March 1st, 2014 Brian Herzog
Have you noticed that Bitcoin has been in the news a lot lately? I think that's where this question came from.
A patron walked over to me at the Reference Desk, from the general direction of our print station, and asked,
Can I pay for my printouts with Bitcoin?
I think he was just being funny, but he did it completely deadpan so I wasn't sure. In any case, I told him we do not accept Bitcoin. He then responded with,
Okay, I'll pay with my credit card.
To which again I had to say no, the pay-for-print machine is cash-only. He may have been actually disappointed about the credit card, because he had to go across the street to the bank machine to get some cash. Luckily we have a bank machine so close by, but I still feel bad every time I make someone do this.
Incidentally, we don't accept Paypal either.
February 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog
Here's a sentiment that has bothered me ever since I started working in libraries: the idea that an accountable portion of everyone's tax bill goes into the library budget, and that anyone could dictate exactly how "their" portion is spent.
It bothers me because it is the exact opposite of how community-funded resources work, and it's difficult to convince someone of this who is dead-set on it.
Recently one of our patrons requested we purchase a specific book. However, it didn't fit our collection development policy*, and was kind of expensive anyway ($55), so I had to tell the patron that the library wouldn't be purchasing it.
There were copies in libraries not too far away, but they were all reference copies, so I couldn't even request it for her. It's unfortunately when a library can't fill a patron's request, but it does happen.
However, this patron was upset with my decision, and came back with the argument that she was a tax payer, and she wants her tax money to be used to purchase this book.
This got me wondering just what an average resident does "contribute" to the library's budget, so I did some rough calculations:
- Library budget is roughly $1,500,000
- Chelmsford population is roughly 33,000
- So, $1,500,000 / 33,000 = $45
These numbers are very rough, but I was surprised the contribution was even this high - and that it happened to be so close to the price of the book in question.
But if we did allow this sort of earmarking, it would mean that this patron's entire year's library privileges, plus part of next year, would be tied up in this one book. If this system was used, she couldn't use any other library resource: no other books, DVDs, etc, she couldn't come into the library and use our electricity or heat, and she wouldn't be entitled to any assistance from staff. For more than a year.
This is why this kind of micromanaging is impossible in community-funded resources. Taxes stop being "my taxes" as soon as they're paid to the Town, and then become "our resources." That money is then spent by responsible stewards - librarians, Town Clerk, DPW workers, etc - in a way that best benefits the town overall. Everyone in town, who are all treated equally, regardless of how much their tax bill is.
I apologize for the rant - I know this is all basic Library 101 stuff, but maybe only to librarians.
*It was a genealogy book about early settlers of Jamestown, VA, and no sources I consulted drew any connection to Chelmsford, MA. We only collect local and regional resources, and this just didn't fit. Plus, since we have a limited budget, purchasing it could mean that two other items more relevant to Chelmsford don't get purchased. This is why collection development policies are so important.
January 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog
So, here's an odd question that came in twice - once to my coworker and then later to me.
When I answered the phone, the patron asks,
Can you tell me the phone number for 1-800-Go-FedEx?
At first it sounds like a prank phone call, but this is actually a good example (ie, trick question) for a reference services class. This particular patron is blind, and so can't easily correlate the letters of "Go FedEx" to numbers on her phone's keypad.
I'm not an expert on accessible equipment, so maybe there are phones that do have the letters indicated too, but this seems like a perpetual problem for low-vision people.
Anyway, instead of manually figuring this out with our desk phone, which would have taken more time, I just did a quick search for "800-go-fedex" and found it listed on FedEx's Customer Support Phone Menu webpage as 1.800.463.3339.
And my call was the second time. Earlier that evening, my coworker had told me she got this call (and that it initially struck her as odd until she recognized the patron's voice) - but I guess the patron had forgotten the digits in the meantime.
Tags: 800-go-fedex, blind, fedex, letters, libraries, Library, low-vision, numbers, phone, phone number, public, Reference Question
September 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A patron came up to me at the desk one evening, when things were really slow and most of the computers were empty, and asked,
What is your average availability for computers?
After a little clarification, what he was really asking was, how often is there at least one public workstation available, versus how often are they all in use.
Anecdotally, for my library, mornings and evenings always have available computers, but during the daytime - especially lunchtime and after school - often every computer is in use. I was able to answer this just off the top of my head, which any reference staff person could.
However, the patron really wanted an actual percentage of time the computers are free, so I had to go into our stats. We use Time Limit Manager for our 22 adult computers (we have 10 other public computers also), and the usage report for July 1 2012 - June 30 2013 broke down like this:
- Sessions: 48,192
- Used Time: 1416 days, 22 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds
- Unused: 970 days, 6 hours, 34 minutes, 36 seconds
- Avg Session: 42 minutes 25 seconds
If my math is correct, that rounds to 34,006.5 + 23,286.5 = 57,293 available hours total, and 23,286 is just about 41% of the time. So, roughly, 41% of the time we have a computer available for the public to use.
Those seemed like pretty good odds to the patron, and he explained to me why he asked. He said he uses his home computer very little any more, and figured that if he dropped internet access at home, the amount of money he'd save annually could buy him an airline ticket to Europe each year - and he made it clear which of those activities he prefers.
I'd like to go to Europe every year too, but I don't know that I could do without internet at home. However, I think it's awesome that someone find the library useful and reliable enough to plan their life spending - and traveling - around it. And this might be one demographic that wasn't covered by Sarah's recap of Pew's Digital Divide report - people who choose not to have internet at home because they know they can rely on the library for it.
July 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog
My library finally rolled out a service patrons have been asking for ever since I started: a public scanner.
Requests for a scanner always seemed to wax and wane, and we never got serious about it because of all the logistics involved: where do we put it, should the computer be scanning-only or have full internet access, should we get a simple flatbed scanner or a dedicated scanning product made for libraries, will the staff be able to assist patrons, etc. etc. etc. Recently, the requests have been coming in so consistently that we just bought a low-cost flatbed scanner, hooked it to a computer, and put it out on the floor.
We did do some research beforehand, asking around to see what other libraries did. And coincidentally, on the very day we put the scanner out for the public, another library sent around an email asking the same questions - and very kindly, she also compiled and shared the responses (thanks Becky!):
Most libraries have 1 flatbed scanner that is connected to a public computer. 4 libraries had more than 1 scanner, and 1 library had set up a switch so that 4 computers could share 1 scanner. A few libraries had the scanner in a staff location that was easy for both staff and patron to access.One library kept a scanner at the Reference Desk, and gave it to patrons to hook up to any available computer.
A few libraries used different products: a copier that can also scan, an all-in-one printer that can scan, and book scanners including the BookScan Station from MDS, and the Scannx BookScan Center from Scannx.
Scanner models mentioned were the Epson GT-1500 (which has a document feeder), CanoScan 4500F, Epson WF-4530, Epson V37, and Fujitsu ScanSnap.
Only one library mentioned charging for scanning, many libraries said they did not charge as there was no real consumable cost.
All libraries said the service was very well received with these comments: being able to scan color documents was well received, users could scan to USB, Google Docs, or email, some libraries install the scanner at a computer that is 15 minute only or a walk-up computer, patron assistance is often necessary for first-time users of the equipment.
We really, really, liked the dedicated scanning stations because they are so easy to use, but the cost was prohibitive (in the $5,000 neighborhood). The scanner we purchased was the Epson GT-1500, which is just connected to a desktop computer. Some details:
- Scanner cost: about $250
- Features: document feeder tray, easy-scan buttons on the front of the scanner (which we didn't end up using, unfortunately: the scan-to-email button quickly became a problem, and the others ended up not being entirely intuitive, so we just used desktop shortcuts instead)
- Picture scanning: we use the included Epson scanning software for this, and it works surprisingly well with just the default settings
- Document scanning: we use the included ABBYY Reader software, which gives the option to scan to either Microsoft Word (to edit a document like a resume) or right to PDF to save/email a document without changes
- Bonus Feature: not only is this a new scanner service for patrons, but it also means we can now meet the needs of patrons needing to make color photocopies - just scan their original as a PDF, and then print directly to the color printer! An extra step, but it works
Like the image scanning, the OCR capabilities are surprisingly good. In all the testing we did, there was not one mistake (all test scans were from printed pages, not handwriting). Anything it can't OCR is automatically scanned as an image, and the formatting in both the resulting PDF or Word document were impressive. Word did not carry through colored text, but that is easy enough to re-do.
Something else that impressed me was with the document feeder: I deliberately fed in sheets in opposite directions (as in, sheet one right-side up, sheet two upside-down, etc), to see what it would do - and the software was smart enough to orient them all right-side up and OCR the text with no mistakes.
We put out a couple instructional signs with the scanner to match the desktop shortcuts (Scan a Picture [pdf] and Scan a Document [pdf]), and we'll see how it goes. Staff picked it up quickly, and we can always adjust/improve the patron signs after we see where the stumbling blocks are.
We're also starting off with the policy of "scanning gets preference" at this computer, although it does have the same capabilities as all our other public workstations. We put a little sign saying,
Patrons needing to use the scanner have priority!
If you are not scanning you may be asked to move to a different computer.
And so far it hasn't been a problem. This is a stand-up computer, which we're hoping will facilitate the just-need-to-scan-something-quick patrons.
July 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
Just a quickie pre-4th of July post. This picture surfaced on Reddit awhile ago, but I still find it interesting:
On the surface this sign is great, and almost makes it worth it to charge for library materials just so we could do this. But then it also implies that we would treat people differently, which I don't like. It's tough to politely serve some* library patrons, but that's what we're there for. I wonder if rewarding polite patron behavior actually increases it, or would it breed obstinacy in patrons who otherwise would be perfectly fine but don't like being told what to do.
Not to mention that this sign kind of punishes shy and anti-social people, through no fault of their own. I think stores and restaurants where the workers shout "Good morning!" or "One in the door!" from across the room should have to charge less when it makes customers uncomfortable.
*Threatening or insulting behavior is a whole different topic