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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/22/13

   September 28th, 2013

Buffalo Bill posterThis week is more of a technical question than a reference question, because the research part was already done by the time I got involved. But I still think it's an interesting situation.

A coworker of mine has been researching the history of West Chelmsford, in the hopes of opening a new museum in that part of town inside an old train depot building. The most interesting event in West Chelmsford's history, I think, is this: in 1911, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was passing through town by train, on the way to neighboring Lowell for a show, when the train derailed near the future-museum depot building. A few animals died, many had to be rounded up from the surroundings by the cowboys, and then Buffalo Bill, since the train was wrecked, marched the whole show through the streets to finish the journey to Lowell.

My coworker found a scanned newspaper article from the time in Google News, but couldn't figure out how to print it. This is when I got involved - as tech support to print the article for her to add to the future museum's file.

Buffalo Bill article

I don't think I had attempted this before, but sure enough, Google doesn't offer a direct way to print articles from this interface. There was a way to link to them and a few different viewing options, but that was it - even File > Print didn't print anything for us.

When faced with this kind of situation, my failsafe is always to use the Print Screen key. First you click the Full Screen button in the Google interface to see as much of the article at a time as possible, and then pressing the Print Screen key captures everything on the screen and puts it on the clipboard. Next I pasted the image into MSPaint (as it is the only graphics program installed on the Reference Desk computer) and cropped it to just the article I wanted, and saved it.

Since the article was three screens long, I had to do this a couple more times to get the entire thing - saved as three separate files. The final step was to insert all three of these into PowerPoint, line up all the seams so it looked like one continuous image, and create a PDF file from the result. The PowerPoint step would have been unnecessary if I had Photoshop or anything more advanced that MSPaint on my computer, but you use the tools you've got.

And I think the resulting PDF looks pretty good [pdf] - it is formatted to print on legal paper to make the text big enough to read easily, and my coworker was very happy to get it. This is just for her initial research, and hopefully she'll be able to track down the actual primary resource for the eventual exhibit in the museum.

Still, I thought it was a useful technique for librarians. I think many people already know this trick, so, yes, mainly I just thought the actual article itself funny and interesting and wanted to share.

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/22/13”

  1. Andromeda Says:

    A thing you can sometimes do, if you’re comfortable reading HTML, is use the View Source option to identify the direct link to the image file. Or you can use Developer Tools, in Chrome, or the Firebug extension in firefox to accomplish the same thing (often more quickly, because the HTML won’t be minified, and you can use the magnifying glass to zero in directly on the element you want to examine).

    I say “sometimes” because sites that are serious about protecting that content will have ways of obfuscating it from this vector — it’ll all be loaded through incomprehensible Javascript or something. In this particular case, it looks like the newspaper image you’re seeing is actually a compilation of a lot of newspaper fragments, so that would also not have worked out so well. But sometimes you’re just looking for a lone and you’re all good.

  2. Andromeda Says:

    Oh hey, that stripped out my HTML, of course! I was saying, a lone img src tag.

  3. Mary Jo Says:

    If you use Microsoft’s Snipping Tool you can save a step. Click on Snipping Tool, frame the part of the screen you want, copy it to the clipboard, then paste it directly into whatever document you want (skipping MSPaint).

    Snipping Tool is also great when you want to insert a small copy of a photo into a document – pull up the photo on screen, zoom out till it is small, then snip it and paste. Saves you resizing the photo, and it makes a smaller document file size than just resizing within the document.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Andromeda: good suggestion – I do that with some sites, but it didn’t even occur to me this time.

    @Mary Jo: also a good idea, that didn’t occur to me. I think Macs have that feature built in, but it’s not something I’ve grown up with so I never think of using a snipping tool. But anything that cuts out a step is worth remembering – thanks!