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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/23/15

   August 30th, 2015

Not a bugA patron called one morning to say she that our printer had given her laptop a virus. Huh.

She explained that she had been in the library the day before. Her printer is broken, so she came in to use our Print from Anywhere service. It all worked fine, but now when she opens Chrome, our printer page comes up and she can't get rid of it. Previously her browser always opened into her email, and she wanted me to get that back.

She described the page to me, which turned out to be the print confirmation page. And while telling me everything she tried to do to fix "the virus," she kept mentioning she right-clicks to close tabs. I don't use Chrome very often, so I thought she may have accidentally clicked "set this tab as my homepage" or something like that.

While she was talking I opened Chrome to check, but that was not a right-click menu option. However, in the settings, I found Chrome does default to "Continue where I left off" - which means it just opens the printer page because that was the page she was on when she closed her laptop.

After I explained this might be the issue, she was willing to test my theory, but was clearly skeptical that it could be that simple. However, she typed in her email url, close Chrome, reopened it, and sure enough, it worked.

I told her if she unchecked that option, we could force her email to come up every time she opened Chrome, no matter what she was doing before. She made it sound like that sort of wizardry was unnecessary, thanked me for fixing her virus, and hung up.

She really was kind of upset - well, overwhelmed by the arbitrary whims of technology, more like - so I was happy we could get things back to normal for her. Hopefully this doesn't sour her on the library or the Print from Anywhere service. We shall see.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/23/15”

  1. mmbb Says:

    “about:blank” is my preference for a start page.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @mmbb: I am totally with you there. Except, on my own computer I use a custom start page saved locally, with links to my most common websites and an embedded custom calendar. We also use a custom startup page for the library’s public computers, too.

  3. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    Our public computer home page is un/fortunately filled with so many handy links that quite a few of our patrons don’t even know that the address bar is a thing. If the Yahoo button is broken, just forget about internetting.

    If it weren’t for that, and the occasional nudity, I’d push IT to use the Google Art Project extension. It’s a much more relaxing welcome to your browser than your inbox or a search engine.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: I know, I tried to find that balance too. But it doesn’t exist – a patron will ask for help logging into their email, so I’ll watch over their shoulder as they type “yahoo” into the Google search box, then click on the Yahoo link (ignoring the Yahoo Mail link right under it), and then type “mail” into the Yahoo search box, and then click on mail. It’s astounding.

    I try to show people, “hey, you can just type mail.yahoo.com into this top box here and skip all those steps,” but I just think the known way is the comfortable way, and it works, so anything else is foreign and probably a trap.

    There’s got to be a name for this phenomena: “rigidly linear blindness?” “historical sequence mania?” I don’t know.

  5. Matthew Says:

    As a library that serves as a student computer help desk, we get this kind of stuff a lot. It’s kind of amazing how little people know about the expensive gear that they bring themselves to purchase. Anyway, good that you could fix it over the phone, which has its own peculiar challenges.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Matthew: thank you – and yes, you’re right, people will buy these devices and then have no idea what to do with them. It really is amazing.

    And as far as offering phone support, see, that’s just helps make the case for take-home tech support. But really, I find the key to phone tech support is being able to have the same software in front of you that they do, so you can see all the same screens and options. Luckily in this case, we already had Chrome installed on the desk computers (even though I never use it).

  7. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    @Brian: “Rigor analogia?” I used to pick up spare cash doing house calls to ranchers and farmers who just bought their first computer and teaching them basic web navigation and the like. The one thing I learned is that you teach them ONE method for doing a thing, because if you try to explain that there are three buttons and a keyboard shortcut that all do the same thing, they’ll become agitated and confused.

    I suspect that this is because they’re used to working with analog machinery. In their experience, there is one correct startup sequence for a combine harvester, and several alternative sequences that will at best fail to do anything and at worst end up with smoking chunks of transmission scattered over a ten-foot radius.

    There are few other areas of technology that reward experimentation and failure the way modern software does.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: that is fascinating, and very probably correct. I do try to teach people just one way to do something when we start, although I’ll tell them there are other ways too. But sometimes that just reinforces the mystical nature of computers as an unknowable thing, which is a hard mental hurdle to overcome in the beginning. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of One True Way though – interesting.