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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/20/13

   January 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Jumper cables on a car batteryIt's been really cold in this area this week, so this question is quite timely. However, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.

When I came in to work on Wednesday, a coworker related this incident from the day before:

A patron's car wouldn't start in the parking lot, so she came back in the library to ask staff for help. She asked at the circulation desk, and they sent her down to reference. Apparently she didn't have AAA or anyone she could call to help, so she was kind of stuck*. However, only one staff person in the area had jumper cables, and he said he couldn't do it for liability reasons. The patron left reference, and by the end of the night her car was gone from the parking lot, but no one is quite sure how she got it started.

The coworker who relayed this story to me was basically asking if staff handled it correctly, and should the library help someone jump start their car. It's something we've done in the past (I personally have), and I think she felt bad this patron was turned away (especially with our "getting to yes" policy).

We don't have any kind of formal jump starting policy (I mean really, who does?), but because it happened once, I thought it was worth exploring. The Director and I discussed it, and ended up posting this on our staff blog:

Patrons and Jumper Cables

Last week a patron’s car wouldn’t start in the parking lot – she didn’t have AAA or any other way to deal with it on her own, so she came into the library and asked if staff could help her.

The Town cannot accept liability for Town workers to jump cars for people (so it’s okay to say no). However, any staff person that is willing to help on their own (with their own car and jumper cables) is free to assist the patron (but they need to know that you’re doing this on your own, not as a library employee).

Instructions on how to jump start a car using jumper cables [pdf] (from Car Talk)

If this happens at closing time, and there is no way to start the patron’s car and no one else they can call for help, please call the Chelmsford Police non-emergency number 978-256-#### to let them know there is a car stranded in the library parking lot.

This seemed to be a good compromise - the Town can't be responsible for untrained staff jumping someone's car, but if a Good Samaritan staff person knows what they're doing and is willing to help, they can. I always feel a little bad when a limit to what a public library can offer is hit, because I still want libraries to be able to do anything.

Also, a note on the instructions: I know different people have different ways of jump starting a car, so I searched around online to see if there was a safe consensus among experts. The guys at Car Talk are expert enough for me, and their method was backed up by other places too.

 


*I recently had major car problems too, so I can empathize.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/09

   April 11th, 2009 Brian Herzog

disk full error messageOne our regular patrons comes in with a ziplock bag full of flash drives, and then will spend hours copying text and images from websites into Word documents. He then saves these Word documents to the flash drives, and he also saves every email attachment he gets on the flash drives.

I trust this particular patron to know how to use a flash drive, so I was surprised one day when he comes up and said,

Your computer is giving me a flash drive error - it is saying it is full or write-protected, but it's not.

I went over to his computer, and sure enough, when I tried to save his file, I got the same error. I checked to make sure the drive wasn't physically locked, and also that it wasn't full - according to the properties, he had less than 30mb on a 1gb drive.

I was afraid the drive was corrupted somehow, so I took his drive back to the reference desk with me, telling him I'd look into it. A simple Google search for "can't save to flash drive" led to a thread on cnet forums.

The thread suggested this error can happen when you reach the upper limit on the number of files the root directory can hold. I had never heard of this before, so I took a look at his flash drive's root directory - sure enough, there were something like 700+ files in it.

I took the flash drive back to the patron and explained what I learned. The solution, I told him, is to temporarily cut/paste one file off of the drive to the computer, which will let us create a folder on the flash drive. Then, he can move files into the folder, and create additional folders, and start organizing files that way, instead of leaving everything in the root directory.

He did this, and it worked perfectly.

I had no idea disk directories had such limits, and I remarked to the patron that thanks to him, I learned something. This particular patron is always friendly and grateful for any help we give him. In this case though, he was extra cheerful - he spent the rest of the day letting everyone know that he taught me something.



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Still Selling Flash Drives

   May 13th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Flash drive imageAlmost exactly a year ago, we started selling flash drives at our reference desk. We did this because 3.5" floppy disks are becoming more and more unreliable and problematic, and CDs seem to be a mystery to most patrons.

We stopped selling floppy disks and CDs, and started selling 32mb drives for $5 each. When our source for them dried up, we had to scramble for something else. We thought a $5 flash drive, regardless of the size, was a pretty good deal – still cheap enough not to be prohibitive, and 32mb is still useful enough for people working on resumes and things like that.

But now we found an even better deal – 1gb drives for $8.

Our IT person sourced them through the local office of Corporate Express, and I think she was able to combine our non-profit status with some closeout deal on these to get that price. I think the $8 price tag is a little steep, especially for someone just wanting to save a couple documents, so I put more effort into selling the technology itself than selling drives.

As with everything, some patrons are slow to adapt, but some do recognize that these same drives sell for about $20 in stores, so they're happy. What I'm happy about is that we've been getting fewer requests for the $1 floppy disk, but even better is that we get fewer "I had all my resumes on this disk and now it won't open" type questions.

Don't PanicAnd since I like themed posts, I shall continue with the "drive" theme and say that I'm currently in Ohio, visiting my family for Mother's Day and my brother's birthday. I drove here, which means 20 hours (round trip) of audio books. Currently, I'm working my way through the Hitchhiker trilogy. I know this comparison has been made before, I think it's amazing how closely Wikipedia resembles the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (double emphasis here because it's the title of a book within a book by the same title): it has entries on almost everything, the entries are supplied by people out living in the world and writing what they know, it's accessible from almost anywhere, and when the entries are inaccurate, they can be wildly inaccurate.



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