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

Options for Offering a Public Scanner

   July 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

scanning stationMy library finally rolled out a service patrons have been asking for ever since I started: a public scanner.

Requests for a scanner always seemed to wax and wane, and we never got serious about it because of all the logistics involved: where do we put it, should the computer be scanning-only or have full internet access, should we get a simple flatbed scanner or a dedicated scanning product made for libraries, will the staff be able to assist patrons, etc. etc. etc. Recently, the requests have been coming in so consistently that we just bought a low-cost flatbed scanner, hooked it to a computer, and put it out on the floor.

We did do some research beforehand, asking around to see what other libraries did. And coincidentally, on the very day we put the scanner out for the public, another library sent around an email asking the same questions - and very kindly, she also compiled and shared the responses (thanks Becky!):

Most libraries have 1 flatbed scanner that is connected to a public computer. 4 libraries had more than 1 scanner, and 1 library had set up a switch so that 4 computers could share 1 scanner. A few libraries had the scanner in a staff location that was easy for both staff and patron to access.One library kept a scanner at the Reference Desk, and gave it to patrons to hook up to any available computer.

A few libraries used different products: a copier that can also scan, an all-in-one printer that can scan, and book scanners including the BookScan Station from MDS, and the Scannx BookScan Center from Scannx.

Scanner models mentioned were the Epson GT-1500 (which has a document feeder), CanoScan 4500F, Epson WF-4530, Epson V37, and Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Only one library mentioned charging for scanning, many libraries said they did not charge as there was no real consumable cost.

All libraries said the service was very well received with these comments: being able to scan color documents was well received, users could scan to USB, Google Docs, or email, some libraries install the scanner at a computer that is 15 minute only or a walk-up computer, patron assistance is often necessary for first-time users of the equipment.

We really, really, liked the dedicated scanning stations because they are so easy to use, but the cost was prohibitive (in the $5,000 neighborhood). The scanner we purchased was the Epson GT-1500, which is just connected to a desktop computer. Some details:

  • Scanner cost: about $250
  • Features: document feeder tray, easy-scan buttons on the front of the scanner (which we didn't end up using, unfortunately: the scan-to-email button quickly became a problem, and the others ended up not being entirely intuitive, so we just used desktop shortcuts instead)
  • Picture scanning: we use the included Epson scanning software for this, and it works surprisingly well with just the default settings
  • Document scanning: we use the included ABBYY Reader software, which gives the option to scan to either Microsoft Word (to edit a document like a resume) or right to PDF to save/email a document without changes
  • Bonus Feature: not only is this a new scanner service for patrons, but it also means we can now meet the needs of patrons needing to make color photocopies - just scan their original as a PDF, and then print directly to the color printer! An extra step, but it works

Like the image scanning, the OCR capabilities are surprisingly good. In all the testing we did, there was not one mistake (all test scans were from printed pages, not handwriting). Anything it can't OCR is automatically scanned as an image, and the formatting in both the resulting PDF or Word document were impressive. Word did not carry through colored text, but that is easy enough to re-do.

Something else that impressed me was with the document feeder: I deliberately fed in sheets in opposite directions (as in, sheet one right-side up, sheet two upside-down, etc), to see what it would do - and the software was smart enough to orient them all right-side up and OCR the text with no mistakes.

We put out a couple instructional signs with the scanner to match the desktop shortcuts (Scan a Picture [pdf] and Scan a Document [pdf]), and we'll see how it goes. Staff picked it up quickly, and we can always adjust/improve the patron signs after we see where the stumbling blocks are.

We're also starting off with the policy of "scanning gets preference" at this computer, although it does have the same capabilities as all our other public workstations. We put a little sign saying,

Patrons needing to use the scanner have priority!
If you are not scanning you may be asked to move to a different computer.

And so far it hasn't been a problem. This is a stand-up computer, which we're hoping will facilitate the just-need-to-scan-something-quick patrons.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/31/13

   April 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello.  Have you tried turning it off and on again?This wasn't a very difficult question, and although it didn't have a great ending, I thought it was interesting anyway - and happy we could help because the patron had no where else to go.

A patron walked up to the Reference Desk and asked to use the phone. We generally only let people use desk phones to call for rides or other quick things, mainly to make sure phones are available for staff to answer incoming patron calls.

Since it was fairly early in the day, I asked him if he was calling for a ride, and he said,

No, I need to call email tech support. I called them last night to help with my email, but he said I needed to be in front of the computer. I don't have one at home, so I always use the library computers. I don't have a cell phone either, but I think this computer here in the corner is close enough to the Reference Desk that I could stretch the phone cord across the aisle while I talk to him. It should be a quick call.

Okay, by the time he was finished speaking, all kinds of red flags were waving for all they're worth.

I sympathize with people trying to use technology without actually owning their own technology - libraries are great, but obviously some things are much easier to do at home. However, also obviously, I couldn't allow this patron to:

  • block an aisle way by stretching a cord across it
  • engage in a phone conversation at the public workstation, since we routinely ask people doing this very thing to take their cell phone call in a different area of the library so as not to bother the other computer users near them
  • tie up one of the Reference Desk phones for this long a time - no tech support call in history has been "quick"

Hoping to avoid this situation entirely, I asked the patron what he was trying to do, and if I could help. His answer kind of surprised me:

I've always used Hotmail, but now I'm switching to Gmail. The Gmail people said they were able to import everything from my Hotmail account, except what was in my Drafts folder. But when I went in to move those myself, I accidentally deleted some, so I called Hotmail to see if they could be restored.

First, I had no idea that Gmail offered a migration service, but they do. Neat. Secondly, I think he's right in that he'd need Hotmail tech support to recover deleted messages. I did check his account with him, just to see if there was something he overlooked, but from what we could tell the draft messages in question were gone.

And so, this left us with the original question of how he could use a phone and a computer at the same time. Eventually it dawned on me that he could borrow one of the laptops we loan to the public, and the Reference Desk's cordless phone,* and sit in an area of the library where his talking wouldn't bother anyone. It seemed like a good solution, and he was happy.

45 minutes later(!) he came back, a little dejectedly, and said Hotmail couldn't recover his messages after all. He wasn't entirely sure of the reason, but by this point had accepted it. The messages weren't critical, but he certainly would have preferred to have them. I apologized and we commiserated a bit about technological dependence, then he thanked me for the library being able to accommodate his situation, and left.

So in case anyone was wondering, the digital divide is still alive and well. It also made me wonder: do any libraries loan cell phones to patrons? I'm not an expert on cell phone technology, but I think there are the the kind where patrons could just pay to put minutes on them, so it wouldn't cost the library anything. It would have been helpful in a case like this, or if a patron was going on a trip or something and wanted the security of being in touch. It seems like a good idea, but I'm sure I'm overlooking some vital flaw.


*Our Reference Desk has two phones at the desk (and two computers), as well as a cordless phone in the Reference Office behind the Desk. We carry this with us when we know we'll be away from the desk, because it sure beats trying to sprint back to the desk when the phone rings while you're in the stacks.

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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 – 2/26/12

   March 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Wooden chair at public workstationThis isn't a reference question, and I usually don't name names when it comes to other libraries, but this entertained me. A patron came up to the desk and said,

I just wanted to say that your chairs are hard.

I automatically prepared to handle a complaint, and tell her our wooden chairs were designed to be light and sturdy, and that she's welcome to move one of the more comfortable chairs over to a computer, when she says,

It's so nice, because it makes sure you don't sit there too long. Those chairs they have at Westford let you sink in and before you know it you've wasted your whole day in front of the computer.

So good on the J. V. Fletcher Library in Westford, MA, for having comfortable chairs. And maybe good on us for not?

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Most Popular Computer Ebooks (at my library)

   September 22nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Safari Computer EbooksSince getting back to work this week, I've been trying to get caught up on emails and feeds.

Stephen's Lighthouse linked to the top 25 most downloaded titles on Overdrive - which reminded me that I had recently done our year-end database usage stats, and compiled highest-access titles for our Safari Computer Ebooks database.

Our top 12 most-accessed books were:

Title, Author Accessed
Sams Teach Yourself Java in 24 Hours, Fifth Edition, by Rogers Cadenhead 706
CISSP Exam Cram, Second Edition, by Michael Gregg 684
CISSP Study Guide, by Eric Conrad, Seth Misenar, Joshua Feldman 677
The Green Screen Handbook, by Jeff Foster 577
Java: A Beginner's Tutorial, by Budi Kurniawan 462
Adobe InDesign CS5 On Demand, by Steve Johnson - Perspection, Inc. 358
SAP MM HANDBOOK, by Kogent Learning Solutions, Inc. 356
Microsoft Excel 2010 Step by Step, by Curtis D. Frye 340
Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours, by Lauren Darcey, Shane Conder 305
Beginning iPhone and iPad Web Apps: Scripting with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, by Chris Apers, Daniel Paterson 278
Ruby on Rails 3 Tutorial: Learn Rails by Example, by Michael Hartl 270
IT Systems Management, Second Edition, by Rich Schiesser 220

The Safari stats interface doesn't make it really easy to identify this. Finding the number of sessions isn't too bad*, but we have to report the total number of "circulations" for these ebooks - which to me means the number of times each one was accessed.

I was able to run one report that seemed like a master total usage report, which I think indicated that 433 of our ebooks have been "hit" a total of 12,256 times.

Also interesting, if I'm reading these reports right, those 433 books are only about 1/8 of the collection, meaning 7/8 never got touched even once. Also, of those 433, 250 were accessed five or fewer times (totaling 410 circs), and the top twelve books (which all had >200 "hits") have a combined total of 5233 circs. Which means that 12 books account for a little under half of our total activity.

That is shocking, but also should be a fairly good indicator of what the leading technologies are right now (at least for my patrons, and among the selections available in our Safari catalog) - and a good reason to supplement our Safari access with print copies.


*Incidentally, we had 963 patron user sessions for FY11

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Handout of Basic Keyboard Shortcuts

   September 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Fortune Cookie fortune: There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.Thanks everyone who contributed their favorite keyboard shortcuts. I picked what I thought were the most helpful for someone fairly new to computers, and put together a little handout:

It's for new users, so I stuck with, basic, simple, and common. I hope it'll be helpful, but depending on the person, it might still be overwhelmingly complicated. But if it is well-received, I'll do a second one with the more advanced helpful shortcuts that people submitted.

Feel free to use or adapt it - I made it so it was easy to change the letters on the keys, so feel free to modify and expand.

And please let me know if you see any mistakes, or thought of a way to make it clearer or more helpful - or if you have an image better that the Microsoft clipart I used.

Apple Command KeyMac Users
I added a note at the bottom about how to use these shortcuts for Mac, and I wanted to show what the Command key looked like. While searching for the image online, I also came across the origin of the Infinite Loop symbol, which I had never really wondered about before. Interesting.

Update 10/11/11
Thanks to Adam Van Sickle of the Teton County Library - he worked to have the handout translated to Spanish, and allowed me to post the English/Spanish version here [pptx] for anyone to use. Thanks Adam!

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