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




Library Events Calendar Roundup

   October 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog


library calendarAn important function of the library is communicating our upcoming events to the community. There are lots of ways to do this, one of which is by having an online calendar.

Of course, there are also lots of software for online calendars and for patrons to reserve meeting rooms. My library just switched calendars, and so did the Blue Hill (ME) Public Library. Since we each evaluated a number of different calendar options, Rich Boulet and I combined our notes, in the hopes of saving other libraries a bit of legwork when looking at calendars.

There are more calendars than what is listed here (in no particular order), and our pro/con notes reflect the needs, requirements and situations of our individual libraries. If you have questions about how we made our decisions, you can contact me through my contact form, and Rich through Blue Hill Library's staff page.

Library Insight     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Groton (MA) Public Library for example
  • Patrons can submit room requests online
  • Comes with 1200 images
  • Marquee of upcoming available for index page
  • SIP2 compliant
  • Will not disclose how many clients use product, but says they are "in 20 states"
  • $695/year plus $600 setup fee
  • Contact: Steve Bolduc / 978-808-1089
  • More info: http://libraryinsight.com/products/rmInsight.htm

Google Calendar     (Rich)

Evanced     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Chelmsford (MA) Public Library and Blue Hill (ME) Public Library (calendar, room reservation) for examples
  • Looks like most comprehensive product available
  • Used by Maine State Library, Web Junction and many public libraries
  • Allows user-initiated requests for room reservation
  • Allows attendee registration and cancellation
  • Somewhat pricey relative to others in market, but unlimited in number of listed events, and no module pricing (except credit card processing is extra)
  • Allows some design customization, to make it look like your website
  • Most powerful calendar search options
  • Locally-hosted installation requires Microsoft IIS 4.0 or higher and has more up-front costs, plus 18%/year maintenance fees
  • Remotely hosted solution carries ongoing subscription costs
  • Seamless integration between web calendar and room reservation software allows users to click off on room policy
  • Calendar allows events to be downloaded to Outlook
  • Offers customizable rss feeds based n search criteria
  • Can be used to track program stats
  • Contact: Claudia Hackworth / 317-352-2188 x109
  • More info & demos: http://evancedsolutions.com/demo.asp

Calandarix     (Rich)

  • See Rockport (ME) Public Library for example
  • Very attractive and very affordable web calendar
  • Does not apparently allow patron-initiated requesting of rooms
  • Compatible with Apache or IIS
  • No remote hosting option, requires local install
  • Cost: Advanced edition is $50 for non-profits; also comes in a
    free basic version
  • More info: http://www.calendarix.com

Eventkeeper     (Rich, Brian)

  • See Hingham (MA) Public Library for example
  • Seems to do everything that Evanced does, but in a very different style
  • Pricing is generally less than Evanced, but is somewhat variable based on modules and number of events
  • Can customize and brand calendar for additional one-time fee, integrate it more with the look and feel of the rest of your web site
  • Also "EK Feed" can can be rss feed marquee of upcoming events for library's homepage
  • Only available as remotely hosted product, no local installation
  • Currently have 1200 customers
  • Exceptional customer support
  • Can be used to track program statistics
  • No maintenance fees (other than annual hosting)
  • Eventkeeper: $275/year; EK Rooms: $250/year; EK Feed (marquee)
  • Contact: Jim Stewart / 508-942-4209
  • More info: http://www.eventkeeper.com

Meeting Room Manager     (Rich)

ConnectDaily     (Brian)

  • See San Bruno (CA) Library for example
  • Reasonably priced
  • Remotely hosted with varying contract lengths
  • Allows a great deal of design customization, to integrate with the look of your website
  • Serves as both a calendar and meeting room reservation system
  • A limitation is that it is designed as an "in-house" product (example, a school would use it for the teachers to reserve meeting rooms). It does have a public room reservation form, but take a little work to customize to be easy enough for the public to use
  • Allows for multiple calendars (Childrens, Adult, Teen, etc) all to be fed up into one master calendar
  • Events available in rss and iCal formats
  • More info: http://www.mhsoftware.com/connectdaily.htm

Calcium     (Brian)



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Upcoming Workshop: CMS Day!

   May 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

website designer comicI'm a member of the IT section of the New England Library Association, and we're holding a workshop on popular CMS software. If you're thinking about redesigning or updating your website, or would are just curious about what CMS' are and what they can do, then this workshop is for you.

CMS Day! Build a better website with Content Management Systems: Drupal, Joomla, Plone, & WordPress
Keynote by Jessamyn West

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Location: Portsmouth Public Library, Portsmouth, NH (directions)
Cost: NELA members - $50; Non-members - $60
Registration Fee includes lunch & a NELA USB hub!

To Register
Secure online registration & downloadable mail-in registration [pdf] are both available at http://www.nelib.org/its/conference. Registration Closes Monday June 8.

Program Schedule
10:00 a.m. - Registration & Coffee & Library Tours
10:30 a.m. - Keynote: CMS options - Jessamyn West
12 noon - Lunch (provided!) and Library Tours
12:45 p.m. - Librarians share their real-life CMS experiences:
--Drupal - Darien (CT) PL (darienlibrary.org) & Paige Eaton Davis, Minuteman Network
--Joomla - Randy Robertshaw, Tyngsborough PL (tynglib.org)
--Plone - Rick Levine & CMRLS Librarians
--WordPress - Theresa Maturevich, Beverly (MA) PL (beverlypubliclibrary.org)
3:30 p.m. -Wrap-Up!

Keynote by Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian. She lives in rural Vermont where assists tiny libraries with their technology planning and implementation. Her favorite color is orange. Jessamyn maintains an online presence at: librarian.net and jessamyn.info

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NELA Program Refund Policy: A full refund shall be granted provided that the registered attendee has contacted the authorized representative of ITS responsible for taking registrations, at least ten (10) business days in advance of the program. In the event that notice is given less than ten days, a refund is not granted, however, they may send a substitute to the program.

For more information, please contact Scott Kehoe at 978-762-4433 x16 / scott@nmrls.org



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Be Careful What You Tweet For

   April 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chelmsfordlib on TwitterTwitter has been around for a long time, so all the press it has gotten recently surprised me. Personally, I never really had much interest in it, so I just more or less ignored it.

Until a few months ago, that is, when I found a way to use it for the library.

The snowfall and storms this winter seemed particularly bad, and we had quite a few early closings or delayed openings. Whenever this happens, one of the ways we get the message out is to announce the change in hours prominently on our homepage.

However, it's the library director who makes the decision to close the library, but she had no easy way to update the homepage from home. She hasn't coded in html for years, and installing an editor and ftp program - and then her having to remember how to do everything - seemed like an unnecessary barrier. So, she asked me to find an easier way for her to update the homepage.

Ah-ha, I thought - I know libraries are displaying their Twitter feeds on their homepage, so why can't we?

homepage with embedded twitter feedI signed up for a Twitter account, learned how to customize the feed display, and added it to the library's homepage. I set the feed to only display one message, and after some trial and error figured out how to send a blank message (use the html code  ). That way, after the storm passes, we could send a blank message to remove the announcement from the homepage.

Then, to make it as easy as possible for my director to update from home, I also created a Twittermail account. Using Twittermail, all she needs to do is send an email message to our account, and whatever she types into the subject line with then display on our website (centered on the very top of the page). Neat.

When I demo'ed it for her, it worked like a charm, and she was very happy. But of course, we haven't had a snowstorm since.

And see, that's the problem - I created this Twitter feed for a very specific purpose, and we haven't had much of a need for it yet. However, since I created it, seven people have started following the library on Twitter.

We don't promote it, so how'd they find it? They must have gone looking. If our patrons are expecting us to be on Twitter, and voluntarily pay attention to us, doesn't it make sense that this is a tool we should be using? To me, it does.

So, in addition to storm closings, I've lately been trying to think of other "announcements" that deserve top billing on the library's homepage - just so I don't feel guilty about these Twitter followers not getting their library tweets.

This is very much a case of "if you build it, they will come." Now I need to live up to the implied second half of that saying, "when they come, make sure it's worth their while."



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Single Serving Sites

   March 31st, 2009 Brian Herzog

The internet is endlessly innovative and entertaining. My current favorite phenomena is Single Serving Sites - websites that do only one thing.

In stark contrast to the "be everything to everyone" mentality, these one-off'ers are kind of refreshing. Most of them can't even be called "websites," because they consist of only one web page - but, for a fraction of a minute, they serve a purpose. Here's a list of my favorites:

Useful Sites

Weather Sites

Silly Sites

Once you start looking for these, it almost seems that they outnumber regular websites. Check out longer lists of single-serving sites here and here. Also, IsThisYourPaperOnSingleServingSites.com is worth reading - I hope he got an A.



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New(ish) Reading Suggestion Websites

   January 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Here are a couple reading suggestions website I came across recently that I liked:

The first is TheBookCalendar.com, which is simply a book-a-day online calendar. It shows the cover, a description (and sometimes author video), includes an Amazon link, and also has email and rss options. via lisnews.org

ReadingTrails.com logoThe second one might not be all that new, but I just learn about it a few weeks ago. ReadingTrails.com and provides a reading suggestions by linking related books into a chain.

Sound odd? I first heard of this form of readers advisory during an RA workshop in the SLIS program at Kent State University. The idea behind it is to identify one theme from the book that the reader likes, then find another book that contains the same theme. Next, pick something from that second book the reader likes and, based on that second criteria, link it to a third book that has that criteria, and on and on and on in a long chain of connected books.

An example: for someone who liked the magical aspect of the Narnia books, you might suggest they read Harry Potter. Then, since the Harry Potter series is based in England, you could link it to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

Sort of like a six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but for books. It's a neat idea, but tough to do mentally - which is why it's a perfect task for a database. Or, in this case, "an innovative new social network for book lovers." They say:

Reading Trails is a wonderful way to discover books to read, meet new people, and most importantly, to share your reading experiences with friends by creating trails. In particular, Reading Trails is a great tool for book clubs....

Because a book can appear on more than one trail, trails intersect. The result is a network of trails that can be browsed to find unexpected reading pleasures.

I checked out the site, and it seemed typical of new and innovative ideas - it's a great idea, and I got some useful information from it, but the site doesn't always work the way I expect.

It can be used without signing into an account, which is good. And you can search for books or themes, and from there scroll up and down the "reading trail" of that book to find other reading suggestions. Great.

Other good things:

  • Fairly easy to use, and the trails are visual and useful and pretty cool
  • Lets people write reviews of the books
  • Provides links to Amazon to buy the book and WorldCat to find the book at a library
  • Provides widget code to embed into your website, like this:

A few technical glitches I noticed:

  • On the search results page, each book had a little checkbox next to it, and I couldn't figure out what that was for
  • Each book also had an odd little box under it, which only becomes useful when you are logged in (if it's not useful, it shouldn't be shown)
  • For the searches I ran, the bottom of the screen would say something like "Viewing 1-7 of 7 matches" and yet there would be twelve books displayed. None of the searches I performed displayed a number of books that matched what was listed on the bottom of the page
  • Some of the trail themes I searched for did not exist (Vietnam, Iraq, poverty, aliens) but most others did
  • There doesn't seem to be a way to view details of any book - just see where it falls in various trails
  • They don't seem to explain why books are linked in a chain - I'd be curious to see what theme connects them

Most of these cons are probably due to the newness of the website, and will likely be improved as the site grows.

I don't think I'll use these much on a personal level (unlike LibraryThing), but I will keep both in mind for readers advisory at the reference desk.



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ALA’s New 404 Page

   October 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

ALA's new 404 page screencaptureMost of the talk about ALA's new website redesign has died down, but I noticed something this week I want to comment on.

On the whole, I think the new site is a vast improvement over the old one. And with any new site, I understand they're still shaking out the bugs, and dealing with lots of dead links.

But: for my previous post, I wanted to find information from the ALA about library activity rising in time of economic trouble. A search on Google linked to something sounding exactly like what I was looking for on the ALA site. However, the link was broken.

By searching the ALA site itself for the title displayed in the Google results, I ultimately found the article's new location. Which is fine, but I have to say I am disappointed with the new website's 404 page.

When the 404 "Page Not Found" page loads, the most dominate thing on the page is the search box right in the center. So of course I clicked on this to search for the page I wanted. But - surprise - it's not a functioning search box. It's just an image of what the search box at the top of the page looks like. Of course the text above this image tells you to use the one at the top, but who reads? I don't - especially when a dominate image draws my attention away from the text.

So ALA, how about making the search box in the center a functioning search box, instead of just teasing us? It would add utility to the page, and make the 404 page incrementally just that much more user-friendly.

But otherwise, I think this is a pretty good 404 page, as far as they go. It customized and nice-looking, and gives some tips for finding what you're looking for. It also includes an email address to contact a person for help, which is great. I think I only noticed this because I talked about library website 404 pages before, and gave my library a fancy-pants 404 page.

I don't understand why it doesn't show up all the time, but maybe that's in the works, too.



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