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

Maybe LCSH isn’t so bad…

   December 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Insulation and Weatherizing book on Amazon.comIn preparation for this colder weather, my library had a book display about home insulation, heating efficiency, and weatherizing. This prompted me to purchase a few new books, but I found something I never expected.

When looking for books similar to what the library already has, one of the tools I use is Amazon.com. That might be library blasphemy, but between Amazon's various suggestion services, its subject categories, and a greasemonkey script for directly checking our catalog, it's a quick and dirty way to find what I'm looking for.

As you might think, it's certainly not 100% reliable. But this time, I happened across one book with subjects that puts even "cookery" to shame.

The book in question is Insulate and Weatherize, by Bruce Harley. My library already has a copy, and I was looking at it on Amazon for updates. But I was astounded when I came to their subject listings (keep in mind, this is a home improvement-type book on insulation and weatherizing a house):
Amazon Home Insulation Subjects

"Cloning?" "Babysitters?" "Juvenile fiction?" And my favorite, "Life on other planets?" I know Amazon's sole function is to push as much stuff as possible at visitors to maximize sales, but come on. At least it was good for a laugh.

amazon, amazon.com, chelmsford, greasemonkey, headings, libraries, library, public, subject, subjects

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Welcome to Askville – Population: us

   December 19th, 2006 Brian Herzog

Amazon's AskvilleThis has already been mentioned, but Amazon.com is launching a service for answering reference questions, and calling it "Askville."

I was a beta tester for the service, and last week received an email saying the service is going live. In it, they gave this brief description:

Askville is a community based website where users can easily ask and answer questions, share their knowledge and meet others with similar interests. Additionally, you can earn experience points in various topics and Quest coins, Askville's virtual currency. Eventually, you will be able to your Quest coins on an upcoming site called Questville.com scheduled to launch in 2007.

As the LibrarianInBlack pointed out, Askville is incorporating social networking to answer questions - and from the few questions I posed to the service, the answers were of good quality and with quick turnaround. Having average lay netziens answering questions (rather than degreed librarians) means answers must still be considered within the context of the source, but the social critical mass approach has worked well for Wikipedia.

What I'm not sure about is the whole Questville.com coins thing. Askville allows you to earn coins by asking and answering questions, and also by rating given answers. I presume coins will be cashed in to buy stuff. Perhaps this is the component that Google Answers was missing - if Amazon can figure out a good business model for social reference, then I'm sure Google Answers will find a way back into the market, too.

In the meantime, there's always your local library and places like the Internet Public Library that still do this without gimmicky profit schemes.

For more on Askville, check their blog.

amazon, amazon.com, askville, askville.com, online reference, social reference

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