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

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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Reference Question of the Week – 5/13

   May 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Picture of scissors and a bad haircutA woman with a bad haircut walks up to the desk and asks...

(bad haircut? Yes, bad haircut. Even worse than mine.)

"Can you find the phone number of whoever issues licenses to hair stylists?"

Since two of us were working the desk at the time, and there was nothing else going on, both of us started looking. It didn't take much time to find the answer, but I thought it was interesting that we took two different routes to get there.

My Coworker's Approach
Started with Google (which is on our desk computers' start page) by searching for "cosmetology association massachusetts." The first result was for National Cosmetology Association: Recommended Links, and under their State Cosmetology Regulatory Agencies section was a link to the Massachusetts Board of Registered Cosmetologists.

That link lead into the Mass.gov website (MA's official government website), which, after a couple more clicks, offered a telephone number.

My Approach
Figuring this must be a state agency, I went directly to Mass.gov, even though their site search is generally less than ideal. I search for "cosmetology license," and the first result was a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Board of Registration of Cosmetologists. One of the last questions was How would I contact a cosmetology association in Massachusetts?, which provided a phone number in the answer.

Also at the bottom of the page was a Contact Us link for the Office of Consumer Affairs, of which the Division of Professional Licensure is a part, and which in turn has its own Contact Information page. This is the same page my coworker ultimately found, which strangely lists four categories for Cosmetologists and Aestheticians, but all of them have the same phone number.

The Result
The patron had wandered off right after asking the question, so we wrote all the websites and phone numbers down. I found her a few minutes later, herself searching the internet, and she was happy with the information we found.

But this was one of those cases where just finding what the patron wanted didn't feel like enough. There was definitely a story here, between the way her hair looked and the question she asked. As a librarian, I am trained not to pry or ask why a patron needs certain information, but I came close here to offering to call these numbers, just so I could learn if she was trying to complain about a salon she just came from, or wanted to open her own salon, or what. There had to be something interesting there; I still think a television show set in a library would be endlessly entertaining.

association, cosmetologists, cosmetology, libraries, library, licensure, mass.gov, professional license, public libraries, public library, reference question, searching

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