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


Reference Question of the Week – 9/8/13

   September 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog

cash only signHere's one of those questions where I wish I had gotten the patron's contact information, because not only did I find out after the fact that I gave him bad information, but I also found a good answer later on, too.

One afternoon someone from the Circ Desk called down to Reference. She said there was a patron who wanted to donate money to an online charity, but all he had was cash and he wanted to know if we could help him.

I immediately started to mental spin through all the ways I knew of to pay for something online, and none of them originated with an actual fistful of dollars. The best idea I could come up with on the spot was some kind of prepaid credit card, which is not something the library offers (but I know there are lots out there). However, right across the street from us is a bank, so I just recommended he go over and check with them, optimistically hoping a bank product would be some kind of cash card he could use.

After work that day curiosity got the better of me, so I walked over to the bank and asked them this question myself - and I was surprised that the teller's answer was "no." She said the closest thing they had were regular debit cards, but those are tied to an account. She said they do get requests for something like a prepaid cash card, because lots of bank customers don't want to expose their account information online at all - but they just didn't offer any kind of "internet gift card."

That phrase made some connection for me, and got me wondering if PayPal offered a gift card, much like I see eBay and Amazon gift cards for sale at cash registers. Sure enough, they do! I also found Green Dot MoneyPak, CoinStar, PayNearMe.com, and CashPayment.com.

Drat that I didn't think of this when the patron was in the library. Of course, he'd still have to find a nearby participating retail location, and the charity would have to accept one of these, but at least there is a way to turn cash into an internet-friendly form.



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Attractive Reading and Library Tidbits

   July 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a couple of unrelated interestingnesses this morning.

The first is a neat image my friend Chris forwarded me from something called Facebook:

Reading a book from the inside

I don't know anything about this image, other than I like it. And it would be a good image for a caption contest.

Secondly, last week on BoingBoing Cory highlighted some Dewey Decimal System jewelry, made from old catalog cards:

Dewey jewelry

There's lots of it available on Etsy. I think it'd be fun to match the Dewey subject to the function of the piece - like, a ring magnifying 395.22.

Yay for creative people.



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Librarian, Finder of Many Things

   August 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog

My brother sent me this photo, from the August 3, 2012, Police Blotter in the Sandusky Register:

Sandusky Register Aug 3 2012 police blotter

I know this isn't an earth-shattering achievement, and that most libraries routinely do this with lost cards, but yay for it being in the paper and yay for it working out in the end.



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Check Out Our Library Card Table

   July 25th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Tommy's Library Card TableEarlier this summer, my coworker Tommy got the idea for a library art project: mail a letter to 200+ libraries across the country, asking them to send him one of their library cards.

He enclosed a return envelope, and most of them responded! For the next few weeks, Tommy's envelopes, with new library cards enclosed, poured into the library from all over the country. It was fun to see the variety and creativity of library cards.

Tommy's project was dependent on how many library cards he received. In the end, the number he got fit more or less perfectly on one of the coffee tables in the library, so he got permission to arrange them on a table and cover them with a protective epoxy. It looks great in the library, and the plan is to leave it in the library permanently. Tom also put up a sign on the table explaining what he did - the table is very eye-catching, and has already proved popular with staff and patrons.

Here's the top of the table - click to see a bigger image:

Library Card Table top

Nice work Tom - and thanks to all the library who participated.



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A Different Kind of Library Snapshot

   April 14th, 2011 Brian Herzog

So far, I've been pretty happy to see all the positive activities and promotion around National Library Week. Yesterday, my library participated in National Library Snapshot Day, and our patrons, if not enjoyed it, at least tolerated us taking their pictures.

But because I'm me, I wanted to continue with my theme of looking at snapshots of libraries that aren't generated by the library world. I spotted the clip below - prominently and deliberately displaying a library card - in last week's episode of American Dad!:

Using a library card, as seen on American Dad!

I don't think that one will be showing up in the How The World Sees Us column, but it is nonetheless a reality we contend with while promoting our storytimes and downloadable ebooks. Not at all a reason to stop - just to work harder.



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Scanning Library Cards on Smartphones

   February 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Scanning library card barcode from smartphoneSomething I really like about smartphones are apps like CardStar and Key Ring - they let you input the numbers from all the club and rewards cards from your keychain and display the barcode on your phone.

Patrons also use these apps for their library card numbers, and some libraries aren't sure how to handle the library-card-on-smartphone situation. It hasn't really come up in my library, but I know our traditional scanners won't read barcodes off a smartphone screen. So, I thought I'd do some research to find out what it would take to accommodate these patrons.

The reason it doesn't work is because traditional barcode scanners are designed to read laser light reflected off a solid surface. Smartphone screens are emitting light, so an entirely different technology is needed.

The scanners that can read barcodes on smartphones are called CCD scanners (what that stands for is less important than a short description or a compare/contrast between CCD and traditional laser scanners).

After learning this, I started looking around at the different models and costs of CCD scanners. I stumbled across a Quora post mentioning a company called FaceCash* which sells scanners for $30. That's cheap enough for experimentation, so I contacted Aaron Greenspan (FaceCash founder) and bought one.

And it worked. I plugged it into a computer's USB port, held it up to an iPhone with a library card displayed on it, and Beep, the scanner read it just like it should. I'm always shocked when tech things work right out of the box. And happily, the scanner also reads** regular barcodes too.

So now, for just $30, my library can accommodate those patrons who make their lives easier*** through mobile technology.

Recent studies show this is fast becoming the standard in the business world - especially airlines. So the only question is whether or not libraries are willing to honor "virtual" library cards.

I don't see why not. It doesn't seem like fraud would be any more of an issue with this than with regular library cards. When we sign up a patron for a new library card, we give them a wallet card and a keychain card - so already there is more than one copy of the card in existence, which means more than one person could be using it. Since we don't make people show a picture ID when they present their library card, people could already be using someone else's card and we'd never know. Besides, if it's good enough for the TSA and airline security, I think we can manage.

But best of all, accepting these means that it's easier for patrons to bring their library card with them to the library. This is both better customer service and will save staff time in not having to look patrons up. Now that I have this scanner, I just have to wait for a patron to come in who needs it - what a strange feeling to be ahead of the curve.

 


FaceCash - Pay with Your Face*FaceCash is a new way to pay for things - you add money to your FaceCash account, and install the FaceCash app on your phone. Then when you're in a store or restaurant that accepts FaceCash, the app displays your account barcode for the business to scan, and also a picture of your face, so the clerk can verify that you are actually you. With more and more personal data being stored in phones, the visual verification is a great idea. If my library charged fines, I'd want to sign up us to accept FaceCash.

**One limitation of CCD scanners is their short range - just a couple inches, compared to 8-10" range of traditional scanners. Plus, the scanner I bought is trigger-operated, rather than motion-operated like our existing scanners. So, even though it can read both physical and digital barcodes, I don't think we'll swap out what we've got for it, but instead just plug it in and use it when a smartphone patron comes to the desk.

***I like just about anything that reduces waste and clutter. These apps let you store useful information easily, instead of lugging around a whole deck of various cards, and that makes life better. Read a few more tips to simplify your wallet, so you don't end up like George:
George Costanza and his wallet



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