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


Reference Question of the Week – 8/1/10

   August 7th, 2010 Brian Herzog

It's been a busy week - lots of people on vacation, so we're both short-staffed and busier than usual - and often I've been rushing from one patron to the next without much of a break in between. However, this patron's question stopped me short:

Patron: Can you show me where to put my UTI?

I was almost convinced she couldn't possibly mean a "urinary tract infection," but she immediately turned around and walked off toward the public computers - curiosity (and customer service) got the better of me, so I followed her over.

When we got back to her computer, she pointed at the screen and said,

See, there's no place for me to type in my web address UTI.

Okay - she meant URL (thank goodness). It's an easy fix to turn back on the Navigation Toolbar in Firefox:

Firefox Toolbar menus

While doing that, I said something like, "there, now you can type your URL in the box." When she heard me say "URL," she replied,

Oh, that's it, URL. I knew what I said didn't sound right.

No, it did not.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/09

   January 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

worderror1We can learn a lot from our patrons.

One of our regulars spends most of his time surfing the internet and then copy/pasting things he likes from web pages and email messages into Word files. He carries around four or five flash drives, and his Word documents can sometimes be 200+ pages long.

And of course, he runs into problems. He called me over the other day, because he was seeing an error when trying to open one of his files. I had never seen it before, but (surprisingly) it gave very clear instructions on how to fix the situation - using something in Word that I had never noticed before.

The problem is that, when he copies things from a web browser, Word doesn't just copy the text and images. Word copies all of the underlying HTML code, too, and tries to recreate the tables. The chance of copying all of the necessary code is very slim, so when the file is saved and reopened, Word says the tables are corrupt.

worderror2But so far, Word's built-in "Open and Repair" option has worked every time. I find it annoying that Word tries to handle HTML, but at least they included a fix for it - I wonder how many other problems this can fix. And I wonder what other useful gems lie undiscovered (by me)

After I walked through this with the patron, he's been able to do it himself, and is very happy.

But the real fix might be to install the Copy Plain Text add-on for Firefox on our public computers and show him how to avoid the problem all together.



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Using Firefox On Our Public Computers

   May 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

firefox logoMy library is in the process of re-doing all of our public computers. One major change we're making is to switch to Firefox for our web browser, instead of the Internet Explorer/Public Web Browser combo we've always used.

The reason we're switching is a simple one - Firefox is just cooler. It lets us have more control over how the browser functions, and lets us offer more tools integrated right into the browser. Better for us, better for patrons.

Here's a list of the customizations we're making:

Add-Ons

  • Public Fox - this is designed to make Firefox a public web browser, as opposed to being used and customized by a single, private person. We're using it to lock down add-ons, preference, about:config, and a few other things, as well as control what file types can be downloaded
  • Menu Editor - also for the control freak in us, this one lets us remove menus from the tool bar (we're getting rid of bookmarks, help and history)
  • Greasemonkey - one of my favorites, this lets us embed custom coding on webpages, such as a link from Amazon to our catalog, and helpful links on our catalog's "no search results" page (more info on those on our Tech Tools page)
  • Add To Search Bar - this fun one lets us easily add our library catalog right to Firefox's search bar. The other searches we chose to include are Google, Yahoo, Amazon, the Internet Movie Database, Answers.com, Wikipedia, and Merriam-Webster
  • IE Tab - For all of those "Best viewed in Internet Explorer" websites, this one lets you toggle back and forth between the Firefox and IE rendering engines, so IE-only pages and scripts will load in Firefox
  • Image Zoom - just like what it sounds, this adds zoom controls to the right-click menu, to make images bigger and smaller. This one is most useful to patrons who get emailed digital photos at 1024 x 768 resolution, which is too big for our screens. This lets them zoom out so they can see all of their grandchild's face at the same time
  • Update 5/30/08: Print Preview - We realized that we had forgotten to put the Print icon on the toolbar, and then that Firefox didn't seem to have a native Print Preview toolbar icon. This Add-On gives us the Print Preview icon

Options Settings

  • Turn off all automatic updates - we use Deep Freeze, so we do our own updates
  • Turn on smooth scrolling
  • Turn on check spelling
  • Set homepage to our Reference start page
  • Always save downloads to My Documents
  • Always show tab bar
  • Turn off all warnings, except when redirecting from secure to an unsecure page
  • Don't remember anything, delete cookies and clear private data when Firefox closes

Other Customizations

  • Disable mailto: links - one repeated tech question from patrons is "I want to send an email but I'm getting some connection wizard." This happens when someone clicks a "mailto" link on a webpage, and Outlook launches as the default email program. Since patrons need to log into their own web email to send messages, making nothing happen when someone click a mailto link is actually an improvement
  • We also took whatever steps we could think of to ensure computer security and patron privacy - this means not keeping any history, and making sure that when Firefox is started, it does not restore from a previous session
  • Update 5/30/08: Add the Print and Print Preview (see Add-Ons above) icons to the toolbar (we chose to use icons only and not text because it used less room)

A lot of these were judgment calls, and there is no single right way to adjust your settings. Also, there're lots of other useful Add-Ons out there too, and more at https://addons.mozilla.org. If you have any suggestions for security or usefulness that we didn't include, please let me know in the comments.

Update 5/15/08: I've had a couple questions about Public Web Browser, so I thought I'd elaborate. It is a great product that works with Internet Explorer (or other browsers, I'm guessing) to lock it down and make IE more applicable for a public library computer. It has always done exactly what it was designed to do, and the librarians who developed it provide wonderful service. Our switch to Firefox has nothing to do with PWB - we just prefer Firefox to IE.

Update 5/30/08: Added an Add-On and toolbar setting to make it easier for patrons to use Print and Print Preview.



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NELA-ITS Spring Program 2007 – Wes Hamilton

   June 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Wes Hamilton speakingWes Hamilton, WMRLS
As a compliment to the previous presentations, Wes focused just on Linux as an operating system, rather than the applications that run on top of it. He started with an interesting evolutionary history of Linux, which put into context all of the different flavors available today, and why there are so many.

He also pointed out that, even without knowing it, almost every internet user is already a Linux user, even if indirectly. Some of the post popular websites today (Google, flickr, Wikipedia and YouTube) are all being run on Linux platforms (and in Google's case, Wes said that over 450,000 Linux servers power the search engine - that is an unfathomable number of servers).

A few websites of note from Wes' presentation:

   [view Wes' presentation]

Speakers

drupal, firefox, libraries, library, linux, nela, nela-its, open office, open source, randy robertshaw, userful



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NELA-ITS Spring Program 2007 – Randy Robertshaw

   June 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Randy Robertshaw speakingRandy Robertshaw, Tyngsborough (MA) Public Library
Randy has converted his small public library over to as much open source Linux applications as possible.

His goal in this conversion was to save the library money by paying less for hardware and software, and by saving staff time in supporting the library computers. Randy's presentation focused mostly on available open source applications, such as Firefox, Drupal, Open Office, and on a company they use to maintain their Linux clients, Userful, and offered a lot of practical implementation tips (download his presentation below).

But Randy does not see open source software (OSS) as the be-all and end-all or library computing. He covered both pros and cons, in that it offers reduced cost and high flexibility, but the trade off is that the software isn't necessarily as high-quality or as stable as commercial software. When deciding to go with OSS, we really need to evaluate both what we want to accomplish as well as the available OSS tools, to find the best fit.

   [download Randy's presentation: pdf (5.2M)]

Speakers

drupal, firefox, libraries, library, linux, nela, nela-its, open office, open source, randy robertshaw, userful



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Greasemonkeying Around

   March 8th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Greasemonkey logo from WhirlycottLate to the party as usual, I'm just now finding out how much fun coding with greasemonkey can be.

As I understand it, greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that lets you write code to modify how your Firefox browser displays other peoples' web pages. So, if you would like a link from Google's homepage to your own, you can write a greasemonkey script to do that. You're not changing the Google homepage itself - only those Firefox browsers with your greasemonkey script installed will display the link.

But even that is great. There are a lot of scripts out there to play with, so I picked one and tried to modify it for my library's use. It puts a button on Amazon book detail pages, so I can link right into my library's catalog to see if we have the book (similar to our bookmarklet).

To use the script, you just click and install the file (after installing greasemonkey, of course). Then, view a book page on Amazon, and look for the Chelmsford/MVLC logo and link on the right (under the Ordering button).

Editing them is basically coding in javascript, with some differences. It's fun, though, and powerful. The barrier will be creating something useful, and then getting patrons to install it on their own computers. I'm working on a few others, and will be adding them to the library's Tech Tools page.

browsers, coding, firefox, firefox extension, firefox extensions, greasemonkey, javascript, libraries, library, public libraries, public library



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