Monthly Archives: December 2006

Common Sense vs. Allen County

In the never-ending saga of Libraries Who Make Unbelievably Bad Decisions, the Allen County Public Library has just entered itself as a front-runner. Steven Cohen of Library Stuff points to an article in the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana that discusses library fines.

The problem? There are children with fines in excess of $700.

The 10-year-old is being held responsible by the Allen County Public Library for $778 in fines and replacement costs of items checked out in his name. The 5-year-old is also facing fines and replacement fees, although Mason isn’t sure how large those fees are. Mason says library officials won’t tell him. He’ll have to take the child to the library and have him ask how much he owes.

But how do a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old pay such hefty fines? Mason says he’s been told that when they are 18 they’ll be sued for it. Meanwhile, because they owe large fines, they can’t use the library.

Mason doesn’t think that’s right. How can you hold a preschooler and an elementary student responsible for huge fines? At some point, he says, the parent or adult guardian at the time of the abuse has to assume responsibility.

“If I sign for my kid to get a library card, I’m responsible as an adult,” Mason says.

It’s a sticky situation, and it shows how complicated the law can get, says Jeff Krull, library director. Parents don’t have to sign for library cards for their children. This policy allows students coming in with school groups to get cards.

There are a zillion issues with this. Doesn’t this library have a limit on its fines? Personally, I have an issue with fining children – we want them to use the library, to develop a love of books and reading…and then we fine ’em if they don’t return the book they’ve just fallen in love with in a timely fashion. Of course we want the materials returned. But is it really necessary to charge an overdue fee?

Anyway, this library has fines. Whatever. The part that I find fascinating is that “parents don’t have to sign for library cards for their children.” SO…a three-year old can come in and get a library card? Without Mom and Dad giving their OK? I’ve got bad news for the library – if you’re considering the library card application a legal document that would assign responsibility for materials and fines to the signer….then the signer had better be a legal adult. The library is going to SUE these kids for back fines when they turn 18??? Good luck.

In the meantime, they’ve guaranteed that these kids will never step foot in a library again.



Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship

Jeans and books that fit?

I’ve never had a pair of jeans that fit me properly.  Back in the day only men’s jeans were available, and my figure is such that a pair of pants designed for a man will not fit me.  At.  All.  By the time I got them over my hips, the waist was so big they’d fall off when I sat down.

Enter women’s jeans.  Better, but still not great.

It’s gotten to the point that I rarely wear jeans, since I can never find a pair that are 1) comfortable and  2) flattering.

Enter Zafu at  They have an online questionnaire that, if it works properly, will find the pair of jeans that will fit you.  I’ve ordered the ones they recommend for me; I’ll let you know.

This all got me thinking, of course.  Let’s have some computer wizard design a book recommendation program.  What kind of book do you enjoy reading?  Mysteries?  Romance?  Westerns?  Biographies?  Are there authors that you like?  Time periods?  Swearing OK?  Violence?  Now….press the button, and you get a customized reader’s advisory.

I know that librarians do this all the time.  But if we had a tool like this on our library websites, it might intrigue people enough to try it….and then try books and authors they might not have tried.

So….I’m not a computer whiz.  Who out there will create this?

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Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship, Me and mine

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today, I took the plunge and began a blog. I find myself now telling people that I’ve written about something interesting on the blog. Have you checked the blog? Oh – check out the blog! You can find it on the blog…


Nevertheless, it has been an interesting experience. I’m enjoying writing regularly, and have enjoyed getting to interact with folks I normally wouldn’t have connected with, had it not been for this interface.

Along the way, I’ve also discovered tools like Flickr, which lead to the codicil to blogging comments: Have you looked at the
photos on Flickr? Check out my Flickr account!

I’ve noticed I don’t feel as compelled to blog daily. Probably a good thing; there’s enough navel-gazing being done without adding my navel to the mix. I’ve also tried to limit the number of “me, too!” posts. In reviewing the blog, I’ve written some posts I’m quite proud of. It’s nice to have a record.

So…here we go, on to year two. Have some cake.

Birthday Cake and 28 Candles

Originally uploaded by catsper.

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Form vs. function

Back from a lovely Christmas with family and friends.  One of the gifts I got for DH was Sirius radio for his new SUV.  Looks intriguing and he’s looking forward to having it installed.

So we’re looking through the packaging and the instructions, and come across a small pamphlet that reviews the various ways you can install the thing.  Important information.

The problem was, this was black printing on TEAL paper.  Shiny teal paper.  Rather dark teal paper.  Tiny black words on dark, shiny teal paper.  It was virtually unreadable.  But pretty.

What Sirius didn’t keep in mind – and what we ALL need to keep in mind – is that pretty should not outweigh functional.  If you’ve created a brochure (poster, informational piece, etc) that looks pretty but is all but impossible to read for anyone over the age of 15, you need to rethink the design.


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We’re off to Wisconsin tomorrow, to celebrate Christmas with our families and and with DBF and her husband, Charlie.

I’m sitting here listening to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which is the ultimate Christmas music.  It always puts me in the mood.   Good thing, too, because the weather isn’t cooperating; while our western bretheren are wading through feet of new snow, we have March weather here in Minnesota – 33 and drizzle.  Yuck.

But…it’s Christmas.

Christmas was magical at our house for a number of years.  I’m the oldest of five; the youngest is 10 years my junior.  Long past when I didn’t believe in the miracle of Santa, the magic was kept alive for the younger kids.  It made the holiday that much more fun for us older siblings, since at some point it simply isn’t “cool” to believe….but when you had to for the younger kids’ sake, it was somehow acceptable.

We’re all much older now, of course.  To some extent the magic has faded.  But every now and then, there’s still that ember buried deep, listening for the sound of sleigh bells.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

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This just in…

….I’m an official ChaCha guide.

I was sent three different emails; two from people who presumably are already guides, and one from ChaCha Central.  I chose to reply to the latter.  I watched a video that basically explained how to do a reference interview, and then answered 10 questions in a quiz that determined whether you were paying attention.

You choose your own username.  I chose “Librarian.”  It wasn’t taken.  I’m guessing that means I’m one of the only – if not the only – librarian.  If there are others, please let me know!

But….if I am the only librarian guide at ChaCha, let’s please change that.  Let’s infiltrate and get a bunch of guides that really know this stuff.  And then, when people are awed by our prowess, we can remind them that, “This is what a librarian DOES.”


Filed under Libraries and Librarianship

Librarians and ChaCha

I have a tendency to bookmark articles in my Bloglines account that I want to check out at a later date, when I have a moment. As a result, I just discovered the ChaCha site, thanks to a post by Stephen Abrams.

ChaCha is a new search engine site. They have a traditional search engine which looks rather like in its interface. The thing that makes ChaCha a bit different is that they have guides you can ask to search for you.

I wondered how many librarians they have as guides. I did an unguided search (librarians as guides) and came up with a four pages of results, the first three entries of which were three bloggers who reported on this a few months ago and who were rather unsettled by the criteria (or lack thereof) for becoming a guide. Not surprisingly, these bloggers were librarians.

Curious, I did a guided search. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Status: Looking for a guide …
Status: Connected to guide: LisaB
LisaB: Welcome to ChaCha!
LisaB: Hello! What can I find for you today?
You: Hi Lisa! I’ve just found this service.
You: I have a question – are there any librarians serving as guides?
LisaB: Great!!
LisaB: I am sure there are. We have over 13,000 guides.
LisaB: Are you interested in becoming a Guide?
You: How are the guides chosen?
LisaB: Well, you have to be invited by another guide.
You: Possibly…
You: Really?
LisaB: We are unable to hire at this time but they have promised they will open invitations in mid December. Which should be any day now!!
You: Interesting.
LisaB: If you want to give me your email, I can put you on my list and send you an invite as soon as they open up.
You: Sure:
You: I’m planning on blogging about this service – may I use our conversation?
LisaB: Sure! My email is [deleted per request] (But don’t put that in your blog! LOL) You can contact me with any questions you may have or for an update.
You: Thanks, Lisa!
LisaB: Would you like me to look something up for you today?
You: Nope- that was my only question.
LisaB: OK! Thanks for using ChaCha! You have a great holiday and I will talk to you soon!
LisaB: Thank you for using ChaCha!
Status: Session ended.

Hmmm. So the guides are chosen based on the recommendation of other guides. I would hope that there is some sort of qualifying expertise that would also be involved…..but their site doesn’t seem to indicate that expertise is needed. Their site has a page allowing you to sign up as a guide:

ChaCha Guide Signup

Thank you for your interest in becoming a ChaCha Guide. We are bringing ChaCha Guides into our community at a varying rate according to the order that we receive the applications and when the system will allow new guides. We will contact you as soon as we are ready to bring you into the system.

The following must be checked in order to qualify as a potential ChaCha guide.

At least they require correct grammar. What’s interesting is that their “About Us” page speaks to the expertise of the guides:

By searching with a Guide your query is sent to a real person who is skilled at finding information on the internet and knowledgable on the subject at hand so that you get the few exact results you want, not the millions of results you don’t.

ChaCha only provides quality, human approved results.

Sounds like a librarian, doesn’t it?  If you look at the guide profiles, you’ll find stay-at-home moms, college students, and folks who don’t share details about themselves.  Frankly, this is looking less like an expert search and more like Yahoo Answers.

In another area, they discuss the issue of trust:

Why should I trust this guide?

The primary reason is that we pay them and their pay is directly related to their performance. At the end of every session, you can select between one and five stars to rate their performance. While we expect you to be honest when rating a Guide, ChaCha can also detect any needlessly malicious ratings.

So, we should trust them because they’re paid information professionals. Sounds like a librarian.

A number of libraries now have IM reference available for their patrons.  We are the paid information professionals who do this stuff for a living, not as a hobby or as a way to make a few extra bucks.  So the question is: why did these folks feel that this was an unmet need?  

Could it be….perhaps….that we are abysmally bad at marketing our services?  We already do this!  Why don’t people know that we already do this??!!??

How about if our “search engines” were a combination of an OPAC, an online search engine, and a librarian-guided search?   Why we aren’t we banging on the respective heads of our respective ILS vendors demanding a federated search plus chat session option?


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Love the one you’re with

I sat in on a webinar from the SirsiDynix folks this morning featuring Lee Rainie, of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  Lee was informative, as always, discussing the Millenial generation and their take on all things technological.

There were a few points that hit home with me.

The Millenial generation are Digital Natives, in that they’ve grown up with this stuff.  It’s natural to have a computer and a cell phone, and the advent of new technology is a natural occurrence.  The folks at Beloit College have a list of the other things that these kids view differently. 

Those of us who are (ahem) a bit older are referred to as Digital Immigrants.  We didn’t grow up with this stuff.  If you had a television, it was black and white, had three (maybe four) channels, and if you wanted to change the channel or the volume, you had to get up and walk across the room to the set.  Radio was AM, and if you were lucky you had a transistor radio that would allow you to listen to the Top-40 hits.  Chain letters were actually letters, sent via the mailman.  If you wanted to talk to your friend, you had to ask to use the one phone in the house.

I remember a classmate in high school coming in with one of the first calculators in 1973.  It was enormous, expensive, and unwieldy.  I remember as a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 1979 using their mainframe computer and punchcards to do a statistical history project.  Yikes.

To get back to Lee and his talk, one of the statements he made that resonated with me was that the Digital Immigrants have had to learn new technologies, or have sometimes had to unlearn ways of doing things in order to deal with a new technology.   

Lee talked about the fact that the Millenial generation multi-tasks naturally.  Laura Stone commented that, “Multi-tasking is a way of life – people live in a state of “continuous partial attention.”  Stephen Abrams points to the new Kaiser Family Foundation study on multitasking, and asks some probing questions on what this may mean.

According to Lee, things will change even more in the next seven years.  Fasten your seatbelts, folks.

What does this mean for libraries?

People are expecting their institutions and individuals to be “findable” and available online. If you don’t have a library presence on the web, you had better get one.  Now.

Libraries live in a paradoxical state: customer loyalty can be honored and nourished more than in the past, but customers also hold you to the standard you present.  With all of the ways to be technologically connected, if you’re doing something awful (or wonderful!) chances are, someone is going to write about it.

Probably the best news of the morning was that one of the advantages of this generation is that they’re format-agnostic.  While they do IM and email and listen to podcasts and surf the web….they are equally comfortable with any or all of them.  As long as you’re offering a way for them to reach you, they’re willing to use the format you have.  Don’t have IM but do have email?  No problem.

With apologies to Stephen Stills, “If they can’t be with the device they love, they love the device they’re with.”  Don’t worry about presenting every new technology.  Use the one (or two or three) that works the best for your library….and do it well.

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Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship, Techie stuff

Thanks, Mom

Thanks to growing up with the Grammar Police (aka my Mother) I scored rather well on this test. Frightening how many people wouldn’t these days.

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%



Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know “no” from “know.” Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?


Filed under Me and mine, Miscellaneous


Aspiring writers, take note!  Always wanted to see your work in print?  Now you can.

Rachel Singer Gordon took note of a new beta site, Blurb. They have a lovely little software (Book Smart) that’s downloadable…and will allow you to create a book. From anything. Photos, recipes, business portfolios….even your blog.

How cool.

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