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

Coming Soon: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

   August 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial LibraryKurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, and I first read many of his books at a time when my personality and outlook on life were still impressionable as wet cement. His writing style, and both of us being from the Midwest, played a large part in my love of reading and writing.

So I'm happy to hear that the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is opening in his home town of Indianapolis in this Fall.

It is fitting to call it a library, because he was certainly a prolific writer and a great supporter of libraries. However, the description on the website makes it sound more like a museum, community center and art gallery. It's collection will house many of his letters and works and so will be a research center, and they also plan to publish a literary magazine and sponsor writers workshops.

They have a newsletter and are on Facebook, and all of it makes me really look forward to visiting.

via LISNews

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Free Access to Ancestry.com’s Military Resources

   November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ancestry.com logoIn honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.

An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including

...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.

Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.

via LibraryStuff

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New York Times x2

   December 11th, 2008 Brian Herzog

New York Times front page from July 29th, 1974Yesterday must have been National New York Times day - I learned two news ways to access articles from the NYT, completely coincidentally.

The first way was the arrival of a book I ordered for our Reference Collection, The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008. The oversized book itself is 300+ front pages from significant days since 1851, and it also comes with every front page contained on a set of DVDs.

Of course, the first thing we did was look up our birthdays, and so far no one was born on a significant day. But we found them in the very easy-to-use, PDF-based, DVDs. No special programs need to be installed, everything worked first time, etc.

Which makes me more comfortable having this book in the Reference Collection - people don't need to take it home if the DVDs work flawlessly on our computers, and the PDFs are ready-formatted to print on 8.5"x11" paper. Reading them is easier electronically when you can zoom in, but the book also comes complete with magnifying lens.

The second way was through Google News search. Not that I was surprised, but I had just never noticed before that Google News added "Archives" links to the left side of the search results page. Clicking into the 1800's, the matches were for-pay links into the Washington Post, but also free full-text links into the NYT. I knew the NYT had made their archive available, but having their articles show up in a context search like this is very useful. Plus, when you click through into the story, there is a link for a PDF version of the original newsprint, which I think qualifies as a primary source.

So, a good day for historical research using the New York Times.

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EBSCO Taking Blogs Seriously

   August 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

EBSCOhost logoThis email came in to my work address yesterday from EBSCO:

Dear EBSCO Customer,

Some of you have asked us to consider adding full text blog content to our databases, which would have no impact on the cost of your subscriptions.

Before we move forward with this idea, we would like your opinion. Below is a link to a quick, five-question survey. Your answers will help us to gauge the value of adding this type of content to certain EBSCO databases.


Please note that we would only consider using “vetted” blogs, and would provide you with the option of disabling access to blogs.

Thank you for your participation in this survey. We will carefully evaluate all responses, as they represent a very important part of our product development process.

I don't know what criteria will be used in the "vetting" process, but I was very happy to see this initiative.

They aren't saying they are absolutely doing this; they are saying they see an emerging source of potentially reliable information, and are asking us what we think about it.

Imagine - getting our input to help design a product that we will use. Thank you, EBSCO.

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/4/08

   May 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) A few weeks ago, I got an email at the library from a librarian working towards a Masters Degree in American Studies. She was researching Mark Twain, and specifically whether public libraries during his life censored his works.

She was contacting all the libraries in the country that were open at the time (Chelmsford's Adams Library is usually dated at 1894, but various library associations in the town date to the 1790's), hoping our accession records would indicate which Twain books were held by the library, and whether they were shelved as adult or childrens books.

Up until this question, I had a vague understanding that we had old library records, but I didn't know how extensive they were, what condition they were in, or what was in them. So I was happy to get this question, as in the course of helping someone, I also had an excuse to check out these records.

It turns out, there is a lot in the library archive. Much of it are treasurer reports or invoice logs, and were either uninteresting (to me) or indecipherable (just columns and columns of numbers). But I also found library member rolls from the late 1800's, and one ledger even had the circulation history of the patrons (all done in longhand).

But getting down to brass tacks, I was very happy to find book lists from the era, which listed the books, author, publisher, date, call number, and a few other things. And it turned out that there were two libraries operating in Chelmsford at the time, which were later merged into the single library I work in today. So, I was able to research this question in both sets of records.

But here's the best part: one book in the archive was entitled "List of Books (not all juvenile) for Boys" and was prepared by Librarian Emma J. Gay. It consisted of handwritten pages broken up into sections (Stories, History, Biography, Travel, Scientific, Natural History, Games and Amusements, and Miscellaneous). The title page, along with a title page for each section, was professionally typeset and printed, and the whole book was professionally bound in hardcover.

In the Stories section, there is the following entry:

Clemens, S. L. (Mark Twain)
   Adventures of Tom Sawyer 1505 [accession number]
   Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1803 [accession number]

I really want to do something with this book, but I don't know what. I'm guessing it dates to the 1880's, and it was interesting flipping through seeing what books back then appealed to boys.

And for the record, here are the Mark Twain holdings I could locate in the archive:

Title Author1 Date Call No.2 Source3
Adventures of Tom Sawyer S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1881 c625.2 NCLA
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1885 c625.1 NCLA
A Tramp Abroad Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1889 c914.8 NCLA
The Innocents Abroad S. L. Clemens "Mark Twain" 1894 c625.2 NCLA
Prince and Pauper Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.7 CFPL
Adventures of Tom Sawyer Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.13 CFPL
Sketches New and Old Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.9 CFPL
American Claimant Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.1 CFPL
Joan of Arc / Personal Reflections of Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1896 c55.2 CFPL
A Tramp Abroad Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1896 c87.22 CFPL
1: It was interesting to see the different ways his name was written, and that "Mark Twain" was always secondary
2: Most of these are a mystery to me
3: NCLA: North Chelmsford Library Association; CFPL: Chelmsford Free Public Library

Some of the records were too fragile to use, and some of the handwriting illegible, so I don't think this is a complete list. I emailed what I found to the patron, and she was very happy, and it was fun to this kind of real historical research for a change.

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Information Wants To Be Free

   March 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

free informationIn the wake of the recent announcements of companies ditching DRM* as a mechanism to control access to audio files, the New York Times is reporting that Sports Illustrated is opening up access to its entire archive.

The Times did this itself not too long ago, as did Atlantic Monthly, but SI's project is supposed to go a step further - not just text, but they're making available their photographs and video and everything. They're also including a handy search interface that lets people search by athlete, team, coach, year, etc.

Hopefully, more and more periodicals will start making their archives available, too (after all, Information Wants To Be Free). This of course would dramatically change the relationships libraries have with long-time vendors like EBSCO, NewsBank and Proquest, but information is information. If all the information is free, then the real value-added piece becomes the interface.

By the way, I found about this through The Huffington Post. I've also read recently about a few more free online resources:

*update: OverDrive just announced (at PLA, anyway) that they, too, are finally moving in the right direction. In June they'll start offering mp3 files - which, best of all, will be iPod-compatible. And they'll finally come out with a Mac interface, too. Read the entire announcement [pdf, 70kb].

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