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

Information Sharing in an Emergency

   April 17th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Although I'm 20 miles from Boston, the explosions at the Marathon have been the dominant topic for the last couple days. Amid the tragedy, I couldn't help but notice a few things about the way information (and misinformation) flowed.

Almost immediately, the authorities were calling for everyone with photos or videos of the day - not just the explosions, but the entire race route throughout the morning - to share their media with the Police. They're even stopping people leaving the city through Logan airport to individually ask people if they captured anything. Of course the majority of people watching the race would have been taking pictures and video, and these will be tremendous help to the investigators. I'd never heard of this kind of solicitation on such a massive scale before, but I was impressed that City officials did not hesitate - shortly after it became clear the explosions were not an accident, they were asking for help from the public.

Also in short order Google created the Boston Marathon Explosions Person Finder - it's a way to both get information on someone that may have been near the scene, as well as a way for people to let others know they're safe. It's not the first time it was used, but is another helpful tool for sharing information.

Somewhat related, I also found it interesting that officials were repeatedly asking people to text and email loved ones instead of using their cell phones to make calls, to lighten the load on the over-burdened cell phone network. Even radio reporters at the scene kept getting cut off as their calls were dropped, and this technological fail led to rumors that the cell phone network had been deliberately shut down.

Which was false, but rumors were to be expected, I think. So I thought it was great that by Tuesday, Snopes already had a page up debunking some of the conspiracies and rumors - some of which are still being circulating among people I know and on the radio. Snopes is also continually adding information as they can.

Of course, all of this is in addition to the tip hotlines, press conferences, and other traditional ways to pass along information in situations like this. This is the closest I've ever been to this kind of emergency, and distracting myself with information logistics helped deal with the event itself.

And one last thing - a quote from Mr. Rogers, seen on Twitter:

@petemanning When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.

This quote is contained with PBS' page on helping kids cope with scary situations. From what I heard on the news, there was an abundance of on-the-scene helpers - sharing information is just another way to help.

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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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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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Reference Question of the Week – 6/14/09

   June 20th, 2009 Brian Herzog

BPL e-Journals linkThis week's question itself isn't very exciting, but it does have two interesting features:

  1. a useful reference tool
  2. an example of a patron being absolutely positive about something, and still being wrong

When I got into work one morning, there was a note from the previous night's staff. It said a patron came in just before closing, and since they didn't have time to research her question, could I please do it and call the patron.

No problem. The patron had an exact quote (three sentences long!) from an April 2006 issue of USA Today, and wanted to read the entire article. The note also said the patron was absolutely sure the quotation was correct.

We don't have USA Today in print back to 2006, so we rely on databases for this type of research. And I can never remember which databases index which journals and newspapers, so I reply on the Boston Public Library's e-Journals By Title search*.

It told me which database(s) had USA Today as full-text for 2006, so I logged into that database through my library's website (so our stats get credited for the use). In this case, it was Gale's General Reference Center, and used their advanced search to narrow to the publication and timeframe.

I searched for a couple of the keywords in the quote, and got zero hits. I tried a few different keywords, and got zero hits. I tried the most general keyword in the quote, and got three articles having nothing to do with that quotation.


So I kept the timeframe but removed the publication limitation, re-ran the search for the first set of keywords, and this time it found four articles - none of them from USA Today, but all of them relevant to the quotation.

I called the patron and explained that I couldn't find the quote in USA Today, but I did find articles in other newspapers that had to do with that same topic. She insisted that she had the quote exactly right.

I tried to diplomatically say that I wasn't disputing she had the quote right, but just that I couldn't find it. Perhaps, I suggested, it was printed in part of the newspaper that isn't indexed in the database, such as the Letters to the Editor or a supplement. The patron considers this, then said,

Oh, that could be. [pause] Or, you know, maybe I read that one in the The New York Times. I bet that's why I wrote "NYT" after it - I wondered what that meant.

One of the articles I found was from The New York Times. Not that it really matters - in fact, the patron got four articles instead of one, so she was happy. And the e-Journals By Title from BPL led me right to the database I needed, so I was happy.

So yay for efficiency, and yay for exceeding the patron's expectation.


*in case you missed it, this was the useful reference tool - really, I love this search

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Boston Globe Covers Libraries

   August 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

The Boston Globe logoA pair of articles appeared in last Sunday's (7/29) Boston Globe about the state of libraries.

The first, "Good Circulation..." is summed up nicely by the article's opening paragraph:

"Library directors remember the talk, not long ago, of technology rendering libraries obsolete. But statistics show that the opposite has occurred."

The second, "...for those who can afford it," is a bit more dire in tone.

"It's the ones who need it the most that get hit the hardest," [Mary Beth Pallis, Director of the Dunstable Free Public Library] said. "Libraries are the great equalizer: Anyone can use the library no matter how much money you make. I'm worried that may be disappearing."

This is the paradoxical reality that libraries face. I bet most people would say that libraries are important to a community, yet community funding is never a guaranteed thing.

Also in the paper was a chart of with circulation details on the 34 libraries in the Globe's Northwest delivery area. It compares each library's circulation levels in 1999 and 2006.

Some stats for the Chelmsford Library:

Circulation Increase over 1999
Print 61%
Audiobook 121%
DVD 64%
All materials 69%
Loans to other libraries 607%
Loans from other libraries 1,230%

There are reasons behind these numbers: 1999 was the last year before a building project more than tripled the size of the library. Chelmsford is well funded, which means we have longer hours and more parking than some libraries. And, being part of a consortium, in Massachusetts, means that we serve anyone who comes in the door, not just our 32,000 local residents.

Of course, I really hope it's because these patrons just know the value of libraries.

boston, boston globe, chelmsford, chelmsford library, libraries, library, public libraries, public library

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LibCamp Boston Recap

   July 31st, 2007 Brian Herzog

LibCamp BostonJust a few quick (overdue) notes about the LibCamp Boston unconference last weekend at BPL.

There were nine area school and public librarians in attendance, sharing our knowledge and experience on what's being done with Web 2.0 tools, and what we'd like to do. It was a very casual and free-flowing discussion, so we also spent some time talking about general library topics, too, and played DDR [?].

For more links provided by Beth Galloway during the discussion, check out http://libcamp.pbwiki.com/sessions (and check out some pictures, too).


  • ALA recently has a Gaming, Learning & Libraries Symposium
  • DDR and Guitar Hero can be used in libraries as a program for all ages to come in and play together. It is also good exercise, which studies have linked to an improvement in homework scores in kids
  • DDR can also be considered "web 2.0" since it allows content creation - players can record their own dances, and which others can then dance
  • Ann Arbor District Library has a regional DDR tournament, which they are planning on turning into an open national competition

WiFi Printing in the Library

  • A problem is that people using the library's wireless connection are not easily connected to the library's printer
  • One idea was to have a cheap deskjet printer available, with quick links on the library's website for wireless users to download and install the printer driver
  • Another suggestion is to get listed with the PrintMe.com network (only available in certain states

Floppy Disks, CDs & Flash Drives

  • Libraries trying to move away from 3-1/2" floppy disks, because they are out-dated and unreliable
  • Ideas are to sell or loan flash drives (when loaning, patron could leave library card, drivers license, or their shoe at the desk)
  • Another idea for flash drives is to use them to circulate software, instead of installing programs on every computer (a list of applications that run off of flash drives, found via LibrarianInBlack)

Loaning Laptops

  • Some libraries were looking at getting away from public desktop computers entirely, and going to all laptops that will be loaned from the desk
  • This would require less dedicated floor space, and likely would me more comfortable to use in general

Blogs in Librarys

  • Most libraries represented had them, but in a variety of forms
  • http://librarygoddesses.blogspot.com is an example of a collaborative professional readers advisory blog, open to both librarians and patrons
  • http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/blog is an example of a library blog for its patrons
  • The Newburyport (MA) Public Library has a staff blog, to keep staff up to date on library happenings. They are also working on a staff wiki for their reference desk
  • We also talked about the appropriateness of libraries having a presence on MySpace and Facebook - some thought that since the point of these online communities is to meet and communicate with friends, any library presence would likewise need to be active and involved, not just a billboard
  • Videoblogs were also discussed, such as Steve Garfield's vblog (and his mom's video series, I can't Open It)

Meebo v. Email

  • We continue to hear reports that IM has killed email (let me know what you think)
  • A few libraries are including the MeeboMe widget on their websites to allow chatting with a librarian; some libraries don't allow any kind of IM on public computers

Uses for Flickr

  • Flickr is great for sharing event photos, but can also be used for collections and showcases
  • The Seekonk PL has a Teen Area worth showing off
  • The Chelmsford (MA) Library has a set on flickr of historical photographs, and also a photo series of a mural being painted in the Children's Room
  • Flickr is also a great way to archive photos of what the library looks like, what past book displays have looked like, etc.
  • Flickr's map feature also has potential for making a community-based project, by photo-documenting local landmarks or businesses to make an online virtual tour


  • What is Twitter?: a service to which people send short (140 characters) updates on what they're doing right now. Accessible by computer, cell phones, and other wireless devices
  • Why would someone do this?: to update your friends on where you are and what you're doing, and by signing up for someone else's feed, you can see what they're doing
  • Why else?: other uses could be to keep a list for yourself of things you don't want to forget, or to communicate with a group of people
  • Can library's use this?: some ideas are to list answers to reference questions, or send out event reminders

Second Life

  • Second Life is an online game/community, so does a library have a role?
  • There is a library there, which answers mostly information & referral questions about the game itself (how to build something, where to find things, etc). They also have ebooks. This seems appropriate, since these volunteer librarians are serving the needs of this community
  • It might not be appropriate for individual libraries, as staff would be serving non-local patrons almost exclusively
  • Another role for a library in Second Life is to assist players in accuracy: such as if someone builds a replica of the Globe Theatre and make a recorded tour. This would be content developed within the game that someone could experience without having to see the real thing

Using del.icio.us

  • Web resources bookmarked in del.icio.us are accessible from any computer and browser, not just where they were originally bookmarked
  • They can be made public or private
  • They can be sent to people (by using the tag for:[del.icio.us-username])
  • They can also be used for a Library Subject Guide

boston, lib2.0, libcamp, libcamp boston, libraries, library, library 2.0, library camp, library camp boston, library2.0, public libraries, public library

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