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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/16/07

   September 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Talk Like a Pirate Day logoSince there were plenty of posts about International Talk Like a Pirate day this week (which was Wednesday, 9/19), I avoided talking about it. However, this week's reference question concerns it.

A patron came up to me on Wednesday and asked:

Patron: Why are people talking like pirates today?
Me: Today is "International Talk Like a Pirate Day."
Patron: Yeah, but I mean, why today? Why September 19th? Did a famous pirate die on this day or something?

Well, huh. That I didn't know.

So, I first grabbed our Chase's Calendar of Events, which we keep at the desk for ready-reference. We looked up September 19th, but unfortunately, the description of "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" did not explain the choice of date. It did, however, list contact details for more information on the day, including the web address www.talklikeapirate.com.

We went to the website, and in the FAQ we found an answer: 9/19 is "Cap'n Slappy's ex-wife's birthday."

The patron wasn't really interested in who Cap'n Slappy was, and took this answer as "good enough."

Later in the day I wanted to go back to this website to check something else, but accidentally mis-typed the url as www.talklikeapirateday.com. I don't know if there is a connection between the two websites, but this one also had a similar history: "Founded by John Baur and Mark Summers during a raquetball game and, coincidentally, occuring the same day’s as Mark’s ex-wife’s birthday." (So I guess that tells us who "Cap'n Slappy" is.)

While looking through this second website, I realized that I really liked it - it is one of the best examples I've seen of a website using the power of WordPress as a content management system. It had blog posts, pages with content, an integrated wiki, a flickr badge - all the trimmings (even a pirate-speak translator). And the design was simple but interesting. Very nice.

If you're interested in such things, I would highly suggest checking out this website. It's a great example of what can be done, as an alternative to flat html files. Plus, the examples of pirate-speak are much better than most of what I heard on Wednesday.

libraries, library, pirate, pirates, public libraries, public library, reference question, reference question of the week, talk like a pirate, talk like a pirate day, wordpress

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Andrea Mercado on Blogs and Wikis

   March 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Andrea MercadoI spent the morning with a small group of Massachusetts librarians learning about how to use a blog or wiki to communicate better amongst library staff. We were graciously hosted by Andrea Mercado, of the Reading Public Library, who is currently developing both a wiki for her library's intranet and a blog for her reference desk's internal use (to replace the spiral notebook).

(and although Andrea is the Reference and Techie Librarian at Reading, this is also the same Andrea that maintains the PLA's blog, blogs at LlibraryTechtonics.info, and has good taste in clothing.)

After a tour of the library, which I really liked (see photos on their flickr account), we got down to business. And again, note that we're talking about tools for staff-only use - using wikis and blogs for patron tools is a topic for another time.

Reference Desk Blog
Andrea first talked about the hows and whys of using a blog as the start page for reference desk computers (it is searchable, everyone can contribute, easy way to organize information, keep other shifts up to day on projects and questions, etc.). She also talked about what blog software to use - she favors WordPress (which also powers my blog as well as my library's), but warned that it may be too powerful (too complex/confusing) for some new users. Others, such as blogger or livejournal are also possible, free, and easier in that you don't have to worry about installation or hosting, but really just won't offer the kind of features and customization that a hosted blog like WordPress can provide.

Wiki As Intranet
We then moved on to wikis, which spent most of our time talking about. Andrea is running an installation of MediaWiki, and she loves it. The goal of this is to make it easier for staff to find (and contribute to) library policies, desk procedures, original files of handouts and presentations, library logos to put on new documents, staff and emergency phone numbers, etc. All of the things that might be laying around in binders or uncategorized on network servers, she wants to centralize and make findable through the wiki.

This seems like a great application for a wiki - the only catch is setting it up so that it does function as an intranet, rather being open to the entire world. Also, again she cautioned us to match the tool to the audience - MediaWiki is very powerful, but another program like pbwiki or Wetpaint might be simpler and more suitable for less technical users.

The meeting was also attened by two libriaians from the Memorial Hall Library in Andover. They've already begun using a wiki for local information, which they called Andover Answers. It is open for patrons to view, but it not currently editable by anyone but MHL librarians. However, they are cleverly using the "discussions" tab at the top of the screen to allow patrons (or anyone) to suggest changes for pages. These suggestions are viewable by everyone, and open for discussion, and then a librarian can research the suggestion and decide whether or not to make the change.

I thought this was a great idea, as so many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting non-librarians edit the information. We're going through something similar with our community information database, and it might be a happy medium.

andover answers, andrea mercado, blog, blogs, libraries, library, mediawiki, memorial hall library, pbwiki, public libraries, public library, reading public library, wiki, wikis, wordpress

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