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


Check Out The Chelmsford Library on Google Maps

   July 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Update 8/8/13: I got a message from someone at Google who reminded me of an important competent of Indoor Map - it's really designed to work on phones. I've only been checking it online, where it hasn't changed since it went live. But he assured me that using Google Maps on a phone will use your location to place you on the correct floor. Nice. Not having a cell phone, I forget the fancy things they can do.


Update 7/31/13: I just learned something annoying about embeddeding Street View - Internet Explorer automatically jumps to wherever it is on the page. I found a hacky workaround for this, which I've implemented on our About Us page, and it seems to work okay. But hopefully, Google will fix this (it only happens with embedded Street Views in IE, not with regular Google Maps or with any other browser). I did not fix it on this page though, so IE users could see what I'm talking about.


Original Post:

This year, the Chelmsford Library has been involved with two Google mapping projects: Indoor Maps and Indoor Street View.

Indoor Maps
We did Indoor Maps first, which displays a floorplan of your building on Google Maps (instead of just the outline, like the buildings around us). It looks like this:

Google indoor map

This is neat because it lets people online see where things are in your building, at a glance. One catch, however, is that they're still trying to figure out how to handle more than one floor (like our building) - so in the meantime, they only show the ground floor.

The process was interesting: we contacted Google Maps and supplied them with labeled floor plans of each of our buildings (the whole thing was free, so we were able to do our branch too), and they sent a crew1 to take multiple GPS readings around the building to make sure the floor plan images matched up accurately with the map itself.

Pretty neat. But of course, when you say "indoor map" what people really think of is Indoor Street View, so we got approval from our Trustees to do that, too.

Indoor Street View
Since there was a cost associated, and a third-party photographer involved, this process was a little different. The first step was to contact "Google Trusted Photographers" in our area to see if anyone was interested, and what they would charge us. I sent requests to everyone within a reasonable distance, and mostly the quotes were in the $1000-$2000 range, with various discounts because we were a non-profit. We ended up going with CJL Photography of Manchester, NH, because his quote2 was one of the lowest, and he had worked with libraries before we liked his portfolio samples (the struckout link was a mistake on my part).

Now this is where the delays set in. I initially contacted the photographer in January, and had scheduled the photo shoot for February. Then we were hit with a series of snowstorms, which pushed things back. Then, we decided to wait until March because that month we had a really visual art display up in our meeting room. And of course, a few days before he came we got more snow, so he shot the entire inside of the building in March, and then came back in early July3 to do the outdoor shots.

The wait was worth it, I think, and the tour looks phenomenal:


View Larger Map

Photographing the inside took maybe two hours, and we chose to do it early on a Sunday morning when we were closed to the public, so as not to interfere with patrons. The photographer used a camera on a tripod to take a series shots from each "point" on the tour to create the 360 degree view, and then handled all the processing on the backend to color-correct, stitch everything together, and upload it to Google. All library staff had to do was make sure the building looked as nice as possible.

In addition to the tour itself, the photographer also created a Chelmsford Library Google+ page, which also features a series of still shots. The still shots are included in the package, and we're free to use them however we want - on our website, in printed materials, etc. I know this is an obvious statement, but holy smokes there is a world of difference between the library pictures I take with a point-and-shoot camera and what a professional photographer can do.

We're not sure what we'll do with the stills yet, but we've already started using the tour. Besides mentioning it on our Facebook page, we've put it on our About Us page, using it to highlight the mural in our Children's Room, and embedded views of our meeting rooms on our reservation page so people can see what the rooms look like before they book a room.

We're certainly not the first library to appear on Indoor Street View - ebookfriendly did a post in March listing others.

They all look great, and we expect this to be a useful tool for us. Not only as an online tour and historical record of the building, but we're hoping that by showcasing how nice our space is, some of our online-only patrons will be motivated to visit in person. But honestly, I've been pretty content just to click around and play, even when I'm sitting in the library. Being online almost makes it like a video game - now I just need a laser gun. Pew pew.

 


1. I'm sure they had a very precise method, but to us it looked like eight guys randomly wandering around the building for an hour, eyes glued to their smartphones.

2. After the photo shoot, the photographer told me that a business of our size would normally cost about $3000, but libraries would be discounted to around $1000. Our actual cost was a bit lower than that, because I think he underestimated the size of our building with his initial quote, but was good enough to honor it. Incidentally, he was great to work with overall, and I personally would recommend him to other libraries considering this.

3. Which is why you see snow if you look out a window, but see flowers if you walk out of any of the doors.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/15/12

   April 21st, 2012 Brian Herzog

Virtual catOne evening this week, a patron walked up to the desk and said,

Can you find me a website to adopt a cat? But not a real cat.

What he wanted was an online virtual pet. I had never looked for this before, but a search for adopt a cyber cat returned lots of results.

We looked at a few sites*, but he ultimately chose adoptme.com, because it had the best graphics. For the next forty-five minutes, he sat at the computer playing and chatting with it, and every once in awhile he'd come up to the desk to tell us something the cat did or said.

But the last time was the funniest: he came up and said, "the cat said I talk too much." Maybe he exhausted the repertoire of the artificial intelligence of the program that responds to chat messages, and that was how the program forced the conversation to end.

He wasn't deterred though - he left, saying he couldn't wait to come back the next day to play with the cat some more.

 


*One that didn't make the cut, but made me laugh, was virtualkitty.com. Their Create an Account screen included this field:

Pick an Emergency Web Address (URL):
(You will be sent to this address if you click the special emergency button while playing with your cat. We recommend your company website, or something business related, in case you need it to look like you are working on something else.)



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/15/09

   November 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

CoywolfThis almost doesn't count as a reference question, because it wasn't on library time and it wasn't even a question someone asked me personally.

But, it is an example of how libraries could use twitter to answer questions from people in the community (and why it's more important to follow/friend your patrons rather than other libraries).

I woke up one morning this week and saw this tweet from @briansawyer

Is it possible that I just stared down a coyote in the middle of the street less than a mile from my house?

I had recently gone to a lecture sponsored by the Westford Conservation Trust, on how what people think are coyotes in this area are actually coywolves. So I responded to Brian with

@briansawyer Yes, but it was probably a coywolf. WCT just had a speaker about them http://bit.ly/wwMkx (<--pdf) and http://bit.ly/srnS1

My links go to the WCT's newsletter [pdf] with an article about the speaker, and also the speaker's website with lots of information about coywolves.

A little while later he tweeted again with a link to his video blog:

I've learned that my encounter on this morning's run was most likely with a coywolf http://bit.ly/UEjli

In the video, I'm the "fellow Westford resident" he mentions at 2:14 - yay

I feel bad that the additional information didn't help reduce Brian's trepidation towards the animals, but based on the experience and facts, perhaps it's justified.

Also: it's holiday time again, so I'll be in Ohio all of Thanksgiving week. Instead of blogging, I'll be playing with my nieces and nephews. I've got a big stack of audio books for the drive, and I'll be back the week of Dec. 1st - see you then.



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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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Virtual Library Tour using flickr

   March 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Public Library Front DoorI've been working on this for awhile, and finally got it all together - a set of photographs on flickr that serve as a virtual tour of my library.

It is a fairly simple approach to a virtual tour, in that I just took pictures of all the different areas of our library, wrote up little descriptions of each area, and then linked them together using flickr's notes feature (I also made a floor plan of both levels and linked all the areas that way, too). It makes for almost a self-guided tour of the library, and someone who saw it recently said it was like moving through a video game or a "choose your own adventure" story.

It's a little less fancy than other tours out there, but I liked it in that all it really required was time - no special software or skills necessary (other than flickr, obviously). Also, being flickr, patrons can leave comments, and the photographs can be easily repurposed for other uses.



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