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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/4/13

   August 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

shooting starThis was a simple question with an interesting answer, but also a case of continuing after the patron had left just for my own entertainment.

A patron overheard me telling a coworker about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower this weekend, and asked me for more information. We looked up a few websites, all of which described the best way to enjoy the show (this from Sky and Telescope):

" ... find a spot with an open sky view and no late-night lights nearby. Bundle up warmly, lie back on a ground pad or reclining lawn chair, and watch the stars. ...

"Be patient, and give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the darkness. The direction to watch is not necessarily toward Perseus but wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up."

Even with there being no moon, the patron was still wasn't sure if our area would be dark enough. Chelmsford is somewhat rural, but not too far from a few large urban areas, and I really didn't know how much their lights would affect us.

I was hoping someone had done some kind of light pollution map mashup, creating a tool that let us zoom right into this area to see how much light pollution would affect us. So, I did a hopeful search for "light pollution map" and the first result was exactly what I was looking for.

The Dark Sky Finder is a Google Map superimposed with light pollution data, and we were both surprised to see how illuminated our area is. However, it gave the patron some ideas on where to go, so he was happy.

I, on the other hand, love maps so I was having a great time. I played with the Dark Sky Finder for a bit, then went back to the initial search results because it also brought up a few static maps too. But, something occurred to me while I was looking at this NOAA light pollution map:

light pollution map

Obviously, light pollution is concentrated around large urban areas. It reminded me of recent election results maps, with Democrats centering around urban areas, and Republicans covering rural areas:

2012 election map

Matching up the red areas on the light pollution map to the blue areas on the election results maps produces only one obvious conclusion: Democrats cause light pollution.

Okay, now back to work.

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Check Out The Chelmsford Library on Google Maps

   July 31st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Update 8/8/13: I got a message from someone at Google who reminded me of an important competent of Indoor Map - it's really designed to work on phones. I've only been checking it online, where it hasn't changed since it went live. But he assured me that using Google Maps on a phone will use your location to place you on the correct floor. Nice. Not having a cell phone, I forget the fancy things they can do.

Update 7/31/13: I just learned something annoying about embeddeding Street View - Internet Explorer automatically jumps to wherever it is on the page. I found a hacky workaround for this, which I've implemented on our About Us page, and it seems to work okay. But hopefully, Google will fix this (it only happens with embedded Street Views in IE, not with regular Google Maps or with any other browser). I did not fix it on this page though, so IE users could see what I'm talking about.

Original Post:

This year, the Chelmsford Library has been involved with two Google mapping projects: Indoor Maps and Indoor Street View.

Indoor Maps
We did Indoor Maps first, which displays a floorplan of your building on Google Maps (instead of just the outline, like the buildings around us). It looks like this:

Google indoor map

This is neat because it lets people online see where things are in your building, at a glance. One catch, however, is that they're still trying to figure out how to handle more than one floor (like our building) - so in the meantime, they only show the ground floor.

The process was interesting: we contacted Google Maps and supplied them with labeled floor plans of each of our buildings (the whole thing was free, so we were able to do our branch too), and they sent a crew1 to take multiple GPS readings around the building to make sure the floor plan images matched up accurately with the map itself.

Pretty neat. But of course, when you say "indoor map" what people really think of is Indoor Street View, so we got approval from our Trustees to do that, too.

Indoor Street View
Since there was a cost associated, and a third-party photographer involved, this process was a little different. The first step was to contact "Google Trusted Photographers" in our area to see if anyone was interested, and what they would charge us. I sent requests to everyone within a reasonable distance, and mostly the quotes were in the $1000-$2000 range, with various discounts because we were a non-profit. We ended up going with CJL Photography of Manchester, NH, because his quote2 was one of the lowest, and he had worked with libraries before we liked his portfolio samples (the struckout link was a mistake on my part).

Now this is where the delays set in. I initially contacted the photographer in January, and had scheduled the photo shoot for February. Then we were hit with a series of snowstorms, which pushed things back. Then, we decided to wait until March because that month we had a really visual art display up in our meeting room. And of course, a few days before he came we got more snow, so he shot the entire inside of the building in March, and then came back in early July3 to do the outdoor shots.

The wait was worth it, I think, and the tour looks phenomenal:

View Larger Map

Photographing the inside took maybe two hours, and we chose to do it early on a Sunday morning when we were closed to the public, so as not to interfere with patrons. The photographer used a camera on a tripod to take a series shots from each "point" on the tour to create the 360 degree view, and then handled all the processing on the backend to color-correct, stitch everything together, and upload it to Google. All library staff had to do was make sure the building looked as nice as possible.

In addition to the tour itself, the photographer also created a Chelmsford Library Google+ page, which also features a series of still shots. The still shots are included in the package, and we're free to use them however we want - on our website, in printed materials, etc. I know this is an obvious statement, but holy smokes there is a world of difference between the library pictures I take with a point-and-shoot camera and what a professional photographer can do.

We're not sure what we'll do with the stills yet, but we've already started using the tour. Besides mentioning it on our Facebook page, we've put it on our About Us page, using it to highlight the mural in our Children's Room, and embedded views of our meeting rooms on our reservation page so people can see what the rooms look like before they book a room.

We're certainly not the first library to appear on Indoor Street View - ebookfriendly did a post in March listing others.

They all look great, and we expect this to be a useful tool for us. Not only as an online tour and historical record of the building, but we're hoping that by showcasing how nice our space is, some of our online-only patrons will be motivated to visit in person. But honestly, I've been pretty content just to click around and play, even when I'm sitting in the library. Being online almost makes it like a video game - now I just need a laser gun. Pew pew.


1. I'm sure they had a very precise method, but to us it looked like eight guys randomly wandering around the building for an hour, eyes glued to their smartphones.

2. After the photo shoot, the photographer told me that a business of our size would normally cost about $3000, but libraries would be discounted to around $1000. Our actual cost was a bit lower than that, because I think he underestimated the size of our building with his initial quote, but was good enough to honor it. Incidentally, he was great to work with overall, and I personally would recommend him to other libraries considering this.

3. Which is why you see snow if you look out a window, but see flowers if you walk out of any of the doors.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/17/11

   April 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan, a.k.a., Monumento a la Fundación de Gran TenochtitlanThis was an interesting question, but what impressed me most was my own ethnocentrism.

A patron came to the desk, asking for help in locating the Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan. The statue commemorates the initial founding of Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs, which later grew into Mexico City - so, a fairly significant statue. He said he knew it was in Mexico City, but he wanted to know the exact location, so he could visit it when he went there. He said he had been looking for days online, but was coming up empty.

My first thoughts were to search online and also check our Mexico travel books. Since he was convinced there was nothing available online, we walked down to the 917's and started checking the indexes of all our guide books. We checked under Statue, Foundation, and Tenochtitlan, and found nothing - really, nothing at all, except Tenochtitlan entries referring to the Aztec ruins sites.

At this point I began to question whether he had the name correct. We came back to the desk and searched on Statue of Foundation of Tenochtitlan, which lead to a Wikipedia photo of the statue - so it seemed he had the name right. A few other flickr photos came up too, and I checked them all hoping they would be geotagged, and we could find it on a map that way, but no such luck.

I tried a few more searches, all the while with the patron saying he tried the same thing and saw the same unhelpful websites. I could tell he was getting antsy and frustrated, so I told him I could take his name and number and keep looking, and I'd contact him when I found something. He was happy with that, and was appreciative when he left.

The rest of the day was very busy, so I could only search in bits and pieces as I had time. However, driving to work the next morning, it suddenly struck me why we couldn't find anything: we had been searching with English words for a Spanish-language phrase.

When I got to work I put my (obvious and long-overdue) breakthrough into action, translating from English to Spanish, and then searching on Estatua de la Fundación de Tenochtitlan.

Reading through (as best I could) those results, I noticed most websites refered to it as "Monumento" rather than "Estatua," so I did a new search for Monumento a la Fundación de Gran Tenochtitlan.

Again fumbling through those sites with only the Spanish I learned from Sesame Street, I found http://www.joyasdemexico.com/cgi/index.php?Section=ArqCivil&Op=2&seleccion=DFederal which, using Ctrl+F on the page for Tenochtitlan, led me to this paragraph:

Al oriente de la plaza, el Palacio Nacional, construido sobre las ruinas del Palacio de Moctezuma. Al sureste de la Plaza el edificio de la Suprema Corte de Justicia que anteriormente fue el Mercado del Volador, es la sede del poder judicial. Frente a la Suprema Corte de Justicia, el interesante monumento que rememora la Fundación de la Gran Tenochtitlan.

Which translates to:

East of the plaza, the Palacio Nacional, built on the ruins of the Palace of Montezuma. Southeast of the Plaza building of the Supreme Court formerly the Mercado del Volador, is the seat of the judiciary. Faced with the Supreme Court, an interesting monument which commemorates the founding of the Great Tenochtitlan.

That seemed like enough to go on, so I searched Google Maps for Palacio Nacional Mexico City, then looked Southeastish to find the Supreme Court building, and then zoomed in as far as I could and looked around the streets for the Monument. I found the likely spot and switched to Google Street View to verify - and it was it.

I called the patron, he gave me his email address, and I emailed him the link to the monument's location.

Oddly, I looked in our Mexico travel books under Monumento, Fundación, and even Estatua, but this statue doesn't seem to be included in any of them.

The funny thing is that, Mexico had never really been on my places to visit, but now I'd really like to go there.

And for those keeping track, behold, more evidence that the internet doesn't mean the end of libraries. Not only is everything not on the internet, but even when it is, not everyone can find it.

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New England Star Libraries

   March 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Star Libraries mapLibrary Journal recently released its list of America's Star Libraries. The rating were based on data collected in 2006, and, on the whole, was pretty interesting.

Jessamyn brought up some good points about the relevancy and awkwardness of it, though beyond her post and a cursory reading of the LJ article, at first I didn't pay much attention (other than to see how my library ranked in the Google spreadsheet version).

But then a coworker of mine pointed something out which got me to take a more in-depth look. She said:

Did anyone else think it was weird that LJ used per capita figures to rate a library and 8 of the 11 commended [Massachusetts] libraries were vacation destinations?

Her point was that per-capita numbers are unduly inflated in vacation spots, as tourists boost the stats when they come in to check email, catch a storytime or author talk on a rainy day, or check out beach-reads on guest cards.

I am a visual person (and like maps), so I plotted the New England star libraries in Google Maps. It turns out that an easy majority (but not all) can be considered vacation spots - near either the ocean or ski areas. I'm not trying to detract from these libraries, or to imply that they're not playing an important role by serving (my) vacationing patrons. It just seems that the data used for these ratings is a bit skewed. So double congratulations to landlocked flatlanders like Dover and Newton - you guys must definitely be doing something right.

The authors did touch on this, and the article's various online components also offer useful information. But if a library wants to improve its rating, the way to do that seems to be to pick up and relocate to either the coast or the mountains.

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Problems with Flickr’s Map

   May 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

flickr screenshotWhen I upload photos to flickr, I always try to place them on the map, if appropriate. When I started a flickr account for my library, I noticed that there was a problem with the map.

I work at the library in the town of Chelmsford, MA, which is situated right next door to the city of Lowell, MA. Lowell is much bigger, and if it had a "metro area," Chelmsford would be a part of it.

However, after having lived her for a couple years, I know that the two communities are very different. High school rivalries, traffic problems - heck, I even hear Chelmsford library patrons complain about Lowell patrons and the Lowell library. Community loyalty here runs as deep as the Merrimack River.

So, I was sort of startled to see flickr claiming that all the photos mapped for the library's account (which were taken in Chelmsford) were listed by flickr as "Taken in Lowell, Massachusetts" (as circled in red in the photo above).

When placing photos on their map, flickr encourages you to place it as locally as possible. Because of that, I was surprised to see their local locations that inaccurate. I wrote to flickr, explaining the situation and asking if they could be more accurate with their map. Here's the response I received (from two different flickr support techs on the same day, two days after I sent my message):

Hi Brian,

We are aware that there are some locations that might be reflecting an adjacent city or town, or an incorrect place name. In some cases a place name might reflect a town name that is no longer in use. Flickr uses map data from Yahoo! which in turn is provided by third party providers (most online maps you see are sourced this way).

We are developing methods to allow you, the knowledgeable member, to be able to contribute to local adjustments. We don't have a particular date in mind when we would be able to offer this, but please understand it is something we hope to provide in the very near future.


Not exactly the "hi, we're flickr, and we can do anything" kind of response I was hoping for, but I do understand the issue. I guess I just have to hold on until this feature becomes available, and explain to our patrons why it looks like the Chelmsford Library is actually in the city next door.
chelmsford, chelmsford library, chelmsford ma, flickr, flickr map, lowell, lowell ma, ma, map, mapping, maps, mass, massachusetts

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