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



Archives for Technology:


Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/15

   February 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

3.5 inch driveA patron came up to the desk this week with a 3-1/2" disk, asking for a computer that can read it.

I had to stop and think - I was pretty sure we had a computer somewhere in the building that still had an a: drive, but wasn't positive. I told him I would walk around and check, but then we got into about a ten minute discussion about different storage options - USB flash drives, CD, DVD, SD cards, etc. He seemed really interested in the pros and cons of each, so I told him as much as I knew. He just wanted to store and carry regular files, as far as I could tell, so I was surprised when he decided by the end of the conversation that a micro SD card was his best option. I mean, I'm sure it would work, but I don't associate those and all with handy access to your resume and stuff. Huh.

Anyway, eventually I went on my quest for a computer with a 3-1/2" drive. I looked everywhere, checking every PC in the building - even digging through old donated laptops - but I couldn't find an a: drive anywhere. Nor could I find an external drive that I thought we purchased just for this situation (although I did find some external CD drives).

I felt bad that I let the patron down, but even worse that it was at that moment that I realized that this format really is dead - at least, it's dead to my library.



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A Better Way To Measure Library Use?

   February 5th, 2015 Brian Herzog

MeasureTheFutureHeader2I saw a post on LISNews today about a new Measure the Future initiative to build hardware sensors to better track how people use libraries. They say,

Imagine having a Google-Analytics-style dashboard for your library building: number of visits, what patrons browsed, what parts of the library were busy during which parts of the day, and more. Measure the Future is going to make that happen by using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage that is now invisible. Making these invisible occurrences explicit will allow librarians to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for their patrons.

On the one hand, I love this idea, because actual data can reveal amazing things. However at the same time, the idea of sensors all over the building tracking patrons sets off my privacy alarms. I'm sure it'll all be anonymous data, but Big Brother (even when it's Big Library) will still be in the back of my mind.

I didn't see too much technical detail on what the sensors will look like or how they will be integrated in libraries. But I think this is a great idea, and am looking forward to seeing their progress.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/19/15

   January 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

I hate coming across as cynical and patron-deprecating on this blog, but I could not resist reposting this comic. I'm sure everyone who has worked at a reference desk has gone through this same thought process - for me, it was almost a GOOMHR moment and sums up much of the reference help I've given this week:

poker face tech support comic

I can even forgive the scroll wheel thing, but typing the URL into a search box and clicking "Search" instead of using the Enter key cracked me up.



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When To Use .jpg vs. .gif vs. .png

   January 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

If you work on your library's website, this infographic on when to use different graphic formats might be useful. Tech things like this always interest me (if you're only a little interested, skip down to the What Should You Use section at the very bottom for the summary). (via)

And speaking of image stuff, Here's a List of More Than 30 Free Image Sites That Don't Look Stock-y. Nice-looking free images are always a good resource. (via)

graphic format inforgraphic


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Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/15

   January 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

restart dialog boxA patron came up to the desk and asked for me specifically (I was in the office at the time). She said she needs help with her computer, and hoped that I could fix it for her.

The abbreviated version of the story is that her laptop was having problems, so she took it "to the shop" to have them fix it. They said they did, and she never tried it to make sure - she just put it on a shelf and didn't use the computer.

For a year.

Now, a year later, she wanted to use her computer again, but can't remember the password. And can I help?

At least she knew that she had Windows XP, which is something. She didn't have the computer with her, so she said she'd come back the next day.

Which gave me a day to research how to reset or bypass a Windows XP user password, because I had no idea - and it sounded like something that should not be an easy thing to do. However, I found all kinds of websites with all kinds of complicated methods of discovering or resetting the password, including putting password recovery software on a boot disk. Then I found this kid's video:

That seemed easy and straightforward, so I figured I'd try it first - too easy in fact, but, as much as I wanted to help the patron, I didn't think we could really offer support beyond this. Downloading hacking software to a boot disk seemed a bit drastic.

So she came in the next day, and I was shocked that the kid's technique worked flawlessly. Partly because I didn't expect it to be so easy, and partly because it doesn't seem at all safe that it is that easy. But then, this was on a very old laptop with XP.

At any rate, the patron was happy she had access to her computer again - and of course thought I was a genius. I gave her a little talk about updating the anti-virus and getting a year's worth a security updates before she use it normally online, and also told her that XP is no longer supported and maybe think about getting a new computer. She said she got along for a year without a computer at all, so she'll see how it goes.

With a little luck, she may still enjoy XP for years to come.



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What’s Your Take on Driving-Tests.org?

   December 17th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Here's something I really curious to learn more about: I've seen a lot of talk lately about driving-tests.org.

It's a website that offers free test prep for driver license exams, but what I keep hearing about is their library version. I think that version is the same as the free one, except it has no ads, and can also be branded with your library's logo (and obviously links directly to the exam for your state).

Check out their marketing email, but this banner pretty well sums it up:

driving-tests

It seemed interesting, so I poked around the free Massachusetts tests (mainly to see if I would pass it*). Some of the questions seemed so odd - and so very specific - that I really had no idea if they were actual laws or not.

Now, here's a tangent: one of our historically high-theft items is the MA Registry of Motor Vehicle's Driver's Manual. Anyone used to be able to get these free to study for the test, then they went to $5 and you had to pick them up at an RMV office. But then I couldn't even get them from an office, because they were always out when I went. And of course, if it's hard for us to get, it's also hard for patrons - and when I occasionally did get a copy for the library, it wasn't long before it went missing.

Which is why an online exam prep tool seemed like a good idea. But, not being an expert on MA traffic laws, I thought I'd ask the RMV if they've heard of it and if they considered it useful. I knew contacting the RMV like this was a long shot, but I was shockingly and pleasantly surprised.

Less than 24 hours after sending in my question through the RMV website's general contact form, I received this reply:

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles does not license any online driver education programs, nor do we approve or disapprove of any online training programs. A student could not receive credit towards the mandatory training time by having taken an online program.

A very casual review of this particular web site leads me to believe that the content is not entirely accurate.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Wow, that was exactly what I was looking for. And since I had their attention, I did ask another question: how can libraries reliably get a copy of the Driver's Manual each year?

The same person emailed me back saying they didn't have any kind of standing order program, but to just email him our address and he would mail me a copy**. I did, and he did! I'm going to start doing this every year, too, because the Driver's Manual is a perennial request.

Now back to the main story: after our print copy of the Driver's Manual arrived, I decided to take the test again, this time trying to look up each question in the booklet to see if I could find the answer. I could, for all but two of them - and in every case where I did find the answer, it was correct.

I only did this for the MA Permit Practice Test 1, but that was better than I expected. It seems like a number of libraries have already signed on to their library version (here's Alameda (CA) Free Library, and I am really curious to hear about the experience of their patrons - does this website help prepare them for their driver's test? Do patrons benefit from the library version more than the regular free version?

If you have any experience with this tool, please leave a comment - thanks!

 


*I did not, the first time. But I re-took the same test the next day and did much better!

**Note to other MA librarians: I asked if it was okay for me to share his info with other libraries, and he said no problem. So contact me if you'd like his email address.



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