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

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Circulating a Roku for Streaming Videos

   October 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

rokulogoRecently, my Library bought a Roku to start circulating to patrons. I loved this idea, because it solved a problem that has been annoying me for years.

Awhile ago, sometimes when we bought DVDs, they would come with an "ultraviolet" version in addition to the physical disc. The ultraviolet version was a digital copy - which of course the library couldn't really use, because it could only be downloaded to one device. So we'd get the codes for ultraviolet copies, and just throw them away. It wasn't really costing the library money, but I did not like that we were just throwing away a resource.

Then another nearby library got the idea to use a Roku to offer these videos to patrons. Their method was to create a Vudu library of all their ultraviolet movies, and then connect the Roku to that account. That way, patrons could check out the one Roku device, and use it on their home wi-fi network to have access to all of the movies we had ultraviolet licenses to stream. Nice.

Since they already had worked out the details, we just bought our own Roku and copied what they did. We're also adding all the ultraviolet titles to the catalog record, so the Roku shows up if someone searches for Still Alice or Paul Blart Mall Cop.

Our Roku circulates for one week, cannot be renewed, but can be requested. We're also circulating it in a padded case that comes with a remote control, various cables to connect it to the patron's television or digital projector, power supply, and instructions:


We, and a few other libraries, are only using it to stream our ultraviolet titles. But another library paid for a Netflix subscription with a gift card, so patrons can stream anything from that Netflix subscription. They've set up additional channels as well, which we haven't done (yet?).

We need to do a better job of promoting it's available, but I don't know that any patron would check this out just for the sake of watching movies on a Roku. Unlike checking out a telescope to use the telescope, I see this as more like a Playaway - patrons will check it out to get access to the content it contains, not for the experience of using this format. And at only $50 for the device, it's a great way to stop throwing away the ultraviolet titles.

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/11/15

   October 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

spock with raised eyebrowDuring the middle of a quiet day, a patron - with a remarkably booming voice - walked up to the desk to ask how he can log into one of the computers without a library card. When I gave him my standard reply to this question,

Oh, we don't take signups or require logons, so you're welcome to just start using any computer that's available.

he gave me an intensely skeptical look and said,

So, you haven't enacted that law yet?

I think I just smiled to let him know I'd answered his question and he could go use a computer. It took him a few seconds, but eventually he walked over to the public workstations - but keeps looking at me over his shoulder with a look that seemed to shift from skepticism to outright pity, as if it's my own fault that I am going to be struck down at any minute for not requiring a computer signin. It was weird.

The other odd thing about this patron is that I talked to him three more times before he left that day, and every single time he mentioned something about the law. Like, was it legal for him to check out a book, was there a law that said what time we had to close, etc.

He was very nice, but I wonder if this law fixation was an indication that he was recently released from prison. And, I haven't seen him since that day. Huh.

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Not Your Grandmother’s Acclaimed Urban Fiction

   October 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog

So this happened at my library, and everyone got a good laugh out of it. One day in Tech Services, this array of books was delivered:


During the course of processing them to be put out for patrons, one of the Tech Services staff noticed that these books were on the, well, pornographic side.

Fifty Shades of Grey aside, my library generally doesn't buy erotica, so this got staff's attention. The question of "who bought these?" ran up the selector's chain, until they were handed to our fiction selector. She looked at them, and the content, and could not figure why she would have ordered them, or where she would have even seen them.

So she went back through various review sources, and eventually found a two-page spread in the 2015 November issue of Ingram Advance:


I did not know that "Urban Fiction" was a euphemism for erotica. The astonishing thing is that you can read the little descriptions below the books, and not once do they mention sex, strap-ons, or dripping anythings. And yet, flip just a couple pages into any of these titles, and you're already well into NSFW territory.

Of course, titles like The Panty Ripper seem to be a dead giveaway, but I really was surprised that Acclaimed Urban Fiction would be so entirely unlike my idea of what acclaimed urban fiction would be.

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/4/15

   October 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

mr zipHere's an answer to a question that I haven't been able to use yet. It's a question I've gotten numerous times, but only just recently looked up the answer.

For whatever reason, it is not at all uncommon for patrons (or staff who is helping one of these patrons) to ask me,

Why can't I open my resume here? I need to make changes and email it to someone.

and when I look at their file, it is named something like "resume.pages" - bleh. One patron said they got it from the Career Center, so maybe that's why it always seems to be resumes saved this way.

"Pages" is (I think) the latest format for Mac word processing, which does not, naturally, open on our Windows computers with Microsoft Office. My go-to solution in these cases is to use Zamzar or some other online converter, which always works well enough (except for patrons having to wait for the email to get to their converted file).

In the back of my mind I kept meaning to search for some converter plugin that might let Word open these files directly. I finally had a chance this week to look for such a thing, and ended up finding a different solution entirely.

More than one website gave these steps:

  1. Save a copy of the .pages file to the Desktop (or somewhere easily accessible)
  2. Right-click on the .pages file and choose "Rename"
  3. Replace the ".pages" extension with ".zip"
  4. Open the newly renamed .zip file, and it will contain a file you'll be able to open with Microsoft Word or WordPad

That's a neat bit of a trickery that I'm sure will confuse many patrons, but I'm also sure they will be delighted to see their resume open on the screen at the end of it.

I haven't been able to try this trick myself yet, but now I am looking forward to the next time someone has a .pages file. Hopefully today!

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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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