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

NELA2010: Trends in Reference

   October 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Pingsheng Chen and Laura KohlSession notes from a great NELA2010 interactive discussion on reference and where it's headed:

A panel of experienced reference librarians explores the ever-changing landscape of reference service, with particular emphasis on implementing new and emerging technologies. Panelists include Laura Kohl from Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, Eleanor Sathan from Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA, and Pingsheng Chen from Worcester (MA) Public Library.

Laura Kohl - What Bryant University is Doing

  • Offer text (using a Droid rather than online), email, IM
  • Goal has been to differentiate librarians from Google and add value "Librarians: the thinking search engine"
  • Bryant's mission is to be high-touch and hands-on - they don't just offer access, they provide instruction to make sure people know how to use things
  • All reference desks computers are dual monitor/keyboard (one faces staff, one faces patron), so it's easy for students to participate in the search, rather than just watch
  • Use Jing to create on-the-fly instructional screencasts for chat and email reference questions. These are uploaded to Jing's server, which archives them for reuse

How to patrons know what is available? Marketing all over the place.

  • Word of mouth - go into classrooms, tell people it's okay to interrupt us"
  • Hang up tear-off sheets all around campus (including in the bathrooms)
  • Have imprinted scrap paper at the desk with library contact information at the bottom
  • Use Moo Cards for business cards to hand out. Also used clear labels to add more contact information to the back of the standard business cards
  • On Twitter, Facebook (include redundant links to everything, which helps when regular website is unavailable), integrate into Blackboard
  • Use digital signage using rotating powerpoints, images, or anything else - these are in the library and throughout campus
  • QR codes on signs to go to websites or download contact information into students' smart phones

How to measure success?

  • Qualitative - comments from students (email, texts, etc)
  • Quantitative - track stats (face-to-face, phone, text, email, IM) - face-to-face is going down but students staying longer, and IMs are way up

Pingsheng Chen - What Worcester Library is Doing

Worcester is 3rd largest city in New England (behind Boston and Providence)

Trend 1: People need a librarian more than every

  • Across the country, library use is going up
  • Nature of questions have changed - fewer questions that can be handled in the traditional way, and knowing the collection is no longer enough

Trend 2: Reference librarians are reinventing themselves to make a wide range of new reference services available to meet users' current expectations

  • Provide learning opportunities for users, especially for job seekers (computer books, job search/resume help, workshops)
  • Provide personal assistance for job seekers or others (consult with a librarian, resume/cover letter help, set up LinkedIn or email account)
  • Provide virtual reference services - email, chat (QuestionPoint), text (My Info Quest), ebooks and databases for online 24x7 reference (and build Gale bookshelf)
  • Use web 2.0 and social networking tools to provide help in more than one way and in more than one place - blog, wiki, delicious links, Bookletters, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (do them all, because patrons have their own preferences)

Trend 3: Reference services have a bright but challenging future. So, with less money and less staff, we must...

  • provide public and free access to ideas and information
  • stay current with new technologies and new resources and be able to teach users those information tools and skills
  • offer a wide range of reference services to meet users where they are and connect people to information that matters in their lives
  • Bottom line: meet users' current expectations (it's about their experience)

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NELA2010: Easy Website Mashups

   October 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

ChelmsfordHistory.org/Resources.html pageAs part of NELA2010, I'm doing a poster session on Quick and Easy Website Mashups - very simple ways to add more information and utility to library websites.

The image at right is an example of the Resources page on the ChelmsfordHistory.org website (a town-wide history project my library participates in). Embedded in the page are four different mashups, which makes it both more useful to researchers, and easier to maintain. Win-win.

If you're interested in seeing easy examples of adding more content to your website, check it out.

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NELA2010: Trends in Tech Services

   October 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I'm at the NELA 2010 annual conference Monday and Tuesday this week, albeit without wifi or open power outlets in the rooms. As a result, my postings will be few and far between, but this session was a good one:

NELA2010 - Trends Tech Services speakersTrends, Trends, Trends: Innovations in Technical Services, Collections and More

What is going on that is leading us to change the way we work “behind the scenes” in our libraries? The Academic Librarians Section (ALS) and the Association of College and Research Libraries/New England chapter (ACRL/NEC) sponsor Consultants Margaret Lourie and Stephen Spohn to examine issues and trends in technical services, cataloging, and the acquisition and maintenance of physical and virtual collections, e-resources and e-books. Explore the larger issues at work that bring new opportunities to provide more resources to users, make it easier for them to find information they need and do all this more effectively and efficiently.

The Past Environment

  • Libraries are warehouses of information (books/serials)
  • Monopoly on search - they have to come to us and do it our way
  • Information in discrete packaging - silos do not overlap
  • Low user expectation - they get what they needed, maybe, and go away
  • Big building, print collection owned, repository of physical artifacts, you have to come to us
  • Catalog is inventory of what you own (later also what we have access to, or lease)
  • All cataloging and reference work done in-house (sense that it was our duty to catalog the internet)
  • Plenty of staff to do the work
  • Sense of "we know what the patrons need" - relates to what was selected, how it was cataloged, where it was shelved

Work flow was like assembly line

  • must follow the rules in all aspects (TS, reference, circ, etc)
  • patron needs take backseat to process (fear of "doing it wrong" prevents "just doing it right" [according to patron's point of view])

We don't need to throw everything out, but we do need to question the rules to see what is holding us back.

Today's world

  • Information and tools are created on the fly by millions of people and is available instantly (gone is the idea of librarians cataloging the internet)
  • Mix of owned and leased, digital and physical, common and unique, print-on-demand (feeds into instant-info idea - don't need things on the shelf, just print when people want it), ebooks - libraries are going to own less and less of their materials (this is being driven by vendors and shifting business models) - focus must shift to community space
  • Others do search better than us, our job is to help filter, not find (search results are not good enough) - we try to compete, but we're losing
  • High user expectation - patrons want simple, complex choices24x7, personalized, all electronic, and easy
  • Disaggregation of discrete information packages - full-text articles available, aggregated databases and journal sources becoming less important (can buy individual articles, not just entire journal or entire database)
  • Buying books is easier for patrons, because they don't need to keep track of due dates and have library staff make them feel like bad people over $0.25 late fees (use Netflix model - patrons pay a few dollars a month and can keep things as long as they want)
  • Catalog should be directory of what you have access to (not inventory of owned materials)

Environmental factors

  • People are mobile and want to be social
  • Different devices have different capabilities and requirements
  • New role for libraries: foster learning and knowledge, collaboration with community and community service
  • We must constantly respond to changes and trends in technology
  • Bad economy means
    • we need to justify all spending (inherent value is no longer a given - we always try to shield patrons from budget cuts, so how do they know we're in trouble if they never see the blood?)
    • less money for resources
    • we have fewer staff with more work, so we need to maximize staff resources
      • we need to be more efficient
      • eliminate unnecessary tasks (ask yourself, "do anyone care about what I'm doing" for ever task you do)
      • accept "good enough" cataloging (only what patrons need to find information, not exhaustively complete records (for example, patrons/parents want books in a series, and MARC does not do series well - then we should bend the rules so we can provide this service)
    • move work out of the library
    • automate (self-check)
    • accept that we may have to DO LESS

How does all this affect TS

  • Avalanche of new content to deal with - not just owned print anymore, streaming, unique
  • Focus needs to be on user needs
  • multiple metadata schemes
  • Collaborating and contribution

What to call patrons?

  • users, patrons, clients, customers, members?
  • ask them, see what they say - it's all about the relationship

How would we organize libraries from scratch starting today?

  • we collect things - collection development, preservation, resource sharing
  • allow patrons to discover them - metadata (it's not just about us anymore) and discovery, reference and advisory, patron experience, borrowing
  • publish things - user-contributed content, local publications, digital repositories
  • transform - instruct patrons on how to move forward, recombining information

Look at what "summon" search can do (from Serial Solutions)- MARVEL does it. Its "preharvested" search results from designated sources - catalog, databases - better than federated search because it's fast and single search box ("Unified" search).

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Upcoming Book Conferences

   October 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

For those in New England, the coming weeks have a few book-related conferences worth attending. I'll definitely be at the first two, but not sure about the third:

Boston Book Festival logoBoston Book Festival - Saturday, October 16th
The Boston Book Festival is a day-long event, filled with talks from authors and illustrators and others in the book field. All the events are around Copley Square in Boston, and everything is free. I'm going to try to see Chipp Kidd, Bill Bryson, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeff Kinney, and anyone else I can find - not to mention renew my library card at the BPL.

NELA2010 logoNew England Library Association 2010 Annual Conference - Oct 17 - 19th
This year's NELA conference is in Boxborough, MA, and should be a good time (as always). Highlights (for me) are the talk on censorship by Joe Raiola (senior Editor of MAD magazine), seeing Ethan Zuckerman again, a talk on Open Source ILS' by Stephanie Chase and Pamela Soren Smith - and I'll be doing a poster session on library website mashups.

Why Books logoWhy Books? - Oct 28 -29th
Hosted by Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, "'Why Books?' probes the form and function of the book in a rapidly changing media ecology. Speakers from a variety of disciplines—literature and history to sociology and computer science—will discuss the public-policy implications of new media forms and will explore some of the major functions that we identify with books today: production and diffusion; storage and retrieval; and reception and use."

Busy busy busy. And if you're ever looking for a book-related event, remember to check out LibraryThing.com/local for events in your area - and also add your library's events there for more exposure.

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NELA-ITS Workshop on Ebooks

   June 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Book PodiumI'm at the Portland (ME) Public Library today, for the ebook workshop from the New England Library Association's IT Section.

I'll be live-blogging, so check back for updates, and also follow others with #nela on Twitter.

Notes from Elizabeth Thomson

  • Idea for using ereaders in libraries: buy one for the ILL department, for them to download public domain books to and loan, instead of the patron waiting weeks to request all those out-of-print books from far-away libraries.
  • Idea for doing ebook collection development: buy the trash romance or how-to sex manuals that someone would by too embarrassed to buy or check out or be seen reading on the subway
  • "The Kindle is about reading, not the device." It seems to me the iPad is the opposite - it needs to dazzle people with movement and flashy colors, which either enhances the text, or terminally distracts from it, depending on your point of view.
  • Ebooks needs a business models - publishers, bookstores, libraries need their own. People buying print books because they feel guilty or don't want bookstores/libraries to die out is not a business model. People will do what's most convenient in the end, regardless of how they feel.

Notes from Tom Corbett, Cushing Academy

  • Libraries need to be in the reading an research (information) business, not the book inventory business (just like people who used to be in the horse and buggy business instead of the transportation business went out of business)
  • Cushing's logic: books are no longer the best approach for their goal (supporting 9-12 students), library staff were focus on the wrong skills (inventory management rather than information access and aggregating data), provide 21st century education with 21st century tools (kids also learn how to use technology, which is important for the future)
  • "It's not information overload, it's filter failure"
  • Brutal Facts:
    1. Most high quality information will never be free
    2. Information in the 21st century is almost entirely created and delivered digitally
    3. By it's nature digitization ties information technology and information literacy together
    4. The filters and skills need to successfully navigate the digital world are not the same as the pre-digital world
    5. Libraries need Digital Rights Management (DRM)
    6. There will be a better medium for reading than paper (it's the content, not the paper)
    7. It doesn't really matter what libraries think. Markets happen. (Kindle is Amazon's #1 best-selling and highest-rated product)
  • Digital content delivery should be "just in time" not "just in case" (which is what print is, and also Overdrive's model of collection-development-by-ownership) - focus on managing access, not managing collection inventory
  • EBook Library gets it right with "non-linear lending" - you get access to hundreds of thousands of titles, and libraries pay rental fee when the book is checked out (also option to buy if a title is heavily used). You get X number of hours of book use, which can be mixed and matched amongst titles that get used - you pay for the use of your patrons, not an inventory of ebooks

Notes from Jeffrey Mayersohn, Harvard Book Store
Speaking about the Espesso print-on-demand machine. This is the way of the future, because Amazon has way more inventory than can be kept in a single location.

But the single location is the advantage that bookstores have - local staff, local interest, and with print-on-demand, local production of that same large inventory. Use bookstore shelves to be well-curated showroom.

Books never die, because with print-on-demand, everything stays in print. Also much easier for new authors to promote their self-published books.

  • 1/3 (about 34) of Espresso machines are in libraries (many also in academic book stores)
  • Replace copies for very old, out-of-print copies
  • Provide copies of rare book collections to patrons

What's next?

  • Full color interiors
  • Expanded public domain access
  • Expand access to "current" books
  • Continued publishing of local authors

Notes from Emily Smith, Belmont Public Library
Donor provided 16 Kindles to circ at library

How we circ:

  • 14 days, 1 renewal (same as book)
  • Local requests only, check in and out at Belmont circ desk only - must turn it on to see it works at check out and check in
  • 1 per person, $1 fine per day, $259 replacement cost, $15 charger, $35 cover
  • No age restriction, but we mostly buy non-kids title to limit kid interest, and circ them from the adult section
  • Circ in padded bag with charger, laminated policy, Kindle with leather cover, Getting Started guide
  • Put VHS box on shelf with titles listed on back, and when someone wants Kindle they bring the box to the circ desk, where Kindles are kept


  • Purchase alerts, holds list, bestseller lists
  • 75% fiction
  • Amazon requires credit card to purchase, which the library doesn't have, so we have corporate account (which is paid via purchase order and gift cards and person account - it is complicated)
  • We deregister when it circs, and ask patrons not to register to their account (which they can do, and add content, but if it doesn't get deregistered then other patrons can buy books on that first patron's account


  • Turning it on/off has been a challenge for some patrons - switch is very small. Some patrons put it to sleep rather than turning it off, and screen saver kills the battery
  • Some patrons delete books accidentally - library can get the books back free, but it is a pain
  • 5-way control is difficult to use, but people eventually figure it out
  • Doesn't work with Overdrive, not all titles are available through Amazon, and not all titles have text-to-speech
  • Be sure to get the 2-year extended warranty, which makes replacing damaged devices easier

Notes from Gerry Deyermond, Memorial Hall Library (Andover, MA)
Use Audible.com for eAudio digital audiobooks, and circ library's Otis players as well as download to patrons' devices.

Most users are 40+. Patrons can request downloads by email, and work out time with staff when to come in to download. Use Excel to track circulation (players circ for 3 weeks).

MVLC also uses Overdrive - this has picked up the slack for patrons who can't get to the library Almost 10,000 iPod-compatible book circs since 9/2009; almost 1,000 ebook downloads since 5/2010.

Notes from Chris Cooper, Southern New Hampshire University
Use 2-pronged approach to ebooks

  1. Ebook Downloads for popular works: Sony eReady and Kindle, patron-driven - library will buy any book under $25
  2. Ebook Databases for academic/professional titles: databases such as NetLibrary, Books 24x7, Sarafi Tech Books, ACLS Humanities ebooks to support business, IT psychology and other programs

Ebook Downloads

  • Successes: Positive publicity (mentioned on campus tour), efficient use of funds, broad popular content availability, show engagement with technology
  • Challenges: Consumer product, work flow issues (only tech services can load books, which slows things down), rarely find academic titles students need, number of units (5 kindles, 2 eReaders), registration, damage to devices

Ebook Databases

  • Successes: 24x7 remote access, professional publications, up-to-date and complete (no missing CDs), integration with the catalog (easier to find), e-reserve, full-text searchable (huge advantage for research)
  • Challenges: DRM eccentricities (each database is different, none are very good), multiple interfaces (patrons want content, so unfamiliar interfaces are a barrier and we lose people), cost (always have annual contracts - difference between owning content and buying access to content), finding specific titles (we can always find content, but not always exactly what they want)

Questions and Answers from Panel Discussion
Any childrens books on ebooks? Like Tumblebooks?
Belmont didn't put them on, because we want adults to be more careful with the devices. Nashua uses Tumblebooks and people like them. Cushing still actively collects print picture books.

Do teachers "silo" their class material and not use library eresources?
They do, because they always have, but we're working with them to show them how they can use ereserve and other tools for class. The focus needs to be on the students, and what works best for them.

Do people purchase or lease Espresso machine?
Harvard Book Store leased it, but other people buy them. However, there are also leasing companies.

How has the School Library Association viewed what is happening at Cushing?
They're both skeptical and interested, and want feedback on how it goes.

What kind of budget does Cushing have?
The space redesign and purchase of ereaders came out of the capital budget, not library budget. This year the econtent budget is coming from the library budget. It all happened before Tom was there, so not sure of the figure, but it's hundred of thousands of dollars.

If students have their own laptops/devices, why does the library offer ereaders?
Kindles only do reading, whereas other devices have lots of distractions built-in, and we want to focus on literacy.

How have faculty accept the change, technically?
To do this well, the administration must require adoption, but there was a lot of buy-in from faculty. There is also ongoing back-and-forth discussion, so we're all working together to meet the goal requirement.

By deauthorizing Kindles, does that turn off Amazon's big brother aspect or monitoring, and can use track highlighting and other activity for statistics?
We delete most patron activity, and never thought to track it.

Do you backup Kindle books?
Once you register a Kindle, all the books stay in your account and you can download them as many times as you want. You can backup locally on your server, but you need to sync it to your computer, and is just more difficult that relying on Amazon.

How do you provide students access to color content, like graphic novels?
We don't really - we never had much of a graphic novels collection and students haven't asked. But it's a trade off, because there are things the devices let you do that can't be done with print.

Espesso machine - what is the cost, and is there a backlog?
Cost of each book depends on source - publisher books (in copyright) are same price as book on the shelf (machine does this automatically, and store loses money on some books); for Google books we charge $8.00, which averages 400 pages, so we were losing money so now it depends on page count - $10-$20 average cost now; self-published set price with author, usually $9 cost and $15 retail, which is better for authors than they would get with a publisher. You can also order online and we will delivery locally via bike-delivery

Do Kindles need certain staff to make them work?
Only for downloading and fixing - check in and out goes through the circ desk so any staff can do it, including the 4-5 minute demo of how it works and checking to see if the titles are there

Are you concerned about the lack of physical ownership of Kindle content, and whether you'll be able to use it in the future?
Belmont: not really, because all the titles we have we also own in print, and are popular, so we think that when the interest in these titles die off, we won't need them any more
SNHU: We expect that to be the case, and it's all about cost - if we get the value out of the book via circs, we don't worry about the future
Cushing: We don't worry about it

What percentage of SNHU is eresources? And is it growing to accommodate Cushing students who expect digital resources?
Databases and downloads are right about the same, but nothing drastic is happening - print is staying steady.

What factors drive book sales for Harvard Book Store?
The general economy is very noticeable in the bookstore, but sales have increased each month this year. I haven't noticed any real affect with the advent of ebook readers - most customers say they like books, but use ebooks for travel (so in that respect it is a niche product). Sales of new hard covers (the most expensive) are the sales that are increasing. Our author events (over 200/year) really drive sales - not unusual to draw 600 people - authors can't sign ebooks

Libraries can offer more than one device, as a way to allow patrons to try the technology and use Overdrive titles.

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NELA 2009 Annual Conference

   October 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The 2009 annual conference of the New England Library Association starts this weekend in Hartford, CT.

I'll be there for just Sunday and Monday, but I'm not sure yet which sessions I'll attend. I'll be blogging again this year, along with other attendees, so check out our notes at http://nelib.wordpress.com. Also, look for Twitter updates with the #nela09 hashtag*.

If you'll be in Hartford, let me know or keep an eye out for me - I have no plans for Sunday evenings and always like meeting people.



*While searching Twitter to figure out what the hashtag would be, I happened to find @NELAsecrets - anyone know about this? It led to http://nelasecrets.wordpress.com and uses Twittermail for updates (a la @alasecrets and @alasecrets2009). I tried it, but it seems like Twittermail is down and unresponsive. Too bad - I'm full of secrets.

Also while searching, I found another NELA conference - but sadly, we just missed it.

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