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




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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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/08

   August 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

One difficult question I get occasionally is "do you have rankings for doctor/lawyers?"

I think what people are expecting is a Consumer Reports-like ranking of these two professions, but unfortunately, we don't have anything exactly like that. We do have some resources for doctors, but lawyers are different.

Scales of JusticeA patron asked me to help her find lawyer rankings this past week. I did find a few websites showing some rankings, but I had no idea how reliable any of them were, and none of them got down to the local level needed by a patron in a small public library. Another thing I found were lots of articles talking about lawyers suing websites about their rankings, so that might explain the scarcity of resources.

In the end, two resources appeared promising, but only one ended up helping:

  • The American Bar Association has a Lawyer Locater, which is powered by martindale.com and LexisNexis. It does provide some information on a lawyer's background, including the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating from their Law Directory. The amount of information varies by lawyer, but in this case, the lawyer my patron was looking for wasn't listed at all
  • The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers provides an attorney status report which, while it doesn't rate lawyers, does indicate when the lawyer was admitted to the bar and if they've had any complaints against them (my patron was shocked to find out her lawyer was admitted to the bar just eight months ago)
  • A third resource the patron left with was the phone number of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Dial-A-Lawyer referral program, which assists private citizens in choosing legal council

The CaduceusFinding resources to research local doctors is slightly easier. This might be because the medical profession is more closely watched than the legal profession, or that people are more willing/able to travel for medical procedures than law suits.

One book I often turn to in our reference collection is America's Top Doctors, which lists doctors by region, specialty, hospital, and by name.

Another nice local resource is the Boston Consumers' Checkbook (which is also available for other cities). This magazine is similar to Consumer Reports, but instead of rating products, it rates services, including many medical services.

Part of the Mass.gov website reports on Health Care Quality and Cost Information. It includes lots of information for patients, but what I usually steer people towards are the "Volume by Surgeon and Hospital" reports - these aren't rankings exactly, but instead show how often a doctor or hospital performs a certain procedure. Other reports also list cost and mortality rates for doctors and hospitals.

Another state-level website is the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine's On-Line Physician Profile Site. Each profile includes general biographical information supplied by the doctor, and also has sections showing any malpractice payments made or any disciplinary and/or criminal actions taken against the doctor.

Additional web resources are:

  • The American Medical Association's doctor finder doesn't provide rankings, but it does show contact and biographical information for both AMA members and non-members (it gives priority to members, it does list non-members if you click the right buttons)
  • DrScore.com lets people score their own doctors and report on their experiences. Although the ratings are voluntary and anonymous, I did notice they indicate "Castle Connolly Top Doctors," which is the America's Top Doctor's resource I mentioned above. And in addition to the ratings, this website is also useful as doctor finder
  • RateMDs.com seems more commercial than DrScore.com, but it also seems to have more ratings and comments. This also has nice feature search for finding local doctors

I list these because they are free and useful, and accessible for my patrons. I'm sure there are many more not-free websites out there too, as well as additional good print resources. I'd appreciate hearing suggestions for more resources in the comments below - thanks.



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Internet Accuracy Tips From CQ Researcher

   August 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

CQ Researcher logoMy Library subscribes to a lot of periodicals, but the one I always make a point of checking out each month is CQ Researcher. For professional reasons, I know I should keep an eye on current topics in as many of our periodicals and resources as possible, but CQ Researcher is usually interesting beyond professional reasons.

I like the format, too - the entire slim issue is devoted to a single topic. The most recent issue, August 1st, was devoted to Internet Accuracy.

The section I found particular interesting, titled "How to Evaluate Blogs and Online Information Source," can serve a good checklist for anyone doing internet research. I wish I could reproduce the whole thing, but here's me paraphrasing:

  • Look closely at the URL - the domain name can sometimes tell a lot of about the nature of the website
  • Locate the main website - try deleting everything that comes after the domain suffix (the .com or .edu, etc) and see what the rest of the site is like
  • Can a real person be contacted? - if there isn't an "about me" page or way to contact the author, there's reason to be suspicious
  • Are there additional links? - reliable websites usually link to additional resources, or at least other pages within that site
  • Are there misspellings and typos? - lots of grammatical errors can indicate untrustworthiness, because little errors often coincide with big errors
  • How long has the blogger been at it? - reliable bloggers usually indicate how long they've been writing, and as with anything, bloggers get better over time
  • How many topics does the blog cover? - if the blog has too many categories, then this person is certainly not an expert
  • What is the blog's format? - websites that use the default look or theme may indicate that not much effort has been put into the project, whereas a personal brand shows the blogger cares enough to establish an image

I like this list so much that I'm going to co-op it into a post for my Library's blog - and maybe a bookmark.

The rest of the issue is good, too. The major article talks about the reliability and use of websites like Wikipedia, traditional news outlets, blogs, and what turns up in search engines. There are also sections on where people go for answers (58% go to the internet, 45% to friends and family, 13% to the library), where the most well-informed people get their information (with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report out ranking every other source), and a bibliography, position papers on current topics, and more.

All in all, definitely an issue worth reading. Sadly, their website does not allow open and free access, but check for it at your local library.



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AllMyFaves (Are Belong To Us)

   August 5th, 2008 Brian Herzog

All My Faves websiteSomeone sent me a link to AllMyFaves.com recently - at first I ignored it, but now I kind of like it.

It's a visual list of popular website, broken up into cataegories like Video, Maps, Search, Travel, etc. It reminds me of the early days of Yahoo, with two guys making a directory of useful internet websites. But seeing everything on one screen is helpful (and being a visual person, I like the logos).

And that's it's compiled by "a team of experts," I can reasonably presume that these are the "important" websites in each category (at least, important to someone). Which is great for me to learn of a new website, or to use as a cheat-sheet to see what the kids are using. Plus, it helps with reference questions like "what's another website like Facebook and MySpace."

I did notice they didn't have a "Books" category, so I made my own:

Books


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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>

cms, libraries, library, overdue media, public libraries, public library, unshelved, web design, website, website design, websites



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Using Page2RSS

   March 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

Page2RSS logoMy library has both a website and a blog. The blog, powered by WordPress, has an rss feed built in, but our website, which is mainly static html, has no rss feature.

Until we can convert to a more Web 2.0 way of doing things, I've been testing the talked-about Page2RSS service.

I set it up for our homepage, and so far, it works well. It is not pretty, but it works. I feed it into my bloglines, and it displays only whatever html code has changed on the page. Which means, the output depends on the changes, and hence is not necessarily formatted in a nice or readable way.

But for my purpose, it works well. It seems to check for update once every one or two days, and our homepage is updated with about the same frequency.

(Which, honestly, in my overbearing and nitpicky way, is part of the reason I am monitoring our homepage. Rather than having a single person updating the website, we've got about seven or eight, all with differing skill levels, interest and time availability. I cringe at way some of our pages look, because a basic understanding of web coding would take care of a lot of the problems. But I don't want to step on anyone's toes or hurt anyone's feelings, so I don't say anything and just do what I can.

But our homepage is different. I will correct things other people did, if I can make it look better. So, by monitoring our homepage via Page2RSS, I can see when other people make changes, and if a little more editing needs to be done. I feel like a jerk doing this, but I'd rather our patrons see a clean and useful homepage than one with obvious mistakes.)

So if this test continues to go well, we'll be able to offer an rss feed to patrons, which is the ultimate goal.

libraries, library, page2rss, public libraries, public library, rss, rss feed, rss feeds, website, websites



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