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

A Couple WordPress Resources

   July 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog

WordPress logoFor anyone who uses WordPress, here are a couple resources you might want to check out:

Using WordPress as a Library Content Management System
A recent Library Technology Reports covers using WordPress to run your entire library's website. My library uses WordPress just for our two blogs right now, but are looking to migrate the entire site to a CMS. Thanks to Michael Stephens for highlighting this, and linking to the full-text of the first chapter.

2011 WordCamp Boston
For those in the Boston area, WordCamp 2011 is happening this weekend at BU. I'm looking forward to it because I've never actually attended an official WordPress-devoted event - I'm going to attend sessions everywhere from basic introduction to advanced fanciness. It's $40 for the weekend, which is less good than free, but I think it's still well worth the price. And for people who can't make it to Boston, look for a WordCamp in your area.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/6/11

   March 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

ALA Library logoInstead of one of my reference questions, this week, I wanted to share this:

Through a chance email conversation with the ALA librarian Karen Muller, I learned the ALA not only maintains a library of its own, but the American Libraries magazine also posts online some of its more interesting reference questions.

They're interesting, so check it out.

Also, I was curious, so I read more about the ALA library, including its mission:

The primary mission of the ALA Library is to help the staff of the American Library Association serve ALA members, and thereafter, the needs of the members of ALA, other libraries, and members of the public seeking information on librarianship. The ALA Library is a small special library with a collection that focuses exclusively on the history of and issues within libraries and librarianship. The Library's staff will respond to reference and information requests in accordance with this mission and collection scope.

Their website deserves some exploring, and has interesting information, including

Of course, it could just be me that was in the dark about all this. They're also on Facebook and Twitter, and with 12,000+ Twitter followers, maybe I'm just the last to know.

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A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks

   March 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boycott paintingI've stayed mostly quiet on this whole HarperCollins/Overdrive ebooks situation, mainly because what I have to say is negative, and doesn't add much to what others already said. But I noticed a couple things in the last few days that I wanted to share.

First, my consortium is (one of many) considering boycotting HarperCollins ebooks. This makes me happy: happy in that I think it's a good move, but also happy in that lots of other librarians are thinking like me.

Also, Sarah has had a couple good posts - one from Thursday about the ALA's apparent inaction on this issue, and another Monday with a sample letter to express opposition to HarperCollins' policy.

But it seems as if the ALA isn't as totally out to lunch on this issue as they may seem. Michael is blogging the ALA's Electronic Content Access Task Force Retreat (official ALA page). The first post didn't mention this ebook debacle directly, but I can't imagine a group of librarians meeting to discuss electronic content access and not tackling this issue head-on, so I have hope.

Something else I recently learned about is the ALA's Emerging Issues website, which has a section devoted to ebooks. There's not much meat there yet, but at least it shows this issue is on the ALA radar, which is also a cause for hope.

Ultimately, I don't know how this will play out, but I can't really see library access coming out on top when it comes to ebooks - at least not without legislative action. But I do strongly believe that this should be the modern watershed moment for the ALA - if you can't be the voice of American libraries and resource clearinghouse on such a critical issue, there is no real reason for your existence.

For some more views on ebook lending, check out Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking (via LISNews), and the Ebook Library's non-linear lending model - perhaps the way forward is in one of those.

Update 3/9/11:
I saw the dispatch below on a listserv after I posted this:

American Library Association tackles new challenges in the e-environment
March 08, 2011

Recent action from the publishing world in the e-book marketplace has re-ignited interest and sparked many questions from librarians, publishers, vendors, and readers. Two ALA member task forces - the presidential task force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) and the E-book Task Force - were recently created to address these complex and evolving issues. EQUACC met this week in Washington, D.C., to provide ALA with guidance and recommendations for a coordinated ALA response to the challenging issues.

In light of recent publisher changes affecting libraries' ability to provide e-books to the public (e.g., restricting lending of e-books to a limited number of circulations) and the refusal of some publishers to sell e-content to libraries entirely, the task force will:

  • Work to establish meetings between ALA leadership and publisher and author associations to discuss model lending and purchase options for libraries.
  • Establish mechanisms for interactive and ongoing communication for ALA members to voice concerns and pose questions to ALA leadership.
  • Establish communication and solicit input with other ALA member divisions and units, including the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In addition to the above, the task force recommends that ALA pursue the following:

  • Conduct an environmental scan to understand the current landscape and project future scenarios.
  • Work with appropriate partners within and outside of ALA to improve access to electronic information for all, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.
  • Identify and support new and emerging model projects for delivering e-content to the public.
  • Develop a national public relations and education campaign highlighting the importance of libraries as essential access points for electronic content.

ALA members and the public can communicate with ALA on these issues through a new website dedicated to the challenges and potential solutions in libraries for improved access to electronic content. This site will be live within 10 days, and the URL to be announced at launch. These efforts reflect on libraries' long-standing principles on equitable access to information, reader privacy, intellectual freedom, and the lawful right of libraries to purchase and lend materials to the public.

ALA calls upon all stakeholders to join us in crafting 21st century solutions that will ensure equitable access to information for all.

Also, Jessamyn linked to http://readersbillofrights.info/, which is worth checking out.

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Check to ALA from 1919

   June 10th, 2010 Brian Herzog

1919 check written to the ALAIn 2008, Chelmsford started a town-wide history project, to index the historical records in all the various locations around town. We're still chugging along, and a volunteer found something interesting in the library's archives.

This check for $1.50 was written by the treasurer of the North Chelmsford Library Association to the ALA Publishing Board in 1919. The back of the check is interesting, too. We're still discovering things in the archive, so I'm hopeful we'll be able to figure out what this check was for.

There's three more things about this, if you're interested:

  1. The signature on the check is Stuart MacKay, brother of Anna C. MacKay, who the Anna C. MacKay Branch Library in North Chelmsford is named after. North Chelmsford has been, and is now, very supportive of the library, and I like this continuity of history. Also interesting that he was working on Christmas Eve.
  2. Also uncovered in the archive are circulation records from the early 1900's - including every book each patron checked out. An interesting philosophical question is this: at what point do library records go from being a matter of patron privacy to a matter of historical record or curiosity?
  3. For our indexing project, we're using Past Perfect, and will be providing access through Past Perfect Online (but nothing's been uploaded yet). Until that's ready, we're using a Google Custom Search Engine to index all the existing online resources we could find. It works well enough for the time being, and I know this is going to be a long-term project, but I'm looking forward to having a real index available.

Neat, huh?

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Notes from ALA Midwinter 2010

   January 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

ALA Midwinter 2010 exhibit hallHere are a few random notes from the weekend - the best part of the conference is talking with other librarians, and of course the free stuff.

Apps: Past or Future?
Despite not having a cell phone, I still ended up talking a lot about apps at the show. Gale has a great approach for AccessMyLibrary. Check out the Librarian in Black's writeup, but what I liked about it is the geolocation authentication: it shows you all libraries within 10 miles, and lets you into their (Gale) database - no typing in library card numbers.

At the LibraryThing party, there was lots of talk about LT's new Local Books app. Some people loved it, and some people didn't (especially the Android user I talked to, who couldn't find one for his phone). This also led to an interesting discussion on whether or not apps are even needed - one theory was that if the mobile version of your website is good enough, then you shouldn't need a separate app. Therefore, a good app does some kind of mashup not possible on the website.

Then again, I also heard that apps are on their way out in 2010.

eBooks: Present and Future
This is an area I've been paying attention to, and I still learned a lot. The eBooks that Overdrive offers are in epub and pdf formats, and circulate just like their audio books. But the best part is that they work on the Sony Reader and Nook - I did not know that. Apparently they have lots of both fiction and non-fiction titles, so I'm going to explore this avenue for my library.

Gale also offers eBooks, but I forgot to ask about the format. What I did like was that they aren't limited to one user at a time - they were more like a database, where anyone can log in, search and use them.

I also saw a demo of B&T's new eBook software, Blio (pronounced blee-O). I kept hearing they were coming out with something great, but I thought it was a physical eBook device - it's not, it's just the software. But the software really was pretty great:

  • will work on computers and mobile devices
  • it does full-color
  • videos embedded in books (so a book on the circulation system shows videos of how the body works)
  • quizzes in books for review
  • text-to-speech in multiple voices, so different characters have different voices
  • can highlight words as it reads, or will pronounce words you click on (to help kids or ESL students learn to read)
  • has full-spread view of kids picture books (so it looks the same on screen as in print, with all the pictures and text - the pages even flip as if you were holding the book)

They're concentrating on the consumer version first - the software is free, but it sounded like books will be on the expensive end, due to the enhanced content. Whenever I asked a library-specific question, the answer I got was, "oh, we're still working on the details of the library model."

So, yay for a successful conference. And in this case, successful = two shirts, three books, earbuds, notebook, pencils, pins, and lots of candy.

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Going to ALA Midwinter 2010

   January 7th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Hey, ALA Midwinter 2010 is in Boston this month. Being so close, I can hardly pass up going, especially since I have a free pass to the exhibit hall courtesy of LYRASIS (steps for getting your own free pass below).

I went the last time it was in Boston, and was slightly underwhelmed. It's definitely more of a business meeting for the various ALA committees, which I didn't expect. But this year there are some vendors I want to talk to, librarians to meet, and LibraryThing is also planning an event. Please say hi if you see me.

If you're not going, the hashtag for Midwinter 2010 is #alamw10 - look for it around the interwebs (twitter, flickr, flickr group).

And here's the scoop on the free passes: my library is a part of MVLC which is part of NMRLS which is a part of LYRASIS. If you're also somehow covered under their umbrella, here's how to get your free pass:

  1. Go to http://registration.experient-inc.com/ShowALA101/DefaultExhGuest.aspx?CompanyId=2160
  2. You will be brought to the Midwinter website. Note the Exhibits times. Click "Next."
  3. Fill in your contact information. Click "Next."
  4. Click "Member" and complete your demographics information. Click "Next."
  5. Leave "Your Events" empty. Click "Next."
  6. Review your "Registration Summary." Click "Next."
  7. You're done! You will have a confirmation number; your total will be $0.00. Print your confirmation.

Oh yeah, and exhibit dates/times are below, with the story on the ALA page:

Friday, Jan 15: 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Saturday, Jan 16: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Sunday, Jan 17: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Monday, Jan 18: 9:00am - 2:00pm

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