19 April 2010

Some Things I Learned at Computers in Libraries

1. Resourceshelf.com reviews cool online reference resources daily.

2. Some Library systems are making great efforts to help patrons (young and old) create content that contributes to communities: checking out digital video cameras, providing training on video & audio editing software, supporting Web 2.0 communities like MySpace, Facebook, etc., having contests for kids to create digital artwork. They feel that this makes them more valuable to their patrons and more visible to politicians.

3. Many Libraries use Twitter, Facebook, and/or blogs to get the word out to patrons: new books/DVDs, programs, links to databases, appeals to contact politicians, etc. Some put a notice on the bottom of their receipts: “Follow us on Twitter @xyzlibrary” or “Join us on Facebook: xyzlibrary.” @prattlibrary is cited as a superb example of how a Library uses Twitter. One Nebraska library has a pet bird that sends out tweets and has hundreds of followers. Some Libraries report that newspaper reporters have picked up Twitter posts and showed up to write stories about programs, etc.

4. Some Librarians are just not cut out to be proofreaders. One presenter put up a slide that said “Gather as may sturdy brings as possible.” It was supposed to say “Gather as many sturdy bricks as possible.” I don't think she noticed.

5. Open Source systems are a great example of how you get what you pay for. Features that appear in one release (i.e. renewing an item) may suddenly disappear in the next. You need a good ISS department to succeed with an Open Source system.

6. Many Libraries use Google Analytics and Google Reader to find out what people are saying about their library and what people are looking for on their web pages. They adjust their emphasis accordingly.

7. One Library routinely searches for nearby Twitter posts that say things like “I’m going to the library” and answer accordingly: “We’re open until 5 today, we’ll look forward to seeing you.” Patrons are very impressed.

8. At Charlotte-Mecklenberg County PL, where they just laid off 120 staffers and are looking at a 50% budget cut in July, the Administration is so concerned about transparency and getting news to staff that one Administrator sends out twitter posts during Board meetings to keep the staff informed.

9. 80% of Americans own cell phones. By 2015, 2/3 of all mobile handsets will be smart phones. 43% own mp3 players.

10. Type in the address of your website at http://validator.w3.org/mobile/ and it will give you a score on how “mobile friendly” your site is – along with suggested changes to make it more mobile-friendly. Our website scored 3%. (That’s 3 out of 100.)

11. Visit www.worldcat.org/m/ to download a mobile-friendly Worldcat app for your phone. Use it to search holdings at your library. It’s probably more mobile-friendly than your own website.

12. One simple way to get more mobile-friendly is to set up a “charging station” in your branch where people can charge their phones, PDAs, laptops, etc.

13. The Ebook landscape is in constant flux. One presenter said, “Everything I say will be outdated by the time you leave this room.” Experts expect that Ebooks will move away from hardware-specific platforms (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iPad) toward standard formats that can be read on any hardware. In the long run, the Ebook market is expected to look like the music market does today. Black-and-white readers using e-ink technology (i.e. Kindle, Nook) are expected to become economy products very soon. By Christmas 2010, expect an under-$100 version, under $50 by mid-2011. Patrons will have greatly-increased demand for eBooks; if libraries don’t take that into account, we will become irrelevant.

14. We must accept that libraries are going to look very different in the future - in 20 years we will not need as many shelves - paper books are on the way out, especially among the younger generation.

Scratchpad Saves the Day - Again!

My coworker was helping a patron, and she turned to me. "This patrons says that a while ago you ordered a book for her on dream interpretation - do you remember which one it was?"

Did I panic? Did I laugh in the patron's face? Did I roll my eyes and say, "Yeah, sure, I remember every book I've ever ordered for anyone"?

Nope. I consulted my scratchpad, did a search for "dream," and soon found it: "I ordered Zolar's Encyclopedia of Dream Interpretation for someone on January 28th."

The patron nodded. "Yeah, it was at the end of January."

My coworker went to the shelves and pulled off Zolar's, and handed it to the patron. The patron thumbed through it and said, "Yes, this is the one." Success!


So what's a scratchpad? It's simple Notepad document that I keep open on my desktop whenever I'm on the public service desk. In it, I try to compulsively note down every interaction I have. Card numbers I look up, reference questions I answer, requests I place, equipment problems, who was on the desk with me, shelf checks, behavior problems, all those odd dribs and drabs of information that otherwise I would scribble on scrap paper and throw away. I don't get them all, because sometimes it's pretty busy, but I would say I manage to record a good 90-95%.

Here's what part of it looks like (I've edited out personal information):

1:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxx

1:10 PM 1/28/2010 phone 21997xxxxxxxxx what do i have checked out & when are they due?

1:10 PM 1/28/2010 phone do county libraries purchase used hardcover books?

1:14 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx request cdl general knowledge test - also: "bible correspondence book" (patron wanted a concordance)

1:42 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx new registration

1:57 PM 1/28/2010 pub04 problem printing yahoo chat conversation - due to layout of page by yahoo

5:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxxx

5:50 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx pub07 patron asked to verify his sam printing balance

6:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxxxxx

6:33 PM 1/28/2010 pub06 assistance with aacps.org magnet school acceptance website

6:51 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx request zolar's encyclopedia of dream interpretation

6:59 PM 1/28/2010 phone - are you open on president's day

7:07 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx look up card number

8:06 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx new registration, sam user instruction


This goes on, day after day, until I fill a whole year. Then I archive that document and start a new one for the new year.

It's fairly easy to do: in Notepad you can hit F5 to insert the current date and time, and I cut-and-paste library card numbers and such. I deliberately try to keep it brief so it won't take much time.

What's the point of all this obsessive notetaking? Because in one case out of a hundred, it comes in handy. Sometimes immediately: patron (without their card, of course) requests some books, then comes back 15 minutes later to request more -- I don't have to look up their number again. Patron says they requested a book two weeks ago and forgot to get it, doesn't remember what it was -- I search by card number and find the title. We're having an information survey and I suddenly realize that I haven't filled out anything for the past three hours -- everything I need is right there.

Am I suggesting that everyone do this? No. (If I did suggest it, would people do it? It is to laugh.) But I CAN testify that it's something I've found useful. If you want to do something similar, give me a call or drop me an email.


PS: It helps if you're a little obsessive-compulsive to begin with.