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

Archives for Technology:

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 – 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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Microsoft Clipart Surprise

   July 2nd, 2015 Brian Herzog

Here's a real turkey of an Easter Egg right before Independence Day:

I was searching the Microsoft clipart gallery in Powerpoint because I needed a picture of a Teddy Bear for an event listing on our calendar. And skimming the results, the third one down on the left looked like it might be a good candidate...

Powerpoint clipart gallery

So now click on the image above to share in my surprise at that particular clipart bear's scary costume. Is this an April Fool's joke?

I don't know where Microsoft's online clipart gallery is pulling from, but they are far more prepared with clipart for all types of occasions and holidays than I would have expected.

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Libraries Circulating Wi-Fi Hotspots: Now That’s Cool

   May 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

internet access here signI've been quiet lately because I've been just flat-out busy at both work and home, but here's something that has me excited: patrons checking out wi-fi hotspots from their public library.

Last month's article about the NYPL's circulating wi-fi got me interested. I brought it up at a recent meeting, and a colleague (thanks Anna!) sent me some more background info:

The idea is simple enough: have a mobile hotspot for patrons to check out, that can create a local wi-fi signal using a 4G data plan. And surprisingly, not very expensive for non-profits: $15 per hotspot device, and then $10 per month for the 4G service. Cheap!

I'm going to be exploring this for my library over the coming year. This community is pretty good about mostly being able to afford their own internet access, but there are still plenty of patrons in the library every day to use our computers and wi-fi. A service like this would be critical in rural or poorly-covered areas, but will still be a benefit here.

Not to mention, staff could take it with them to the farmer's market to provide wi-fi on the common, and also so we can have a live ILS connection and check out cookbooks and gardening books on the spot.

If you have any experience with these, please leave a comment. And I'll post again once we make some progress.

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