A 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.
One afternoon, a patron came in and asked to use a study room. I signed him up for one, and after he got about five steps away from the desk, I got distracted with other things and completely forgot about him.
About twenty minutes later, I was walking in the direction of the study rooms, and notice he was sitting in his room, in the dark, using his laptop (which of course meant his face was spotlighted by the screen). I thought it was odd, but really it's not entirely unusual for someone to have the lights off when they're in a room, so I just chalked it up to "patrons are funny" and kept walking.
But then, as I walked past the windows of his study room, I heard him shout out, "sir! Sir!! SIR!!!"
I opened the door and said something like, "can I help you?" His response was to sit back in his chair, wave his arms around, and say,
I've got no lights!
This is an easy fix - our study rooms have motion sensors that turn the lights on when someone enters a room, but in this case the rolling white board had been pushed in front of it. As soon as I started pushing the white board over, the lights popped on. The patron thanked me and I left.
But my disbelief in this whole situation stems from that fact that it was twenty minutes - twenty minutes - from the time the patron came in to the time I happened to walk by. I wonder how long he would have kept sitting in the dark, instead of coming back to the desk to ask for help. Or, look around the room for the light switch that must be there somewhere.
Patron interactions like this are one of my favorite parts of my job.
On Wednesday this week, late in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was just a patron calling to ask what time we closed that night, so I told him, and hung up. No problem.
Then, not two minutes later the phone rang again. When I answered it, the patron asked,
Hello, do you recognize my voice?
Of course it was the same patron who just called minutes before. I said I did, and he continued,
Well, I've already forgotten what time the library closes tonight. Can you tell me again. [I tell him 9:00 pm.] Okay thanks. I'll try to remember this time, but don't be surprised if I call back. You know, you should put your closing time in your phone number, because I have that memorized but I can't remember your hours.
It must have stuck with him this time, because he never did call back. However, what a neat idea - our phone number could be 978-930-2100 because we're open 9:30 - 9:00 (and 24 hour time for 9:00 pm is 2100). Of course, we'd need a different phone number for Fridays/Saturdays, and Sundays, so I guess that idea breaks down quickly.
I think I've already done a question like this one before, but I don't mind repeating it just because this tactic delights me.
A patron called about an hour before closing on a Friday afternoon. He said,
I want to know if you have a book on the steps used in the phonics method of teaching someone how to read. I'm writing an article about how to teach writing and want to use an analogy involving the steps for teaching reading, but I want to make sure I'm using the phonics steps correctly.
I don't know anything about the phonics method for teaching reading, but the question seemed straightforward enough. I told him it'd take me a bit of time to research it and find a book with the steps, and I took down his email address to send him the answer.
Normally I'd call the the libraries that had the books, ask them to check the table of contents for the information, and then either fax or scan and email the relevant pages to me. However, since this was at the end of the day and I was pressed for time, I tried the tactic of using Amazon's Look Inside feature to read the table of contents right from my desk.
And in this case, it paid off. Instead of sending the patron the link and trying to explain how to use Look Inside and hoping he gets it, I did the extra work of:
open Look Inside and view as much of the first page as I could
hit the Print Screen key to take a screenshot
paste the screenshot into Paint
crop to just the words I wanted
copy/paste that cropped image into Powerpoint
repeat for the rest of the relevant sections of the Table of Contents
All three were different, but I hoped between them the patron would get what he needed. I sent all of this to the patron, thinking that the PDF would be the best resource. Within a few minutes he replied,
Thank you, Brian. Very quick work. The Word doc was just what I needed. Appreciate it.
So, go figure. I'm glad it was helpful for his article - that's definitely the important thing.
Here's a question I may not have been able to answer successfully a few years ago - actually, luck had a lot to do with this success, because even for my community the answer would still be mixed.
A patron emailed in to ask,
Do you know who would have Lowell High School yearbooks available?
Lowell is the city next door to the town in which I work. We have a print collection of Chelmsford High School yearbooks, so my first thought (that is, my first hope) was that the Lowell Library would have the same for their high school*.
Unfortunately, when I called over, the librarian there said they do not have a yearbook collection. She suggested the Lowell Historical Society, which was a good idea. I looked up their number online, but unfortunately they weren't open right then.
However, their website did list their research collections, which didn't seem to include the yearbooks. But for whatever reason, this made me think I should search online for the yearbooks, to see if any other groups might have them.
So that was pretty happy - astounding, in fact, and it looks like only online since 2012. I emailed the information to the patron and never heard back, which I took to mean he's still poring over the online versions. Great.
And as I said, if he had been after Chelmsford High yearbooks, my answer would have been different - we have easy access to the print copies in the library, but there is no online collection (that I know of). So, this might finally prompt me to get OCI or the Boston Public Library to scan them for us. Yay for the free digitization services that can put these wonderful resources online. But oh, having enough time during the workday to actually do my job would be such a luxury.
*I'm a firm believer that public libraries should all have complete collections of the local high school yearbooks, but this is much easier said than done. The CHS yearbook advisor and I have a good working relationship, and it is still unnecessarily difficult to make this happen. The only thing more difficult is a non-student trying to get access to the school's collection of yearbooks.
This was actually a reference question I asked myself, but it's sort of summery so maybe relevant to other people - and, hopefully, helpful.
I was outside playing one day a few weeks ago and ended up with pine sap on my favorite pair of shorts. That's the worst because I don't like going shopping, and I thought that sap meant pretty much the end of clothes.
I was sad, so I put them aside in the hopes that the sap would just evaporate naturally. I came across them last week, and was able to determine that sap doesn't naturally evaporate out of shorts.
Since no laundry experts were around to ask, it occurred to me search online for "remove sap from clothes" to see if the internet had any ideas. I figured they did, but also figured it involved vinegar - which seems like the magical cure for almost anything, but is too bad because I can't stand the smell of vinegar.
So, with the optimism appropriate to any new trip on the internet, I started clicking links.
There was no shortage of tips and old school remedies, as you might suspect. The consensus seemed to be rubbing (or soaking) the spot of sap in anything from laundry detergent to cooking oil to WD-40 (surprisingly, vinegar was not mentioned).
Most of the options were either things I didn't have, like nail polish, or didn't actually trust, like peanut butter. But one that kept coming up - hand sanitizer - sounded interesting.
I don't have any at home (because, you know, super-bacteria), but it seems to be everywhere else so it was worth a try. I was especially swayed by this guy's video:
My shorts are cotton, but if it works so magically on his, why not mine, right?
And holy cow, it worked! Mine took three applications - my guess is because it was a big blob that had soaked through the cotton (and I had already washed and dried them) - but it worked. In just a couple minutes, it was as if the sap was never there. I don't know where it went, but it went away.
Besides the magic, it must be the alcohol in the hand sanitizer breaking down the sap, but I couldn't be happier to be able to wear my favorite shorts again stain-free.