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



Archives for Technology:


Another Great Feature for a Library App

   September 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

mute buttonAt the risk of this blog becoming a list of things only interesting to me, here's another cool new-to-me app I just recently learned about.

It's called Mr. Silent, and it lets you auto-mute your phone based on time, location, or contact. It seems like a fairly obvious idea, but apparently this one works better than most - it integrates with your phone's calendar, contacts list, and GPS, and has a nice interface.

So now see, if I were designing the perfect library app, this feature would definitely be in there. As an opt-in thing, of course, but how nice would it be if people could set their phones to automatically go to vibrate when they were at the library? You could even gamify it by rewarding people by moving them up higher on wait lists for every time their phone ringer gets turned off by this app. Or something. I would trade all the hot dogs in the world for this to be a universal thing.

Plus, combine it with the location-based notes feature from a couple weeks ago, and you'd really have something.

Existing library apps are pretty good at covering the basics of catalog search, events calendar, and static information like hours and stuff. And Boopsie's self-check feature is also pretty awesome.

One other feature I'd like to integrate into a library app is an updatable resource map - one that library staff (or anyone I suppose) could add information to. For instance, local points of interest for a walking tour, where public bathrooms are, pay phones, free wifi, etc. Although I guess if you're already using your phone, looking for a pay phone or wifi might be irrelevant. Hmm, one of these days I'll get the hang of cell phones.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 8/17/14

   August 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

velocarYou know that saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, in this case, it was more like just having to point out to him that he had a big plate of fish sitting right in front of him.

A patron walked up and said this to me:

Can you request a book for me? I think it's a French book, I mean a book from France. I don't know the title or the author though. But it's got instructions for a velocar inside. On second thought, it might not be a book, it might be a magazine, but in French. Can you get that for me?

Well that's all fine, but what's a velocar? Apparently, it's a type of bicycle that's more like a pedal-powered three-wheeled car, and indeed from France.

After talking to the patron a bit, what I learned was that he was interested in building one of these for himself, and found some plans online. Except, the plans were pages from a book (or magazine) that someone posted on a forum - except, they were too small to read, so he wanted to find the original book (or magazine) so he could see the instructions. He said he'd already tried printing what he'd found, and indeed showed me the pages, which indeed were just too low-quality to read.

I told him the only place I could even think of to begin with this was the website where he found them - maybe, I hoped, the book (or magazine) pages would have the title and author on them which would give us a lead. But failing that, it seemed like all we could would be to try to email whoever posted them to the forum and hopefully find out the original source that way.

So we walked back to his computer so I could see the forum he was on. And sure enough, multiple pages were posted there, and the thumbnail images looked more or less like instructions for building a velocar. And of course, being thumbnails, they were too small to read, so I naturally clicked the first one in the hopes of finding information about the source.

A larger image of the page popped up, and the patron immediately stopped me by saying, in a somewhat shocked voice, "what did you just do?"

I explained that the thumbnails like this are usually linked to larger versions, and clicking them will bring up a version you can read or print. I figured he had tried this, because he had the large printed version which were poor quality.

But no, he had no idea you could click the thumbnails. What he did know how to do was right-click on the thumbnail, copy/paste it into Word, expand the image to make it fill the whole page, and print it. Of course, expanding a small thumbnail to fit a whole page will look terrible, which accounted for the low-quality prints he had.

He knew how to do all of that, but didn't know you could just click the thumbnail and see a higher-quality version.

So I showed him how to get from the forum post with the thumbnail to the larger, print-ready version, and he was happy. Sort of befuddled that it was right there in front of him the whole time, but definitely happy that he would so easily get the plans for the velocar.

I always like showing patrons new tricks and things that make their life easier, but holy smokes I didn't expect it in this case. Not only was this a new skill for a patron, but I didn't end up having to try to track down a mysterious book from France.



Tags: , , , , , ,



Leaving Location-Specific Messages Seems Like A Neat Idea

   August 21st, 2014 Brian Herzog

screen568x568People probably get tired of me saying this, but in cases like this I feel like I need to apologize for not having a cell phone but talking about apps anyway.

I read on LifeHacker last week about an app called Knit. It lets users tie a message to a specific location, so that when another user gets to that spot, they see the message.

It can't be as seamless and effortless as my imagination makes it out to be, but I think this is an awesome idea. And since libraries are all about providing contextually-relevant information, this seems like a very useful idea.

My guess is that it's not accurate enough to use in the stacks, but wouldn't it be neat that if someone walks into the local history room they'd get a message about online resources?

But even better would be to use it outside the library. Leave notes with historical information around town and create a self-guided tour; if the library has off-site events (which we sometimes do), leave notes in those places for the upcoming events; leave notes in parks and train stations about downloading ebooks or digital magazines. Like an automatic QR code people don't need to scan, or a virtual sign someone might actually read.

Of course, there's got to be some catch, because it seems this will immediately become a new form of spam advertising, with every step or highway exit being inundated with who knows what (if you can broadcast to all users, rather than picking a specific person). So it'd be neat if this functionality could be integrated into an existing library app, to provide some control over what patrons are sent. Still though, I thought this was a neat idea.



Tags: , , , , ,



Ebooks in General, Ebooks in Specific

   August 13th, 2014 Brian Herzog

library ebooksIn case you missed it, be sure to at least skim the recent Wall Street Journal article comparing Amazon's new subscription ebook service to other options, including libraries. For me, the big take-away was:

Of the Journal's 20 most recent best-selling e-books in fiction and nonfiction, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited has none—no "Fifty Shades of Grey," no "The Fault in Our Stars." Scribd and Oyster each have a paltry three. But the San Francisco library has 15, and my South Carolina library has 11.

That is great. But you know what libraries don't have? Wamesit: Life in Colonial Massachusetts in the area known today as Chelmsford, by Bill "Doc" Roberts.

Here's how I know this: a little while ago, Bill Roberts called (from Texas!) to let us know he wrote a local history book about Chelmsford. Neat. I wasn't sure if he wanted to donate a copy or have us buy one, but local history is local history, and I'm sure we would have worked something out.

However, when I went online to learn more about it, it turns out it's a Kindle-only ebook - so we basically can do nothing with it. I don't know what his connection to Chelmsford is, and it's a novel rather than non-fiction, but still - being locked out of this because of format is annoying.

So, even though the WSJ article (very rightly) shows that libraries are doing okay when it comes to ebooks, the nature of the still-growing environment still has plenty of room for improvement.



Tags: , , , , , ,



Chapter Two on Purple DVDs

   August 6th, 2014 Brian Herzog

chapter two DVDA few weeks ago, I mentioned a reference question from a patron who couldn't play a library DVD in her laptop.

The problem seemed to be that it was a purple DVD-R DVD, rather than a regular silvery shiny one, and it wouldn't play in her DVD-RW drive.

I requested the same copy of the disc, so I could experiment and see if it would play for me. The item was Chapter Two, and it was indeed purple.

But more interesting was the note on the back:

DVDnotice

Besides the "this disc is copy-protected" icon, the interesting part is the last line:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.

I don't often read the fine print on DVD containers, but I have not seen this before.

Also, none of this would be surprising if it were the regular silver disc. The fact that it's the purple is what surprises me. After I posted this question, a reader (thanks Dot!) sent me a link explaining why DVD-Rs are purple - which makes it sound like whatever operation made the DVD the library purchased is based out of some guy's garage.

I'm sure that's not the case, and although I have not contacted the production company, my guess is that it's just a small-run video house that doesn't have the large expensive equipment. They probably produce DVDs using DVD-R disc and also put DRM on them to satisfy the studios, and then sell them retail through vendors that are also used by libraries. Probably all perfectly legal, but it's just unusual.

Anyway, since I had a copy of the DVD, I tried playing it in a variety of computers and with a variety of software - and for me, it played in every single case. Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, using Windows Media Player, VLC, and PowerDVD (obviously, Macs don't exist in my world).

As a result of this testing, it seems that the problem the patron was having is with her laptop. Another reader (thanks Plutia!) suggested it might be possible to change the settings for the laptop's DVD drive so that operates as a READ-ONLY device. I didn't try this, but if the patron continues to have trouble, I will suggest it.



Tags: , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



Tags: , , , , , , , ,