quote below, like previous quotes, concerns libraries, but unlike them, is a bit lengthy (but it's worth it):

...Maxwell had also found a vocation of sorts, unpaid but satisfying, even addicting.

He moved library books.

"You ever notice how you can't find any naked pictures in a library?" Maxwell would sometimes say to strangers on the subway, by way of explanation. "What I mean is, you're a kid, your voice changes, and one day you start and wonder if you could find a book with naked pictures at the public library. Like, could they have bought one by mistake, put it on the shelf where even a kid could get at it. So you look up subjects like 'Erotica' and 'Nude Photography' in the catalog, and it turns out they have some hot-sounding titles, like An Illustrated History of Pornographic Films. But when you check for the call numbers on the shelf, those kinds of books are never in. Hell, you might find one that's all text, in French, but if it's a book with actual naked pictures, it won't be there. Even if the catalog says it's on the shelf, it wont' be there. Even if you come back and check every day for a month - when you voice changes, you do that kind of thing - it'll never be there. Like it's been removed. Surgically.

"Well, you know, I figured out why that is, not just at one library but at any library you go to. ...it just hit me: there's a conspiracy. Guys all over the country, a secret brotherhood. They come into every library first thing in the morning, and they grab all the books with naked pictures before anybody else can get to them. They don't take them out, and they don't steal them or burn then, they just refile them. They put the books with naked pictures in boring parts of the library, stick 'em in between the books that nobody ever reads. Then, later, when the kids whose voices are changing come in, the members of the brotherhood just stand back and laugh up their sleeve. It's a very important job."

That is, of course, unless you happen to be browsing the reference collection in the Muskingham Muskingum College Library.

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