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

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/27/15

   October 3rd, 2015 Brian Herzog

no help dialog boxThis interaction actually happened a couple months ago, but I just now found that I had saved it as a draft.

A patron called in one day saying he needed help opening an ebook. Of course I was thinking Overdrive, but after a bit of a discussion, I learned the real story.

He had bought an ebook directly from some self-publishing website (not Amazon), and was trying to open it on his Samsung Android tablet using the Kindle app. And it wasn't working. He had downloaded it on his PC and was trying to transfer via USB to his tablet, but the computer wouldn't recognize the device.

The patron gave me the URL so at least I could see what he was talking about, and learned it was a .mobi ebook. I had hoped the website would have some instructions on opening their ebook, but no such luck. Since I wasn't getting anywhere over the phone, I told him to stop by the Reference Desk next time he came to the library and we'd figure it out.

Please Note: I say this to people all the time. I truly mean it and want to help them, but at the same time, often I need time to research whatever the problem is because I just have no idea. Generally it gives me a couple days to a week to prepare for them, so I look much smarter when they do finally come in.

There happened to be a lull at the desk right then, so I did a quick search on how to open .mobi files on Android and found a very helpful website. Nice, now I'd be ready if this patron ever does come in.

Which was good, because not fifteen minutes later this patron walks up to the desk.

The first thing we did was redownload the ebook directly to the device, instead of using the PC > USB > device route. Next, we followed the steps outlined on the website I found - and it worked perfectly.

The patron was thoroughly impressed - and of course happy. So that's all well and good, a librarian job well done. But, it's what the patron said next that really made my day:

Thanks. Now I can call the company and tell them how to do it. Ha, I would have thought they'd have known this if they are selling these ebooks.


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Reference Question of the Week – 9/20/15

   September 26th, 2015 Brian Herzog

This didn't need to occur in a library, and I am very happy this question went to one of my coworkers and not me:

Do you know your elevator smells like fish?

No possible good can come of being involved with any aspect of that situation. Except for this:

How do you stop a fish from smelling?  Cut its nose off!

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/15

   September 19th, 2015 Brian Herzog

jerkSince the public library serves the entire community, we see patrons on both ends of every spectrum. Last week there was a nice litte girl, and this week I encountered these two people:

Patron 1
On Monday , five girl scouts came in to help with a project. And because girl scouts are shorter than me, part of the project required a ladder. After we were all finished and I was cleaning up, I was walking through the Reference Area to return the ladder to the back room - now, keep in mind, I am carrying a ladder at this point - when I was stopped by a patron who asked,

Do you work here? Are you busy right now? Can you help me with the computer?

I looked at the ladder, looked back to the patron, and said sure. So I carried the ladder over to his workstation, held onto it with one had while I pointed at the screen showing them where to click with the other, and then proceeded on my way back to the office to return the ladder.

Patron 2
Then the next day, a patron called in to have her account's PIN reset. As she was reading her barcode to me, I could hear a cell phone start ringing in the background. She hurriedly finished reading her number, said "can you wait just a minute," and then I could hear her answer her cell phone.

You might ask, "Brian, what did you do while you were waiting for that patron to finish her cell phone call?" Well, I started typing this blog post.

Her other call only took a minute, and when she came back I reset her PIN for her, made sure she could log in, and both of us happily hung up. I've seen stores with a "if you're using your cell phone in line we will serve the customers behind you until you're finished" sign at the cash register, and I've even been helping someone at the desk when their phone would ring and they'd go somewhere else to take the call, but I've never been asked to wait while helping someone. I suppose it's no different than call waiting, but I was still annoyed.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/6/15

   September 12th, 2015 Brian Herzog

girl on phoneI work with little kids every day, but it's slightly unusual for me to help a kid over the phone. On Wednesday night this week, a little girl called about 8pm, and asked to be transferred to the Children's Room. No problem.

A couple minutes later the phone rang again, and it was the same small sweet voice. She said she'd tried calling the Children's Room twice but no one answered, so asked if I could help her find a book. Again, no problem.

We looked up the two Dork Diaries books she wanted, and placed holds on them. That didn't take very long, and when we were finished I asked her if there was anything else I could do. She said,

Well, yes. I've never called the Children's Room before and they didn't answer. I'm kind of worried something happened to them, so could you check to make sure they're okay?

I tried not to laugh, and explained that there was only one staff person in the room tonight and maybe she was helping someone else on a big project and couldn't make it to the phone, but that yes, I would check. She said thanks and hung up.

It turned out the Children's Room person was just getting back from her break when I checked on her, so all was well.

Another funny thing about this call was that when I said the books were checked out, so we'd request them for her and call when they were ready to pick up, she asked if that was the only option. I thought she meant email or text instead of calling, but no, she meant could we bring them to her house or school instead of her having to come here to get them. Not unreasonable, but I've also never been asked that by a six-year-old sounding voice before.

It's hard to say no to that, but she understood and said she'd ask her mom for a ride to the library.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/23/15

   August 30th, 2015 Brian Herzog

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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Reference Question of the Week – 8/16/15

   August 22nd, 2015 Brian Herzog

oxps iconA patron came up to the desk with a flash drive and said she needed to print a file, but was told she needed a Windows 8 computer to print it.

I thought that was odd - I've heard of files requiring certain versions of Microsoft Office to print, yes, but never a certain version of the operating system.

So I plugged it into our desk computer, which is Windows 7 and Office 2010, and sure enough, it didn't work. While I was doing that, the patron explained,

I live in [town nearby] and tried this in the library there, but couldn't open the file on their computers either. It didn't occur to her to ask the staff for help. Then a friend then told me that the Chelmsford Library was good with computers, so I thought it was worth another shot. I tried it on my own here first, but my friend told me to make sure I asked someone for help.

Well now I really can't let her down.

The file was an .oxps file, which she had generated while on the Fidelity website when she wanted to print some account information. I tried forcing Word 2007 to open it, but no luck. The computer just didn't recognize the file extension.

So, I grabbed my laptop from my office (which is the only computer in the building with Windows 8, as I am the Library guinea pig) and plugged in the flash drive. Sure enough, the file this time had a real icon, and when I double-clicked it, it launched "successfully" in one of the Windows 8 apps. I say "successfully" because even though it opened, we were still only in a Windows 8 app, but at least it was progress.

After some left-clicking, right-clicking, and general blind bumbling (I hate those apps), I managed to find the print function, which let me print to a pdf file. Now we're talking.

I saved that to patron's flash drive, and moved back to the desk computer (which would be quicker to print from), and was able to print it no problem. The patron was happy, and even said that librarians are her favorite people in the world. I hope she remembers that the next time she's in a library and unfortunately can't get what she wants.

By the way, if this hadn't worked, or if I hadn't had a Windows 8 laptop handy, my fallback would have been to try Zamzar.com or some other online converter - usually those work surprisingly well.

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