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

Library Use Value Calculator Updated

   March 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Little Professor calculatorThis post isn't about the current ebook debacle, because Bobbi and Kate are doing a better job than I could.

This is just a quick announcement that I've updated the Library Use Value Calculator - here's a rundown of the changes:

  • Updated costs, in conjunction with staff from the MLA
  • Added lines for ebooks* and music downloads
  • Removed the distinction between magazines/newspapers browsed in library and those checked out (my feeling was, if they used them at all, it counts)
  • Changed some wording and reordered the services to (hopefully) make things more clear - materials at the top, services at the bottom
  • Added additional instructions on how to host or modify the calculator code yourself

I also wanted to add a "Share on Facebook" link, but I haven't tackled that yet. If anyone is looking for a project, let me know.

All of this is available at http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/librarycalculator. If you already had the calculator embedded in your library website, the updates will take effect automatically.

If anyone has any questions, or needs help with the calculator, please let me know.


*Ironically. Perhaps I need to add more javascript so that if someone enters a number higher than 26, the calculator automatically adds additional copies to the cost.

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YouTube Shortcuts

   May 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Fast Forward buttonI am by no means a YouTuber, so the tips I just figured out might be common knowledge, but I thought I'd share anyway.

Do you ever want to link right to a specific spot in a YouTube video? Say a video is five minutes long, but the part you want to highlight starts at 3:14 - I knew there must be a way to start the video right at 3:14 so people didn't have to sit through the beginning portion.

After a bit of web searching, I found two ways to do this - one for a link, and one for an embedded video. And to give my examples some context, here's our situation: You have a video of ten book reviews, and the review you wanted to link to (for Neil Gaiman's Interworld) starts 1 minute and 11 second into the video.

Link to Video
To create a link to start at a specific spot in a video, just add #t=0m0s to the end of the regular link url. Then, change the 0's to the minute and second you want to link to.

Embed a Video
Starting a video embedded in your webpage at a specific spot is a little more work.

  1. Grab the embed code from the video's YouTube page and paste it into your webpage where you want the video to appear. The code will look something like this:

    <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="385"></embed></object>

  2. Put &start=71 at the end of both URLs shown in the code:

    <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&start=71"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&start=71" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="385"></embed></object>

  3. Update 2/2012: YouTube also uses <IFRAME> to embed videos. In this case, the code will look like this:

    <iframe width="550" height="330" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/yyy8gYkU2TY#start=227" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

  4. Notes:
    • You have to translate the start time into just seconds - so 1 minute and 11 seconds becomes 71 seconds
    • A lot can happen in 1 second, so the content you want might actually start in between 1:11 and 1:12 - I don't think you can fine-tune any more than seconds. Another hiccup could be the way video files are encoded, so the start point might not always be exactly split-second precise every time
  5. Enjoy:

The next logical step for this example is to also set a stop time. YouTube doesn't seem to have a native way to do that, but both Splicd.com and Apture.com's Builder provide this feature. Neat.

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Be Careful What You Tweet For

   April 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chelmsfordlib on TwitterTwitter has been around for a long time, so all the press it has gotten recently surprised me. Personally, I never really had much interest in it, so I just more or less ignored it.

Until a few months ago, that is, when I found a way to use it for the library.

The snowfall and storms this winter seemed particularly bad, and we had quite a few early closings or delayed openings. Whenever this happens, one of the ways we get the message out is to announce the change in hours prominently on our homepage.

However, it's the library director who makes the decision to close the library, but she had no easy way to update the homepage from home. She hasn't coded in html for years, and installing an editor and ftp program - and then her having to remember how to do everything - seemed like an unnecessary barrier. So, she asked me to find an easier way for her to update the homepage.

Ah-ha, I thought - I know libraries are displaying their Twitter feeds on their homepage, so why can't we?

homepage with embedded twitter feedI signed up for a Twitter account, learned how to customize the feed display, and added it to the library's homepage. I set the feed to only display one message, and after some trial and error figured out how to send a blank message (use the html code &nbsp;). That way, after the storm passes, we could send a blank message to remove the announcement from the homepage.

Then, to make it as easy as possible for my director to update from home, I also created a Twittermail account. Using Twittermail, all she needs to do is send an email message to our account, and whatever she types into the subject line with then display on our website (centered on the very top of the page). Neat.

When I demo'ed it for her, it worked like a charm, and she was very happy. But of course, we haven't had a snowstorm since.

And see, that's the problem - I created this Twitter feed for a very specific purpose, and we haven't had much of a need for it yet. However, since I created it, seven people have started following the library on Twitter.

We don't promote it, so how'd they find it? They must have gone looking. If our patrons are expecting us to be on Twitter, and voluntarily pay attention to us, doesn't it make sense that this is a tool we should be using? To me, it does.

So, in addition to storm closings, I've lately been trying to think of other "announcements" that deserve top billing on the library's homepage - just so I don't feel guilty about these Twitter followers not getting their library tweets.

This is very much a case of "if you build it, they will come." Now I need to live up to the implied second half of that saying, "when they come, make sure it's worth their while."

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Coraline: The Movie

   February 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

coraline movie posterI'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and subscribe to his blog feed.

It was through his blog, in fact, that I learned about his book Coraline, and purchased it for the library so I could read it.

Then, more recently, he's been talking about the movie release. After watching this trailer on the blog, featuring him, I went to see the movie.

It goes without saying that Neil is just cool. But on top of that, how great is it to have an author talk about and promote his work, not only in a very personal way through the blog, but also in a very personal way through the very impersonal medium of movies? To wit:

Not that this movie would need much promotion, but a library could do a movie-to-book-to-other-books-by-this-author tie-in quite easily by embedding this trailer into a page on their website and also including an annotated listing of his other books, and link to those books in their catalog.

Oh yeah, and the movie was great. Different than the book (from what I remember), but great in its own right.

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Embedding Content in Websites

   June 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Got 2.0?What do you do with your weekends? I talk about Library 2.0 with other librarians. Fun, yes?

In the course of discussion this weekend, I found myself focusing on one of my favorite elements, shared content. There is much more to Library 2.0 (and Web 2.0) than this, but it's a big part of it. By "shared content," I mean being able to display on one website content that originated (and is hosted by) another website.

On a lot of popular websites (like YouTube), there will be links to "embed this video" or "get our widget" or whatnot, and that's what I'm talking about. It's an easy way to make your own website more useful and interesting, but it also opens up all kinds of possibilities. You don't necessarily need to know anything about file formats, ftp'ing, or even HTML coding - all you need to know is how to copy/paste.

So, here's a bit of roundup of common types of embedded content, and a few ideas for using them to supplement what you're already offering on your website. The possibilities are really only limited by your creativity, so please share if you have ideas better than mine (and I'm sure you do).

Adding Movies and Video Clips
There's lots of websites that can host videos, but YouTube is the most common. Whenever you view a video on YouTube, you'll see a box titled "Embed" with some code in it. The code usually looks like this:

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/9FQzhtIJXJM&hl=en"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/9FQzhtIJXJM&hl=en" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

You don't need to know what any of that means. You just need to copy/paste it into your own HTML page or blog post, and a happy little video will be displayed on your webpage (the video still "lives" on the YouTube server, and you're just displaying it on your webpage), like this:

Ideas for using this:

  • Book Reviews, like StoryTubes
  • Library Tour, or a tour of historical sites around your community
  • A Teen Movie Making club
  • Staff introductions (I know, it'll never happen...)
  • Training on using library resources

Fun With Photographs
Again, lots of websites do this, but flickr is one of the most popular photo hosting services (it does video now, too). Instead of storing photographs on your own server, you can upload them to your flickr account and take advantage of the other tools flickr offers.

You can embed individual images (flickr gives you a choice of sizes, and provides the code for embedding it), or you can embed a slideshow or flickr "badge." These two are nice because after you put the code in, it can be set to automatically show your newest pictures. I use a flickr badge in navigation bar on the right, and my library also uses it to display historical photos and photos of our childrens room mural. Here's a sample of photos I have taken and tagged "Maine:"

herzogbr's items tagged with maine More of herzogbr's stuff tagged with maine on

Ideas for using this:

What's the feed, Kenneth?
Lots of Library 2.0 tools offer on RSS feeds. These can be grabbed and displayed on your website, no matter where they come from. One simple tool that converts an RSS feed to code you can embed on your website is Feed2JS - you just give it the feed, and it gives you the code. It also gives you some control over the formatting, too, which is nice. My library uses this to embed our three most recent blog posts onto the library's homepage - same content, different places.

Another fun set of feed tools let you mix multiple feeds into a single feed. So, if you wanted to get news from CNN, NPR and the BBC, or photos from different family members, you could combine them into a single feed and it makes keeping up easier. My favorite tools for this are FeedBlendr and FeedBurner - just enter the feeds you want to blend, and they produce a single feed for you. This can then be run through Feed2JS to embed on your website, and FeedBlendr also offers tips for using it.
Ideas for using this:

  • Promote your library blog on other webpages
  • Display blog posts with certain tags on related webpages
  • Display community news (especially headlines from your local paper)
  • Promote community connections by displaying feeds from patrons' blogs, photo streams, or other sources

Make subject guides dynamic
Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website. It lets you "bookmark" websites into your account, which then can be used by you or other people. Del.icio.us lets you tag the websites as you bookmark them, which means that can be organized using your own structured vocabulary.

This is perfect for libraries that maintain online subject guides. It is much easier to add a website to del.icio.us and tag/describe it on the fly than it is to add it to a webpage by HTML. And when you do use a structured vocabulary for your tags, these new websites showing up on your library subject guides is automatic. It's also nice that multiple computers can add bookmarks to your account, so other staff can be adding websites whenever they see them. Read more about how to use del.icio.us for library subject guides on a previous post.
Ideas for using this:

Embedding fun features and communication tools
Once you start looking for them, you'll find lots of websites offering to embed their content on your website. This is a great was to encourage interaction and involvement, but the utility of the content must be evaluated - don't just embed things because you can.
Ideas for using this:

  • Local weather, from the Weather Channel
  • Polls and Quizzes, to see how patrons feel about an issue or just solicit input (flexipoll.com is one option)
  • Online chat, to ask a librarian a question or have a discussion (MeeboMe is one option)
  • Games, perhaps for a game club, to illustrated an article or collection, or just for fun (everyflashgame.com is one option)
  • Book information, to show new additions or a special collection (LibraryThing.com is one option)

Like I said, the possibilities of this are endless. The goodwill and usefulness can be immeasurable, too, but there are a few drawbacks. First, since this content is coming from other servers, it can be unavailable at times (or worse, go away forever without warning). Also, if you're displaying the content of other people, you can't control what they will say or do. This is why it is important to grab feeds only from trusted sources, or embed specific videos or photos, so you're sure of what you're getting.

And certainly, don't be afraid to just try something to see how it works. That's usually the best way to learn, and the best way to show people what is possible.

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