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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12

   January 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:

Tweet: I think "how do I download ebooks?" has just surpassed "where is the bathroom?" as the #1 reference question #timestheyareachangin

This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.

Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?

And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.

Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:

Presenting with two screens

We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.

It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.

Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.

I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.



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