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



Archives for Technology:


Organize Your Desktop with Fences

   June 27th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Desktop with FencesAt a meeting last week, a colleague from my consortium's central office showed off a free program he found called Fences. Its function is simple: group desktop icons together in labelled boxes.

Of course I like organization, so this appealed to me. This was the first time I'd seen something like this, but it wouldn't surprises me if a similar function was native to OS X or Windows 7 (Fences looks like it's Windows-only).

I don' t know that I'd actually use this on my personal computer, but I've been thinking about using this on my library's public workstations.

We deliberately limited the number of desktop icons on the public computers to keep things from being confusing and overwhelming. But, if we organize things with Fences, and label each group, we might be able to present more options while still keeping things understandable.

I could see Fences for Microsoft Office programs, Browse the Internet (with a variety of browsers to choose from), Local Websites (maybe the local news sites, Town Hall, the schools), and then perhaps also some to highlight library tools or pages on our website.

I obviously haven't finalized things yet, but I like that this got me thinking about a new way to do things. Thanks Tracy!



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/12

   June 23rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

W hand signThis reference question can be filed under, "no matter how much you know about something, there's still more to learn."

One afternoon this week, a patron called in and asked for me specifically. She had a question about Microsoft Word, and since I've always been able to solve her technology questions in the past, she knew I'd have an immediate answer this time. Her question was:

How do you make Word automatically indent the first line of every paragraph?

I thought for a minute, and then realized - I had no idea how to do this. Whenever I want to indent, I just hit the Tab key. But she wanted it to indent automatically - which I was sure Word probably did, I just didn't know where this was in the menus.

I figured it had to be a Paragraph format option though, so I clicked the little square in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph box on the Home ribbon in Word 2007. Nothing immediately stood out, so I did a quick web search for word indent first line of every paragraph, and the first result explained how to do it - turns out I was on the right track.

Once you get to the Paragraph format box, you need to select "First line" from the "Special" dropdown box in the middle of the page. Then you can also set how much to indent by.

Paragraph format box

Great. I found all this in a minute or so, making small talk with the patron while I searched. As I started guiding her through how to do it, we hit a snag: she's still using Word 2003, and I'm on Word 2007 (which is also what the online directions were for).

I use this Paragraph format box all the time, but for the life of me I could not remember how to get to it in the Word 2003 menus. So, it was another web search for word 2003 paragraph menu, and again it was the first result that gave me the answer: Paragraph was an option on the Format menu.

Now I can navigate the patron to the Paragraph box and explain how to set the auto-indent feature. It work, she was delighted, and I was able to maintain my perfect record for her tech support - even though I had never done this before in my life.

Which just goes to prove the reference librarian's motto: you don't need to know everything, you just need to know how to find everything.



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Single Serving Site: Is The Library Open?

   June 6th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Aaron highlighted a great tool on Walking Paper - a single serving script that shows whether the library is open or not:

Is the library open? screenshot

Great job Durham County Library for coming up with it, and thank you very much for making the code freely available.

This is definitely going on my library's website (when I get a chance) - but of course, with 24/7 Library Anytime, the answer is always YES!



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/20/12

   May 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Kindness of Strangers signIt's been a very slow week in the library (school winding down + beautiful weather), so this week's question isn't an actual reference question - but it is something I recently learned.

Did you know Wikipedia has a reference desk?

The Wikipedia reference desk works like a library reference desk. Users leave questions on the reference desk and Wikipedia volunteers work to help you find the information you need.

Questions/answers are broken up into categories, and are both interesting and sophisticated. I also like the format of crowdsourcing answers - even when someone had given what I thought was a great answer, subsequent responders added new information or aspects that were useful.

Actually, it reminded me of any other online forum, which I use all the time for answering questions (especially for coding problems or frustrating technology issues). No one response provides a complete answer, but putting all the bits and pieces together often solves the problem.

Not that using the internet as a big Help archive is anything new - I was just happy to find another source to search when I get a real stumper. But if nothing else, the Wikipedia Reference Desk Guidelines does make for interesting reading.



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Pinterest is the New Black

   March 21st, 2012 Brian Herzog

Pinterest logoIt's funny how rapidly new web tools are developed and adopted - I've only been hearing about Pinterest for the last couple months, but already it seems to have spread far and wide in libraries.

For those who don't know (like me until yesterday), Pinterest is visual social bookmarking. It's similar to Delicious*, in that you create a set of bookmarks to interesting things online to basically create a curated web directory - but it has images, so it's extremely visual and engaging. Libraries love curated directories (or pathfinders, or bibliographies, or whatever), and I think people respond better to pictures than text (witness the Online Newsstand) - so of course this is something to look into.

I just created an test account and started playing yesterday. I think I get the jist, but I'm also sure there's more to it. For libraries, the obvious use is creating virtual bookshelves - staff picks, best sellers, series books, If You Liked... lists, etc. - with the nice book covers linking back into the catalog.

However, this proved to be more of a pain to accomplish than I would have expected. Because Pinterest focuses on images and videos, if there isn't a big image on the webpage, it can't easily be pinned. This is the case for our catalog - the cover images shown are often smaller than 100 x 100 pixels, which is too small for Pinterest to pick up (using their bookmarklet button).

So, the manual workaround is to pin the image you want (our catalog does link to a bigger version of the cover, so at least that's easy to get to), view the pin, click the Edit button, then paste in the URL for that book in your catalog - and then you've got it. Not prohibitive, but it does take a little extra effort.

And that's just one way to use Pinterest - there are plenty of other examples of things to do:

  • Brookline (MA) Library on Pinterest
  • Walker Memorial (Westbrook, ME) Library on Pinterest
  • David Lee King on how the Topeka (KS) Library is using Pinterest
  • A Tame The Web post giving a nice overview of Pinterest
  • Onlinecolleges.net with a great list of library examples and ideas for Pinterest
  • Something we're going to use it for is to pin videos of library programs: our local cable station records many of our programs, then posts them on their website. The tool they use doesn't have a nice "embed" feature (like YouTube or other sites), so getting them into our website has always been slightly difficult - I think Pinterest will make this much easier
  • And don't forget the social nature of Pinterest - it also let you create little "Pin It" buttons to put on your website, to make it easy for other Pinterest users to pin your library's content (go to About > Pin It Button, and scroll to the Pin It Button for Web Sites section). Doing this for every item in the catalog isn't realistic, but it's worth considering for featured content

Also great is the Pin It bookmarklet I mentioned above - using this lets multiple computers (meaning, any staff or desk computer) pin website on the fly, so staff can easily add pins to your account whenever they stumble across something they'd like to share with patrons. To find it, click About > Pin It Button.

Something to always keep in mind is that Pinterest lets you use other peoples' images and videos in ways that might not be entirely consistent with copyright laws. So before you start pinning away, check out Pinterest, Copyright and the Library and How to Use Pinterest Without Breaking the Law.

And like with most tools, the more you play with it, the ways you'll come up with to use it - so have fun and be creative. However, standard social media rules apply: there's no guarantee this tool will be there tomorrow, so be sure the library can degrade gracefully if the service changes or goes away.

 


*More on Delicious, and also: it looks like Delicious is getting visual, too.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/11/12

   March 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

This isn't so much a reference question as it is just me venting about two different reference interactions that ended up having the same answer.

Consumer Reports OnlineSituation 1:

A patron comes up to the desk and asks to see Consumer Reports. In my library, we get two copies of the magazine - one to circulate, and one to keep behind the reference desk (otherwise, it would only circulate in one direction*). Generally this works well. Our circulating versions are usually checked out, so often people using the reference copies just photocopy the article or ratings or whatever they want.

Such was the case with this patron - except, when I suggested photocopying, I also offered the fact that we have online access to Consumer Reports (through EBSCO). The patron got excited about that, so I showed him how to find it and log in from home. By this time we had found the article he was looking for in the reference copy of the issue, but he said instead of photocopy it he would look it up tonight online, as well as spend more time researching the ratings.

But the next day, he called and said he couldn't find in the database the article that he saw in the magazine. I thought it just must have been his searching skills, so I grabbed the issue to get the title, and then searched the database myself - and I couldn't find it either. And then I noticed that none of the articles seemed to be in the database - the ratings and reviews were, but not the magazine articles.

I apologized to the patron, and told him I'd contact the database vendor to see why those were missing from our account. He said he got enough information from the ratings, so that was good, at least. But I emailed EBSCO anyway, and then got a call later in the day from our sales person (new sales person actually, so he was calling to answer my question and to introduce himself).

He said that our experience was correct - the Consumer Reports database we purchased through them was limited (by the publisher Consumer Union, as EBSCO is just the distributor) to the ratings and reviews only. The full magazine is only available for customers of MasterFILE, which has the full text of each issue.

So, that sucked, and was not something I realized when I originally subscribed to the database (which was probably an oversight on my part, even though it might be a natural assumption to think buying the magazine database would give you full access to the magazine).

Meanwhile...

Ancestry.comSituation 2:

The day after I first spoke with the Consumer Reports patron, another patron asked for help with our Ancestry database. She said she was in the library the week prior doing genealogy work, had printed a page of search results, and now she couldn't figure out how to get back to it.

That seemed simple enough - she was in the family tree section, so I helped her drill back into the family tree search for the name she was researching - and nothing. Not only was there no matches for that name, but the family tree screens didn't look like what she had printed out.

When I realized the menus were all different from our library interface, it occurred to me that perhaps she had gone directly to the ancestry.com website, instead of through our subscription database. So I switched to their website, drilled into that family tree search (called Public Member Trees) - and sure enough, we found the page she had seen before.

But when we clicked the name to see more information (which of course is what she wanted), we were prompted to purchase Ancestry. We were both puzzled as to why something behind the website's paywall wasn't available in the subscription the library was already paying for, so I told her I'd contact the vendor to find out.

I emailed ProQuest, who we buy Ancestry Library Edition from, but they wrote back in a few hours saying that since my question was about the Ancestry.com website, I'd have to contact them directly (and provided the contact information). I did, and a few days later I got this reply from them:

Thank you for contacting Ancestry Library Edition support.

Unfortunately, the Ancestry Library Edition does not have access to the Member Trees that a personal account does. While there is a "Family Trees" section of the library edition, it is limited to the databases listed on the following URL:

http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/search/CardCatalog.aspx#ccat=hc%3D25%26dbSort%3D1%26filter%3D0*42%26

The answer to your question is that the databases available to the library edition do not contain a match for the person being searched for when limiting to the "Family Trees" category.

If there is anything else with which we might assist you, please let us know.

Also in looking around the Ancestry.com website, I found this:

About Public Member Trees

This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information.

Perhaps I can understand that, since the family tree information is uploaded by users, there is some licensing reason it cannot be resold to libraries. At any rate, I informed the patron, and she was disappointed, but okay - in fact, she thought she knew which Ancestry.com member posted that family tree, so she was going to try to contact her directly.

The Resolution

But the bottom line was, in both situations, the library version of the subscription database didn't have the information in it that the patron was looking for - even though it was available through other (not free) sources. And probably in both cases, it was me being a bad librarian for not having known this beforehand, or evaluated the library editions more thoroughly when I signed us up for them.

I'm sorry for concluding such a long post without some great insight or happy ending. It was just a odd coincidence that these two situations happened at the same time, and with the same (unsatisfying) resolution.

 


*By which I mean, get stolen.



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