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

This Is Why I Like Working In A Library

   February 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

My library's One Book Chelmsford selection this year is Townie, by Andre Dubus, and the kick-off event was last weekend.

To promote the book with patrons, we decided to hang up a punching bag right next to the circulation desk, so it's the first thing people see when coming into the library. Pretty neat, huh? Plus, since we didn't want to permanently attach it to the wall or ceiling, they let me build a stand for it:

It's nothing fancy, but I like woodworking and carpentry, and any excuse to use power tools is a good one. The wood and hardware cost about $30, and we bought the bag itself on Craigslist for $15, so it's not too much money for a pretty eye-catching display. And in how many other jobs would I get to do something like this?

Patrons seem to really like it too - especially kids. We encourage people to try it, and I'm pretty sure it won't fall over (we tested it). We still haven't decided what to do with it afterwards, but we've got a few months. Who knows - maybe we'll just catalog it and add it to the circulating collection for people to check out.

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Online Polls, and Voting for the One Book

   November 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford One Book logoFor the third year in a row, my library is conducting a One Book program. The way we choose the book is to have a committee narrow down all suggestions to three finalists, and then let townspeople vote (today, election day) to decide the winner.

The voting is done by visiting the schools and passing out ballots, and also by setting up tables at some of the actual polling places around town. We do this not only to get the townspeople to vote, but also to raise awareness of the program and the library.

This year, we're also doing online voting. We created a "ballot" on our website (more on this below), and also set up a "voting booth" just inside the the library's front door. We evaluated five different options for free online polls, and in the end decided to use PollDaddy (it's also what Elizabeth Thomsen recommends).

[Note: for the purposes of this post, I'm linking to example polls, not our real polls - I don't want our totals being thrown off, after all]

Review of Online Poll Options
PollDaddy logoI want to point out that all of these polling websites provided the code to embed the poll right in our website (an example of making the library website more interactive and interesting by providing "information in context").

Each poll also had pros and cons, and here's a quick rundown of what we liked and didn't like. Keep in mind that these preferences are based on our needs for running a voting project - for a different kind of poll, we'd have different criteria.


  • Pro: control over layout (can add book covers or catalog links); prevents repeat voting
  • Con: results loads in different page (includes ads)


  • Pro: most visually-appealing
  • Con: requires flash plug-in; interface slightly confusing; can't change look; links to other peoples' polls; does not prevent repeat voting


  • Pro: control over layout (can add book covers and catalog links); prevents repeat voting
  • Con: results loads in different page (includes ads)


  • Pro: most features and options
  • Con: have to create an account; too powerful for this simple application


  • Pro: randomizes order; results shown on same page; prevents repeat voting; can add book covers
  • Con: can't change layout after selection style; have to create an account

Library's One Book Voting boothOne Book Online Voting
So based on these criteria, we went with PollDaddy. The only major omission after I got everything set up was that there was nowhere to include summaries of the books (unless it was part of the book cover image). Because of this, each ballot had to be two columns, one with summaries and one with the voting. Not perfect, but acceptable.

Something else I liked about PollDaddy were all the options it offered, and we had to use them differently in this case. Although our website ballot and library voting booth ballot essentially look the same, I had to create different polls to run each. The reason for this is that we don't allow multiple votes on the website ballot, but since we're using the same computer for the library voting booth (shown here), we did need to allow multiple voting.

Other settings we're using for these polls are to randomize the answers, set a closing date of midnight tonight, turn off comments (un-2.0, I know, but comments are not needed in this case), and to embed the book covers to make checking the right radio button easier. I really like that the results are displayed on the same page as the ballot, so the patron is always within our website, and isn't exposed to someone else's advertisements.

So far, the polls have been open for about four hours, and the voting is going well. The library voting booth is definitely attracting attention. Not only am I looking forward to finding out which book won, but also how many votes we get through the website.

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Preparing the Empire Falls Parade Float

   July 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Float photoI don't know if this is bad luck, along the same lines seeing a bride before her wedding, but here are a couple "before" photos of my library's float for Chelmsford's 4th of July Parade [pdf].

Since we did a One Town, One Book program this year featuring Richard Russo's Empire Falls, that's the theme chosen for the float. It is supposed to look like the inside of the Empire Grill, a diner featured in the story, and people will be dressed in character passing out copies of the book, pins and magnets.

On the right side of the picture is the diner's door, and on the far left is a backdrop painted to look like an average scene from a New England mill town (the backdrop is also a wooden Very Large Book). The dinery part will be in the middle, complete with counter, table, chairs, menus, ketchup bottles, etc.

I'm sure it will look better at the parade tomorrow.

Float photoAnd for my part, instead of riding on the float, I made the "Empire Grill" sign. It is supposed to look like a neon diner sign, but I think it looks like what it is - some plastic tubing spray-painted neon orange nailed to a piece of plywood spray-painted black. But at least people will be far away, and it'll be moving.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

chelmsford, chelmsford library, chelmsford public library, empire falls, empire grill, float, libraries, library, one book, one town one book, parade, parade float, public libraries, public library, richard russo, chelmsford public library

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What is the Library Expanding into?

   November 9th, 2006 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford One Book One Town logoAs part of my library's "One Book" program, I spent the evening of Election Day at a local polling place, asking people to vote for their choice for "One Book." Overall it was a positive experience, in that I felt like a lot of people were interested in voting and supporting the library.

However, this is the first time I've ever been in the wild on behalf of the library, and it was really eye-opening. I mean, I spend most of my time either in the library helping people who come to me (who therefore are supportive library users), or in talking with other librarians (or reading their blogs).

So, I was really surprised by some of the reactions I got at the polling place as I asked people to vote for the book they would like to read. Of course there was what I expected ("sure," and "hey, that's a neat idea") and what I was happy to hear ("oh, I read about this in the paper," and "the library is so great"), but there was also the other extreme.

I guess it is because I am fairly surrounded with pro-library people (and those forward-thinking pro-library 2.0'ers) that I was so unprepared for that other extreme. Here's a sampling of a few of the answers I got to me asking "Would you like to vote for the Library's One Book Program?":

  • No, I don't read.
  • Hahahahaha...
  • What the hell is the point of the entire town reading the same book?
  • I've never heard of any of these books.
  • Can't you see that I don't have time for this?
  • Do I get a prize?
  • The library? Why do you even bother?

And these comments didn't come from rowdy/disrespectful toughie kids - these comments came from adults. Not that I was upset or scarred by any of this, just surprised. It was such a far cry from all of the "you have to do IM reference and offer RSS feeds to survive" kind of talk that I usually hear.

As a public librarian, I really do include everyone who lives in town (and beyond) under the "patron" umbrella, and not just students, or parents of storytime kids, or some other target market segment. I guess this really stuck with me because it was a very definite demonstration that, no matter what the library does, and no matter how we use technology to reach out with service, there will always be people we want to serve that we never will.

But since that's far too melancholy a note on which to end this post, how about this: a hotdog walks into a bar and asks for a beer. The bartender looks at him and says, "sorry, we don't serve food."

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