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

Libraries Circulating Wi-Fi Hotspots: Now That’s Cool

   May 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

internet access here signI've been quiet lately because I've been just flat-out busy at both work and home, but here's something that has me excited: patrons checking out wi-fi hotspots from their public library.

Last month's article about the NYPL's circulating wi-fi got me interested. I brought it up at a recent meeting, and a colleague (thanks Anna!) sent me some more background info:

The idea is simple enough: have a mobile hotspot for patrons to check out, that can create a local wi-fi signal using a 4G data plan. And surprisingly, not very expensive for non-profits: $15 per hotspot device, and then $10 per month for the 4G service. Cheap!

I'm going to be exploring this for my library over the coming year. This community is pretty good about mostly being able to afford their own internet access, but there are still plenty of patrons in the library every day to use our computers and wi-fi. A service like this would be critical in rural or poorly-covered areas, but will still be a benefit here.

Not to mention, staff could take it with them to the farmer's market to provide wi-fi on the common, and also so we can have a live ILS connection and check out cookbooks and gardening books on the spot.

If you have any experience with these, please leave a comment. And I'll post again once we make some progress.

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Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/15

   February 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Blackbeard statueA senior citizen patron came in for a one-on-one session, and had a couple things he wanted help with. I took one the library's laptops and went into a study room with the patron - so far so good.

His first question was replying to an ad on Craigslist. This was fairly straightforward, although I don't know that the patron entirely understood the process. But that's fine - we can go through it again next time, so we moved on to his second request.

He said a friend of his in Florida suggested he go to Blackbeard's Resort, but he didn't know anything about it so he wanted to learn more. Okay, I type google.com into the browser's address bar and hit Enter - and nothing happens.

Google doesn't load, which is unusual. So I try Yahoo.com, but that likewise doesn't load. So I figure this laptop has lost the wi-fi connection, so I try to reconnect. Again, that doesn't work.

Now, this whole process is taking me a few minutes. While I'm messing around, the patron has been talking, and I am just absorbing this all without comment:

Yeah, my friend said this was a good place. He likes that sort of thing. I asked my travel agent about it, and he said I shouldn't go. It's apparently cash only, do you think that's why he didn't like it? What do you think? My friend's a bit odd, and this is his kind of place. He said it's for swingers, whatever that is.

At this point, I have to leave the room. Partly because the wi-fi seems down completely, and partly because... swingers? I don't think I could have responded to that with a straight face.

So I go to the Reference Desk, and it turns out our entire internet connection was down - wi-fi, public workstations, and staff computers. Our IT person is working on it, and it doesn't seem like it'll be back up any time soon.

I go back to the study room to let the patron know we're kind of out of luck as far as his one-on-one session goes, but that we can reschedule for another time. He takes it in stride, reschedules, and leaves without further comment. I feel bad about our network going down, but at least it gives me a bit of time to strategize how to respond before our next appointment.

And for what it's worth, Blackbeards Adult Resort does indeed take credit cards - but they have a 20% surcharge on credit cards so they recommend using cash for all of their services. Their slogan is One visit and you will be "Hooked" - bravo for the triple entendre. Also bravo to them for including the library on their "fun community" map - maybe ALA should plan a conference here.

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I Don’t Like The New Firefox Search

   February 12th, 2015 Brian Herzog

This post should have the subtitle, Turning back the clock, one "feature" at a time.

So the internet is all about sharing, right, no matter how small and insignificant the topic? Here's a small and insignificant tidbit I thought I'd share, because I'm an anti-change curmudgeon and this was actually a major deal to me.

I've started the process of updating all the Firefox browsers in my life to the latest version. Apparently the last time I updated was version 32.0.1, and am now updating to 35.0.1. Mostly everything is fine, but I HATE how the "improved" search bar works.

Most of you will probably be familiar with the old way:


You type in your search terms, and can choose whichever engine you'd like to use. And what you type in stays there, and which engine you choose also stays.

The new way is different:


I feel like listing all the reasons I don't like the new method would be petty and whiny (although not unlike me), so suffice to say the way it works just does not fit my workflow.

But happily, Firefox is open source, and offers a way to change back to the old way. A quick search online lead me to the answer:

  • Go into the about:config
  • Type oneoff in the Filter box
  • Double-click to toggle browser.search.showOneOffButtons to false
  • Restart Firefox

The old search bar interface comes back, and once again all is right with the world.

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When To Use .jpg vs. .gif vs. .png

   January 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

If you work on your library's website, this infographic on when to use different graphic formats might be useful. Tech things like this always interest me (if you're only a little interested, skip down to the What Should You Use section at the very bottom for the summary). (via)

And speaking of image stuff, Here's a List of More Than 30 Free Image Sites That Don't Look Stock-y. Nice-looking free images are always a good resource. (via)

graphic format inforgraphic

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How To Search The Web (in 2000)

   July 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

We just subscribed to the Safari computer ebooks database, so I started weeding our print computer book collection. It's a heavily-used collection, but I found a few books that made me laugh.

Not that they were bad books, just out-of-date for the computer field. Case in point is How to search the web, edited by Robert S. Want, ©2000. Flipping through it was a walk down memory lane - heck, right on the cover were listed search engines that I used to use a lot and now had forgotten about (but I do miss Infoseek):

How to search the web book cover

The book itself was obviously useful in its time, and now is an interesting look back at the past. Among other information, it contains b&w screenshots of each of the search engines' homepages, reminding us what the web looked like 10 years ago - directory browsing is certainly less popular these days:

Yahoo homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
Yahoo Today
Ask Jeeves
Ask Jeeves homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
Ask Jeeves Today (ask.com)
AltaVista homepage 2000
Internet Archive, 7/6/00
AltaVista Today

And this was on the shelf in a library that weeds regularly - who knows what gems are waiting in larger libraries that have the space to keep lots of things.

On another note, my parents will be visiting for the Fourth of July, so I won't be posting again until later next week. I hope you have a good holiday (non-Americans, I hope your regular days are good, too).

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.

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